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Horizontal bloggery

I appear to have done something aggravating to my back. Not serious damage, as far as I can tell, but just enough of a tweak to make sitting at the computer for more than a couple of minutes extremely uncomfortable, and getting up from the computer even worse.

Which is why I'm coming to you from a position more horizontal than is traditional for your average English blogger, lying in my bed with the netbook, wondering if there's a way to do this that doesn't involve my forearms growing numb. Presently, I'll decide to finish my blogtastic ramblings and will go and do something that involves being vertical for a while. Vertical and horizontal are fine; it's perpendicularity that's causing me problems.

I've been musing this morning about the nature of critique; wanting it, needing it and when to ignore it. Also, and perhaps more importantly, I've been thinking about the line that we need to draw between critique and criticism, which are two very different beasts.

The thing that set me off thinking was Zack and Meghan Arias's latest photo critique, wherein they look at the portfolios of people who've asked for their critique and advice, and then dispense pearls of wisdom thereabout.

Now, the thing that interests me about all this, besides the fact that I learn quite a bit about what not to include in my portfolio by watching Zack and Meghan's videos, is that in the comments, things got quite heated. One of the points that Zack and Meghan made in the video got turned into something rather more vicious and pissy in the subsequent comment thread, and last I looked it appeared that a flamewar of sorts was brewing.

And it's then that I remembered why I rarely pay attention to Flickr comments and why I don't have anonymous comments enabled on this blog.

You see, Flickr comments are all very nice and good, but they tend to fall into two categories: The lovers and the haters. You'll either get a "wow, nice shot man," comment, which tells you nothing useful at all about why the person liked the frame on which they're commenting, or you'll get a comment in the form of "this is terrible; I don't know why you're uploading such mediocre work." (Note that I've yet to receive one of the latter myself; I'm sure it's only a matter of time).

The common thing between these two comments is that neither actually helps you as a photographer. "Wow" is all very nice and good – and I'm not denying that we all occasionally need to hear it – but "Wow, that's great, and here's why…" is even better. Similarly, "this is rubbish" helps no-one, but "this shot doesn't work for me because of x, y and z…" actually helps the person that you're writing to grow as a photographer.

I'm not ready to have Zack and Meghan review my portfolio yet. For one thing it's pretty limited in its content, but the main reason is that I know that the content there wouldn't stand up to scrutiny. Just looking at the shots I've got on Flickr I can see the problems that Zack and Meghan would pick up on immediately, so I'm not interested in wasting their – or my – time. Once I can remove those photos from my portfolio and replace them with something better, I will. Then I'll think about requesting a review.

The truth is that I want critique. I need it, just like every other photographer (if no-one calls us out on our bad shots we're never going to learn to not repeat the mistakes that lead to them in the first place). But I only want critique from people who are actually going to be constructive about my work. Everything else is a waste of my time because it doesn't help me; in fact it can make my life much harder because I spend a long time trying to work out what I did wrong and coming to the conclusion that I must just suck, which isn't true (or so I'm told).

So if you criticise my work and don't justify your criticism, don't be surprised if I ignore you or, if I've had a particularly bad day, give you the thermonuclear boot of doom.

Consider yourself warned.