PetaPixel

Why You Shouldn’t Give Too Much Weight to Anonymous Online Critics

Back in 2006, Flickr user André Rabelo submitted the above photograph to the group pool of DeleteMe!, a group whose members vote on photos to weed out any photos that aren’t “incredible pictures, amazing, astonishing, perfect”. Sadly, the photograph was very quickly removed by popular vote.

Here are some of the criticisms the voters had:

When everything is blurred you cannot convey the motion of the bicyclist. On the other hand, if the bicyclist is not the subject– what was?

Why is the staircase so “soft”? Camera shake? Like the angle though.

so small. so blurry. to better show a sense of movement SOMETHING has to be in sharp focus

Nicely composed, but blurry

This looks contrived, which is not a bad thing. If this is a planned shot, it just didn’t come out right. If you can round up Mario, I would do it again. This time put the camera on a tripod and use the smallest aperture possible to get the best DoF. What I would hope for is that the railings are sharp and that mario on the bike shows a blur. Must have the foreground sharp, though. Without that, the image will never fly.

yeah and? grey, blurry, small, odd crop

bit too blurred to be worth a save from me

Fantastic composition, but the tones and the graininess keep the photo from being great.

What’s funny about this story is that Rabelo had the last laugh — the photograph is actually “Hyeres, France, 1932″, a famous photograph by the French photographer and “father of modern photojournalism”, Henri Cartier-Bresson. Made in 1932, the photo sold at auction in 2008 for a whopping $265,000.

This just goes to show that you shouldn’t let anonymous online critics dictate how you photograph. While it’s great to receive feedback and certainly worthwhile to hear things that help you improve your technique, the criticisms you hear online are often from people who don’t know what they’re talking about, so don’t give too much weight to negative comments!


 
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  • http://twitter.com/Buzzregog Buzzregog

    Or … people will pay a ton of money for something because someone tells them it is good :)

  • http://bella-d.tumblr.com Bella

    Just curious, but why would someone use a famous photograph to enter on Flickr?

    And I love the image.  It’s quite beautiful, and I like how soft it is.

  • Clint

    It’s Cartier-Bresson

  • Anonymous

    Interesting points.

    How much of the price is the name behind it, and how much is the actual work itself?

  • http://www.petapixel.com Michael Zhang

    He did it on purpose to see what would happen :)

  • http://www.petapixel.com Michael Zhang

    He did it on purpose to see what would happen :)

  • http://ugocapeto.blogspot.com Ugocapetodifrancia

    Flickr is full of posers, that’s why.

  • http://ugocapeto.blogspot.com Ugocapetodifrancia

    Flickr is full of posers, that’s why.

  • Tommms

    what it really shows is that art is a joke and someone will pay for your shit based on who you are and not what you create

  • Tommms

    what it really shows is that art is a joke and someone will pay for your shit based on who you are and not what you create

  • Tommms

    yup, he could take a crap and people who pay for it

  • Tommms

    yup, he could take a crap and people who pay for it

  • http://www.facebook.com/neal.katz Neal Katz

    Social experiment? It appears to have borne fruit, too.   :^ )

  • http://clintdavis.net Clint

    Learn a little bit of history first.

  • Jackkerouac9

    Who you are as an artist is based on what you have created previous to the state of determination. 

     

  • Anonymous

    Photography is art and some art is crap and some is literally crap. It’s like the lately famous vomit painter in New York now… famous because she throws up colored milk on canvas and people all-over-the-world know her and buy her work, but does that make it good art. People all have their own taste… I’ll be honest, I don’t like most street photography or overdone HDR… I will never spend a buck on it, but people make money doing it.

  • Tommms

    rest on your laurels

  • Bwworld

    I have a framed poster of this shot from MOMA’s exhibit “Cartier-Bresson: Early Years”.

    Even better: I shook HCB’s hand at the opening! :-)

  • Tommms

    please exit through the gift shop

  • Chosunking

    but almost as bad is the fawning as in” ‘Thats a great photo” even though it isn’t…

  • Coby

    Not sure you can point to any of the quoted comments as being incorrect since it’s a subjective analysis – just as you allude to in your own post.  Or that you can deduce the artistic quality of a photo from the price it brings at auction.  The fact that the commentators did not know it was from Henri means little, except perhaps a lack of a history or fine art degree.  They can still express what they like/don’t like about the image.

    “This just goes to show that you shouldn’t let anonymous online critics dictate how you photograph.”

    Why let any critic – seemingly schooled or otherwise – dictate the way you shoot.

  • Jens Fischer

    Still, a lot of the criticism is quite valid (circumstances considered). The picture was shot with 1930s technology after all. So there is no small wonder that some technical aspects of the picture will look pretty bad if one operates under the assumption that a modern camera was at work here.

  • Jim

    I think when we look at historical art we have to add context to the value judgement. Consider that this photo was taken in 1932 with the equipment available then, and using prevailing schools of thought about photographic composition at the time. Saying this is bad is like saying Clapton’s guitar playing sucks because it’s 2011 and you’ve had decades of virtuoso metal guitarists to listen to. Clapton, and Bresson, were doing things in the context of their age that people hadn’t really done before.

  • Rob

    This keeps doing the rounds… It’s a crap picture deal with it (and yeah I do recognise it).  Hardly surprising it would do badly as most people would think it’s a crap picture.  We supposed to bow down in reverence because of who took it??  Same dude has some great images IMO… just like he has crap ones – again IMO.  Other people have different opinions but is the bulk think it’s crap then it’s crap despite some “artistic” sensibility.

  • Tony Bodinnar

    I run projects with kids as young as 8 years, the sessions lasting as little as 3 hours. They invariably produce stunning images which grasp the attention of the viewers. Technically the images have numerous problems. When I visit camera club exhibitions the technical expertise is usually exquisite, but the images are almost invariably tired cliches which totally fail to seize the attention. For me an image works or not on the strength of its composition, its dynamics, its originality and its honesty. For me the above image works and I am more than happy to overlook a few technical foibles.

  • snyds

    This little “social experiment” reveals a few things:
    1) There are people who consider themselves photographers who have no sense of history, no sense of what came before them. This is a rapidly changing business and because of the internet so many people “look” at a bunch of photos and then consider themselves “educated” about photography without ever really studying the details and really understanding it.
    2) As someone already pointed out, since there is no historical knowledge, there is little historical context, therefore they can’t understand or appreciate it – or even speak intelligently about it.
    3) There are those that only look at images through a strictly mechanical/technical prism – “it’s not sharp”, “the focus is off”, etc. While those are definitely important aspects of appraising photographs, they aren’t the only criteria – composition, moments, emotions, color, light, etc are also important.
    4) Those of you who think this is a “crap picture” – it’s not great because of who took it. It’s a wonderful moment – a ‘decisive moment” as HCB called them. And if a “bulk” think a picture is “great” despite the fact that it’s really crap, what does that make it? Look at popular music, popular television, movies, etc – just because a large number of people “like” something does not mean it’s really any good. The converse is also true.
    5) I just think it’s hilarious that individuals who have the time to pontificate about the quality of this image didn’t recognize/know it – regardless of what they thought about it! 

  • snyds

    This little “social experiment” reveals a few things:
    1) There are people who consider themselves photographers who have no sense of history, no sense of what came before them. This is a rapidly changing business and because of the internet so many people “look” at a bunch of photos and then consider themselves “educated” about photography without ever really studying the details and really understanding it.
    2) As someone already pointed out, since there is no historical knowledge, there is little historical context, therefore they can’t understand or appreciate it – or even speak intelligently about it.
    3) There are those that only look at images through a strictly mechanical/technical prism – “it’s not sharp”, “the focus is off”, etc. While those are definitely important aspects of appraising photographs, they aren’t the only criteria – composition, moments, emotions, color, light, etc are also important.
    4) Those of you who think this is a “crap picture” – it’s not great because of who took it. It’s a wonderful moment – a ‘decisive moment” as HCB called them. And if a “bulk” think a picture is “great” despite the fact that it’s really crap, what does that make it? Look at popular music, popular television, movies, etc – just because a large number of people “like” something does not mean it’s really any good. The converse is also true.
    5) I just think it’s hilarious that individuals who have the time to pontificate about the quality of this image didn’t recognize/know it – regardless of what they thought about it! 

  • http://twitter.com/NickNieto Nick Nieto

    I just like that image. I don’t care what people say.

  • http://twitter.com/NickNieto Nick Nieto

    I just like that image. I don’t care what people say.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=504436614 Lee Harris

    Anyone who thinks this is a crap picture is simply mad, even now the composition stands out and how many of you post produce, or use in camera phone apps to achieve a faux vintage look? All the comments are from people who just feel they have say to something, anything, even though it just shows their ignorance and lack of aesthetics, don’t just react, try thinking fools!

  • http://www.facebook.com/ldarroch Lynne Darroch

    Once upon a time, I was a teaching assistant for 1st year university courses. As such, I got to read the professor evaluations where I learned that some people (about 1/3) don’t understand the difference between critique and negative criticism. If you tell these people to offer a critique, they think they should go to “trash” mode. “Critique the weather” >> “The blue of the sky is too intense, the fluffy white clouds are cliche…” and so on.  The other 1/3rd don’t care to form an actual opinion, and the remaining 1/3rd actually think before they communicate.

  • BrooklynLens

    The comments left here are probably as valid as the comments referred to in this article. In 1913 Jacques-Henri Lartigue made an image of a race car which might receive some of the same critisim as this image, but it’s considered as part of the foundation of photography.

  • BrooklynLens

    The comments left here are probably as valid as the comments referred to in this article. In 1913 Jacques-Henri Lartigue made an image of a race car which might receive some of the same critisim as this image, but it’s considered as part of the foundation of photography.

  • photogog

    Well put. Know your history and you can appreciate what good work is. I have looked at and critiqued this photo with my students every year and with time and discussion they understand just how amazing this photo is. Especially when put in context; HCB shot film! He was in the right place at the right time. It was not staged. It was indeed one of his “Decisive Moments.”

  • http://muzzofotografia.hstr.me M. Federico

    Hei Henri, how’re you doing up there?

  • Surfer

    Amazing because this is a fantastic photo. Lots of delicious texture, movement, constrained area in the foreground and the freedom of movement in the background. The lines are incredible! And I thought all this before reading the rest of the article.

    It might be worthwhile to note that I have a background in Studio Art so my views might be just a bit different….

  • Clearlight

    zzzZZ… is there a point to this post? I think not. The OP implies that the DMU members who voted to delete the image don’t know what they’re talking about, yet offers nothing in the way of their own critique to prove them wrong.

  • Anonymous

    so small. so blurry. to better show a sense of movement SOMETHING has to be in sharp focus

  • Mike

    I saw that movie too! Hooray for us! Of course that movie was about the overhype of the new and unknown, not a possibly undeserved reputation of a famous master… Any other readings on art philosophy or history you’d like parrot the title of? Or even better, any arguments you’d like to make on your own?

  • photogog

    So small, so blurry? The blur of the bike IS what shows the sense of movement. The image is small because it is a copy of the original black and white image.  The rest of the photo is in sharp focus and shows spot on composition, line, texture and value. HCB did not take this image digitally, he captured it at just the right moment, which is challenging with ONE roll of film.

  • Tempesto

    One of the few comments here that actually got to the heart of the issue at hand. Kudos.

  • Logi

    Someone said: “Fantastic composition, but the tones and the graininess keep the photo from being great.”, which would be spot-on if this were shot with modern kit. But with 80 year old kit, that criticism simply doesn’t apply. So, in that sense, the “social experiment” is entirely unfair.

  • Logi

    But the experiment was fundamentally flawed because the person posting the picture didn’t disclose that it was 80 years old and made with equipment which most people wouldn’t be able to do anything useful with.

  • Hysyanz

    just because a photo sells for alot of money doesn’t mean its a great photo although i do like this one. it fell more like a painting than anything else

  • Hysyanz

    just because a photo sells for alot of money doesn’t mean its a great photo although i do like this one. it fell more like a painting than anything else

  • http://twitter.com/humanperson D. Fletcher

    I don’t feel I’ve gotten what I’d call quality criticism since college.  If you go to some sites seeking critique, it seems like it’s mostly gearheads and photographic “engineers” who’ll tear anything unusual to pieces.  On the other side of the coin, if you get a photoblog you’ll never, ever get negative criticism. 

    Now about this photo…if it were perfectly shot today with a full frame DSLR and the best lens money could buy, it would not be any better.  Sharpness isn’t as important as emotion.  Art is about connecting on an emotional level.  Sometimes that means a perfectly exposed, technically perfect photograph, but sometimes it means blur and grain and contrast and flare and vignetting.  Maybe not necessarily like a Lomo or Holga, but maybe.   Depends on the artist’s style, what he or she is trying to get across, and the subject at hand.

  • Anonymous

    synds covered the important points well… I’d add just one and expound on it a bit.
    When this image by HCB, Lartigue’s race car photo and others were made, they were revolutionary. 
    These photographers were opening up a whole new field of art, whereby the artist’s heart and mind were expressed in the moment via a machine rather than painstakingly over time with traditional artists’ tools – a brush, a pen, a chisel.
    These are not static images – a moving subject is captured in the blink of an eye, as it appears in space and time. This conversion of four-dimensional space to the two-dimensional plane continues to change how we humans view our world.I don’t know if I’m an artist. Probably not. I have studied these and other images repeatedly, and they form the framework which I hang my images on. Not to imitate – but to internalize the ideas and techniques and let them inform what I do. In order to make photos with meaning, one must go beneath the mechanical workings of the process, and get beyond a surface understanding of images. Knowing which pictures are important to the development of photography as an art – and why they are important – is a fine place to start.
    Lartigue photo: http://maisonbisson.com/blog/post/10531/focal-plane-shutter-distortion/

  • Anonymous

    synds covered the important points well… I’d add just one and expound on it a bit.
    When this image by HCB, Lartigue’s race car photo and others were made, they were revolutionary. 
    These photographers were opening up a whole new field of art, whereby the artist’s heart and mind were expressed in the moment via a machine rather than painstakingly over time with traditional artists’ tools – a brush, a pen, a chisel.
    These are not static images – a moving subject is captured in the blink of an eye, as it appears in space and time. This conversion of four-dimensional space to the two-dimensional plane continues to change how we humans view our world.I don’t know if I’m an artist. Probably not. I have studied these and other images repeatedly, and they form the framework which I hang my images on. Not to imitate – but to internalize the ideas and techniques and let them inform what I do. In order to make photos with meaning, one must go beneath the mechanical workings of the process, and get beyond a surface understanding of images. Knowing which pictures are important to the development of photography as an art – and why they are important – is a fine place to start.
    Lartigue photo: http://maisonbisson.com/blog/post/10531/focal-plane-shutter-distortion/

  • Johanna Mifsud

    I had a similar experience when I started out in photography.  Having joined a professional photography association in the UK, I submitted some of my work to one of the ‘experts’ for an evaluation.  The reply came back full of pompous comments and unconstructive criticism.  I was also offered expensive photography courses by the same critic.  Hardly a week passed when a company in the US wrote to me to buy one of the photos for $500, a neat sum when you’ve just started out.  Crticism is important but it has to be constructive and helpful. Don’t let criticism put you off.  Rather, enjoy the different opinions about your work and most important enjoy creating your own work.  

  • Ruannel

    It was not flawed. As mentioned earlier none of the people even recognized the image. Surely that aspect was part of the experiment. People don’t seem to value what came before at all anymore. Their worlds have been made so comfortable by technology. Image how many people would know how to really survive if all electrical technology failed right now.