With digital photography playing an increasingly important role in many people’s lives, joining an online photo community is the logical next step. Be it Flickr, 500px, Instagram or Wikimedia Commons – finding a way to get recognized by others and getting feedback on your images has the potential of improving your photography and image editing skills big way. Yet, as a longtime contributor to online photo communities, I’ve seen numerous newcomers struggle with knowing how to avoid the most common missteps.
For the tips below, I’ll be using Commons, Wikipedia’s image repository, as an example. It’s by far the most complex online photo ecosystem and the community on Commons clearly doesn’t hold back with critical feedback. For me personally, it’s been the most valuable place to learn about the technicalities of taking a perfect shot. What seems like a harsh environment at first, is easily navigable once you follow some simple rules.
[box]Wikimedia Commons has a number of feedback systems created by its international community, with “Quality image candidates” (for photos that are technically sound) and “Featured picture candidates” (for the very best images) being the two main venues of discussion. Images uploaded to Commons are expected to be usable as illustrations for Wikipedia articles and a great deal of my personal joy and satisfaction comes from the idea that millions of people might benefit from my photographic work.[/box]
1. Only ask for feedback on your very best images
A good way of getting started on Wikimedia Commons is to submit a couple of photos to the “Quality image candidates” page (you’ll find detailed instructions about how and what to submit on the page itself). Now, just because we’re not yet entering the higher level “Featured picture candidates” process doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t submit your very best work. The opposite is true: by submitting photos that are not leveled, under- or overexposed, or unsharp, you’ll not gain friends (everybody on Commons is a volunteer and people judging your shots might feel quickly that offering feedback on your images is a waste of time). On the other hand, submitting photos to “Quality image candidates” is a great way to get quick-and-easy feedback when you’re a beginner. It’s also good for establishing your name. Commons photographers and image curators will notice your efforts in getting better step by step and they’ll usually offer advice on how to improve your skills.
2. Accept feedback, even if it’s negative
A very common mistake I’ve seen with newcomers is their inability to accept negative feedback. They tend to fight with claws and teeth about whether the reviewer is right. They submit subpar work and get upset when someone else rejects their images. As a result they loose the respect of the established community members and finally leave the site. More advanced contributors however stay calm even when their favorite shot gets rejected. They think about how to take a better exposure and come back with a better picture after a while. In the end, that kind of behavior gets rewarded: the community of longtime Commons contributors generally likes people who embrace criticism as a way of improving their skills.
3. Take your time before starting to judge the work of others
Some newcomers like to engage in judging other people’s photos right from the start. The opportunity to also promote or reject images on “Quality image candidates” or “Featured picture candidates” feels powerful. Yet, as long as you haven’t fully understood what the community deems to be a superior photo, I’d like you to consider holding back on your judgement. I’ve seen numerous beginners on Commons judge images more harshly than I what I thought was a fair assessment. I guess some newcomers think “If I’m a harsh judge, then the community will think of me as someone who fights for the highest standards of excellence”. – That’s not how I look at things. Newcomers who reject photos that required weeks or even months of work (for me, as a landscape and wildlife photographer, it sometimes takes an incredible amount of time until the weather conditions are right or until I’ve found the elusive species that I’ve been looking for out in the woods), are a great nuisance and I avoid interacting with them whenever possible. Instead, take your time before you start judging the work of others. Watch and get a better understanding of what the existing community deems to be a good image, first.
Following these three simple rules will not only save all of us a great deal of anger and disappointment, it will also greatly increase your chances of being respected by an existing online photo community. I, for my part, truly enjoy being a member of Commons, Flickr, and 500px. Not only are these sites great venues for refreshing my inspiration, their communities are also an awesome source of feedback and encouragement.