It was almost a year ago to the day that I wrote about my frustrations Searching for An Honest Critique. Yesterday I was (trying) to clear some of the backlog on my desk by reading through a few of the LensWorks that have piled up (I have special corner for all my photography related to reads). This is when I came a cross the article by Brooks Jensen entitled Some Comments on Print Commentaries in issue 69.
While this article focuses primarily on critiques of prints, the comments can be applied to giving feedback on anything, artistic or not. In my experiences, all humans have a tendency to immediately start telling someone what they don’t like about a item. This is the easiest thing for us to do. It takes practice and conscious effort to provide more value than that. It’s very similar to collecting usability feedback for software. You want to place a person in front of a new piece of software, give them a set of tasks to do and have them say what they are thinking. You learn so much more by understanding what people are thinking.
When it comes to critiques, Jensen hits the nail right on the head:
“Show your work to a hundred different people and you will get a hundred differnt opinions, none of them correct and all of them valid.”
This is why I try not to give critiques unless I’m asked…something, that if you ask my wife, I still have a long way to go with. And when I’m asked, I force myself to drop back to “software testing mode”, and just start saying what I’m noticing and thinking. But I try to say it in the form of a question. If I notice that the horizon is not level, I’ll say “Hmm, why did you not make the horizon level?”. It’s pointing out a possible problem with out stepping all over the photographer’s feelings.
Sometimes direct and to the point is need, but I have found the best photography commentary is give by walking softly and leaving the big stick behind.