Scott Kelby

Wednesday Critique #17, 09/05/2014

Hidden Chairs. Estes Park, Colorado, 2014
Hidden Chairs. Estes Park, Colorado, 2014

Again, today’s topic is not actually a critique of a particular photograph. Instead, it is sort of a partial summary of places you could go to get feedback on your images–or, I suppose, to look at feedback that has been given to others. (This is one half of a discussion I will moderate tonight at the Photographic Frontiers Study Group meeting.)

So, how do you get critiques of you work? Here are some ideas…

1) The Facebook Method – Just see how many “Likes” you can collect! Yeah! But, wait. Hold yer horses, Buckwheat…There are at least two problems I see. First, you will almost never get educated, in-depth, intelligent feedback–“Wow, that’s really cool!” might be one of the more profound comments. Second, your Facebook friends and the Facebook masses are not necessarily very educated about art in general and photography in particular. Hallucinogenic sunsets get piles of “Likes” but post a relatively unkown but superb image by Henri Cartier-Bresson as a test and…crickets. I suppose FB might work to gauge what will sell on the WalMart postcard and calendar rack, but that’s about the limit. (Perhaps one caveat: There are some FB pages dedicated to photography and critiques–these could be exceptions.)

2) The Cole Thompson Method – Basically, this means no critique at all. He says: “I’m unqualified. All I know is what I like and what I don’t like, and that should be irrelevant to you.” As far as he will go will be to suggest that your image is successful only insofar as it accurately captures your vision–so a personal vision is a prerequisite. For a more in-depth explanation and defense of his philosophy, see his article, Why I Don’t Critique Other People’s Work.

3) The Photo Club Method – This can be hit or miss. If they have contests or judging, the quality of such can vary like a rooster wind vane in a tornado. In some cases, there are cliques, or a mothball-ish philosophy that has been imposed on the club by the more vocal or senior members. Other clubs, though, are outstanding in their desire to encourage the newbie. Learn to filter what is said, consider the sources, consider your vision and goals, then mentally accept or not the critique offered. Many, many a neophyte photog has launched from the gantry of a local photo club, so don’t be afraid to give it a good ole junior college try.

4) The Scott Kelby Method – Brief and harsh. You can submit a small portfolio and, if your number is drawn, have it critiqued by Scott, Matt Kloskowski, and maybe a guest, on one of the video episodes of The Grid. Try THIS LINK for some examples–look for the “Blind Critique” episodes. Worth watching just to see what they say about the work of others.

5) The Method – Or any other photography forum on the web…Often these are just barely-disguised mutual admiration societies. Some are better than that. Some will indeed have a specific critique forum. Even so, the ratio of images submitted for critique to the number of images that receive a well-done critique is often around 10 to 1 (my guess). Shop around. Hint: You’ll find that you are more likely to get a good critique when you take the time to participate in the online community and give a few well-reasoned critiques yourself.

6) The Shark Tank Method – This may be a “better than that” type forum (Click that Shark Tank link). The name helps adjust the expectations of the participants. Join up, don your scuba gear, and give it a whirl!

7) The Craig Tanner / Mindful Eye Method – I learned a lot from Craig’s 6 to 10-minute videos on his website, The Mindful Eye. Look for the Daily Critique–you’ll find a few on YouTube as well. He is positive, encouraging, knowledgeable, and speaks the language of the artist. His format: “Here is what I really like about the image…” Then, “Here is what I might do in a perfect world to improve it…”

8) The Trusted Mentor Method – Find a friend with good judgment, a fellow artist (better–a painter or sculptor!), or a photographer you admire…and latch on for the ride. Ask them for honest feedback. Don’t complain if they give you some negative comments–this will make them reluctant to be honest with you. If you can find a photographer doing work that might be similar to yours, that could be good–but it isn’t absolutely necessary. Maybe try various mentors as opinions and taste can vary widely.

9) The Portfolio Method – When you think you are ready, this may be one of the best ways to see how you fit into the rest of the weird, wide, wonderful world of photography. Prepare to be humbled. Try the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops on for size. They will place you in a workshop commensurate with your demonstrated level (images submitted a priori). Expect some humble pie on your plate with that initial step. Then, during the actual 20-minute portfolio reviews, expect even larger portions of said pie. Cole Thompson told me it took him two years to recover emotionally from his personal portfolio review. But, in the end, it was a key experience in his development as a superb artist. (Cole’s issue? If I understood correctly, something about imitation versus pursuing a unique personal vision.)

All of these places, in combination, might be a good way to have your work critiqued and/or to see how the work of others is dissected. Anything to keep up that relentless forward motion!

POSTSCRIPT: During our discussion at the Photographic Frontiers Study Group meeting, a few other interesting critique and learning sources came out. Try these:

Nevada Weir – Extremely accomplished photographer and teacher. Try one of her National Geographic or Santa Fe workshops.

The Picture Perfect School of Photography (PPSOP) – Some worthwhile online courses with excellent instructors who will give you honest feedback. (Bryan Peterson, Scott Stulberg, et al)

500px – The best images rise to the top as members rate and critique them. Some really excellent work here.



A visit with Cole Thompson

Private Property. Downtown Ft. Collins, Colorado, 2013
Private Property. Downtown Ft. Collins, Colorado, 2013

This weekend was Open Studios weekend in Ft. Collins, so we took advantage of the occasion and zipped up north to visit Cole Thompson at his ranch studio. I like his work because I am quite partial to high contrast, monochrome images with simple yet strong compositional elements, and that describes much of what Cole’s art is about. And, although he comes from a landscape photography background, his work is not limited to that genre. To see for yourself what he does, check out his galleries HERE.

Interestingly, Cole is off in a side eddy as opposed to floating tranquilly down the mainstream in terms of his philosophy of photography, so I thought I’d address that in today’s post. You may not agree with some of his thoughts, but you may learn something from them. His work is pretty powerful–especially when you see the actual finished prints on the wall–so may he stay forever in that very creative side eddy of his.

Here are a few of his key ideas (in my own words):

1) Everything starts from a personal vision. No unique vision = no unique images. All the King’s expensive cameras and lenses stacked on the shelves at B&H Photo won’t help you put together the pieces of an obra maestra unless you have a personal vision of where you want to go with your work.

2) There is no need to know Photoshop like a Scott Kelby clone. All you need to know are those post-processing tools necessary to bring your vision from the camera to the print. In Cole’s case, that amounts to only about a half dozen Photoshop steps and he is finished.

3) Cole doesn’t believe in critiquing the images of others. To him, it is tantamount to saying: “If you want to make your images look more like what I do, then you should do this…”, which he thinks is absurd. You should be free to follow your own personal path without well-meaning critiques interrupting your journey. Also, in many clubs, universities, photo workshops, and photography courses, the common scene is one of photo critique sessions and portfolio reviews which can have the very unproductive effect of motivating you to produce work to please others and not necessarily to please yourself, the latter being what you really need to do to create honest art.

4) He believes in what he terms “photographic celibacy”…that is, not spending hours poring over the works of others. In fact, he has gone seven years now without deliberately studying the photographs of other image makers. He feels this too easily leads to the temptation of IMITATION–and too much of the work being done these days is merely imitation. Again, he stresses the importance of finding your own personal voice with your photography.

To read Cole’s own words on the above themes, read his article, “Never Ask Others About Your Work” and the “Imitation vs. Inspiration” article that immediately follows it.

These ideas could be seen as heretical in some circles. But I say screw “some circles” as long as he creates what he wants! I may not agree 100% with the above points, but I certainly see their merits, I see that they work for him, and I will likely incorporate at least some of those attitudes into my way of doing things, too.

All-in-all, a great visit…and we look forward to his presentation at the Colorado Nature Camera Club in Boulder in November.

Adobe taking Photoshop to the “creative cloud”

Abandoned Garden. Denver, Colorado, 2013
Abandoned Garden. Denver, Colorado, 2013

By now you have probably heard that Adobe will soon be offering its Photoshop software only via what they call the Adobe Creative Cloud. Yes, much gnashing of fangs on the forums these days…such is the price of “progress”. Are we being abandoned?

The new version is called Photoshop CC, for “creative cloud”. So, you will no longer be able to buy the physical Photoshop CDs in a box for versions beyond CS6–instead you’ll need to pay for a monthly subscription for the initial download and for follow-on updates to your copy of Photoshop CC.

This may be great for the pro who wants to make sure she has the latest post-processing tools and who uses more than just Photoshop and Lightroom applications, but for us normal photogs who update Photoshop only every other version or so, we will likely end up paying more with this system. Click here for more details and some great links to the topic.

Intro to Photoshop Layers

Ice #114. Eldorado Springs Canyon, Colorado, 2012
Ice #114. Eldorado Springs Canyon, Colorado, 2012

Definitely do as I say rather than as I do on this one.

My post-processing technique in Photoshop, even if I do use layers and masks, is not ideal and definitely not an example for anyone to follow. When I’m done editing, I flatten my image and store it as a TIFF file–not what you want to do if you wish to take full advantage of the power of layers.

What should you do? Ideally, you work each stage of your post-processing in Photoshop on a separate layer. Then, you save the whole shebang as a psd (Photoshop document) file. That way, you can go back to the file and re-edit or tweak any of the separate working layers you desire–there is no need to start over from scratch. If you have flattened the file, like I currently do, you’ll have to start over with your original (which you have surely saved somewhere, right?!).

[Ed. note: My personal justification for my awful technique of flattening is that I am still learning Photoshop so quickly (my learning curve hasn’t nearly topped out yet) that in just about every case I would prefer to re-edit my images from the beginning rather than make tweaks in the middle of a psd file…and those psd files take up a lot of memory. In the future, once that learning curve flattens out a bit, yes, I’ll start saving my very, very best files in the psd format–say, 50-100 such files a year, max.]

So, for those new to layers in Photoshop (and to reemphasize the topic in my own mind) I pass on three really great learning resources that cover this specific concept as well as Photoshop in general. Click here for these wonderful tips.

Top Ten Worst and Best Typefaces (Fonts)

Ah, the subject of fonts, or more precisely typefaces…Not exactly photography, but it is related to art and to many things photographers do, from creating websites, to photo books, business cards, exhibition announcements, exhibit explanations, and photograph titles/tags.

After watching a Scott Kelby video in which he goes off on how ignorant folks are in choosing typefaces for various purposes, I decided to do my own Guy Noir Private Eye investigation into the matter. I did this to educate myself and to confront my own ignorance of the subject. (As it turns out, the world of printing and typefaces is huge and quite interesting.) Click here for my Top Ten lists!