The Blog

Critiquing Other Photographers

I don’t like to critique other photographers, or other artists for that matter, and here’s why:

 

I am a self taught photographer.*  In my struggles early on to figure out what was good and what was frowned upon I commonly asked other photographers what they thought of my work and what I could do differently to improve.  Generally, I got kicked around as it were, until one photographer told me he wouldn’t critique me.  He shared why and at the time it made sense to me, but I didn’t really fully understand what he meant until a couple years ago.  Here are my thoughts on the matter now:

When YOU do a photo shoot you have a very specific set of images in mind.  How you get them to fruition is up to you and the tools or talents you use are only specific to you and your vision, not anyone else’s.  So let’s criticize YOU if we don’t like the photography, right?  Not so fast!

The thing about your photography, painting, and other forms of art that really lends itself to its vitality and human quality are the less quantifiable yet hugely recognizable elements of self expression and experimentation.  No one has the right to tell you that your final product is wrong, bad, or poorly executed.  We weren’t in your head when you conducted the photo shoot or painted that piece.  We can’t tell you if you did or didn’t achieve your goals.  Only YOU can come to a conclusion about it either way.  At best, the rest of us can only determine if your final product moves us or not, and whether or not it does or not should neither validate nor invalidate your personal expression.

As a photographer, I go into every shoot with a certain expectation of what I want the final outcome to be but I leave a lot up to the unexpected elements that chance, a model’s unintentional gestures, and weather could bring to the creative side of the production itself.  I don’t view these aspects as obstacles or inconveniences but rather as unique opportunities to do something unplanned and special that could really raise the bar creatively while getting new creative juices flowing that weren’t there in the pre-production phase.  Sometimes a moment of inspiration by the hair stylist can change my entire plan and a whole new creative dynamic springs to life.  As an artist I can choose to take advantage of these moments or not.  The point is that what I intend to create when I start out isn’t necessarily the same thing that try to create when the photo shoot takes place.

When the entire project is finally completed only I can determine if I did something incorrectly or poorly because only I can tell if the final product matches my desires or not.  With a client I can tell quickly if I have reached that quantifiable mark that he, she, or they need but when it comes to my own personal art, it’s a bit more of a struggle.  I personally have such a fickle mind that can change abruptly because of mood or food which changes my perception of my own work.  This makes it difficult for me to even self critique my photography.  Sure I can go back and find technical aspects that I could have done differently, but when it comes to the artistic quest within, things tend to get a bit blurrier and less defined.  If I can’t necessarily tell if I myself achieved my personal goals, how can I even decide if someone else did?  For myself, I have no trouble achieving what a client needs.  The end result is generally exactly what I intended.  It’s the struggle with my personal aesthetic that gives me headaches and sometimes keeps me up at night.**

If the final result doesn’t match what you had in your head then it could very likely be a technical issue.  Something to do with lighting or the camera that created an obstacle that you couldn’t overcome or didn’t even recognize existed to begin with.  Technical issues can be fixed with practice over time but that being said, how could I even know that there was a problem when looking at your work?  Unless I unfairly ask you to share your struggles, I have no way of knowing that there was a problem to begin with.  And sometimes the final image is the result of everything going wrong.  At which point any kind of critique is nothing more than an unfair exploitation of circumstances that destroyed your vision that may or may not have been within your realm of control.

In the end, if I critique your work, I’m not helping you get better at your art.  I’m just changing your vision into my vision and telling you how I would have done it.  That’s not fair to you because your vision is exactly that, YOUR vision.  I don’t want to divert you from the exploration of your own creative direction.

I recognize that this opinion piece is an over-simplified glimpse into a much larger conversation, but I hope it at least gives you some understanding of how damaging critiques can really be.  Be true to yourself.

 

*  I am self taught but with a few caveats.  Though I never received formal training in photography, I did grow up as the son of a master photographer/printmaker.  I was also taught fine art by master painters and taught design and composition while working toward a degree in architecture.

**There is a general misconception that a photographer’s properly and perfectly executed work is inherently the same as a client’s end vision when working together on a project.  The reality is that even though a photographer may produce perfectly what he or she intends for a client, the personal artistic vision is not necessarily in perfect parallel with the produced photography.  For myself in particular, photography that is perfect by any quantitative definition when comparing the end result with the intended outcome is also, generally, exactly not perfect at the same time.

3 Tips Recognizing Dishonest Wedding Photographers

3 Tips Recognizing Dishonest Wedding Photographers

There are hundreds no, thousands, of “How to find a wedding photographer” lists and blogs, but there are seldom any resources to help brides and grooms-to-be with recognizing that the wedding photographer whom they are considering might not be all he or she is cracked up to be.  I’m writing this having worked on numerous weddings as both a second photography – the second guy who captures the details and candid shots – as well as the lead photographer – the guy who takes all the formal photos, negotiates rates, handles logistics, etc. and I feel compelled to do so because quite often, newlyweds come to me to photograph a “second wedding” or “reception” because they either got jilted the day of, or were mislead by their “dream photographer” and the quality just wasn’t what they were hoping for.   In no particular order, here are three of the most important things I think people need to watch out for when looking for a wedding photographer.

1. Negativity Towards Other Photographers.

When you’re meeting with a photographer, it can be a bit nerve wracking because for many of us, this is a brand new experience.  Quite often it’s a learning process that removes us from our more secure sensibilities.  I mean, how often do you consider hiring a photographer for $3000 for one day’s work?  (Okay, actually it could end up being a month or more on the back end.)  It’s stressful for you, but even worse, many photographers are aware of the fact that many brides and grooms can easily be misled.

When discussing your wedding plans with your potential photographer, keep an ear out for sentences and phrases like “No one else in *location* can do what I do,” “No one can do what I do for what I charge,” or my personally most disliked phrase, “I’m the best in the area” as well as putdowns about other specific photographers that offer similar services.  Truth be told no matter where you are, there are going to be many photographers to choose from at all price and skill levels and invariably, more than one that will be able to give you exactly what you need or want on your big day.  These phrases are a manipulative tool that many photographers employ to try to lure you into a false sense of trust with them while convincing you to avoid seeking out other photographers that might actually better deserve your money and time.

Don’t make the mistake of only contacting one photographer.  You might miss out on a someone that is a better fit for your big day.

2. Spoken vs Written

I cannot stress just how important this piece of information is so I’ll say it again, read the entire contract.  This seems self-explanatory, but so many people avoid reading it and find out the hard way that something isn’t right–usually AFTER the wedding is over.  Some photographers will try to convince you that time is critical and that there isn’t enough time to read it or that they are in a hurry in the hopes of trying to get you to avoid looking through it.  Don’t allow yourself to be rushed.  Read it.  Make sure that what the photographer is saying matches what’s in the contract.  Often, fly-by-night photographers will build contracts that say one thing but tell you something completely different.

Things that you want to ask and read about are cancellation policies, payment deadlines, what happens if the photographer is grossly negligent in his or her services, and how your photography will be used outside of what is provided to you.  Most photographers will volunteer these details because they care about you as much as getting paid, but as with anything else, there are some that want nothing more than to get paid then run.

3. Dismissive Behavior

Ask questions.  As many as you want until you are completely satisfied that you know every detail of what to expect.  Photographers that have something to hide tend to deflect or misdirect you when put on the spot.  If you can’t get a clear and concise answer about something that matters to do, then you’re probably better off working with someone else.  This is one of those times when your gut feeling has more to do with how you read the situation than anything else.  On many occassions, I’ve spoken with brides who told me that they wish they trusted their gut instincts but felt pressured to use certain photographers anyway and they regret it.  “Our photographer didn’t work out and we can’t just recreate that big day.”

Bottom Line

As with any advice, take everything with a grain of salt.  Everything that I’ve written here is built from stories that people have told me after their wedding days and from witnessing it first hand at friends’ and families’ weddings.  My motivation for writing this today came from the anger I felt when a friend hired the wrong photographer for her wedding.  I wanted nothing more than to go back in time and be her photographer and make sure that it’s done the right way.  I don’t like seeing people getting taken advantage of and I don’t want any of you to be taken advantage of either.

 

If you have any advice or insight that you think should be included in this list, let me know.  I’d love to add some other views and ideas that anyone might have.  Credited of course.

Solar Pulse

Nathan K of West Model and Talent Agency in St. Louis modeling for a vid shoot to the sound of the sun as recorded (microwaves converted to audio) by NASA.

Zink!

Haley of West Model and Talent Management in our short clip for Instagram.

 

Fair Trade: Asia, South America, Africa

Fair Trade: Asia, South America, Africa

Daisies And Doodles

There aren’t too many companies that exclusively support fair trade handmade artisan products from around the world with the sole goal of supporting the people that are just as passionate about the art they make as we are, but there is new one you should know about…  Daisies and Doodles.   The website just launched and we were fortunate enough to be a part of the branding and photography for this amazing company!

 

Their mission?

 

“We are inspired by a passion for discovering handmade pieces from around the world that are unparalleled in beauty, quality, creativity, and social responsibility. Our collections offer contemporary pieces crafted using traditional, locally sourced materials and age old methods. We are dedicated to environmentally conscious  production processes and fair wages to the artisans that create these one-of-a kind pieces. By providing a responsible commerce platform for our artisan partners, we bring you an exclusive, boutique of pretty little things that are making a big difference.”

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Gazelle StL Cover and Editorial

Recently we shot the cover image and a full editorial for Gazelle StL’s fall magazine issue.  As luck would have it, we ended up doing the shot in the sun on the hottest day of the year but with the talented team we had, it was like a Sunday morning.  Kevyn Idoux did the makeup.  Susy Stern did the Hair.  Kristy Lee put together the concept and styling.  Photography was by David Kilper and our wonderful model was our very own Melanie Deschesne.  Check out the full digital release at GazelleStl.com or come to Missouri Style Week to check out the print release!

Cover and Page 15

Pages 18 and 19

Pages 20 and 21

Pages 22 and 23