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Why ‘Great Photo’ Comments Will Ruin Your Photography

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Okay, so the title was a little click-baity… but it’s true. Posting to social media outlets where family members and friends can all admire your work can stifle your creativity and prevent you from getting truly constructive feedback that you can develop from.

Let’s face it: your mom is always going to like your photos (even when she really doesn’t). So hearing that from her doesn’t help you see where they can actually be improved. What’s worse is, after hearing it time and again from people close to you, you can start to believe that your photos really are good enough.

And the moment that happens, your creative juices turn off, and you become stagnant as an artist.

A very old, terrible photo from my over-Photoshopping days, that one lady commented "thats great! love the effect, beautiful shot"...she was incorrect.
A very old, terrible photo from my over-photoshopping days, that one lady commented “thats great! love the effect, beautiful shot”…she was incorrect.

Now, you might be saying: “Well, I’m not an artist. I just love photography, I’m not trying to change the world.” The truth is, you should be!

Cameras are everywhere now. I’m sure you’ve seen someone with a camera twice as good as yours… and shooting in Auto mode. And as you tense up, grit your teeth, and want to scream “Why didn’t you just buy a point-and-shoot?,” there’s a good chance they will still get some great photos.

The comment on this one "Just one word WOW!!!!!!!"....a better word would have been "Meh?"
The comment on this one “Just one word WOW!!!!!!!”….a better word would have been “Meh?”

In order to stand out these days, you have to learn to communicate with your photos. Make them have meaning. Give people something that intrigues them. And, the only way to do that is to be creative.

It doesn’t matter if all you shoot are senior portraits and family photos. If you get creative with a cliché genre, wouldn’t that make your photos all the more interesting? It’s a fresh perspective on something we’ve seen thousands of times.

It’s like a car wash for your eyes. Just like that ’91 Geo Metro that you thought couldn’t ever look sexy, then you run it through the car wash and think “Dang this thing is nice, should I add a turbo too?”

An old sunset photo of mine. Everyone's got one, nothing special to see here. Even still it got the comment "wonderful shot!"
An old sunset photo of mine. Everyone’s got one, nothing special to see here. Even still it got the comment “wonderful shot!”

Then, after we get creative, we still need feedback to tell us if we’re achieving what we hope to achieve with the photos. Again, like that turbo that sounded like a good idea a minute ago, your friends probably (hopefully) gave you some “constructive feedback” and told you that no matter what you do, your ’91 Geo Metro just won’t be cool.

That’s what feedback does, it gets us out of our own head and helps us see what other people see.

Don’t get me wrong, getting complements is fantastic… even when they are from your mom. As creatives, we are always our worst critic. So, when you’re constantly looking at your photos thinking “This is just trash, I suck”, hearing people appreciate your work can keep you from deep diving into the eternal abyss of perfectionism.

However, understanding when to take feedback seriously and when it’s just a morale booster is the key. The difference between good feedback and bad feedback depends on two things: the person’s knowledge of photography and their ability to tell you why your photo is actually good or bad.

I was actually going for something with this one - a Dracula feel. That still doesn't make it a great photo. Nonetheless, my mom liked it so much it's on display in her house to this day.
I was actually going for something with this one – a Dracula feel. That still doesn’t make it a great photo. Nonetheless, my mom liked it so much it’s on display in her house to this day.

Let’s compare it to a chef at a nice restaurant. When Jim-Bob & Suzi from way out in the sticks stroll into a fancy 5-star Italian restaurant, and after tasting his spaghetti, Jim-Bob says “That there pasta tastes better than that uh… Chef BoyrDee!” There’s a good chance Jim-Bob doesn’t have the knowledge to understand what tastes better and accurately describe why.

But, a person with knowledge of food, who has learned how to discern flavors, has an understanding of preparation processes, and could accurately dictate whether the food was good or not based on that knowledge… they would be someone who could offer the chef a qualified review of the meal.

The same is true for someone looking at your photos. If they can articulate the qualities your photo possesses, and how that works to its advantage or disadvantage their thoughts are worth taking note of. Unfortunately, the majority of those commenting “great photo” on our work don’t have the slightest clue as to why they actually like the photo, so they are more or less just thinking “well, it’s not a bad photo… so it must be good”.

Finally a comment that has value "Lovely gesture and a piece of documentation on a reality that many try to ignore. Great portrait, Michael!" ---- Yes, this photo is much better, but it's not just that it's a nice photo, it's the fact that the photo coveys something about the subject. Not only that, but it leaves it up to the viewer to decide how they feel about it.
Finally, a comment that has value: “Lovely gesture and a piece of documentation on a reality that many try to ignore. Great portrait, Michael!” Yes, this photo is much better, but it’s not just that it’s a nice photo, it’s the fact that the photo coveys something about the subject. Not only that, but it leaves it up to the viewer to decide how they feel about it.

All in all, I’m not saying don’t ever listen to people who say “great photo”. Just make sure to take it with a grain of salt, and actively seek out true constructive feedback from people who can tell you why your photo is great!


About the author: Michael Godek is a portrait and fine art photographer, traveler, entrepreneur, and teacher based out of Indianapolis, Indiana. He’s also the founder/owner and one of the instructors at Indy Photo Coach, which offers a critique service for photographers looking for helpful feedback. You can find more of Godek’s work on his website. This article was also published here.

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