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January 12, 2004

How Do You Share Your Photographs and Grow as a Photographer?

Seems like both a very basic question and a complex one...given the sheer variety of options out there to show someone your images. Since I've caught on to the phenomenon of the photoblog recently, and I've been actively involved in sharing images in various ways since I got into photography heavily four years ago, it's an interesting question to ponder.

In a general sense, the news is all good. Improving digital capture technology along with faster computers and increased broadband penetration means people can upload images easily, get good quality reprints, and enjoy a better online viewing experience for photography overall.

But I'm thinking beyond the sharing of snapshots...what fanatical amateurs and pros do to show their images to friends and colleagues as they attempt to share their passion for photography, and develop as photographers and artists. Even the most hermetic artist eventually seeks an audience, a friend, or heck, at least another set of eyes. Aspirations can range from simply gaining a virtual social network around one's hobby, getting more enjoyment out of the hobby, gaining more technical knowledge, developing one's own vision or artistic voice, or making a career out of photography. Or all of the above.

The ways of sharing photographs I'm most familiar with are the following:

1) A personal web page with one's own web server, or the use of hosted galleries (pbase being particularly popular)

2) Rating and competition-oriented online forums, such as photo.net, photosig, usefilm, photoblink, and many, many others. Typically, community members submit images for ratings by other community members, but there may also be judges who provide ratings and choose an image for Photo of the Day, Month, etc.

3) General photo-sharing forums that are non-ratings and non-competition oriented, as part of a broader photography web site. I'm only familiar with the Samples and Galleries forum on DPReview, but there may be others where comments are more general and less oriented toward quantitative critiques.

4) Equipment Specific Sites, for example, enthusiast sites meant for owners of Nikon or Canon or Leica cameras. These sites are more focused heavily on discussions of one's gear, but there's usually a general photosharing forum...in fact, DPReview has forums devoted to specific manufacturers which are very popular for the techheads. A variation on the focus on manufacturers can be a focus on a type of equipment or specific photographic process i.e. toy camera sites or sites devoted to large format.

Oddly, I've found that sites in this category can actually be friendlier venues for sharing images, even with their equipment bias, given the inherent "common ground" around brand or process (photographers can be notoriously parochial regarding their cameras and lenses, a subject for another discussion). Some sites can even present consistently thoughtful and interesting photography, such as The Contax G Pages, featuring the photography of owners of Contax G1 and G2 rangefinders.


(One of the first images I submitted to the Contax G site)

And those are just the online options! People have obviously been sharing photographs with peers and mentors for longer than the World Wide Web's been around, and the most common methods I've encountered for people to share photographs and get feedback in the real world are:

6) Informal networks of photographer friends or colleagues (like my Tuesday night dinner group).

7) Photography Schools, such as NESOP, where one more explicitly pursues education in different areas of photography and gains a network at the school. Adult education schools with arts programs and photography courses also fit in this category.

8) Photo seminars/workshops, such as Cape Cod Workshops or Santa Fe Workshops, which are a lot like schools, though are typically more constrained from a time and topic perspective (a day, a week focused on landscapes, nudes, etc)

9) Camera Clubs, which may be one of the oldest networks of photographers around.

I'm generalizing broadly even as I list all these options, as there are more variants than I can list on these models, such as private tutoring (both online and offline), correspondence courses (New York Institute of Photography being most well-known), and even retail pricing for photo critiques for the feedback-starved.

All these options for sharing and learning are not mutually exclusive, of course, and many colleagues I know float between different forums, maintain their own web sites, or at least drop images into a series of pbase albums around loose themes, and will take the occasional class or workshop.

Beyond the large number of online galleries people have as showcases or just online storage cabinets, ratings and competition oriented sites seem to be highly popular, just as camera clubs have always been hugely popular in the real world. I've participated actively in a few of the ratings sites myself. While there's a great deal of good photography at these sites, these fora have significant limitations, which I'll talk more about in my next post.

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My personal experience is that if you want honest, useful feedback internet forums are more or less useless. Those rating forums just don't work the way they'd work in an ideal world.

Posted by: Joerg at Jan 15, 2004 4:45:18 PM

I stoped submiting photos to photoshared sites, too many bloated egos and rules for my taste.
People do anything for tons of comments, even if the picture is lousy they feel like superior behings :).
Useful advice is very rare, because honest opinions are only given by a minority of users, the signal to noise ratio is very low.

Posted by: Mário at Feb 11, 2004 6:21:58 PM

The realization I've come to is that if you really want to grow (as you and I do), it's crucial to pick your critics with care. This simply isn't possible in the online forums, clubs, or even blogs. If I am selective with who I show my work to and solicit feedback, aiming for honest and knowedgable input, growth is going to come faster and in a positive direction. Unfortunatley, some amount of luck is necessary to find people of this sort. We should all be so fortunate as to find mentors and friends capable of providing valuable insights.

Of course, those of us who are timid or self-righteous will select critics who simply shower us with praise. Which is why I make no special effort to show my work to my parents!

Posted by: Todd W. at Mar 23, 2004 1:22:47 PM

I've had accounts at deviantart, photo.net, and others. It seems that most people online are more apt to give you a "WOW! I LOVE THE COLORS!" than a "I feel you should burn the person's face more while toning down the contrast...". To get a true critique, internet forums, photoblogs, and clubs are not really the best way to go. In my opinion, your critique of your work is the toughest you'll ever get. So once you're pleased it shouldn't matter what others think, since it's your own artistic interpretaton which should be taken into account.

Posted by: Luke Ramirez at Jul 30, 2004 3:25:51 AM

I am an amateur photographer and have nt got much experiences in this field.I would like to post a few samples of my work but dont know where to do it.It is then I came across this site and I found a few impressive works.I believe that the experieced ones here can help me out.Please provide me with some valuable guidance.Waiting for replies...

Posted by: Shalin Nijel at Sep 2, 2004 5:52:03 AM

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