The great weakness of expensive digital cameras is that they don’t take amazing pictures by themselves. Photographers need to hone their craft so that they can master the technique necessary to realise their creative vision. 

Once you’ve combed through the instruction manual, however, the most effective way to unleash your inner artist is to practice. Another great way to take your photo-composition skills to the next level is to solicit feedback, and the internet is chock full of places where fellow enthusiasts offer up their opinions. The right kind of critique can give you valuable insight into your own work. 

Here’s a guide on where to go for constructive criticism and how to play nicely with other people seeking the same.

Flickr

Flickr and other photo-sharing websites offer abundant opportunities to garner some constructive criticism on your photographic technique

Ease into the feedback pool with the web’s largest and most vibrant photo-sharing community – Flickr (www.flickr.com).

You can upload photos to your own gallery and later add selected photos to public groups. There is a vast profusion of public groups on Flickr where you can post an image and get feedback. You can add a photo to a group, or join or start a discussion thread if you have specific questions. 

Flickr has groups for everything, such as specific camera models, types of photography, location (if you want to meet other photographers in person), and subject matter.

If you’re looking for an honest critique of your work, search for the word critique and browse the 2,000-plus results. Then find the right group for your level, photo type, and desired commentary.

Twitter

Following prolific photographers on Twitter can also be instructive. (Thomas Hawk in particular is always linking to articles about photography;  @thomashawk.) Because Twitter is so open, use your best judgment. Occasionally you may be able to interact with an artist you admire and get a short answer. And Twitter users can upload a photo or two of their own to their Twitter stream and ask followers what they think.

Photo.net

Photo.net has been around since 1993, and it’s a good place to start learning. The extensive forums have knowledgeable participants who answer any questions promptly, and usually politely.

In the website’s gallery, visitors can sift through thousands of photos, and registered members can rate other users’ photos on a scale of 1 to 5. Rather than a comment box, Photo.net has a box urging people to post critiques, a nuance that encourages more serious conversation.

Similar sites like Digital Photography School (www.digital-photography-school.com) and photoSIG (www.photosig.com) also solicit serious critiques from users. Digital Photography School has curators who offer weekly assignments, and both sites encourage users to post their images with information such as camera and lens type, film type (if applicable), and exposure length. Those details help casual users gain more control over their camera.

Posting and critiquing etiquette

Spending a lot of time on forums raises the issue of appropriate behaviour. Commenting is great. Not commenting – especially on the above-mentioned sites, where all the members ostensibly want to improve their photography skills – is like not paying your fees. 

However, commenting on other people’s photos is its own art form. Stay on topic, ask a question, or offer encouragement. Make sure your comment is constructive, and not just a generalisation. Author Haje Jan Kamps recommends that those giving critiques decide on an interpretation of the piece, starting with “This photo makes me feel . . .” or “This photo is about . . .” 

Viewers should also take note of artistic and compositional choices, and look at the photo’s technical aspects (exposure, focus, colours, and lighting). Good feedback takes time and effort, and need not always be positive, though it should always be constructive.

Don’t upload your whole gallery to a critique forum. Most forums won’t allow you to post more than one photo in a 24 hour period in each thread, and some, such as 1x (www.1x.com), filter submissions so that you can’t just post pet portraits or quick holiday shots for critique. You should think about the photographs you’re uploading. The idea is to submit your best work.

The forums at 1X emphasise in-depth, helpful commentary

The most important rule for forum users (after ‘be polite’) is to post in the appropriate forum category. Do an initial search to see if your question has already been answered. Also, you can generally edit your posts. If you post a question, and then think of a new question, go back and edit the post instead of adding a new box. 

Be mindful of the content you post: don’t self-promote, since posts that keep appearing with links to other websites will usually be removed, as will photos cribbed from other sources. Don’t make fanvids or steal other artists’ work.

Finally, if someone makes a comment you don’t like on one of your photos, it’s your prerogative to take the image down. But if the comment is not blatantly mean, think about checking your ego and talking it out or agreeing to disagree.

Niche communities

If the standard DSLR ‘look’ isn’t your bag, you can find a specialised photo community that fits your technology or style. Lomography (www.lomography.com) is a vibrant community where analogue comrades can gather under the rubric ‘Don’t think, just shoot’; and film-photography.org (www.film-photography.org) caters to the non-digital enthusiasts. 

There’s also a low-fi Nature Photographer’s critique forum (www.naturephotographers.net) for those escaping the concrete jungle. EyeEm (www.eyeem.com) and iPhoneography (www.iphoneography.com) are good for mobile-phone photographers.

A final option is to forgo the internet and look for a local camera club, where you can meet fellow enthusiasts in person. Do a Google search, scour Flickr or Facebook, look for flyers at the local camera shop, or check with your local community centre to find actual humans who meet regularly to discuss photography or to go on shoots. Face-to-face contact is fun!