Constructive critique, otherwise known as CC, is a super common thing in the world of social media and especially so for photographers. You can request or receive CC pretty much anywhere but there are specific groups and forums for it, just like ours, the Critique and Tips group.

There is a video on this topic, that’s here:

Let’s dive into this and I’m going to split this post into 3 distinct sections so skip ahead to them by clicking the links below:

To start with…

What is Constructive Critique

I found this definition from Indeed and I actually think it is really good! They define CC as:

Constructive criticism is a type of feedback that is specific, actionable and based on observation and facts. Rather than general advice or suggestions, constructive criticism contains explicit recommendations on how to make positive improvements.

Essentially, constructive critique is the act of giving feedback that is supportive. Quite literally speaking, when people ask for CC they kind of just want to know what they could improve but said in a nice way.

How to give Constructive Critique

You may be a member of a CC group, or you may have been asked to give CC on a specific image or portfolio. Whatever the situation, you are in a position now to give advice and you need to ask yourself a few questions before you dive on in there. The questions I always ask myself are:

a) Do I know enough about this?

If you can’t answer yes to this question, because your skill level is lower than the recipient or because you do not have the knowledge in that field, then do not give CC, or at least ensure you point out that you don’t know enough about this topic to offer actionable advice. If you do, then continue…

b) Do I know what the individual is trying to achieve?

If you do not know what the individual is actually trying to achieve, because maybe it isn’t clear or the recipient didn’t ask for specific CC on a certain area, then it is probably best to not provide CC until you know the answer to this question. Do not be afraid to ask them for a little bit of info on what they are trying to achieve, that’s ok!

If you do not know what they’re trying to achieve, your constructive feedback could actually set the individual further away from what they’re aiming for.

If you do know what they’re wanting to achieve, continue…

c) Can I phrase my feedback in a positive way?

This is the clincher. In almost ALL cases, you CAN phrase what you want to say in a positive way, but on the off chance that you can’t, don’t give CC at all.

If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

When you get to this point and you’ve answered yes to the questions above, it’s time to actually write your critique. For that, there is a tried and tested format that works really well that I think is worth sharing here. Some people call it a shit sandwich, but I think that is really quite negative on the improvement part, so I’m just going to call it a CC Framework.

“The CC Framework”

  1. Start with something positive – what has been done really well here, what has the creator nailed?
  2. Add in something that could be improved, phrased in a positive way, ideally with actionable steps to achieve that improvement.
  3. End with something else that is positive – ideally, something different from the element you mentioned in step 1.

In this way, the recipient is left feeling positive and inspired to produce actionable change, in a way that builds them up instead of tearing them down.

Simple, but effective!

How to get Constructive Critique

Getting CC is quite easy to be honest, albeit a bit scary. For requesting great CC I would definitely recommend being specific in your posts/requests on what it is you are trying to achieve, or what specifically you would like CC on. For example, if you post a photo and say “CC please”, you’re not helping the critiquers to answer questions 1 and 2 in their guidance above.

An example of a great CC request would be to post an image, a single image, with the camera settings, a bit of background about the subject/situation and a specific area that you are working to improve, or looking for feedback on. That gives the critiquers all the info they might need to help you with your specific situation. Perfect.

One thing that I need to stress is that CC is only as good as the individuals giving it. I was once told that the loudest person in the room knows the least, and although I think that statement is sweeping and not always true, 9 times out of 10, you do need to be selective about the CC you take on board. In this case, you have two options:

  1. Ask a specific individual who is working at a skill level ahead of you in this specific thing for critique OR
  2. Take CC given on public forums with a pinch of salt

Cynical? Maybe.

Really this comes down to whose CC you actually value. Whose opinion do you value, whose experience do you value, whose skills do you value? Those things will shape how you take on board the feedback that you have received.

One thing to bear in mind at this point though is that CC from people who really love your work can be very unhelpful because they aren’t picking things to improve like a pair of fresh eyes can. So it is actually useful to mix the two situations and get feedback from different people in different places. You’ll find the things that come up might be stuff you haven’t even thought about, which is great for growth!

In summary, requesting critique can open the doors to responses given with little tact or care, however, these are usually really infrequent. Do not be afraid to back yourself up and respond to those comments though! CC has helped me develop over the years and especially in the first few years, CC alone was what helped me to improve at warp speed. It isn’t something I’ll be turning my back on anytime soon!