Like most photographers, I’m intensely self-critical. I can be absolutely merciless when it comes to analyzing what went wrong or right in my pictures.
And yet, I pretty much hate it when other people critique me. Perhaps that’s why I’m usually more positive and encouraging when I review the photos of others.
When I taught online regularly, I would spend an hour or so writing 500 to 1,000 word critiques of my students’ work. I tended to look for the smart, creative aspects of their photos. Over time, I found that students improved more quickly when I focused on the good things they had done. It gave them something to build on.
Still, when I first download my own images, I can’t help but hammer myself for all of the mistakes I made, or the better ideas that I overlooked. I constantly have to remind myself to spend as much time thinking about what I like about my photos as what I don’t.
Just a Snapshot
The photo below is just a snapshot. I was waiting for a freighter to leave the harbor; this couple walked into the frame, so I shot a quick dozen photos of them. I liked the shot as I was taking it, but I knew it was just a snapshot.
Nevertheless, I took the time to analyze the photo later. Here are some of the thoughts that went through my mind as I looked at it for the first time:
What I Like —
- The setting next to a pretty harbor at sunset;
- The placement of the couple in the frame, especially the way the water surrounds their upper bodies and heads;
- They’re both wearing red — which really pops out;
- They both have a foot off the ground, which I had the good timing to capture.
What I Dislike —
- The specular highlights on the oil tanks across the harbor in the distance;
- The couple is a bit too close to center (yes, I know this contradicts my second “like” above);
- I’m at the same level with the couple;
- I didn’t ask them to turn around and pose — perhaps hugging or looking at each other;
- I didn’t exaggerate the space with a wider lens.
Being Your Best Teacher
I wish I had cropped out the oil tanks. I wish I had placed the couple farther to the right. I wish I had thought to snatch the camera off the tripod and take the picture while kneeling down. I wish I had spoken to them. I wish I hadn’t used such a long zoom setting.
Sure, it wasn’t a great photo op to begin with, but every photo you take is an opportunity to learn. If you take the time to do some self-analysis each time you download your photos, you can be your own best teacher.
Self-awareness is everything, I think, in life and in photography. Just be sure to spend as much time focusing on what you did right in your pictures as what you did wrong. Cut yourself some slack; after all, it’s only photography.