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Are You a Good Photographer?

CJ Chilvers
CJ Chilvers
2 min read

The second most frequently asked question I get is something along the lines of “can you give me your honest opinion of my work?” followed by a link to a portfolio.

I usually tell the person that my opinion doesn’t mean anything.

I know the majority of my readers are not professionals, and I know that this question is really about being validated as a “good” photographer. But, it makes me think that the first step in becoming better at photography is really about defining what you believe a “good" photographer is.

For me, it means I produce images, mostly of family and friends, that I’m happy with. I don’t need an outside observer to tell me whether the images are technically perfect or not. They’re not. But, that’s my goal. In fact, imperfection is more in line with my goal.

For those asking the question, I think their goal is primarily to be noticed.

Being noticed makes sense if you’re a professional (or just a hobbyist who values being noticed over all other things), but it doesn’t make much sense if it’s not a means to your goals.

If your goal is simply to be noticed, you can make the most repulsive photos anyone has ever seen. That would get you noticed.

If your goal is to earn the respect of those in the field you respect, don’t be surprised when they view your work through the lens of what their clients have historically wanted.

If your goal is to make money, the only critique that matters is the amount your customers are paying.

If you figure out your goal and it still includes being noticed or respected, I’m not sure a link to your website is the way to present yourself for critique. The web is too anonymous and ubiquitous. Your viewer will have no idea why you made the images or why you made them the way you did. Plus, they’ll bring their own biases about what worked in their little world and taint the critique further.

If you live anywhere near a city, there will be photo clubs and classes that are much better suited to critiquing your work. If it really matters to you for the outside world to consider you a “good” photographer, for business or personal reasons, it won’t kill you to spare a few hours a week to join these groups and do a deep dive reflecting on your work. Get to know your critics. Understand their point of view and ask questions.

Then, as always, experiment.

The depth of the critique is what matters. You get a far more honest and in-depth critique in person, with some who understands your goals as a photographer.

But first, you must understand your goals as a photographer. That will dictate whether any of this matters at all to you. If it doesn't, congratulations. You just freed up a huge chunk of your life to shoot more.