If you ask for advice, you need to listen

I joined the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) last year and have been toying with the idea of applying for a distinction – a Licentiate to be precise.

As part of the process, you can go to an assessment day to see if your photos are up to scratch but you can also (as a member) send in your work via email (once I think) for a critique.

So I did. It took me ages to pick my favourite 10 photos that I thought illustrated my style and a few spare (as you can do this if some of the photos don’t meet the standard).

Fast forward a couple of weeks and I received my assessment today. And it hurt. It made me question my style and capability. It made me doubt my ability and then… I forgot about it. I got on with my day.

When the events of the day passed, I sat down and read the critique again with fresh eyes.

I’m glad I did. I looked at some of my popular and favourite photos with fresh eyes and I have seen things today I have not seen before.

To start with the shot that made it to the PrintSwap exhibition in New York was criticized for not being very focussed or sharp.

I guess a lot of the feedback is subjective but this was a bit of an eye-opener.

Take this photo of the Metro in Paris:

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There were some criticisms about it being flat and lacking contrast (which I have fixed) but it was pointed out the point of focus was the roof. And now I look, it is. This is unacceptable for submission to the RPS and now I look closer I can see they are right. I do wonder how many people spot that level of detail though, but it’s important for the RPS.

I actually think the focus and sharpness comment is refreshing. Generally, I share my photos online/via Instagram which means compressed images on the small screen, therefore you can escape some of the detail.

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I love this shot and again the criticism was that there was a lack of contrast and the desaturation from colour to black and white was the reason here. I reopened the photo in Lightroom and did a test to check the highlight and shadow clipping (which I must admit forgot Lightroom did). There was some clipping so I played around with the settings and the above image is now more pleasing, has more depth and contrast.

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My original edit of the subway photo was very dark and had a lot of heavy shadows which I liked when I originally edited it.

I again checked it with the clipping tools and knew it was much harder than it should be so I amended the shadows to fit what Lightroom recommended was best. Once again the photo that Lightroom suggested was more aesthetically pleasing and had much more detail in it.

I read the critique for all the photos and amended or disregarded as recommended and I’ve ended up with a tighter (and smaller) set of images. I also have some I didn’t intend on originally submitting but were recommended higher in the assessment.

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This is one of the additional photographs. I had added a lot of contrast to this image of Centraal Station but the recommendation was to remove the highlight clipping. I reduced it and the image ended up with more contrast and much sharper.

So I have learnt something from this assessment and will take this forward, however, I don’t want this to tamper my view/creative eye – which I am sure it won’t.

The whole point of this exercise was to see what the RPS thought of my work and to apply for the distinction.

I will continue to pursue this and have another selection of images (containing some of the original (edited) photos) ready but I think I will pause before submitting anything too quickly.

I will also submit work as prints and not digital copies as it will probably be the best way to present my photographs.

I will take my time to put the collection together and will book a physical assessment next time – I want this distinction but I want to do it right.

I do feel more grateful for the advice now than I did when I first read it. I will remember that I asked for the advice so I cannot be hurt by it, I wanted it and in the end, it was valuable.

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