Beginning Photography Constructive Criticism



Part of being artistic is the ability to be merciless during the act of creation. Self-critique without being unkind, and know when to cut what isn’t working.

I think to be a creative kind of person, there is a certain level of mercilessness required. At least, if you want to be the type of creative person who learns and grows. And when I say mercilessness, I certainly don’t advocate being merciless toward others.

Actually, what I’m referring to is a kind of inward-turned ruthlessness toward ourselves and our own work. Again, I don’t mean that we should be unkind to ourselves. Rather, you could call this perfectionism, except the idea of perfectionism doesn’t quite fit. Let me explain, and you’ll soon see the quality to which I’m referring.

So one thing that invariably happens when you’re putting together a series of images is that you will find one or two that you are really in love with, but they just don’t fit the series. What then? What do you do with them? Well, you could try to make them work. You could reason with yourself and come up with all sorts of excuses for why they should be a part of the series. Or you could simply say to yourself that you don’t care. You like the image and they’re staying in the series—and that’s final!

But if they really don’t fit the series, even if it’s a near miss, then no matter how much you love those images, they’re just going to drag the series down, right? Here’s where that idea of mercilessness comes in. No matter how much you like them, you have to cut them.

Writers have to do the same thing. In fact, it’s sort of a meme within the writing community, this idea of being absolutely ruthless about chopping words that amount to dead weight. When you’re telling a story, you just can’t go on too long describing scenery, for example, because readers will get bored and go read something else. No matter how much you enjoyed writing those words, or how much you like how the description turned out, it’s dragging the story down.

This theme of mercilessness goes farther than knowing when to chop images or words that aren’t carrying their weight. It’s an incredibly valuable skill when we can mercilessly self-critique ourselves, too. Again, I don’t mean being harsh or unkind, but rather, being completely emotionless and impartial when we’re analyzing our own work. It’s an amazing thing when you can turn a truly critical eye toward your photographs and see the flaws for what they are. Rose-colored glasses are definitely a thing where our own images are concerned, and sometimes the pride and joy we take in our art obscures the little issues that we could be learning from. At the end of the day, I think part of it comes down to knowing your craft. When you know how to construct an image, a series, or even a composition, it becomes easier to see what isn’t working. It’s also in part the ability to be as honest with yourself as you can possibly be. That way, you can look at your work not with the creator's pride in mind, but with an analytical eye for the things that might detract from it.

Now go and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation through your lens.

About the author

Will Moneymaker

Will has been creating photographs and exploring his surroundings through his lens since 2000. Follow along as he shares his thoughts and adventures in photography.