Is my work good enough to show?

If you are asking yourself this question, then your biggest problem is not whether your photos are technically or compositionally good enough to show – but are you confident enough to show them. Here on this blog I have discussed culling your work and getting your portfolio trimmed down to the best ten images. We have also discussed some of the steps you can take to become a better photographer. A loyal reader pointed out to me the other day that I haven’t covered building confidence in your work. “I’m not good enough” is a convenient excuse for not doing something. Consider the following:

  • Do you have problems identifying the best image out of a set? If you take 30 images on a trip to the beach, can you look at each, can you determine the flaws and the positives in each image? or do you just show them all?
  • Can you look at the color, focus, exposure and composition of an image and determine if it fits in your brand and is showable?
  • When you show an image online or to your friends can you take constructive criticism about your work? Do you take feedback personally and think that the person is jealous of your work or has no idea what they are talking about?

Showing your work for the first time can be traumatic. I vividly remember one of the students in my early photography classes that nearly came to blows with the instructor over a series of ten shots the guy had taken of a rainbow out his car window while driving down the coast. Granted the shots were terrible, compositionally and technically – but the instructor did manage to find some positive feedback before explaining the numerous flaws in the images. The guy was so crushed he looked like he wanted to cry by the end of the critique. He took the one class and went on to take images of the beach and sell them at art and wine festivals. The last time I saw him, he was ready to call it quits because the guy on the other aisle had sold thousands of dollars in images while he had sold none. It is great to be passionate about your work but listening to people who have had years more experience in your craft can also bring your work to the next level.

No matter how good you are at something, there is always someone better than you are. Growing your craft is as much about practicing as it is about listening and asking for advice in how you can get better. My personal philosophy is that my work is not perfect – I may come at this with a bit of a jaded approach because I know full well that my vision plays a large role in photos that I think are good but are failures for whatever reason. Often when I am taking an image, I cannot see that I missed focus or that there is a distracting object in the frame. I don’t get upset, I see each failure as a learning experience – and boy do I have ample opportunity to learn a lot.

Personally, I love critiques, when I have shown my Landscapes of the Body project at galleries I always love to ask what people don’t like about the imagers. This helps me to refine the images that I show and how they are presented. I am always looking to improve my art and hearing what people say and culling that feedback into useful data is important to me. That is not to say that I allow the direction of my work to be determined by people critiquing it – far from it. I have a strong vision for my work and what the project should be and represent. I take the feedback people give me and consider if that feedback meets my overall vision for the project. I also rely on consistent critiques. If I hear something specific about one of my images over and over when it is being shown I take that to heart whether positive or negative. Some of my art has large out of focus areas because that matches my vision of the image. If the viewers have constant poor feedback about an image, then I reevaluate whether I will show that image in the next show. Since much of my work is abstract, I also love to talk to people about what they “think” an image is. If I get multiple people saying that an image is even somewhat representative of genitalia, then I consider not showing that image again because I want my work to be suitable for all viewers, though some people just have dirty minds and think everything is a breast.

There are a lot of resources for learning photography. You can take a class or join a photo club.  Recently, I did just that – about four months ago I found a local photo club that meets once a month, they do monthly assignments and you can submit work for group critique. If you have never had your work critiqued this can be a good introduction. If that is too daunting, then find someone online who can give you an honest critique of your work. I would be willing to do short critiques – all you need to do is email me and ask.

Once the ice has bene broken, and you can listen to what people have to say about your work, take the next step: enter your favorite image into a local photo contest like the fair. Go into the experience expecting nothing, it will be a good opportunity to get people in front of your images. Hang around the display hall when your work is up and listen to what people say. Don’t engage them – just listen. This type of candid feedback can be invaluable for growing your craft.

Get out there and take some pictures!