Thursday, 25 June 2015

Wisdom of the crowd

One of the hardest things to do as a photography starting out is judging the quality of your own photos.

There are a number of ways to gather opinion, However they all suffer from the same issue that while people are quite happy to praise a photo, they are far less likely to give you negative criticism. Even if they do, they will rarely give you any useful ways to improve it.

I have always been a fan of 500px since it is one of the few ways to rate my pictures. However it suffers from the same problem. While you can judge by the number of positive likes and loves how favorable received your image is, it will not tell you the opposite i.e how disliked it is.

Up to recently I have been quite good at picking out images for 500px and got some good scores. This recently however came to a shuddering halt when I put this image on.

Now I like this picture. It has an unusual angle, tells a good story, and rather than being a pretty image, I think has a certain gravitas missing from a lot of my work.

So how did 500px rate it?

It got a total of zero, nil, null point likes, loves or even views.

So I am left with the question. Why?

There are a myriad of possible reasons but some that stand out are:-

1. It did not get seen. 

One issue with 500px is that with so many images being presented the photo needs a good hook to drag people in. Not only that but the preview shot on the main page,  only shows a small part of the center image. If that small square does not stand out, then this will cause the photo to be skipped over.

Also upload timing is critical. If it is placed when the majority of the viewers are not around, it will be rapidly relegated to the pit of other failed photos. For example, I only tend to look at the 1st 10 pages of the recent photo page, I probably miss thousands of great photos for that very reason

2. It is not a 500px type photo.

 It is quite easy to recognize a photo that will do well on 500px. They tend to be bright, glossy, and vibrant. Black and white images that do well again they are the ones with strong blacks and whites.

This image is not typical of one of those.  If I was to describe it, I would say it was gritty. Not that gritty photos are not liked, but they are less likely to stand out from the crowd.,

3. It is not very good. 

However much we hate to admit it, this is always a possibility.  Maybe its my judgement that is at fault. In some ways this would be the most worrying, which is why I cling to reason 1 or 2.

The problem is how do I know which is the reason (or is it a combination of all 3). This is why negative critic is so important. To become better photographers we must learn to accept the good with the bad, however painful the bad is.Websites like 500px just don't offer this sort of feedback, and we suffer from it(I can see there could be good legal reason why such a service is not offered. I mean no one has ever been sued for giving out compliments)

There is also the opposite issue of accepting the wisdom of the crowds. If 100 people say they like your photo, and one doesn't, does that make your photo good? If the one who dislikes it is a photo judge, they may have better reason to not like your image than the 100 who do. It maybe those faults will become more apparent with time.

So how do we obtain negative criticism?

Friends and family are not likely to be a great source of help here. However one of the best ways is to put it into competition. Judges rarely hold back, and while many judges have learnt that if they want to be asked back again, not to go totally negative, they can often not resist it.

Often you get what I call, the Judge sandwich, where they start of by saying something positive, hit you with criticism then finish off with some platitude. Worse is when the mark they give does not match their comments.

I must admit for a long time I hated competitions due to the negative comments, but looking back I realise they had an important role in improving my pictures. At the present we are are in the society off season and I am surprised by the how much I am missing the lack of critic, good and bad,

Another way to get valid feedback is to form contacts with other photographers and ask for honest opinions.

Sometimes we have to accept that we have a photo that just won't fly. it does not necessarily mean its bad, just that it's time has not come. However if in doing so you learn something then you can gain something from it despite your disappointment

To use the quotation from Moonfleet "As in life, so in a game of hazard, skill will make something of the worst of throws"

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