Learn by Commenting

Please look at the picture “Pool Showers” full size against a grey background.

Become a better photographer by constructively commenting on other people’s work.

If we are to progress as photographers we need to understand the structure of visual design (the building blocks of a picture as Freeman Patterson would describe it) and have a suitable vocabulary to enable us to communicate what we think and feel about the photograph being discussed.

I have a friend Dr David Cooke ARPS who is a very successful international exhibitor who says he learnt more about his photography by thinking about and commenting on other people’s work on Forums than most other forms of learning. I see the activity of commenting on other people’s work as part of the tool kit that enables the commenter to ask them self “what is the criteria for my comments?” Just this one question like this will open up a whole gallery of doors for enquiry and learning.

In order to help us along this road I have set out a few thoughts.

What are the benefits of commenting on other people’s work?

  • It sharpens your own visual analysis skills
  • Helps you go beyond the surface to understand the why and because
  • A chance to offer praise and encouragement
  • You can pass on skills and experience

It is generally thought by participating photographers that comments by other photographers will produce a negative judgement; however the intent is to fully investigate the subject matter, subject/meaning, and the presentation of ideas found in the photograph. The Commenter is not passing on a judgement whether they like the photograph or not, they are merely passing on what the photograph communicates to them and the value and relevance of that communication.

We are all poor at assessing our own work so the views of others can be beneficial when presented in a constructive way.

How to comment

It is always a positive step to begin by pointing out aspects of the picture that work well. It is helpful to other less experienced photographers to say why something works. It may be oblivious to you but the why and because portion of a sentence is the useful for learning purposes.

Where enhancements to the presented picture can be visualised it is beneficial to begin by saying “Have you thought about”… or “What about?”

When commenting it is very easy to cut the chase and present what appears to be an overly negative view of the picture by not doing the preamble of saying what is right and why. Balance is required when passing on your thoughts. For the picture above “Pool Showers” I could comment equally strongly for and against this picture. Therefore your reasoned and balanced views will be appreciated by others.

As a pointer the pros and cons of a picture the following aspects can be discussed:  seeing, the purpose of the picture, artistic interpretation and technical choices with the camera or post processing.

I hope this post has been helpful and that you are encouraged to give commenting on other people’s works a go.

A big hello to all the new followers of my little blog this week.

(c) Andy Beel FRPS 2012


8 responses to Learn by Commenting

  1. andy says:

    A camera club judge once suggested ‘kiss – slap – kiss’ as an appropriate format for giving critique, and it’s stuck with me. Online comments are either sickeningly gushing, especially on Flickr, or just destructive and not value adding, which is all too easy when you are not face to face with the photographer.

    As for the photo above, I’m really not sure what to make of it. I enjoy trying to figure out abstracts, but I really can’t make head nor tale of this I’m afraid. Two slaps and no kiss, oops….


  2. Paula says:

    Dear Andy,
    interesting post…I am afraid I see through the kiss…slap…kiss stuff, perhaps because I am Dutch and we call a spade a spade…so, personally I like a straight..YES…or NO…or maybe you might get a YES if you do this or that.
    I do not like the feeling that I am being manipulated!!
    This picture., Andy, sorry, but I do not understand what you are trying to say with it…unless you want to baffle me, in which case you have succeeded!
    See you soon!


  3. Les Loosemore says:

    It is often rewarding when viewing images that fall into what best can be described as an art form genre of photography.

    Even more rewarding when you can connect with the image in whatever way that may be. Often titles (I’m very much in favour by the way) can help or hinder the meaning within the image. It becomes even more intriguing when the title is less obvious than its descriptive intent.

    In my humble opinion, “Pool Showers” could not be further from the truth when looking for the connection within the image. Consequently, we might then start to consider the truthfulness of what we see. This starts the process of what you describe as “Helps you go beyond the surface to understand the why and because”.

    Regarding the posted image, I very much like the minimalism of content, hugely complimented with negative space that has a very pleasing pastel type tonality. Finely textured detail then turns the negative space into a pleasing positivity.

    The soft grain gray effect on the edge of the horizon invites the viewer to travel beyond, almost venturing into another universe. The square format certainly contains the minimal elements within a controlled equilibrium.

    I love the image, the content, the tonality, the treatment and the story it conveys to me (goodness knows where the Pool Showers come into it).

    A favourite from your posts to date.

    Les Loosemore (fotocall visions on the flickr site).


  4. Gaz says:

    I’m going to do my best to comment and critique your above photograph following what you have said.

    Looking at the image it feels as though there is an expanse of land before us and in the distance a doorway or entrance beckoning us to enter. i love the tonal qualities of the image and the colour and grain create a dreamy feel. Like something we can’t quite touch or grasp but yet it’s there in front of us, tentative, I think is the word I’m looking for.

    My biggest criticism is the screw like object to the right of the “doorway” (My interpretation of it). I feel that this is a distraction and my eye keeps getting drawn to it, flitting between the two objects and doesn’t quite settle because of it. I realise you could Photoshop it out but perhaps also just covering with a paper material during the shoot would eliminate it. It may be intentional and it may be your desire to have it there. Just my opinion and take of it as you will.

    Great post as always and enjoy reading and seeing what your up to.


  5. Helen Cherry says:

    This is agreat post and describes very well why I started my photomania blog back in December as I wanted to learn.. I love to get comments and especially when someone questions or suggests but I have learnt an enormous amount from following other photography blogs and reading and writing my own comments.. The blogosphere is great for this.
    As for your photo..
    I very much like the expanse of swimming pool in the foreground, bathed in what seems to me as a warm mediterranian evening light, leading to the poolside showers. I often like an expanse of space in a photograph. The texture makes me think of steam as though it’s been photographed through a steamed up window.. I too find the circle a little distracting..


  6. Photos close to home says:


    One approach I use is to ask I would I hang the work on the wall in my home. Would I find something that touches me, that holds my interest each time I pass by. If so, then I try to determine why.

    I also look for the artist’s statement, which often helps me understand what artist is trying to do.

    I tend not to offer “constructive criticism”; I personally don’t feel comfortable doing that. It’s tough enough battling your own doubts.

    So, yes I will return to this (I know where you live on-line). Why? The colors, the grain, the mood, the minimalism and to stretch my seeing toward the abstract.


  7. Andy,
    I like a few things about this image. First, there is a very interesting tactile feeling to it. That immediatley drew me in. The abstract nature keeps me looking at it trying to figure out what I’m looking at. I’d like to see more of them in a series or hanging together. Seems like a story could evolve out of them.


  8. jumbo says:


    There’s some great stuff here. And you are right when you talk about how difficult it is to objectively critique our own work. However, whilst taking the opportunity to comment on other people’s work has all of the benefits you describe, my experience is that, as a member of a photography club, the difficult part is to persuade many people that they actually have anything constructive to say about another person’s work!


Please share your thoughts on this post

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s