I have been working at my photography craft now for what is going on three years. Each photo shoot has resulted in improvements in technique, producing better and better photos. But, how good are they really? I ask my wife and co-conspirator in photography. “Honey, you do a great job,” she says.  But let’s be realistic, how honest can she be? Friends and family heap praises.  How honest can they be?   My mother says, “these photos are great.  I am your mother – you can trust me.” How honest can a mother be? I branched out and asked my employees. Again, I get oohs and ahs.  How honest can they be, after all they work for me?

All this ‘honesty’ still left me wanting to know, “How good are my photos?”

During my quest for learning photography, I have spent many an hour watching on-line classes taught by professional photographers.  If I liked the class, I would start “following” the photographer. One of these photographers is Rick Sammon.  On his website I came across an offering called, “Tough Love,” where he critiques your photos for an hour – for a price. The critique session is performed over the phone while viewing photos in an on-line gallery.  This sounded perfect as I could hide behind the phone – even hang up on him if I felt I had enough.

After months of chewing on it, I decided to give it a go, scheduling the session just before Thanksgiving. As the day drew near, I kept wondering (OK, fretting) whether the session would go well. I told no friends or family about it. That way I could “forget” it ever happened. As the hour started to draw near, my anticipation grew.  When it finally got to our start time, I was ready.  I got in front of my computer, took a deep breath, and started up Skype.  Nothing.  No call from Rick. Argh, after all this mental angst,  do we really have to reschedule?  I am ready now, I thought.

Fortunately, before too much more stress built, we connected and off we went.  Rick looked at the first few photos and began the session ominously with, “98% of the people who come to me don’t need me.” What?! I’m in that 2%? I knew I shouldn’t have signed up for this.

He continued with, “and you are one of those who don’t.” Whew.  Now, we are talking. We reviewed many of my landscapes with some small critiques – all accurate and helpful.  See the before and after of the “Mitten Sunset” below.  Just a little more cropping produces a more pleasing picture. It was an award winner before! Which one do you like? And why?

My original photo.

My original photo.

Photo after cropping some of the bottom shadowy area away.

Photo after cropping some of the bottom shadowy area away.

The highlight of the session for me came with Rick’s comment, “this is one of the best pictures I’ve seen of Horeshoe Bend.”  Life is good.  Check out this shot.

Rick liked this photo of Horseshoe Bend at sunset the most.  I have to agree as it has been my desktop image for months.

Rick liked this photo of Horseshoe Bend at sunset the most. I have to agree as it has been my desktop image for months.

We moved onto some portraits in my gallery.  Here is where I received a lot of constructive criticism (or tough love). Although I have captured the essence of the person, many techniques could have been improved. I’ll make sure I pay more attention with my next portrait subject.

In summary, it was a most enjoyable and enlightening hour.  Although not nearly as “tough” as it claimed to be, I learned a lot – well worth the money. Rick mentioned many times that I have a good eye, but that I could benefit with more time in the digital darkroom with my photos. And, maybe the most telling, is when he asked me “what do you want to do with your photography?” This was a much more difficult question to answer than you would think.  It gets to the heart of what I want to do with my photography.  I’ll answer this on a future post…

Thank you for reading.