For Critique The Anton Ego guide to C&C in the Photographers' Lounge

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Super Moderator
Aug 13, 2011
Sunny Frimley
Bill Palmer
When in this part of our Lounge, please bear in mind the following:

1. Anyone can be a critic, there is no bar exam or certification, but it takes a certain frame of mind to critique constructively. Consider for a moment the words of Anton Ego, the restaurant critic in the film Ratatouille:

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau's famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize that only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau's, who is, in this critic's opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau's soon, hungry for more.

If you don't get what I am getting at here, please read it again until you do.

2. Critiques work best if you "play the ball not the man" - in other words, if you are being critical, ensure that you are criticising the image as presented and not the photographer. This may sound really basic, but it is a very easy trap to fall into. Consider the phrase "What were you thinking of when you took this photo?" - ten innocent words that could be taken in at least two different ways. If you are going to critique, please read your words back to yourself before you press the post button. You may not mean to sound mean, but your meaning may be misconstrued.

3. The value of a critique is reduced by preconceptions and prejudices. Case in point; I detest 99.9% of all HDR images I have ever seen. The 1% I do not detest, I probably do not recognise as HDR. That is a prejudice, and it is mine. If I pisssed on every HDR image that was offered up for critique I would not be offering anything constructive to the photographer, and I would be impoverishing myself.

4. It's unhelpful to fall into the two most common traps - being too nice, and being too nice to say anything at all. In the first, you are simply condoning - and encouraging - mediocrity, thereby reducing the quality of images commented upon and giving false hope to a photographer for whom a guiding word would be a blessing. Saying an image is "great" when it is not, is a form of cruelty, in my opinion, because that photographer will have a harder fall in the future as a result. In the second, you are doing something nearly as bad - you feel you should comment, but are concerned that your words will come across as harsh and overly critical. This is the critical equivalent of not speaking up when you should, and is to be avoided.

Those are my opinions your mileage may and probably does vary. The point I would like to make is this. You should have understood from the foregoing that I hold the view that you don't need to be experienced for your opinions and insights to be valuable as a critic, and you shouldn't need a thick skin to seek and to receive critical input. We can all learn, and where better than amongst friends? As a member, I will happily offer up images for criticism, and will expect others to do the same. As a moderator, I will put my boot on the throat of anyone who approaches this in the wrong spirit, and either offers destructive comment or bridles inappropriately at honest comment delivered with good intent.

Critique away!
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