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In this online internet age, millions of photos can be shared in an instant with photo sharing sites like Flickr, Photobucket, MySpace, Facebook, and SmugMug. At these sites, photographers of all experiences can make a name for themselves and share their work with a large online community. By sharing and admiring the work of others, you can learn to improve your own photography and find your own unique style.
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Finding a Community
A good place to start would be Flickr. The reason so many people (including me) are a part of this site is because of the large and active community. Registration is free and you can store at any point a maximum of 200 photos on a free account. A Pro account will allow you to upload an unlimited number of pictures and allow you to display them at their original size (free accounts are limited to a "large" size, which constrains your files to a maximum width or length of 1,024 pixels.
The best way to get started on any community is to build a network of friends and contacts. To find other people with similar interests, search around for groups or pictures that interest you. Another good place to start on Flickr is the “Explore” page. These are where the most “interesting” pictures are exhibited. In that section, you will be sure to find something you like. From there, comment on pictures you like and add some to your favorites. This helps to contribute towards “interestingness” to gain recognition on Flickr.
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When leaving comments, first read any description the photographer may have left. Usually it will be some background information regarding the shot, a story behind the photo, or a quote or link to a blog. When forming your comment, be thoughtful and thorough. Always use proper grammar and spelling. Comments that are thoughtful and well-worded are meaningful and you are more likely to get a response on your own images. Comments like “Nice shot” or “Great picture” are too generic and show a lack of enthusiasm. To catch the author’s attention, be insightful and show you care. More often than not, they will leave an equally thoughtful comment to one or more of your pictures. Always be sure to return other people’s comments!
Inevitably, you will come across a picture that you either do not like or that has something wrong. If you absolutely hate it, I suppose you could leave a generic comment, but that would encourage the author and that would not be very helpful. At this point, I would move on to another photo in their photostream that is better and worthy of your comment. If you feel that the photo is improved, by all means, share your thoughts. The author posted the picture on an online community for a reason. They want to learn about the art of photography as much as you do. Therefore, be critical, but keep it positive. Point out what you like and what could be improved next time or in post processing. Never be afraid to point out corrections or fixes to the author. I have been personally thanked by many people for pointing out flaws because it showed that I cared and they welcomed my suggestions.
Also , feel free to add people to your contact list so that whenever you log on, their photos will show up on your front page. Chances are the other person will return the favor and add you as their contact so they know whenever you upload new content as well. This way, you will each be able to provide continual comments and critiques in the future.
Remember: Practice makes perfect. If at first you are not sure of how to critique a photo, read what others have to say and form your own opinions!