In our previous Be a Better Photog post, we discussed the need to challenge yourself and focus on making better images via photo assignments, photo walks and daily photos. The takeaway from that post was:
Set goals, assess results, learn, repeat.
The point of these exercises is to do, and learn by what we do. But we can also learn from the work of others. I think we’d all agree that there are many photographers that are better than we are, and from these people we can learn much. We don’t need to know them personally, they don’t even have to still be of this earth! We can learn through their photographic work.
Have you ever visited a museum with someone else, and experienced a piece of art that makes you stop in your tracks, while the person you are with just walks on by? You saw something in that art that attracted or maybe repulsed you, it stirred an emotion or a memory, it struck a chord with you, but for your companion, it was no big deal. When we look at a photograph, whether ours or someone else’s, we are similarly either struck by something about the image, or it has no impact on us at all. Every time we see a photograph, whether it hits us or not, is an opportunity to improve our skills. Here’s how:
Ask yourself why does a photo grab your attention, or leave you flat?
What did the photographer do that makes you like or dislike it? Is it the lighting, the way it’s composed, the colors (or lack thereof), use of depth of field, focus or the subject itself?
How did he or she accomplish that? Could you do that? Why not?
If the image does nothing for you, again, ask why? How could it be improved? What would you have done differently?
You’d be surprised how valuable an exercise this is. If you’re a week-end athlete, you probably spend a lot of time watching the pros play “your game”. You watch intently, enhancing your knowledge of the rules, the techniques, the players. The equivalent activity for the photog is to “watch” the work of other photographers, enhancing your knowledge of the rules of good photography, the techniques and the photographers.
So where do you go to “watch” other photogs “play” your game? There are any number of galleries you can visit, and your local library or bookstore will have countless books to peruse. And then of course, there is the internet. Steve Wozniak said that “trying to get information from the internet was like trying to drink from a fire hose”, and if you try to search the web for images, you’re going to get very “wet”. So I’ve collected a short list of some good sites to visit, where you can see everything from professional and iconic images to backyard snapshots.
I recommend that, if you are not already doing this, you choose one or two sites and visit them daily – even if it’s only for 15 minutes. And lest you think, “this sounds like work” and “I don’t have the time”, you’ll be surprised at how quickly you can assess a photo, ask yourself about it, answer and move on. For me, it’s second nature and I find myself studying photos on the fly.
WiningPic selects what they feel are “the best photos from the top photo sharing web sites”. Frequent updates, impressive photography, nicely presented.
SmugMug is home to thousands of photographers, from pros to amateurs, who host their websites there. (This is where I host my personal galleries and view the work of other photographers every day.) You can view the best of SmugMug which changes constantly, and is outstanding.
National Geographic It’s National Geographic – ‘nuff said.
Life Magazine Contemporary, candid, portraits, classic.
Flickr Vast and all inclusive, you’ll find every type of photo imaginable here.
So let’s say you’ve followed the sage advice of our last post and have embarked on all three types of challenges, and are building quite a collection of photographs. Excellent, and I’m sure that you’re reviewing your work and learning in the process. But just think, what if you could allow others to assess your work and offer constructive feedback? Back in the day, that would have meant having a gallery showing (difficult) or publishing a book (expensive) or to just be content with your photo albums and a few framed prints hung prominently in your home or elsewhere.
But that fire hose we spoke of earlier works both ways. With a little effort and little or no expense, you can share your work in a number of photo communities and receive feedback. Now before you cringe at the thoughts of people (as in strangers? Yes) looking at your work and offering feedback (not always positive? Yes), take a breath.
My experience is that most people who do comment on your work are positive and constructive, especially if you ask for their feedback. And if you start out by sharing your work with friends and family, inviting them to provide feedback, you’re more likely to get gentle suggestions, to get you started. But the best feedback comes from other photogs, who already understand exposure, composition, and the factors that make a great image. Their knowledge, shared with you via feedback, can be invaluable.
There are many venues to share your work, that offer different experiences. Here are some of the most popular:
Picasa Web Albums by Google is free once you register with Google. You can upload up to 1Gb of images to a free account, (more is available for a small amount), and send invitations to anyone to view. Your albums can be public or private and viewable only to those you specifically invite to view. Comments can be posted by viewers.
Flickr, as mentioned above, allows you to easily create an account and upload images to create your own photostream. You can share with family and friends and interface to popular social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Viewers of your images can leave comments and if you join Groups in Flicker, which are organized in every imaginable way, you can really get some traffic. A Flicker account is free.
SmugMug is a photo website hosting service which offers a more professional appearance and many options for presenting your work. This is where I’ve hosted my photo galleries since 2005. I’m also a member of the Daily Photo Community within SmugMug, where members post a photo per day. The beauty of being in the Dailies is that I get to see, and comment on, some amazing photography every day. Similarly, my daily posts are viewed and commented on so I’m benefiting twice: by seeing and being seen. Three levels of accounts run from $40 to $150 per year, all with unlimited storage but increasing customization options. A free trial is also available. (If you’d like to sign up, use this coupon code (QvxudYEeGIWt6) for a $5.00 discount.) My experience with SmugMug has been very positive and I recommend this site for anyone looking to seriously host their photography.
The following sites offer rankings of many photo sharing sites. I can’t vouch for the review process they use, but these will give you an idea, and links to, all of your options:
…and fellow Photog Art Hill has this to say about photo sharing websites on his blog.
So to wrap up, get out there and “see” what other photogs are doing. Study their work and learn from that. Leave comments for them. And if you have a question about how they achieved that look, ask! They’ll usually be happy to get back to you.
And at the same time you are “seeing”, you need to “be seen“. Get your work in front of people and ask for feedback. Start with family and friends if you’re more comfortable, or go big time and bare your soul to the world! (Was that over the top?). Take a leap of faith and dive right in. You’ll benefit in two ways, and other photogs will benefit from seeing your work and the feedback you’ll give to them.
If you have questions or thoughts on this subject, feel free to leave a comment or drop me a line email@example.com. – Posted by Ed
Excellent post with lots of good advice. And thanks for the link to my article. I think you should have included Windows Live as a free storage option since you get 25 gig free compared to Picasa’s 2 gig.
Good tip, thanks Art.
I definitely see value add in studying the works of others whether it’s by going to a gallery, browsing books, or on the web. And, although real feedback is not always easy to take, it is beneficial when given constructively. Interacting with other photographers is a great way to learn and improve. Great write-up to get us to consider study, interaction and evaluation.
Great blog, Ed. Very interesting and informative. I just “celebrated” my first year anniversary on the DailyPhotos community and can vouch for what you say regarding seeing and being seen. It’s been fun…and challenging!
Thanks Howard, and Happy Anniversary! You’ve been a great addition to the Dailies. Ed
Well done! Interesting and informative. I have been studying others works for a while now and find that helps with my development and also constructive feed back as I like to know what I am doing right or wrong. I was afraid at first of the feedback but generally everything has been positive. The critique I believe helps me develop my skills more.
I’m sure you’re right Carrie. In fact, your recent work on SmugMug proves that you are right. Thanks, Ed