When we create something like a photo, one of the most painful experiences can be receiving negative criticism regarding our photography. However, positive criticism can be equally damaging (and sometimes more so). Here’s why.
One of the most appealing aspects of photography is the praise we receive when we take a photo, display it, and receive affirmation that people liked the picture we created. The appreciation of our art helps to spur us into creating even more art through photography. However, like anything outside of moderation, too much praise can be harmful.
Praise and affirmation turn harmful when the drive of creating photography shifts from feeling fulfilled when we create something to feeling fulfilled only when we receive affirmation of what we’ve created. In simpler terms, when we are only happy about our photography when someone praises our photos, it may be time to start asking for ways to improve. And while I am all for encouragement, asking for criticism for the sake of growth is a healthy habit to develop.
How Positive Criticism Hurts Photographers
Only feeling fulfilled with your photography when you receive praise from creating it is a warning sign that you may be addicted to praise. Like any addiction, photographers who thrive on praise need to learn to break the habit. The issue is when we are continually receiving approval, we no longer strive to do better work. Constructive negative criticism helps to spur us to become better and create better work.
As a wedding photographer, I used to thrive on the results of seeing my bride and groom share their photos on their social media profiles and the reactions of their friends or family when they saw the images. I would judge the merit of my pictures according to how many good responses the photos received.
Sometimes, however, a bride or groom would upload my photos along with personal cell phone photos from the wedding day. A strange thing would occur when couples did this: their friends and family would be just as complimentary of the blurry, grainy cell phone photos as they were of the images I’d taken. I can’t tell you how irked this made me. “Can’t they see the difference?!” I’d think indignantly to myself. Obviously, they couldn’t, and for a good reason.
Most friends and family of my clients aren’t seasoned professional photographers. People who don’t see the subtle nuances of good lighting or composition may not know the difference between a professional photo and a snapshot from an amateur. Why was I putting so much weight on the opinions of people who may not even understand my original vision?
How to Decide Whose Opinions to Trust
Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray, Love,” has given some great advice when trying to decide whose opinions to listen to, and whose opinions to discard. She says there are four questions to ask when choosing to accept or discard the criticism (both positive and negative) of others.
Do I trust this person’s taste and judgment?
Does this person understand what I’m trying to create here?
Does this person genuinely want me to succeed?
Is this person capable of delivering the truth to me in a sensitive and compassionate manner?
Gilbert says that if she’s unable to answer “yes” to all four questions regarding any given person, then she will not take their criticism into account. This is a good way of deciding who to listen to when it comes to others' opinions of your photography, good or bad.
Receiving anything other than positive criticism is a scary prospect, but its also one of the best ways you, as a photographer, can challenge yourself to grow. Consider purposing not to seek out praise for your photography and instead return to the roots of creating photos for the sake of creating art that you love. Trust your instincts and challenge yourself to try new techniques. So long as you’re creating photography that you love, who cares what others think?
If you're wondering if you're addicted to praise, here is a simple test to find out if praise drives your photography: if social media commenting didn't exist, would you still be driven to create photography?
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