Critiquing Your Own Portfolio
Overall cohesion. Color is one thing that goes into it. And it's funny because a lot of times people tell me, "You have such great color cohesion." But then in reality, I actually have about five different distinct colors running through my portfolio. I've got reds, I've got blues, I've got yellows, I've got purples. All different colors. So what makes color cohesive? And this actually hearkens back to when we talked about color theory, and I explained how I put a lot of blue in my shadows and yellow in my highlights. So even if there's a strong red color, purple color, green color, there's still that base color that I put into almost every single image, and that allows for my images to flow with color. Lighting. I also do a couple of different types of lighting, one being very diffused, overcast lighting, the other being window light. So it's still soft, still diffused, still natural. And that's me. And I think that one thing that really tears a portfolio apart is when you have really...
harsh lighting, really soft lighting, really drastic color shifts within the lighting. That can be something that can be a little bit jarring. But depending on how you order your portfolio, it might seem to flow, and maybe nobody would notice. Composition. From one image to the next, within individual pieces. And it's important to mention that composition, lighting, color; you're gonna wanna look at every single one of these things per image, as well as over the course of a portfolio. Character interaction. If there's a person in the image, how is that character interacting within the scene? That is one big thing that can make you feel like an image is out of place or like it's not quite working right. So that's important to remember. Location. Does the location work within your scene? Is that something that's enhancing the image or not? Wardrobe. Does the wardrobe of the character fit time period, location? Does that all work together? Time period and set design. Smooth technique. Now, like I said, technique is one of the easiest things to pick out from a portfolio review. If you're gonna sit down with somebody who is new to Photoshop, let's say, and they've got a few errors here and there. It's gonna be easiest to focus in on that rather than focusing on the concept, because concept is much more abstract. It might be very different from one person to another, based on how you see it. So technique is really easy to pick out, and that's why in a portfolio review you're very often going to be led straight to the technique first, and then you'll start to expand out from there. Depth of concept. So maybe you have great images, and they look beautiful. But is there enough to look at? Is there enough to think about within this image? The flow of the images from one to the next. The emotional response. You know, when I'm giving a critique of a portfolio, I'm often starting with my emotional response to something. Unless there's a glaring error or something that's just not quite right, I'm almost immediately going to tell you how I feel about that image. At the end of the day, you can fix the technique, but if you know, from a professional, how they feel about your work, that is what I go to portfolio reviews for. To see how people are connecting and why they feel emotionally tied to one piece over another. It's like we've been talking about. If your goal is to sell your work, you're going to sell it based on an emotional response from the person who's buying it, over anything else. So I wanna know, how am I doing with my emotional response? And clear artist intent. Is it obvious to the person reviewing your work that you are being clear and concise in the message that you're trying to send, and your intent. Okay. These are some of the words and phrases that have been used to critique my portfolio. And I've been writing them down for a few years, and I thought I'd share them. That it has no depth. That it's lacking story. That it's lacking detail. Not enough contrast in my images. That they need brighter colors. That they need a true black and white point. That I have great characterization. That I have boring characters. That they're too creepy. That they're not dark enough. That I have a fascinating imagination. That they're well done technically. That they need more interesting technique. To never do self-portraits. To do more self-portraits. And that I'm not a real artist. This is ridiculous. Can we agree? Ridiculous. Every single person makes a good point. Every single person. And I don't discount any of these, whether it's good or bad. I don't think that the bad comments have any less or more weight than the good comments, but they're conflicting. You see people are saying, "You're too creepy." "You're not creepy enough." Do more of this. Never do this. And that's what happens from one review to the next to the next. And that's why it's so important that we go into this process with some of our own opinions and knowing where we wanna go with our work. Critiques like this happen when you don't have any sense of direction or questions for the reviewer. So I would really recommend going into a review with a sense of what you wanna know from that reviewer. So if you're gonna have your pictures critiqued, it's really helpful for the reviewer to be able to know, okay, so maybe you've been doing the same technique for years. You've totally got that technique down, but maybe you want to know about the color flow from one to the other. Maybe you wanna know about if your images are ready for a gallery, for example. Maybe you wanna know if they're conceptually deep enough. So go in with a few questions in mind, so that the reviewer isn't just throwing out random opinions when they really might not be at the heart of what you wanna know or what you need to know. Judge yourself against your own standards and not someone else's. And that's really what I'm trying to get at here, is if you're getting a critique, make sure that you know that you have a clear idea of where you wanna go with your work. Maybe visually, maybe conceptually, maybe in your business. And then, when people give you their advice, you know if it's in alignment with your goals or not. If their comments are in alignment with your goals, keep it. And if not, throw it away. And it's as simple as that. So when somebody tells me, "Never do a self-portrait," that's not in alignment with my goals. I don't work well with others. I'm very happy doing self-portraits and being alone all day, every day. Does that mean I'm not gonna photograph other people? No, I will, and I'll take that advice into consideration that maybe certain images would be better portrayed by somebody else. But I love self-portraiture. I'm not gonna stop it just 'cause that person tells me not to do that. Especially when I can take that portfolio to the very next table, set it down, and they say, "Do more self-portraits." It's a really good indication that I can go either way with that, and there will be an audience for that either way. Now some advice is a little bit more objective than others. There is no such thing as truly objective advice. At least I searched and searched, and I could not find it. But what I decided was that there is technical advice and sell-ability advice. And these pieces of advice, to me, are the most objective kinds of advice you can get. If somebody can point out something in an image and say, "You know what? "This thing was done poorly." "This was done in such a way that I can see the editing that you did." Or, "It doesn't really look real." They're probably right about that. If somebody sees a mistake, it can probably be fixed. Now you might not agree, and that's okay. You don't have to take the advice. But that's a little bit more objective than something that's more emotionally based or concept based. And then sell-ability. This is the reason why I do critiques, because I can get my work in front of professionals who can tell me if my work is sellable or not. And of course, depending on the person, depending on the situation, they might say it's not at all sellable, because they personally cannot sell it. But that's a really good distinction to make. If ever you give your portfolio over and ask them, "Is this sellable?" Instead of just asking it like that, "Is this sellable?" Say, "Is this sellable to you? "Do you think you can sell this work? "Do you think this is marketable?" And really weigh their answer against where they are in the industry. Are they somebody who has a gallery that you would love to get into? If so, figure out why it's not sellable for them. If it is, figure out why. What are they reacting to? What do they feel is the strongest part of that portfolio? I love getting advice about sell-ability. To me, that is the number one reason to do a review. To get your work in front of professionals and figure out a business plan from there. Super, super helpful. This is that one image where they said there was one too many butterflies. And this is another one where they had said that there was not enough contrast. That there was no black and white point and that that was wrong. And it was very interesting to hear somebody say the word wrong because I never went to school for photography, so I never had to go through some of those seemingly horrifying classes where you get critiqued and people tell you when you're doing something wrong. And so I never had that basis of, "Oh, I should have a black and white point in my pictures because that's technically correct." So I went into this image thinking, "This is supposed to look like a painting. It's supposed to look like a watercolor." My favorite paintings and watercolors don't have a true black and white point, so I intentionally took that out of this image. So to hand this image over and be told it's wrong because it has no black and white point was very interesting for me because I understood why they said it. It's very obvious why they would go to that as their critique. But I also recognize that maybe they weren't in alignment with my concept here, and that maybe this image wasn't for them. So should I change it or should I not? And there is no clear answer. Should I change it? Do you guys think I should? You might think so and that's okay. But, if not, I agree. And there are images that people have said, "You know what? This would look better a different way." And I've agreed with them, and I've changed some things. But I'm also very stubborn, and I have a really hard time listening to other people.