You’ve got to get feedback, otherwise you never know how much you suck or what you need to do to improve.
The other day I submitted my portfolio to The Creative Book, yet another networking site for photographers and other creatives. I did it on a whim because it looked like a useful resource; I didn’t really look at the work that was already up there. Which is good, in a way, because I probably wouldn’t have submitted my work had I actually known what kind of talent the people at The Creative Book were used to working with.
After a few hours’ waiting, I got this response:
Thanks for taking the time to sign up for The Creative Book. We’ve taken a look at the work you sent over and we’re really sorry to say that it’s not quite hitting the spot.
It wasn’t an easy decision to make but we don’t feel you’re quite right for the site just yet. If at some point you’d like to send over some other pieces, we’d love to take a second look and hopefully welcome you on board.
It stung – of course it did. But I knew that I needed to know more, so I sent them an email asking for more feedback. This is what they replied with:
Feedback, feedback, feedback…
The main thing is that you need to be careful about who you work with. Pick and choose the right people to test with when it comes to producing work. Some of the make up artist you worked with seemed to have just gone over the top with their kit.*
FInd some soul. Right now there’s a lack of life in your work, can’t tell whether it’s because some of your work is a bit flat, but it doesn’t excite us. The technical stuff isn’t something we’re concerned with. We want work to evoke something you know.
That doesn’t mean that all your work is bad. But if we edited your portfolio you’d only be left with a couple of images if we we’re being realistic. You’ve got a fewimages that are actually quite nice. Just not enough stuff to make us overlook some of the stuff we wouldn’t touch with a barge pole.
Does that help? it’s about being really honest with yourself..
When someone critiques your work there’s a strong temptation to defend it. You want to fight for what you’ve made, because it took a little bit of your soul to make it; if the process of making your own portfolio is like choosing which of your children to shoot the having someone else critique it is like trying to dive in front of a machine gun to save your kids from harm.
But there are rules. When you get critique you can’t argue. You can’t complain. You don’t get to explain your motivations for a photograph, or tell the funny story about what happened on the day. You just take it, say thank you, and learn from it (even if what you learn is that you don’t agree with that particular critic).
Looking at my fashion / beauty portfolio with fresh eyes, I can see what the folks over at The Creative Book meant. It does lack life, somehow. And there are beauty shots in there that, whilst they looked good to my eyes when they were shot, no longer fit with what I’m trying to do.
So I’m going to pull the images. In fact I’m going to pull the whole portfolio for now; it needs reworking and it needs new life breathing into it. There is good work in there, work I’m proud of doing, and I don’t regret a single one of those shots. Thinking about it, every single image in that portfolio bar one is more than a year old. That’s too long a time for a portfolio to sit still, so it’s way past time to update it. And so I shall.
Dynamism, life, emotion, energy. Those are the adjectives I’m going to strive for (I know this because I’ve just written them down now; they may change). I need to work harder to find those things in my work, stop worrying about the technical stuff – I’ve got the technical stuff down for now; it’s time to start working on connecting with my audience.
And yes, it hurt to read this. Dear sweet muses it hurt. It hits right to the core of you, and you wonder whether you should carry on.
And then you do.
*To be clear: any makeup artist I’ve ever worked with has done what they’ve done either because I directed them to or because I didn’t direct them enough. They’re all awesome and any fault with the images is mine not theirs.