This past Wednesday was our monthly “Blind Photo Critiques” episode of ‘The Grid” where we ask our viewers to send in 3 or 4 of their images and give an honest critique (which is why we don’t ask for their names, we don’t say who took the shots so we can give an honest critique without publicly embarrassing anyone).

These Blind Photo Critiques are really popular because we try to use these critiques as learning tools for all our viewers (not just the person whose images get critiqued), but I gotta tell ya â” this past Wednesday’s was a pretty rough episode. I felt pretty down afterward, because we didn’t have a lot of good things to say about the images that were submitted, try as we might to find a silver lining in some cases. Usually we have three or four photographers whose work is really solid, and sometimes it’s more like 6 or 7, but on Wednesday, we only had one, and that really made it rough.

Our guest was photographer and instructor Rick Sammon, and Rick (as always) had lots of helpful technical insights on composition and technique, but we all struggled at times to come up with anything meaningful or nice to say, and I can tell you, that’s not fun. We want to be encouraging, but at the same time, we feel we need to be totally honest to really help, and every time we are, it reminds us of why it’s so much easier to lie and tell people “you’re on the right track” even when you know they aren’t.

It makes you feel like crud when you read a tweet like this, from someone we reviewed this past week:

“Well thats left me more than slightly deflated! Had my photo’s critiqued on #thegridlive by @ScottKelby & @aboutrc. Didn’t go down too well!”

Thankfully, we do see a lot of positive tweets from people who tell us it’s what they needed to hear, and you can tell they have the kind of attitude that’s going to make them a success. We’ve had people go right out again shooting after their critique; and share their photos literally a week later that are a night-and-day improvement from what they had submitted just a few days earlier, and that’s what keeps us going. There is nothing that makes an educator want to stand up and cheer more than seeing one of their students succeed. It’s what puts the fuel in our tanks, so you can imagine how all three of us felt after Wednesday’s episode where we barely had anything kind to say. It was a rough show. You could tell when things were really going bad because RC and I would just look over at Mr. Sammon and say “Rick?” and let him try to come up with something (poor Rick – he’s just a good sport).

If you get a few minutes, please take a look at the episode I posted above because there actually are some really good learning moments in there, especially in the first critique we did of the guy’s shots in the park (we spent a lot of time on his shots, but it was time well spent from a learning standpoint). We did have to make the point, after the commercial break, that the goal of the episode isn’t how many photos we get through â” it’s about how much we learn, and I hope you do take something useful from it (and I hope you submit your images next month around this same time).

I’m off to London!
I'm teaching my seminar in London on Tuesday, and if you're in the UK and you're not one of the 300 or so photographers coming out to spend the day with me (and Brad), why the heck not? Come on out - you'll learn a lot (it's 100% money back guaranteed, so you have nothing to lose - if you don't think it totally kicks butt, you get your money back!). Here's the link - I hope to see you there on Tuesday!

Have a great weekend everybody, and a great week (and make sure you follow me on Twitter and Facebook as I’ll be sharing my trip there next week. Well, starting Sunday anyway).

Best,

-Scott

About The Author

Scott is a Photographer, bestselling Author, Host of "The Grid" weekly photography show; Editor of Photoshop User magazine; Lightroom Guy; KelbyOne.com CEO; struggling guitarist. Loves Classic Rock and his arch-enemy is Cilantro. Devoted husband, dad to two super awesome kids, and pro-level babysitter to two crazy doggos.

16 Comments

  1. I watched the episode this morning and I agree that it must be tough for you. However, from a viewer’s perspective I’ve learned a ton of lessons over the years of watching your BC’s. I normally go immediately back to my own work an find all the elements you’ve pointed out and do my own critique based on what I see, then make a plan to try & list what I need to make the killer shot… then try & get it…. Next BC finds something else, so on we go, getting incrementally better and occasionally getting my “wow” shot that six months later looks a bit “nah!” I think it is tough getting criticism, but it is always mid-season in the league, there’s an opportunity to change something and move ahead a place or two. There’s never an end-of-season final result, we just keep training, trying stuff out, listen to what the coach says, listen to what the fans say, listen to what the other team’s fans say. So thank you, Scott, RC, Matt, Joe, Rick, Brad and all the others who say it as it is – I’m working my way up the amateur league and one day, if you keep doing the BC’s, I may have changed enough to make it to where all the smoke-&-noise happens.

    I’d love to hear from someone that’s been critiqued 2 or 3 times and compare how their work has progressed…. I’ll bet they can look back and agree with you.

    • I agree with you. Tough episode, but those could have been my photos; I’m just not courageous enough to submit mine. I think I may actually learn more from the ones that need extra constructive criticism than the ones that are fantastic and there is not much to say. It’s supposed to be educational and helpful, right? Well, it was, at least for me. Thank you all so much for continuing to do these critiques!

  2. It’s a tough job doing critiques. I have done them with a few photography tours/workshops I have led or co-led. Sometimes (like you have found out) there is not much good you can say. A photo teacher friend of mine would ask participants “Why did you take the photograph”? It can result in some interesting answers and help to get the conversation going.

  3. It wasn’t an easy show to watch either, I felt for you all at times. Perhaps rather than a completely random selection from the submissions (which I think Brad said on the chat) you should weed out submissions that have no learning potential for the audience. I know it’s more work but it would make your job easier as you’d have something positive to say.

    I’m even older than Rick so not addicted to social media, and do wonder if some of your audience give more attention to the chat than they do taking in what’s being said by you and your guests. I don’t think anything new was said on Wednesd.

    Pity I can’t get down to London next week, have a great time.

  4. Scott, something in the submitting photographer’s lament struck me. He said he was feeling “more than slightly deflated.” I admire their courage in submitting a photo for critiquing (and their honesty in sharing how they felt), but maybe they need to ask themselves what were they expecting? What was their goal? There’s a proverb that says “Iron sharpens iron as one man sharpens another.” I think the question for photographers submitting their images for critiquing is, are you doing this to get inflated or sharpened? If the former, probably what will count most for them is how they feel. If the latter, what they learned. You’re an exemplary teacher. Teaching and learning is sometimes a painful process. But if it’s done well and leads to progress, then it’s worth it. But in the end it all depends on what you’re seeking in that process.

  5. Well, I think the one bright side was you got to have cake, and that’s not a lie (cue obscure gaming reference music…)!!

    Just like being a parent, it’s tough being a teacher. Keep up the tough critiques, Scott. We all learn from them. Have fun on the other side of the pond. Try to keep Dave Clayton in line!

    –John

  6. How about a new critique subject: the best of Photowalk which should be coming up soon….

  7. It sounds like whoever tweeted that quote hasn’t had anyone take a critical look at their work before. I’m in a Camera Club where we have a competition each month. The judges make a comment or two on each photo. If you take what the judges say as just someone’s opinion and not take it personally and try what they say you can improve. If you get defensive and have your feelings hurt you won’t.

  8. It’s disheartening to know that you had Rick Sammon on The Grid. How useful is it to have Mr. It’s-Better-To-Be-Kind-Than-Right doing critiques (reference: http://bit.ly/1RoniwJ) doing critiques?

    Mr. Sammon couldn’t be more wrong in his either/or scenario of doing critiques. This world of annoyingly politically-correct, safe-zone, trigger-warning nonsense has bastardized the word ‘critique’ into a say-something-nice-or-don’t-say-anything-at-all formula that coddles people, rather than improve people.

    – Critique (noun): a detailed analysis and assessment of something

    – Critique (verb): evaluate (a theory or practice) in a detailed and analytical way

    – Educate (verb): give intellectual, moral, and social instruction

    – Instruction (noun): a direction or order (or) detailed information telling how something should be done, operated, or assembled

    Nowhere in these definitions does it say to take into account people’s feelings. Nowhere does the definitions suggest forgoing analysis/instruction/evaluation in exchange for a pat on the back and an atta-boy.

    Educators, professionals, and judges (doing critiques) are not responsible for ego, self-worth, or feelings—as their primary, underlying purpose. Finally, after 20 years of counselors/psychologists pushing the A-for-effort and participation medals nonsense have studies been done and proven that this has only degraded self-worth and damaged these individuals as adults—making this unproductive in society.

    In short, if given Mr. Sammon’s choice of either being right OR kind, then when doing critiques, right should always win. It is the only responsible and ethical thing to do to teach, instruct, and improve. However, Mr. Sammon should reevaluate his mantra and change to being right AND kind (i.e., you can be right, but you don’t have to be a jerk about it).

    It is sad that, as an educator, you couldn’t find anything meaningful to say. Why are you so concerned with having to have something nice to say? That only shows that you are more concerned with feelings than you are with teaching. If everyone on The Grid panel was as good as they think they are, this episode should have been an ample opportunity to TEACH. It is only easier to lie to people and give them the “atta-boy” when you are worried about self-perception (whether they like you).

    This world is already filled with plenty of people that do not have soft skills and feel that they are owed a substantial salary for sitting at home playing video games. They’ve been fed a life of it’s-better-to-be-kind-than-right. Please don’t add to it. If you are going to critique, then critique. If you are going to teach, then teach. It’s difficult to “stand up and cheer” if you’d rather be kind.

    • I just watched the whole episode and I have no idea where your comments are coming from. Maybe you’ve had a (bad?) past experience with Mr. Sammon, but I thought he was bang on with all of his critiques. Of the 3 hosts he was the one who kept asking to go back and revisit the photos to provide more learning tips.

  9. What’s the fuss?

    I thought the guys were very honest and fair and that the photographers got what they deserved in terms of feedback. I didn’t get a sense that people were getting bashed too hard. There were at least as many thumbs up, as thumbs down by my estimation.

  10. There’s nothing more valuable than an honest, constructive critique!

  11. I had my photos critiqued over a year ago by Scott and RC. I got an unenthusiastic “meh” for my shots. Over time I have taken their advice to heart, and I think my photography has greatly improved. How about an episode where you ask people to send in their worst shots for fun critiques? As long as the guidelines are explained, no one should get too upset……..

  12. Haven’t watched it yet but looking forward to it. A show with “bad” pics is a lot more useful to learn from than a show with great pics where all that is said is “well done”! That doesn’t teach anyone anything. So, don’t feel bad – you’ve probably done us other viewers a lot more service than with a show full of great pics.

    As for the submitters: somehow I think people are doing this whole critique thing wrong. They send in the photos they’re most proud of and happy with only to feel deflated when they’re not praised. I’d rather send in photos I’m NOT 100% happy with but somehow can’t figure out why – in the hope the judges figure it out and teach me.

  13. You have to choose to take offense.

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