How Important is Feedback & How to Encourage it in Groups

In my last Blog (“How Peer Mentors Might Help”) I described what I have learned about how being involved with a group of peers can have a very positive impact on your personal growth as a photographer.

There are clearly some critical characteristics that you need to have: a commitment to improving your photography that gets you to take photos on a regular basis; and the ability to respond by assessing your photos (beyond simply disappointment) when you fall short of your expectations for success. 

There are also characteristics of the group you work with that influence your success: the individuals in the group have to be interested in trying something new and challenging; and the individuals have to feel comfortable working together so they can learn together.  The group does not have to start as “best buddies” but the members, including new members, need to feel welcomed with an honest out-reach to assist one another in growing as photographers.

So, does getting together, feeling comfortable, wanting to improve, and even sharing your photos with one another lead to success?  Maybe, but there are some challenges that don’t come easy to most people and can interrupt that comfortable feeling.  A key ingredient to improvement is feedback, and feedback comes in a variety of forms that can bring a smile, or disappointment, or support and assistance.

Two types of feedback were originally discussed in my January 2016 blog (“How Feedback Helps or Kills our Motivation”).  That 2016 blog was posted right before I started the Peer Mentor Photography Program (PMP) and it has had an important impact on the program and the photography of members in the program.

I suspect that many of you have posted photos on Facebook and/or Instagram.  Did the response of your readers bring a smile, hard feelings, or assistance in your photographic improvement?  I imagine their comments probably brought many smiles, maybe occasional hard feelings, but probably very little assistance in helping you improve your photography.  Why?  The feedback you received has probably been what is known as Evaluative Feedback; a word or two that simply states whether the person likes or dislikes your photo but does not mention why.  On Facebook and Instagram it is usually positive. 

You may also have occasionally received what is known as Informational Feedback, which tells you what they like, or dislike, about your photo.  Informational feedback helps us recognize what others view as positive as well as negative.  In the right environment, informational feedback can help you improve your photography.  But it seems that informational feedback does not come naturally to most people.

When I first started the Peer Mentor Photography Program (PMPP), I simply asked the members of the small group to bring a photo or two to the meeting.  There were about 8 of us the first few months and we didn’t know one another.  We quickly decided to go on photo-shoots together and got to know one another by stopping for breakfast together.  But getting to know one another didn’t seem to help us move from evaluative to informational feedback when we critiqued one another’s photos.  The comments were typically: “I like that shot”, “Beautiful”, “Colorful” but with very few explanations for why they liked the photo.

As the peer mentor group began to grow in number, I defined Informational versus Evaluative Feedback and tried to encourage the “critiques” to include explanation for why they liked the photos.  Most of the peer mentors were hesitant to describe what exactly they preferred about a photo.  Hmmm … how can I encourage them to explain what was good, or not so good, about a photo?

At our 10th Peer Mentor Meeting I tried something very different; I presented two photos that were taken on the same day at Mormon Row in Grand Teton NP.  I asked the peer mentors these questions: 

What do you like, and not like, about this image?  Why did the photographer choose to set the composition this way?    What would you have done different?

And then I presented a second photo with the same questions: What do you like, and not like, about this image?  Why did the photographer choose to set the composition this way?    What would you have done different?

 

The group began to share some Informational Feedback, but it was clear that this was a new attempt that was challenging for some peers.  It started a new approach that eventually evolved into a comfortable environment where informational feedback became more common as we all learned together.

So, which of these two photos do you prefer and why?  If there is a clear-cut difference for you (perhaps a compositional difference?), do you apply that aspect to your own photos when taking a photo?  Discussing a pair of similar photo can lead to helpful feedback for the photographer who took the photo AND it can also educate the group members as they learn how others in the group may view the photo very differently than they view the photo.

These were my photos at the 10th Peer Mentor Meeting.  In the weeks following this meeting we started what became known as the Paired Critique.  Each peer mentor was asked to send me two fairly similar photos of the same place at the same time.  I encouraged the peer mentors to choose a pair of photos for which they had difficulty deciding which images was better, and maybe even had trouble assessing what made one image better than the other. 

It was not an over-night change for individuals or the peer mentor group.  The Paired Critique started when I encouraged the peer mentors to send me a pair of photo but I only received a few of these pairs.  This eventually morphed into standard submission from each of the peer mentors. I’ve never actually asked the peer mentors, but I believe it led the group to feel more comfortable sharing informational feedback.  Creating an environment where the group shared their review helped the photographer and the rest of the peer mentors.   It helped create a comfortable environment where we regularly gave one another informational feedback, and we discussed key characteristics such as composition, exposure, and even a theme.  Which became the next step.

 

So let’s see what you see to critique a pair of images that are somewhat similar (both were take at Capitol Reef National Park) but also very different.  Which image is you favorite and WHY?  Please place your Informational Feedback in the Comments below.

What catches your eye in this photo?  What do you like?  What would you suggest should be changed?

What catches your eye in this photo?  What do you like?  What would you suggest should be changed?

I submitted these two photos for a Paired Critique in January 2019.  I can’t honestly remember exactly what the critiques were for these two photo but there was a “take-away” that did stay with me AND is an important criteria in many of the landscape photographs that I take today.  I’ll be glad to share that criteria after I hear from all of you about which photo is your favorite and why you prefer one photo over the other.

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Some people can improve their photography essentially by themselves.  They are committed to improve and can read articles, watch YouTube, and even work with a mentor in a 1-on-1 situation to dramatically improve their photography.  Please understand I have nothing against those folks (although I may be a bit jealous) but it didn’t worked very well for me – I need to work with a group of amateur photographers who keep me motivated 

I feel so much more committed and motivated and engaged when I am participating with my group of amateur photographers.  I have been involved in our Peer Mentor Program for almost 5 years.  When I look back at my photos from 4 or 5 years ago I attribute a significant part of my improvement to the feedback I have received from my peers.  Where are you?  What will help you?

  1. If you are a peer mentor, how has the PMP impacted your photography?
  2. If you are involved in a photography club, what has helped you improve?
  3. If you are not a peer mentor, or in a photography club, what might you do to integrate what the peer mentor program has developed to improve your photography?  Are you ready to get a few amateur photographs to meet with you?

 

I’m really interested in hearing what has helped you improve your photography and what questions you have about starting your own peer mentor program.  It can work very well if you start with a very small group (less than a dozen members).  I am glad to answer any questions you might have about getting this ball rolling.