For some they both can be an acquired taste, a little bitter at first but after a while starts to get easier to swallow. Just think about the first time you tried to shoot an epic sunset and came home with nothing but washed out skies or blocked up foreground details. I don’t think I need to remind you about the first time you drank tequila… or maybe someone should? Both, if over indulged in, can leave you with a headache and upset stomach. They’re also not all created equally; the finer the tequila the much more pleasurable the experience. In fact, like fine tequila a well-crafted photograph is smooth, one I like to sip slowly, taking in all the subtle nuances and bouquet. Lastly, and the point I’m getting to (I knew you must be starting to wonder), is that they should be taken with salt.
Tequila, unless of course we’re talking top shelf is much better with salt. I know, I know it’s kind of like a Ford vs. Chevy or a Canon vs. Nikon debate but trust me, salt is the way to go. So how does this relate to photography? Many of us are regularly sharing our images online, whether on blogs, critique forums or social media outlets like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. We’ve never before had such easy access to sources of inspiration and feedback to help us improve our photography. It’s great and I learn fantastic new things that help further my craft everyday. But there is a risk too. You should take the feedback you get about your images with (and here comes the link to tequila, although admittedly a weak one), a grain of salt.
Take these two very different scenarios. Photographer A posts an image online. The image gets very little attention and few comments with some that offer suggestions for further alteration, crop from the left, crop from the right, dodge this, burn that, warmer light, cooler light, etc. You get the idea. Photographer B posts an image online. But this image gets tons of “hits,” “pluses,” “likes,” and all around praise and admiration. Is one image better than the other or more successful? Maybe, but this is where the grain of salt concept comes in. It depends on your goal for the image. I contend that above all we should be photographing to please ourselves first and foremost, not for others; and certainly not to garner those pluses, likes, re-tweets and general internet wonderboy status. You can easily be consumed by a “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality, and believe me there will always be someone out there online that gets more likes than you. It’s just the way it is.
Take this shot for example. It’s one that hasn’t gotten a great deal of attention online and I’ve never sold it, yet it remains one of my favorites. I’ve got it in my portfolio, on my website and have a print of it hanging in my living room which I enjoy looking at everyday. I’m proud of it. I like the balance and harmony of the composition as well as the complexity of its tonal range and contrast. I also quite enjoyed making it, and the time I spent exploring this river with a good friend equally as passionate about photography.
“Swift River Monochrome,” Canon 5DII, 24mm, f14 @ 2.5 sec. ISO 50
Ultimately, striving for and relying on this internet feedback can be rather destructive to your motivation and morale, leaving you frustrated and feeling inadequate about your imagery or skills behind the lens (kind of like high school right?). Instead, take the feedback you get, both positive and negative with a grain of salt. Evaluate the suggestions. Do YOU feel they improve YOUR vision or clarify what you’re trying to say in the image? If not, forget them. The same goes for the praise. Just because a lot of people “like” your post or shot doesn’t by any stretch of the imagination mean that the image is as good as it can be. So be confident, strive to improve, ask for help when you need it, but above all stay passionate about photography. You will always produce your best and most personally rewarding work when you photograph something that YOU are passionate about, not trying to keep up with the “Joneses.” And at the end of the day you can celebrate with a margarita!