How to give and take constructive criticism

How do you get better in your field? By learning from your mistakes and avoid making them in the future. The best way to find out where your mistakes and weaknesses lie, is in good, constructive criticism.

When does critique stop being constructive and start being obnoxious? How can you help another artist by giving your honest opinion? What is too honest?

Constructive versus bullying
A lot of people are scared to ask criticism, because they’re not well prepared for it. They think people are bashing or bullying them by pointing out their weaknesses. Of course, the way a critique is given determines a lot of that, but also your attitude towards it.

When you post a photo in a discussion group, or when you show it to a friend, say that you are open to critiques. Listen carefully to what they have to say with an open mind. Don’t pass judgement immediately, but give their words a little thought before you reply.

When does criticism become bullying?
When the words are said to break you down, rather than  make you better. For example, when the critique is not about technical aspects, but a direct attack on the model, surroundings or other.  (examples: “You are fat!” – “That location is awful” – “The model looks horrible” – “That is just terrible in every way”)
Also, when  a person just wants to show their picture without getting honest opinions, it’s kind of rude to throw in your 50 years expertise as a photographer and completely break down the picture.  There’s a time and place for everything. Especially if you talk in condescending way. The best thing to do is to ask “are you looking for critique or just sharing?”

Also a good time to give constructive criticism is when a person asks you to work with them and you refuse. You don’t have to explain yourself every time, of course, but if you do see potentional, point that out and suggest what they might work on in the future. Who knows, maybe they work on those points, contact you again later, and they could have improved so much you do want to collaborate with them this time around.

Giving critique
It’s always a good way to start with a compliment.
Example: “Your lighting is just perfect! However, …”

Make it a bit less imperative by saying what you would have done differently.
Example: “What I would have done, was put more focus on her face. But that’s my style, of course.”

Sometimes it’s best to give the critique in private. Not everyone likes to be told things like this when everyone can read along, this might lead to a defensive response.

It’s a good thing to ask a question, as to how they feel about their work and how they would like to be critiqued.
Example: “What was your goal with this picture? Did you accomplish it?” “Are you happy with this result, or are there things you think you could’ve done better?”

Do not force your own preferences onto another artist. They are telling their own story in their own style.
Example: “Too bad it’s a shoot on location. It would have been so much better int he studio. I always prefer studio over location.”

Don’t be condescending and don’t belittle people.
Example: “Of course, you have not been in the industry as long as I’ve been… but you’ll learn 🙂 Give it a few years ;)”
In a real-life situation as opposed to social media, it’s totally not done to come up to people and start explaining how their equipment works, or how to do their job. This comes across as arrogant, and degrading towards the other person.
Especially if you work with a team, you have to learn to trust them. Don’t go to the make-up artist and tell them how you want the eyeshadow to blend – it’s not your job, and he or she knows what they are doing.

Don’t. Give. One. Word. Comments.
Seriously, no one gets any smarter from a one word comment you added while scrolling down on facebook when you were on the toilet.
Examples: “Nice!” “Hot girl!” “Sucks” “Damn”

Know when it’s a waste of time to give critique. When the other person is on a way other (lower) level than you, and you absolutely don’t see any potentional in their work, just let them be. Some people do this for fun or as  a hobby and aren’t looking to improve their work. If you give criticism to them, you will most likely come across as a very arrogant person.


Taking critique
Be specific. If you are a make-up artist and you’re sharing a picture, make sure to ask for make-up related comments only. Otherwise people might comment on the clothes or the way the picture is edited, and that won’t help you in any way. (It might even be offensive to your teammates that didn’t want to be criticized.)

Take everything with a grain of salt. Look at who’s commenting. If that person is a lot better than you, listen carefully and learn. If the person isn’t really that good, they probably have no clue what they’re talking about and just wanted to act interesting.

Try to see the difference between condescending criticism and constructive criticism. If the person wants to see you improve and get better with their pointers, it’s constructive. Pay attention to these comments, not the purely negative ones.
Example of condescending: “You are obviously a beginner… That background is horrible.”
Example of constructive: “I can see where you are going with this image, and I love the style! It would have taken the photo to a whole other level if you had chosen a different background though.”

Reacting to critique is important, too. Don’t brush away the comments (“I know the make-up doesn’t go down the neck, that’s because I ran out of product.”), but listen carefully and thank the person for their insights.  Point out which part of their critique struck you the most and what you will be working on in the future.
Example: “I love this image a lot! Maybe in the future you could try to edit a bit more, create more highlights in the face?”
“Thanks for your comment! I will definitely experiment more with highlighting in the future.”


Do you like to give criticism? Would you like more open critique on your photos? How do you communicate with your followers about your work? Let me know in the comments!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *