the trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise then saved by criticism. - norman vincent peale

When the idea of getting back into blogging and developing Creative Discourse came into my mind I reached out to variety of professionals, semi-professionals and amateurs in the creative world to ask about topics they'd be interested in seeing talked about. I knew there were issues in this industry, but the scope of those issues is becoming alarmingly bigger given the current climate for creatives. Today's topic wasn't one I had considered, but is certainly valuable to talk about.

Seeking, and taking, valid critique.

Let me tell you a little story. When I first started freelancing for CrossFit®, then then Director of Photography, supplied some feedback after my first shoot, which was genereal stock work for their DAM.

Let me say that I was confident going into this opportunity. I had done some portfolio reviews from others in the sports space so I knew my work was good, but I didn't realize there were small details that were going to be necessary adjustments to elevate my work.

When he sent the review of my submission, along with some very detailed YouTube tutorials that he had created about shooting, selecting and editing, I was, to be honest, a little shell shocked. I had been confident but that all faded very quickly when I felt like I had failed in my assignment. Although his criticism was essential, it was done so in a learning capacity so those feelings were specifically mine. (Love you long time DR) But the way he handled this teaching opportunity is what allowed me to use it as a learning opportunity.

We cannot grow in our abilities as creatives if we don't seek, and then take, the critique that is given. It's always very easy for us to accept the accolades, but we also have to learn how to accept the criticism and then use that as a tool to elevate our standard of work. I'll be the first to admit that not all of the time is critique going to happen the way my first experience went, but I also believe there is a way to navigate what you may see as negative.

There are three types of criticism: deconstructive, constructive and instructive.

Constructive: Identifies and offers solutions.

Instructive: Adds on to what someone already knows.

Generally I think most times creatives are going to encounter constructive and instructive. I truly don't believe that there are many who intentionally use deconstructive as a tool for education, but if they do, that is not the person/client you want to work for.

Both constructive and instructive are essential and valuable components of valid critique. So, how do we use critique as a learning opportunity?

When you ask for input consider which type of criticism you are looking for using this simple self questionnaire:

  • Am I new or experienced with the basics?
  • If I am new, am I just starting or do I have experience portfolio work?
  • Am I seeking feedback on expanding my scope of knowledge in genereal or am I seeking somethign specific (think lighting, sports photography, newborn photogrphy) This is particualrly helpful because creatives usually focus on a limited set of genres.

The most important question you can ask, which needs to be answered honestly, is whether or not you are ready to receive negative feedback. It's okay if you aren't. We naturally don't enjoy being told we are wrong or that we have areas to improve upon. We must be ready to hear our shortcomings for critique to be beneficial. You're wasting your time and the person you've hired for the critique time if you are in a space that allows the critique to be a learning opportunity.

If you're ready for the feedback, you'll be able to identify which type of critique will be more beneficial.

Constructive: Identifies and offers solutions.

Constructive critique will help you identify areas you are doing well in and areas you can enhance. This could address composing, white-scale balancing, cropping, etc. Constructive critique requires engagement and a willingness to learn. If you're there, constructive critique will be a valuable tool to help create a successful standard for your business as a creative.

Instructive: Adds on to what someone already knows.

Instructive is extremely valuable to creatives actively working in a specific space. My experience with Dave's critique highlighted the lack of small details in composing and cropping. He not only talked about where I could improve, but he also showed me how to improve. I should also note that as a traditionalist, Dave taught work on the highest level of professional standards, which sadly is not necessarily adhered to in today's space because so many creators shoot to get content up fast. Although this is necessary for social media content in some instances, it's also noticeable that standards decline, which is evident by color grading, horizon, focal points, and cropping. Adding these learning concepts to my practices has created opportunities in spaces that likely wouldn't have come to fruition.

Now, about that header photo. This is from shooting my first CrossFit® Open workout, 13.1. I shot at a lovely auto speed for sports (haha), super soft (what's a focal point?), and horizon (say what?)...but at least I got the ISO right...kind of. I'm glad I can laugh about it now!

I share this because we all start somewhere.

Honor where you started and are now and where critique can take you moving forward.

There is a lot of talk about community over competition. An authentic community helps give insightful guidance around topics important to anyone working in a creative space, regardless of being a beginner or seasoned professional. Friends and family members are always willing to praise our work, but criticism is the key to success.

Much love,