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Roger Hicks -- Author of The Rangefinder Book

Roger Hicks is a well known photographic writer, author of The Rangefinder Book, over three dozen other photographic books, and a frequent contributor to Shutterbug and Amateur Photographer. Unusually in today's photographic world, most of his camera reviews are film cameras, especially rangefinders. See www.rogerandfrances.com for further background (Frances is his wife Frances Schultz, acknowledged darkroom addict and fellow Shutterbug contributor) .


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Old 08-11-2009   #151
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critique is about numbers in a sense. One 'judge' does not help me much, but various opinions from a target audience, or those experienced in the field I am concerned with, is very helpful. I would not find it particularly useful to have my work critiqued by one generalist 'expert judge' who does not necessarily have any experience or even interest int eh area of photography I am concerned with. Photography is surely so expansive that one person cannot possibly be an expert at it all. That's just impossible as there is so much depth in individual areas and personality dependent factors.

While I agree that people telling you what they would have done completely ignores both your intent and what opportunity provided (or made possible - like you not being able to step back due to a huge ravine or able to use another FL bec you did not have one and the subject was only there for 1 second) it can still make you consider things you did not at the time because you did not think of it. Thats not relegating you to cameraman, but helping you be a more experienced director next time by expanding horizons. Its basic learning and if you hear that sort of critique as something 'maybe you could have done - worth considering' rather that 'you should have done this' then it changes perspective.
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Old 08-11-2009   #152
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Like many others, I used to hate the "It's a pity you didn't... [step back, change lenses, wait for someone to walk into/out of shot, etc.]" but a decade or two back I came to realize that even this normally useless criticism has its value. You can look at your own pictures (or even at the subject in the viewfinder) and if the picture doesn't work because "It's a pity you can't...", don't show it to people (or even, don't press the shutter release).

Nowadays I tend to try to answer one of two questions (which are not always asked explicitly). One is "There's something wrong with this picture and I'm not sure what it is: can you help?" and the other is "I think this is pretty good: how could it be even better?"

After that, it's pretty much down to "I like this: here's why." Someone else may like or dislike it for the same reason or other reasons. With Leighgions's pics, for example, the tree shadow doesn't work small for me -- it is probably great as a big print -- while the girl reading is one of those wonderful shots that provokes instant recognition and amusement, and I'd like to see it in a book, but I'd not hang it on the wall.

The out-of-focus face is the most successful for me, in terms of what I'd want on the wall, and I don't think it would work too big. The only problem with it is that it stands too much on its own to be part of a 'body of work': shoot too many pics like that and they'd look very tedious indeed on the wall.

As for "I'd have done it this way," in a sense, that's all you can say many times -- but what you're trying to do is to guess what the photographer was trying to convey, and try to suggest how they could convey it better (hence my comment about the staples and camera movements).

Cheers,

R.
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Last edited by Roger Hicks : 08-12-2009 at 10:54. Reason: omitted vracket
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Old 08-12-2009   #153
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Leighgion, i totally disagree with you.
From that short but to the point critique i would uinbderstand that my pic is not interesting enough to the large audience. That it is just one snapshot of some statue in the bush.
Sorry, but as was mentioned before in the thread, if a pic is uninteresting in gfeneral, it makes not much sense to give "advice" how to postprocess it or how composition could have been im[proved or what othert equipment you should have used...because it is not interesting in its subject (to the viewer) and that's it.
So, in my oppinion it belongs to the criticism type two.
Tyoe one: when Mr Critic Dude likes the pic but there are details that could/should be improve so he goes into details pointing them out.
Type two: The pic is totally uninteresting so there's no point into going into the details, it is enough if Mr Critic Dude expresses his oppinion that there's nothing much in the shot. Definitely constructive since I will know my pic is less interesting to others than I hoped.
Type three is "your pic sucks" which, i agree, is not constructive at all BUT the comments "nice shot" also belong here. So obviously, i learn nothing from type 3 but i like people who say nicew shot and i hate people who say your pic sucks. So it's also nice since i get some emotions from it

About your three offered shots:
1. is the "what am I supposed to look at" category. Don't know how you could improve it, but (to me) it is not too interesting i must say. Maybe add some life to it i.e. a human shadow or such and then the half-ok composition will not be so important coz there will be something to look at?
2. is very nice, except if you exclude the window it amplifies the subject even more, the person in between the bunch of books. Colors are very nice, the light is great, the angle of view is excellent.
3. seems to me like a portrait that turned out a technical mistake and that makes it a little bit interesting but with the bitter taste of a technical failure. I can't fully appreciate images that are only interesting because of a mistake, pictures that a photographer looks at and says "oh actually i thought this will be a nice slihouette but it got messed up but maybe it is better like this!" (i imagine myself doing this). So it's a dunno-how-to-improve-maybe-just-take-a-better-one type image.

Hope i wasn't too harsh - you asked for it, though

cheers
Quote:
Originally Posted by Leighgion View Post
...Consider this comment left on my pictures:

"It looks like a bunch a bushes with a non-descript statue.. what am I supposed to look at?"

Now, I grant that the picture in question isn't fantastic, but what on earth am I suppose take away from a critique like that? It was a picture of a statue surrounded by some brush. Should I then conclude that taking pictures of statues surrounded by shrubbery is bad? Who thinks it's in any way helpful to anybody to leave a comment like that? Better to say nothing, which is the policy I follow much of the time myself. ...

All that said, it can be fun to hop onto the sacrificial altar, so here's some offerings from me.





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Old 08-12-2009   #154
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Oh don't get me wrong Jesse! I'm no photo guru - in fact I am WAY down on the learning curve - that's what the 101 part of my name means. But when I want help, I ask specific questions, looking for specific answers. T
Oh... please don't take my post as a rebuttal to yours... just my addition. I completely see your point about unwanted/uninvited criticism. There are a lot of venues were I feel the same way. This forum on the other hand I kind of treat as one big critic. Anything I post here is for the purpose of getting feedback... mostly because I see a lot of work here I like... and that usually means a lot of great photographers (they can't all be lucky shots )
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Old 08-12-2009   #155
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You might well interpret the "comments" space below any posted image in any gallery here to be an invitation to a polite compliment, or a polite constructive suggestion, ---- then there are those numbers for ratings.

Seems to be a variety of responses to this situation.

And Roger, your point about an image for a book as opposed to something for the wall is interesting, I suppose it would refer to an image you might wish to acquire and view daily.

Regards, John
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Old 09-14-2011   #156
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I don't think I could ever say so, it's one thing to say "It's not my cup of tea", it's another to say "This is fist-bitingly awful, it makes me want to hurt myself.".

Although I guess the fact that the photo gets such a strong reaction is a validation in itself, if not the one the photographer was looking for.
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Old 09-14-2011   #157
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I don't think I could ever say so, it's one thing to say "It's not my cup of tea", it's another to say "This is fist-bitingly awful, it makes me want to hurt myself.".

Although I guess the fact that the photo gets such a strong reaction is a validation in itself, if not the one the photographer was looking for.
Sure, there's a big difference.

But there's one young photographer whose work I know very well, and it was often 'fist-bitingly awful'. What makes it worse is that he was so proud of so much of it. Yes, he made some very good pictures. The tragedy was that he was so hopeless at distinguishing the good stuff from the bad. Fortunately he got a bit better later.

The only reason I do not hesitate to reveal his name is that he was me.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 09-14-2011   #158
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I don't bother with internet criticizing. It's a waste of time and mental energy. It's especially annoying when you read things like, "You should clone out that street sign" or crap like that. Coming from a photojournalism background it's apalling that that would be a solution.

The internet seems to be flooded with "professional photographers" I've had enough debating their credentials. If they can get someone to give them a dime for an awful photo then both of them deserve what they get.
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Old 09-14-2011   #159
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There was a time when I sought criticism. Besides being hard on my delicate ego, I found that very often I was being criticized for the very qualities I was working hard to achieve in my images. It was then that I realized that the only person in the world qualified to be my critic was me.
Without an absolute standard of "art" to be judged against all that is left is for me to decide if I accomplished what I set out to do, or at least something I was pleased with.
Unless I'm trying to sell you something, your opinion isn't particularly relevant. If you like my work and comment, then it's a happy irrelevance. If you don't like my work and comment to that effect, it's still irrelevant...just a little less happy.
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Old 09-14-2011   #160
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Quote:
Originally Posted by swoop View Post
I don't bother with internet criticizing. It's a waste of time and mental energy. It's especially annoying when you read things like, "You should clone out that street sign" or crap like that. Coming from a photojournalism background it's apalling that that would be a solution.

The internet seems to be flooded with "professional photographers" I've had enough debating their credentials. If they can get someone to give them a dime for an awful photo then both of them deserve what they get.
Highlight: Sure, and that's not really what I was talking about. For that matter, camera club criticism is/was equally bad. It's just that there is/was less of it, and it is/was face to face: you aren't/weren't dealing with cowardly, anonymous twerps. No: they are/were real-life twerps.

As I said in the first post, I don't normally tell someone when I think their pictures are indescribably awful. But are there any times when I should? Even if they ask?

Cheers,

R.
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Old 09-14-2011   #161
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There's been a general trend towards relativism in many of the arts over the last half century, sadly, and it's spawned all this "I don't know much about art, but I know what I like!" claptrap ...
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Old 09-14-2011   #162
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My Theory (feel free to disagree, but remember, I said its only "my" theory):

If you're posting your photos on the net, you're probably not very good.
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Old 09-14-2011   #163
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I don't believe there is any truly awful art. But I think there are a lot of truly awful artists.
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Old 09-14-2011   #164
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sparrow View Post
There's been a general trend towards relativism in many of the arts over the last half century, sadly, and it's spawned all this "I don't know much about art, but I know what I like!" claptrap ...
I don't understand how criticism of the arts can be anything but relative.
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Old 09-14-2011   #165
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I don't understand how criticism of the arts can be anything but relative.
Well, simply put, the fact that Joe Blogs with no artistic knowledge likes a particular work as much as Kenneth Clark likes the frescos in the Sistine Chapel does not make the two works equally valuable ... their opinions do not have the same value
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Old 09-14-2011   #166
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Roger,
I wonder at times about my perceptions. I would appreciate it if aomeone would take a look at my gallery and give an unbiased evaluation. At 83, my feelings can stand a rap for honesty.
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Old 09-14-2011   #167
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Quote:
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(...) As I said in the first post, I don't normally tell someone when I think their pictures are indescribably awful. But are there any times when I should? Even if they ask?
<Sermon>
Yes, in case they ask -- tell the truth: their pictures suck.

In case they don't ask but obviously think their 'work' is great -- tell the truth: their pictures suck.

In all other cases -- decide according to factors like whether you know them and would like to keep knowing them, how likely it is you get socked on the nose, how much exactly their pictures suck, how good you feel that day, how old they are, whether they are boy or girl, etc.

In the end, you are morally obliged to try to make the world a better place, aren't you?
</Sermon>
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Old 09-14-2011   #168
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Well, simply put, the fact that Joe Blogs with no artistic knowledge likes a particular work as much as Kenneth Clark likes the frescos in the Sistine Chapel does not make the two works equally valuable ... their opinions do not have the same value
Hmmm... Now, when Kenneth Clark likes the frescos while Joe Blogs does not like them, and I happen to know both their educational background regarding arts, Mr. Clark's opinion is only more valuable to me as long as I do not know the frescos myself. As soon as I've seen them I either like them, too -- or I don't...
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Old 09-14-2011   #169
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My Theory (feel free to disagree, but remember, I said its only "my" theory):

If you're posting your photos on the net, you're probably not very good.
Posting on the web (outside of websites) is but another facet to exploiting the web and its there to be used to your won ends. I can think of quite a few photographers on this forum who are very good photographers indeed. Not 'forum good' but gallery good.

Larry Towell (Magnum) had a pitch up on kickstarter.com, the crowd funding platform, a while back. I don't think it means he is not very good either! So yes, I disagree. Besides, some not so strong photographers do still produce some spectacular images once in a while and those images are still great to see.
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Old 09-14-2011   #170
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Having done print critique as part of a job (ages ago) I feel qualified to make my opinions known, but tend not to.

Its a whole different game critiquing work online when people can't see your face, hear how you are saying something, ask for clarification etc. A small comment can fester for days until you can explain you didn't mean to sound harsh or intolerant when all you thought you were doing was trying to make a simple unembellished point.

The most difficult to critique (especially online) are people with the firm knowledge that 'my family think I am really talented and take great photographs'. Inevitably they are seeking to keep their ego's on an ever upward trajectory and looking for another pat on the back, an exhibition, grant, book deal, or job. You critique the photograph but by default the rest of his family have their knowledge of photography brought into question. You won't win against somebody who has his family's unquestioning love, despite the tree growing out of his wife's head.

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Old 09-14-2011   #171
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Make that 99.99%...

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Vincent, put me down for + 0.01%

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Old 09-15-2011   #172
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I worked at a black and white pro-lab in NYC for 8 months as an intern. I told the Print Master to "give me the goods, straight up" because I want to be the best that I could be. "Don't hold back when I ask for an opinion...if it's $h!t, just say so and tell me how I can improve". He had a mixed personality of absolute kindness and utter ruthlessness, so he started out sugar coating criticism and I could sense it. After a month, I told him to be as harsh as he could. Even though it was painful at times to hear and even discouraging at times, I wanted to be the best that I could be. If that meant hammering me to the ground to build myself up, that's what I felt I needed. I couldn't have been more right. I learned more in 8 months than I have in the last 10 years. I thought I couldn't learn anymore when it came to printing and often got praise for my printing skills. If I had of just went about my business and favoured small praise or silence for mediocre skills I would be that same photographer and printer that stepped through those doors 8 months ago. When I went in, I was also in a photographic rut -very uninspired by everything, in a complete creative deadlock and didn't know how to get out. Basically I needed to be told that some of my techniques were garbage and to adopt different strategies, perspectives and re-learn certain processes I thought I had mastered. Once I did, I shot about 150 rolls of film (averaged about 20 rolls a month) and now have two impressive bodies of work (in my opinion) from New York. I'm 27 and like Roger, look back at my work in my early 20s and want to puke. I wish I had of done this 5 years ago and received the brutal criticism I needed. My opinion on the matter is "bring it on". I can take a blow to my ego anyday if it's going to make my a better photographer in the end. I didn't get into photography to have my back patted and pick up girls (well, that second part might not be entirely true). I got into photography to be the best damn photographer/printer I am capable of being.
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Old 09-15-2011   #173
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Hmmm... Now, when Kenneth Clark likes the frescos while Joe Blogs does not like them, and I happen to know both their educational background regarding arts, Mr. Clark's opinion is only more valuable to me as long as I do not know the frescos myself. As soon as I've seen them I either like them, too -- or I don't...
With respect, this is type of relativism that I reject, an opinion that has a lifetime of study behind it is of more value than yours, or Joe Blogs for that matter, if you have not put in the same work, sorry.
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Old 09-15-2011   #174
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<Sermon>
Yes, in case they ask -- tell the truth: their pictures suck.

In case they don't ask but obviously think their 'work' is great -- tell the truth: their pictures suck.
Well, the pictures might suck, but are they a necessary step in learning? The real danger in tuition is that you might bypass some mental process your student would otherwise have gone through, and leave him less educated than he'd have been without you...
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Old 09-15-2011   #175
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In some respects I agree, but your view suggests a person can study/work their way to a valuable opinion and I am not at all sure that this is always the case. There is a balance surely and one so complex that there is no fixed rule to determine whose opinion I value, personally - its a cocktail of factors. Judgment is not always something one can be taught and there are a great many prejudices and influences that affect the opinions of professional critics, gallery owners etc. One has to be very careful with putting people up on pedestals as 'experts.' As I say, I am not disagreeing with you entirely, but think one must be cautious.

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With respect, this is type of relativism that I reject, an opinion that has a lifetime of study behind it is of more value than yours, or Joe Blogs for that matter, if you have not put in the same work, sorry.
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