Photo Critique Sites

Want to have some fun and learn in the process?  Then perhaps a photo critique site is for you.  This week I’m going to talk a bit about my experiences with photo critique sites and how to get the most from them.

A photo critique site is simple in concept.  You upload and post a picture, fill out the requested information, and it goes into a gallery that other uses of the site can view.  Based on a thumbnail your image will be viewed by a percentage of the viewers, and based on the image itself a lesser percentage of viewers will take the time to leave comments/critique.

Why would you want to do this?  For many just starting out they don’t yet know what makes a good image, what makes people click on a thumbnail, and what parts of the composition are weak or strong.  A photo critique site will help you learn.

Others are simply after self-validation.  Perhaps in a way we all are.  However, those who find self-validation the most necessary are often the most disappointed.

The key is to take the useful parts of the critiques, and leave the parts of no use.  How do you know which is which?  Here’s a rundown of the top five in importance.

    • Total number of views.  This will be the number of people who have clicked on your thumbnail.  “Thumbnail art” is very important in our modern on-line world and it’s imperative you understand what makes a viewer click on a thumbnail.
    • Total number of comments/critiques.  Photography is about inspiration, motivation.  How many feel motivated to leave a comment is a good indicator of the power of your image.
    • How your image impacts the viewers.  Read your comments/critiques.  Does your image convey the message you intended?
    • Unexpected comments/critiques.  A lot can be learned from these.  Pearls of wisdom can be found.
    • What isn’t said in the comments/critiques.  Listen carefully to what isn’t said.  If you expected a certain response and didn’t get it.. pay attention.

Also know there are different “types’ of people who leave comments/critiques.  Some types often advice of gold, others are simply laughable.

    • Junkie:  This is the type of person who lives on the forum who seemingly has no life other than to comment on every single image.  This person might or might not be a photographer.  Usually, this type of person has learned “the lingo” of the site and feels very good about himself/herself using it.
    • Agitator:  This type of person delights in pulling your chain.  Don’t let them.  Their critique is sometimes useful, but when you consider their motivation it’s best to take their advice with a grain of salt.
    • Know-it-All:  This type of person somehow knows everything about anything.  Sometimes they’re worth listening too.
    • Mr/Mrs Awestruck:  This type of person just discovered a camera/website/computer and is having a lot of fun participating.  You can learn a lot by paying attention to why they picked your image to comment on.  Take a look at their critique history.
    • Norm:  This is the person you want to listen to.  Good old Norm.  He/she doesn’t comment on every image, doesn’t know it all, isn’t trying to rattle your cage, and isn’t addicted to the site.  They’ve simply seen your image and felt motivated to comment on and the reason why they felt motivated is invaluable to you. 
    • Mr. Pro:  You’d be surprised by the number of very good and very accomplished photographers who visit these sites.  After all, they need recreation too and they probably get a certain amount of satisfaction helping others enjoy their passion.  Critiques from Mr. Pro are worth their weight in gold.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that because someone knows some terminology that they know what they’re talking about.  A few weeks on a photo site and you’ll know your share of terminology too.  There is nothing more irritating than someone like this who doesn’t look at the over all composition, but nitpicks relatively insignificant points and thinks they’re the final authority on photography.  Sure, the small points are important.  But keep the overall “picture” in mind.

Don’t be goaded into anger or returning harsh comments.  It’s never worth it.  If someone is a jerk, rest assured that everyone else knows it or soon will.  You’ll do much better ignoring such comments.

Yes there are cliques!  My are there cliques.  Every photo site has them.  They often control the overall tone and feel of the site.  Understand they’re there, feel sorry for those with nothing else better to do, and take what valuable advice you can from them.  If you’re a clique type person, then by all means sign up.  Just be careful which one you climb aboard.

Don’t get discouraged if you post images and get no response.  If you’re not a member of a clique, and your images aren’t really good, you often won’t get many comments/critiques UNLESS you take the effort to leave a lot of comments/critiques yourself.  The very best way to get feedback, is to give feedback.  Don’t be lazy, contribute.  After all, you’ll learn a lot this way as well.

Photo critique sites can be a lot of fun.  You can learn a lot.  Mostly, you’ll learn what makes people look at thumbnails, why they like certain images, what common mistakes not to make, and how to cater to a certain audience.  The latter becomes extremely important if you ever plan on going pro.  You need to learn to recognize your client and how to please them.

Almost all photo critique sites have a “front page” or a gallery where those with the most views, points, or critiques rise to stardom.  Sometimes you’ll look at these images and agree they should be there, sometimes you’re left scratching your head (think cliques).  It can be quite rewarding to reach the front page and see your photo there.  It can also be very frustrating getting there.

True story.  A small group of fellow pros and I used to frequent a certain photo critique site.  We’d learned the ins and outs of how the site worked, what motivated the viewers, and basically were very comfortable.  One day we thought it would be fun if we all submitted images which were “front page” material and we all had our images up on the front page at the same time.  Well, we did it.  We also didn’t rate each other's images.  We got there honestly by submitting good images and letting others rate them.  However, we chatted about it in a semi-private forum where we were the only regular participants.  It turns out one of the less talented forum members got all chuffed about this and posted links to our discussion on the photo site forum.  For some reason our “plan” riled many of the photo site members.  They didn’t care that the images were good and we got there honestly, they only cared that there was some sort of conspiracy.  Lesson learned.  Now we have fun in different ways.  ;o)

Some of the sites I’d recommend to get your feet wet are listed below.  You’ll find some truly spectacular images on these sites.  Enjoy!