When Is Your Photography Just Wrong? – Fstoppers

Opinions matter to most people, but when the opinion of another photographer goes against or deviates from what the original photographer intended for that image, does that that make the image wrong?

You’ve probably read on forums “CC welcome.” Genuine people will provide constructive criticism on the compositional elements, technique, lighting, etc., and that’s what we are all looking for to improve our images. Then, you will get the people who will start with “In my opinion,” and for myself, that’s where it all falls down. Opinion was not sought out in the first instance, constructive criticism was.

Now, this entire article is based on my opinion, and good or bad, we are all allowed opinions. Whether we choose to keep them to ourselves or freely make them available is a choice we make, and most of the time, I’d rather keep mine to myself. But, upon noticing an ever-increasing trend of put-downs, laughing emojis, and downright trolling, I wanted to hear what you think of this destructive culture.

Constructive Criticism Versus Opinion

The definitions of constructive criticism and opinion are as follows. I’m sure you are aware of the differences, and no offense is intended, as they’re for the purpose of the article.

Constructive Criticism adjective

helping to improve; promoting further development or advancement (opposed to destructive)

Opinion  noun

1. a thought or belief about something or someone. 2. a judgment made by an expert.

When the above differences are clear, why do a minority take it upon themselves to berate what a photographer is trying to achieve with their images when all they have asked for is constructive criticism? I don’t get it, but perhaps I’m just naive in that respect, as we are all here to help each other to improve and should be happy when others achieve what they are trying to do. 

Constructive criticism is quite clear in that respect, whereas opinion can cause a gray area for some, namely keyboard warriors. A thought or belief about something doesn’t make it fact. It makes it an opinion, same as this article. An opinion from an expert, on the other hand, covers both constructive criticisms and opinion, and they know how to deliver them effectively and should provide a positive outcome for the individual. Good or bad, it’s a positive result for the receiving individual, because it’s from an expert in their field. 

There Are Rules to Follow

Photographic practice starts with the basics, and then, we move from there to enhance our photography. These rules are there for a reason, and that is to give you a good foundation in photography and the theory behind the practice. These are your fundamental building blocks, and when you have a good understanding of them, these rules can be broken. Trying different compositions. Changing shutter speeds to varying effects. Moving the camera during the shot to see the end result. Changing the f-stop to see how the resulting image differs from what you are expected to do when shooting certain subject matter.

These varying practices are there for photographers to explore our medium, to create something new and perhaps create a stir with the imagery in that it excites other photographers to try something new with their own images. I am not saying this is progress, I am only implying that, in fact, it’s healthy to do so, as you then know what works for you and your photography and what doesn’t.

So, Is This Wrong?

By experimenting with your camera and moving sideways from the learned fundamentals, you discover techniques new to you and new ways to capture your images. So, is this wrong? Conventionalists may say yes, as you capture what the scene depicts, so you shouldn’t process the raw. Are they wrong? Others may say that it’s their creative freedom as an individual to do as they please with the images they capture. Are they then wrong? Well, actually both camps are right in their approach to their photography, simply because it’s their photography.

If you have learned the basic principles of photography, it’s then for you to pursue whatever direction you want to take it, be that very little post-processing or replacing skies to create an image that you feel proud of. I mention replacing skies simply because, if you have learned how light interacts with your subjects, you’ll be able to replace the sky quite seamlessly, unlike the image below.

So, is any of this wrong? The plain answer is “no.” If that’s what you want to do with your images, go ahead, do it well, and then, keep on learning. Look at the light, look at the surrounding environment, the colors, the contrast, the time of day you shot the image, everything that comes into play to put the image together, and then, do it better. That’s personal progress. Is that a photograph? No, it’s your creation, but it is yours.

The Worst Culprits

Generally, as photographers, we are more than happy to receive criticism and in most cases, provide a healthy critique to our fellow practitioners. We are providing information learned from whatever source that helped us progress our photography and lessons that you think will perhaps help the individual asking for critique. Now, this information will vary, and what works for one may not work for another. Again, that does not make the information wrong if it comes from an understanding of the theory and practice. What makes it wrong, in my opinion, is when the delivering individual scoffs at the image and then proceeds to instruct them how to do it properly without considering where the photographer was trying to take the image visually. I’ve even read on forums “just sell your camera” as a critique. For me, that’s just totally disrespectful and downright cowardly. If you can’t provide anything constructive, don’t say anything at all. The flip-side is that they may indeed have something worthwhile and constructive to say that would genuinely help the individual. But unfortunately, they are too much of a narcissist to provide anything other than slander, or perhaps they feel threatened by the progress of others.

The Takeaway

Your photography isn’t wrong. It may be unpolished for you and your journey at this time, but it isn’t wrong. Others may have their own direction and principles in what drives their practice, and great, that’s for them. Let them go and do it, do it well, and succeed. It may differ from you and your practice, so you go down your own path and create what makes you happy. Learn the fundamentals, enjoy what you do with what you have learned so far, share it, and don’t be one of the cowardly put-down brigade, the minority. Just ignore them, move on, and don’t let their negativity fester in you and put you off. It may sting at first, but you will quickly recognize the positive and constructive people out there. Listen to them, take the advice, and progress your photography. Yes, my head may be filled with idealistic nonsense when it comes to things like this, but I was taught that sharing knowledge positively was good practice. 

Wherever you are on your photographic journey, just starting out or many years down the line, you’ll possess some information that someone else doesn’t know. Share it constructively. You don’t know how much that may help the individual on their own journey.

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