I’ve worked with a lot of photo editors and art directors over the years. Some I’ve been with for ages, others use me a few times and then I never hear from them. No feedback, good or bad, to help me understand why? You’ve probably had the same thing, too. Constructive criticism or simple explanations, like perhaps they felt they couldn’t afford you, help both sides understand and perhaps retain a good relationship.
The people I’m still working with, after years, are the ones that obviously love my work, and I love working with them. One of us would fire the other if it wasn’t working for some reason. But there’s also a mutual respect in all of these. And the ones I value most not only tell me when I create something they love, they also explain when I create something that isn’t quite what they needed or had expected.
For the ones that don’t offer this kind of candor, I always wonder if they have a fragile ego and expect that I do as well. Or they hate confrontation. Or they just figure, “NEXT!”. If it’s the latter, I probably didn’t want to work for them again, anyway. I have an ego, just like everyone else. But after a couple of decades of both honing my craft and gaining some needed callouses on my skin, I love critique. Though I’d sometimes love it if I did everything above everyone’s expectations all of the time, that’s not reality.
There are ways for our clients to be honest with us and still be tactful. It’s professionalism. But it also shows they care. I have one former editorial client that I worked for a few times, they loved the stuff I shot but rarely used it, citing that something more news-worthy had come up and my shoot had been killed. I still got paid, and it was a magazine I loved for the great images they use, but they had a tendency to love the flavor-of-the-moment, changing freelance photographers more often than some of us change socks. They still do.
If you’re an art director or photo editor reading this, PLEASE know that the photographers you work with would much rather hear the truth than the silence. It will get you better work, the stuff you’ve always wanted, and it will give you a friend who will work doggedly to create better images and make you look good.