The Value of Feedback

Namibia. Zebras neck, a common social activity. This is a mother and her child necking, creating a lasting bond between them.

You might call it shameless self-promotion, but the reason behind this blog post is quite altruistic, I assure you! 

A long while ago, I was an amateur photographer with a dream to become professional ‘someday’. I had no specific time schedule in mind, at that time I was just loving photography.  The dream of having shows, winning contests, etc. was there, but so was the ‘fear’ of whether my photographs were good enough. I didn’t have many people around me to give me good feedback – oh, my family loved the pictures – but then who’s family doesn’t, right, because they love us! 

I took a few workshops, the first significant one being with Sam Abell (of Nat Geo fame). He was a poet with a camera, (and still is) and I thought if I could get his comments, I might know whether I ‘had it’ or not. 

Sam did portfolio reviews at the beginning, and had us state our goals to the group. Goals?? Sheesh, I just wanted to know whether my work was good at all, and here I was in a class with newspaper and magazine photographers, published authors, etc. But I did have a goal – to assemble a collection of work that was strong enough to show in places that would have me. And you have to start somewhere. That weeklong class was nothing short of an epiphany for me – from the beginning where my work was a ‘postcard’, to the end where the work ‘had Brenda’ in it. I floated away from that class so high, but then the reality hit -how would I continue to know whether I was getting better? I wanted more feedback along the way. But there weren’t any portfolio or image critiques being offered regularly back then. The only easy way to get some input about photographs was by taking another workshop (and another). 

Through workshops, I grew. Whether or not I would ever became a pro photographer didn’t matter, then, I was eager to learn how to express myself through my photographs, and needed to polish my technical skills, too, much as I hated to admit that. Was all the feedback I received all great? Not on your life! But as the Sufi saying goes “May all your criticisms polish my mirror brightly.” – and to that I will add ‘in life, and in photography’ – and the feedback helped my understanding of what makes an image work, and how to translate what I saw into something that expressed my feelings of what I saw so that it transcended to the viewer.

A lot has happened since those early days. Through 25+ years as a freelance teacher, I’ve watched so many students grow. Through continued contact, I have learned of their entry in to contests, of winning awards, having shows, and it makes me smile. I didn’t do that, they did, but it feels good to know that I played a helpful role by providing the feedback they sought to go forward on their path. 

Well, this discussion went deeper than I had originally planned! That’s because I was revamping my Portfolio Reviews and Mentoring offerings, and in refining that, I was reflecting on how important feedback was to me, all those years ago.
Back to shameless self-promotion: If you are serious about your growth as a photographer, building strong skill sets and refining your creative, personal vision, take a look at the plans I’m offering. When it’s not possible to take our workshops, you now have an option to still get the feedback you want on your photography.

All the best and thanks for reading,

 

 

Brenda Tharp
Brenda is an award-winning photographer, author, keynote speaker, workshop instructor and tour leader. Her acclaimed books include Creative Nature and Outdoor Photography, and Extraordinary Everyday Photography.
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2 Comments

  1. Russ February 8, 2017 at 6:40 pm #

    Very well said and oh so true!!