Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Constructive Criticism

I have always shied away from constructive criticism when offered in on-line classes. It isn't that I don't want to get better, because I do, it's because I am afraid that my fragile self-confidence can't take it. I would rather hear "That's beautiful", "Great Shot", "Well done". Or so I thought. But the truth is those kind affirmative comments leave me feeling a bit empty, like a whisper of air passing by my ear, but the words don't fill me. Instead, I want to know what someone sees or feels when they look at one of my photographs, does it resonate within them.

I just completed an on-line photography course called The Personal Project You Already Shot, taught by Pam Korman. The course built upon the weekly photography projects I had been doing. I liked this class because I didn't have to figure out what to shoot each week, I could look through the thousands of photos I already have stored in my Lightroom catalog, searching for project themes. It would also teach me more about editing and sequencing a project, something that caught my attention after watching a Kelby One course taught by Stella Kramer. I also had a chance to delete some hideous work from years past and make some extra room on my external hard drive.

It was a four week class. Two weeks to nail down your project's theme, and two weeks to get the editing and sequencing done. The third and fourth weeks we could take screen shots of our Lightroom grids showing our sequencing and get feedback from fellow classmates and Pam, the instructor. I was only too happy to review and comment on other's projects, but I stubbornly held my own screen shot back. After seeing everyone else's work, I was sure they would think "what an amateur" if I posted mine.

Finally, midway through the fourth week I gathered up my courage, opened Lightroom pulled up my project grid and took a screen shot. Before I had a chance to talk myself out of it, I clicked over to the Facebook Group and posted it.

I got amazingly helpful critique. One gal loved the anonymous feel of it. I loved the word anonymous. The best advice came from Pam. She said "It seems like at times your photos show you feeling stuck, but then you gather yourself up and move on, I would love to see some photos of movement in your sequence, the moving being the bridge between feeling stuck and progress." Once I read that I thought "yes that is exactly it." At times on the journey we make steady progress, but then we slow down or get stuck, but usually after a time of rest the journey continues.

We are often too close to our own work and can't see the bigger message. That's when we need fresh eyes, people who don't know us, to tell us what they see within us.

I am in the final stage of sequencing my project and hope to have a Blurb book completed by the end of next week. Work is also underway on a portfolio.

Looking back through my photos in Lightroom, I found a couple of other possible projects that I would like to develop for portfolio pieces. The journey continues...


  1. How interesting to read about what 'constructive criticism' can do to make or break us, depending on our attitude and what we're willing to actually hear without feeling destroyed! I loved your different captures of the stones and my favourite is the fourth one down. It's the simplicity and the black background I like. The stones feel connected yet have the necessary space needed for each one to shine. Nice work!

  2. This sounds like a great course! I really wish I had the time to peruse something like that. I welcome constructive criticism- but it really needs to be constructive- not just what's wrong but possible ways to improve. I'm mostly "self-taught" so instruction or direction would help me greatly- because I know that although I'm improving, I have a long way to go! I love the peaceful feeling of these stones- like miniature cairns. They take me to Vermont in my mind.

  3. Loved this. Strangely, I've always been okay taking constructive criticism in my job. All the way from my uni days when we had to do 'rounds' in schools, to now. I'm constantly looking for ways to get better and love to be mentored by others. I can find the positives in criticism and roll with them. However.... taking constructive criticism about my art, or websites I make, or my writing etc is a whole new ball game. For some reason this is really challenging and scary. Maybe because my work life has structures and strategies around which it ebbs and flows, but my creative life is more free flowing and comes from the very core of me. Hard to receive criticism when you feel it's talking about the physical manifestation of something you've 'put out there' to represent your inner self.

  4. I think criticism of any kind is hard for most of us...since praising is what most of do and being praised is what most of us want....but criticism just has to play a role at some point in all aspects of our lives...I guess. {enter sad face} With that being said, I love your rock photos in this post and now i want to run down stairs to my studio, find the box where I have rocks saved from when we were in Maine and Michigan and shoot some rocks myself.

  5. This really strikes home for me, especially the part about being afraid of crushing your fragile self-confidence. I am of the "don't know much but I know what I like" school. I compose, photograph, and edit from my gut. Yet I can dither, frozen, over whether to crop an image an eighth of an inch one way or the other, unable to decide which is better and why. Some constructive criticism would probably be very useful, if I weren't too afraid to ask for it. Brava to you for taking that leap!

  6. This post resonated with me and I agree with Linda's comment above. It all depends on which arena the criticism comes from and falls in. My first novel is at the editor as I write this. I've paid someone to pick it apart with a professional eye and point out all the weaknesses. I'd be disappointed with any other result. If this criticism came from someone outside the arena - even a reader who hadn't tried writing - I wonder how I'd respond. The spirit of the comment matters. I also thought I'd mention, when I see your blog posts they astound me. They are so far beyond what I would compose and capture with a camera. I feel "ooohs and aaahs" and that's about all I can say about them sometimes. Though it might not helpful to one's progress, know that those whispers are people saying you inspire them. They're seeds being planted.

  7. Oh I so need direction on composing a portfolio.
    Fresh eyes are a great way to help us "see clearly" - but to reach out to get them is a somewhat scary thought.

  8. ...and it sounds like it's a wonderful journey for you, Sarah!
    Good for you!! :-)

  9. I love this, it has a certain vulnerability that touches me. I also love it when people tell me how they love my photos or my writing. My sons will let me know when what I've written is too long, or if the grammar is not correct. But I really want constructive criticism I think it makes me get better because now I'm seeing something I didn't see before. I'm so inspired by your photos, I love the stones, the stillness they evoke. thank you

  10. You are braver than you think...and far braver than I.

  11. Sounds like a great course . . .
    Constructive is helpful . . .
    Gives suggestion, ideas, possibility . . .
    I am one of those tender souls . . .
    Sometimes it is a fine line for me to discern between constructive and critique . . .

    All I really know is what drew me to you in the first place was that you lived not far from me
    and you had a very keen artistic eye for photography
    AND your writing told stories of which I was able to get inside, feel, empathize, love . . .

    Plus you loved your husband, your daughter, your two dogs . . .
    Michigan beach, water, off the road trails . . .

    I loved these photos . . . they each said something to me . . .
    especially the PEACE in number two . . .

  12. Criticism has always been very hard to me to take. As you, my self-confidence is fragile. I've been criticized before, sometimes not kindly or helpfully, on images that I like. I have to keep reminding myself that I am the only one that needs to be pleased with my photos. What pleases me will not please everyone. Kudos to you for being brave and posting your images in the class. All of them feel peaceful, but they also show strength. When I saw the scattered rocks (image 4) that look like they fallen, I thought of how we can be knocked down, but we can rebuild.

  13. It's sometimes hard to criticism about work we thought was good until it is compared to others...and I think that's our first mistake. We shouldn't be comparing our work...Photography is such a personal hobby that one person's work can not be compared to another for 1000 reasons! But, if its truly constructive, that's when things start to change and "that fresh eye" might be that little nudge or that little jolt we need to get unstuck. The course sounds like a great personal challenge and you signed up for a reason...Oh...Do you receive Michelle GD's posts? Email me if not...she sent out a great post this morning about Resistance is experienced as fear...you might be interested in reading it. I'll send it to you. I personally love these images from a pure photography standpoint. Sometimes the dark moody tones is how I feel. Somedays you feel strength and powerful, some days...not so much...and that's totally authentic. xo

  14. Love these images. They represent peace and strength to me even when in disarray. Sounds like a fabulous course and it's resulting in great accomplishments.

  15. I love your work. It's truly beautiful. I would someday like to take some courses like that but never seem to find time or have the money to do so.

  16. This is great Sarah. I too am afraid of criticism of my art sewing writing whatever I put all of myself into. I know not everyone will see what my goal is or my subject, etc. but I do hope it invokes some thought or a way to look at something in a different way. I am self taught as well and so don't always know the rules to follow. Positive criticism is always welcome. I look at that as a way to help me improve. Or maybe I should say criticism given in a positive way is more acceptable to my fragile ego. I am working on getting over that but it is a journey.


Thank you so much for visiting today and taking the time to read my thoughts on life. :)