Photography is my second career. My previous writing career started when I was in 8th grade. By the time I left that job decades later, I was damn good at it. I can write as easily as I can breathe.
But I am not yet an expert in photography. I’m getting there … I need about 5,000 more hours until I’m a master (according to Malcolm Gladwell). It been quite the struggle for me to move from being an expert to being a novice, and then an intermediate photographer. I still feel like I’m on the verge of truly finding my voice. It makes sense, then, to have other photographers look at my portraits and give constructive criticism—to tell me what’s working and not working in a particular photo. Right?
Many of the Facebook groups I belong to encourage members to put up images for constructive criticism. When I finally grew a pair and posted my first image for CC, in my heart of hearts all I wanted was for people to like the photo. The CC I received sent me in 500 different directions. I posted another and had pretty much the same experience. And, of course, there were sometimes crickets.
Even though I say out loud that I only care what my clients think of the portraits I make of them, that’s bullshit. It’s freaking scary to put a portrait out there for judgment by other boudoir photographers—especially other photographers who I admire and want to be when I grow up. (And probably worse if they’re someone I don’t admire.) What if they tell me I suck? Should I take down my shingle and slink off into the night?
Why was I posting images? To actually find out what could be improved in my work? Or to get approval and affirmation that I was doing a good job?
Case in point:
In April, I attended a workshop with The Last Forty Percent’s Ewan and Brianna Phelan. The class was great, and I learned what I went to learn—how to push more of the edge with my clients without straying beyond classy.
After the class, Ewan encouraged attendees to post a photo for constructive criticism. So I did: This collage.
Here’s his CC:
Love her outfit and look. I would have loved to have you shoot it from the other side, so that light was hitting her face. It would make everything like her makeup and hair pop a little more. Also, having her lift her head up and then tucking her hair that’s on the bed under her before she put her head back down would take away that distraction. In the right photo, I would have liked to see her right hand actually doing something. Pulling her bra strap off would have giving that photo that little extra. And adding a smirk would have made it that much more inviting to the viewer.
My immediate response was to feel defensive. These are two of my most favorite recent portraits (not taken at the workshop even). When I gauged my reaction, I realized that I didn’t really want CC on these particular images, and I had been too nervous to show any that I was less confident about.
I understand now that I put them up to have a Sally Field moment with a photographer I admire and with the others who’d see it … not to receive actual feedback. Interestingly, once my ego shut up, I employed a couple of his suggestions.
What if, instead, I’d sent Ewan an entire client session—or even an album design—for CC, or what if I sent images that were almost (but not quite) there, then asked for his expertise on identifying and correcting the issues? I may have gotten feedback that would help my work overall vs tweaks on two images that I already like (and the client purchased). I lost an opportunity.
I’ve decided that feedback from Facebook group members in general doesn’t help me, and that the way to move my work forward is to hire a couple of those people I admire to do that bigger portfolio review. And, I’ve decided to work on setting my defensive ego aside as much as I can to be open to that feedback.
Have you ever had a portfolio review? What’s your reason for submitting images for CC?