What you shoot will always define your reputation as a photographer. When it comes to generating respect and interest in your work though, what you say to other photographers about the images they shoot is no less important. Picking up an audience for your work on Flickr, for example, has always involved taking the time to view other people’s images and leave notes of admiration in the expectation that the photographer would reciprocate. As those photographers become contacts, awareness of your photography starts to grow as does the audience — and eventually buyers become aware of your work too. It’s a benefit that’s not been lost on Flickr members and the result is that images posted by any reasonably popular photographer quickly pick up fake awards, invitations to group submissions, and congratulations expressed in the form of “good capture” comments.
Those are exactly the sort of comments though that contributors are most likely to ignore. Words of admiration can be encouraging, and certainly plenty of budding photographers have been moved enough by the reactions their images have generated to put more time and effort into their photography. But what’s most likely to attract the attention of a popular photographer is not telling them that the photograph is good but actually talking about it. Contributors want to know what precisely the viewer liked about the picture and they want an opportunity to discuss it. There are a few ways that you can do that.
The easiest is to ask how they shot it. Although some pictures will be relatively straightforward, many will require a particular knowledge of lighting and technique without which the image can’t be created. Sharing the picture is a way for the photographer demonstrate their skill as well as their creativity and the comments are an opportunity for them to explain exactly what they did. An intelligent question about a photographer’s working method then is more likely to generate a response from the photographer than a quick compliment.
When Strobist blogger David Hobby, for example, posted this picture of his daughter reading in bed, the light apparently coming from the pages of the book, the photo generated over 10,000 views, 49 comments and 95 favorites. Most of those comments said little more than “excellent shot,” “great lighting” or “awesome.” It was only when “Squilky” noticed an error in the image’s technical description, questioning the choice of F2 at 1/60ths of a second and asking if the flash was diffused, that David Hobby himself entered the comments to make a correction. It was a question that went straight to the topic of the picture and demonstrated that the questioner was knowledgeable, astute and appreciative. It’s the kind of question that would make the photographer want to learn more about the questioner.
A question can make an effective comment because it invites the contributor to share knowledge. An even more effective comment is to share information that you know and which the photographer lacks. This David Hobby photograph of six photographers shooting a celebrity, for example, generated more than 33,000 views and 41 comments. With six photographers’ flashes synced and included in the photograph, it’s not surprising that many of those comments asked him how he had done it. One comment that attracted David Hobby’s attention offered an accurate suggestion but more importantly, it also told him that a couple of publications had recently run similar images. David Hobby then asked a question himself, enquiring where he could see those pictures.
For David Hobby, posting the picture hasn’t just allowed him to demonstrate his skills, and answering questions hasn’t only enabled him to share some information. It’s also given him some helpful new knowledge — and introduced him to a photographer with an understanding of photography and a photographic education that can benefit him too.
It’s certainly a lot more effective than offering another pat on the back.
What Do You Think of This?
Comments though don’t have to be only questions and answers about the way a particular image was made. Some of the most interesting comments are those that develop from a note about the photograph to a fully-fledged debate about photography in general. Rebekka Gudsleifdottir’s photo of her niece tucking into an oversized slice of cake and a giant glass of milk picked up a remarkable 258 comments. As usual, many of those were acclamations and group invitations. Plenty of other comments though were questions about whether Rebekka had used Photoshop to resize the props, enough to make her add a note in her description that she had used “real, oversized props.”
It was when “werdan” wondered
when we’ll cross the line that it is no longer worth doing oddities like this ‘in camera’ because everyone will just think that it’s ‘shopped’ anyway which was the simpler alternative to begin with. Or perhaps we have already crossed that line.
that Rebekka chimed in with her own comment, one of many contributions to the discussion her picture generated:
@Werdan: I think the line has apparently been crossed, where the majority if people now assume everything is PS’d, even things that are relatively simple to create for real…
Regardless of others oppinions on the matter, i myself will stubbornly stick with creating things and shooting them as is, rather than painstakingly create them with aid of computer. It just doesn’t float my boat..
When a comment goes beyond praise for the execution to touch on the subjects that inspired the photographer, then the commenter always has a chance of attracting attention and engaging in conversation with a photographer he or she admires.
There are no solid rules about posting comments that lead to return views, reactions and new contacts — except for one: be respectful and polite. Browsing photographer comments both on Flickr and on websites tends to be a pretty happy affair but that’s not true of all websites or all occasions. A bad picture won’t kill a photographer’s reputation — their skill can always improve — but a bad comment certainly will.