A Pic is worth more than 2 words
A Picture is worth more than 2 words
A Picture is worth more than 2 words

The next time you're about to comment on an image, take a moment before you post "Nice work!" For many people, "critique" is a scary, uncomfortable word-- one that implies ego-depletion, insecurity, and mean spirits. Others find it friendly, a word about back-patting and general congratulations on a job well done. Problem is, both groups miss out on something greater-- not only the chance to help their fellow artists grow in their craft, but the chance to improve their own work, as well.

Few people claim iStockphoto as their full-time job, and everyone here realizes that the time and energy of others is at a premium-- which is why all comments are appreciated. But you have to understand, the difference between "Good shot" and "I like this, but the direction of the light makes a strange shadow under the nose, try a reflector next time" is phenomenal when it comes to impact. With the first comment, you may change their overall camera rating, but with the second, you offer a suggestion which could permanently improve the artist's images-- and by extension, their ratings and downloads.

Remember: when it comes to helping an artist improve, "Good job" is just as helpful as "I don't like this"-- which is to say, not helpful at all.

The old adage "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all" has no place in the world of constructive criticism. The person with the perfect photo could certainly use feedback about what precisely makes the photo perfect, so that the result can be duplicated-- but chances are, a photographer that good already knows. Indeed, the images which could have been perfect are the ones which need the love and attention that only the vigilant critique can give. But how to do it properly?

First, really think about what you're seeing. What makes this image nice? The model may be pretty-- but chances are the model is aware of his or her attractiveness, seeing as how they're modeling and all. No, what makes the picture work from a photographic standpoint? Look at the lighting, the background, the presentation, the pose and the angle. All the little technical things which, when compiled together, give an image its life and personality-- we'll call this "objective critique."

Next, think about how the image makes you feel. Does it elicit fear, love, sadness or joy? Did you giggle? Admittedly, not all stock images are shot with a particular emotion in mind-- which is why this "subjective critique" is so important. Perhaps the artist doesn't realize that his "serious businessman" actually comes off as horribly depressed.

All critique is filtered through the lens of personal taste. While everyone is entitled to their opinion, it is vital that you consider what is influencing your reaction to a given image. If you're not a fan of grungy light and piercings, maybe you should think twice before commenting on the picture of the goth pinup under a street-lamp. No one is saying that you're not allowed to prefer certain styles over others, but when you sit down to critique something, you are responsible for setting aside preconceived notions about the style of the image, and to judge on its merits alone. Okay, so this is a picture of two half-naked women drenched in blood and making out-- but is it the best photo of two women drenched in blood and making out that it can be?

Subjective critique is certainly the type most susceptible to the prejudices of taste, so if you comment on an image with a style or theme you find abhorrent, perhaps it would be best to limit yourself to objective critique-- always keeping in mind the parameters of the style. High-key photography will cause a loss of detail in highlighted areas; grunge can incorporate grain. These are not problems, but facets of the style. Occasionally, these details can overwhelm an image and impact it negatively, and stating as much is perfectly valid objective critique. But if you're already looking at a style you dislike, it might be best to leave that to someone who has no problem with the style in general.

One thing to remember is that, while this is a stock imagery site with some extremely artistic work, it is not simply an art site for review purposes only. So often it seems that the only times usefulness, utility, and marketability are mentioned are when people attempt to back up extremely subjective or overly-vague assertions-- "I hate cartoony vectors" becomes "cartoony vectors aren't serious enough to make good stock."

If you're going to address the stock usefulness of an image, be specific and don't limit yourself to discussing the image genre. Talk about cropping, the ease or difficulty of isolation, the impact of the image-- and you've got your objective critique. If you want to discuss what the image is "selling," and how good the sales pitch is, you've got your subjective critique. Don't fall back on the "stock photography isn't art photography" argument-- all photography is an art, and gone are the days when "stock" was synonymous with "generic." There's room for all styles here, and that means thinking outside the box. Just remember that the desired end result is someone purchasing the image in question, and focus your critique to that end.

With "initial rating 3" a thing of the past, it is time that we open ourselves to exploring the wealth of images at our fingertips, and doing what we can to help each other improve. The time spent looking at the work of others with a critical eye is time spent developing that critical eye-- which means that you'll be able to improve your own images through the advice you give others. And the more we improve as a community, the better things are for the site as a business, and for us as artists.
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