Tired Of Getting Pushed Around? How To Deal With Photo Industry Bullies

Tired Of Getting Pushed Around? How To Deal With Photo Industry Bullies

Early on, I faced some bullying from older photographers that viewed me as competition and tried to convince me to quit my budding photo career. Ever since, I have been particularly aware and sensitive to how photographers treat and/or handle each other. It's as if so many creatives are willing to try and crush others' work/reputations/jobs in order to get ahead. To many, it seems like a dog eat dog industry, but it doesn't have to be. I've put together some thoughts and tips on how to overcome those that may try to bully or discourage you.

I was inspired to write this article after I was approached by a few younger photographers that I know to be good shooters and good people that were discouraged and down about their work and careers due to bullying. No, they are not the type to whine, these are people that are being repeatedly bombarded by negativity, lies, shady underhanded competition tactics by one or two other photographers in their markets (unprovoked mind you). It made me sad to be reminded that this is a reality in our industry (as well as many other industries), from internet "trolls" to people we actually work alongside. This is just the nature of a highly competitive industry sadly, but this does not have to get you down!

I want to say early on that this is NOT meant to be an article that intends to name names or point fingers or call people out. I want to use this space to call out the fact that this IS a problem in our industry and that you should not be discouraged because this is something most of us face. I will share a couple of my personal experiences and what I learned from them. I hope some of the tips and situations myself and some fellow photographers share below give you some newfound confidence and energy to overcome the naysayers and let their worlds fuel you to overcome and dominate. --

 

Embrace your Local Creative Community

I'm involved in a few photo groups (online and local to NYC), in which we socialize and share tips and resources and critiques (I wrote an article on this). These are not public forums, they are more like... smaller groups of 20-40 in which we all reach out to each other to help and share. I'm in one secret photo industry group of all established photographers of a certain specialty. Often times we will bid on the same campaigns, other times we may even do shoots for the same client, but in other cities/countries and we help each other with bids, or how to accomplish a certain effect, location advice, etc. It is AWESOME to be involved with groups of photographers like this where we go out of our way to help each other, even if we do sometimes compete on the same projects.

Back when I lived in DC, I hosted mixers at my favorite Irish pub where all creatives were welcome. We would hang out and talk work and often times nothing about work whatsoever, but what's great was that soon after we had our first meetups, I'd see various people that came to hang out helping each other on set or with gear or advice! If you have talent and good energy and determination and you adapt your work over time, then you have no need to abuse or talk crap about other photographers to benefit yourself. I've NEVER felt the need to abuse another photographer to benefit myself and I can promise you I have a comfortable career that I built myself from scratch from my own sweat and tears and not from the blood of others.

 

 

Find Understanding In Their Actions

Understand that their behavior is most likely fueled by jealousy or you are viewed as a threat to them or their livelihood. One time an older photographer I looked up to and respected when I was young in my career, told me to enjoy my "15 minutes because they were almost up." In my recollection, this only happened after a corporate client started hiring me to be a second shooter at events in which he was the senior photographer. I wasn't taking work from him and I was always respectful and often asked him for advice and respected his place in the industry. It made me sad when I heard he was telling other photographers behind my back that I was not very good and he thought my marketing techniques were terrible. I was sad that a photographer I looked up to would do such things when I meant no harm to him or his career and was nothing but friendly. I let it fuel me. After I moped for a bit, I became a bit angry. I didn't want to retaliate, but rather, I wanted to succeed. To prove to this photographer and anyone else that doubted me that I could succeed despite their words and actions. That I could be polite to my other photographers, I could enjoy teaching to those that wanted to learn, and I could land magazine and advertising campaigns that my reputation, hard work, portfolio, and business practices would earn me fair and square. It's actually people like him that I should thank for my success thus far. If it wasn't for the people that expected me to fail, then the success wouldn't be as sweet.

I one time dealt with a friend and assistant that started going behind my back to my clients and literally telling them that I was a terrible photographer (everyone is allowed to their opinion, but to my face he had nothing but compliments) and he could do what I do, but for less, thus trying to steal my business. This is someone that called me one of their best friends, but behind my back would tell other photographers in the community lies about my personal life and my business practices that I found hurtful and sad and I felt his words affected my reputation as an honorable person. I humored public retaliation - I mean, who wouldn't? I thought about posting screen caps of texts and messages of this person spreading lies, using my name and telling people he was my former business partner (not true and scary that he would even claim that), and I even thought about confronting this person face to face. But then I realized I would be giving this person the attention they do not deserve. I was deeply hurt by the blatant attack by a supposed friend who used my name to try and steal clients and while attempting to throw me under the bus, but realized that I would proceed forward and cut contact with this person and ignore them. If people that met and interacted with me chose to believe whatever BS rumor that I was a jerk or whatever, that is their choice. I would bust my ass and continue to strengthen my portfolio and do the best job for my clients that I could and let my actions speak for themselves.

Just remember, the bully reputation catches up with you. If you are a jerk for whatever reason, people will find out on their own. Reputation is HUGE in this business. So, again, if you feel discouraged by a similar situation, keep your chin up, be the best photographer you can be, be honorable, show your true talent. Those that play hurtful games will remain stuck in their games. Rise above and realize that the best revenge is succeeding when their efforts fail.

A personal shoot that I did with the help of fellow photographer volunteers in the community. Couldn't have done it without them!

Don't Encourage Negativity

Don't be a troll. It's always hard to post an image up on a public forum and not get one person that is truly insensitive with their remarks. It could be an award-winning photo and some dude with a portfolio filled with blurry iPhone photos of stranger's feet (no offense intended to anyone with a portfolio like this) will somehow want to claim that you are terrible and they know better. Listen, you have to accept that people will have opinions and you can choose to accept them or not. That's the nature of a critique. You can take criticism and try and learn from it, even if it seems crazy, but don't take it to heart. If you believe in your art and are also aware that you NEVER stop growing and learning as a creative, then you will be fine. If I may offer advice about when you DO critique another photo, try and get in the habit of mentioning at least 1 positive thing, even if you hate the photo. I learned that from one of my favorite photo professors from R.I.T. It trains you to see the lesson in every photo, even if it's not your cup of tea. Also be aware that just because someone isn't at your skill level, you do not have to tear them apart. Of course BE HONEST, but pretend that person is sitting next to you at a table and you have to say it to their face.

Another project I could NOT have done without the help of creative industry friends

Here are some thoughts and tips from fellow photographer friends on how they have dealt with bullies:

Luke Copping:

  • Don't feed the fire - it only draws the drama out longer. Our natural compulsion is to debate, argue, and rush headlong into conflict, especially when someone has questioned your integrity or intent. Remember that actions speak louder than words and that you can best put these issues to rest by delivering amazing product, treating your clients with respect, and turning your customers into advocates whose passion for your work outweighs any shade another photographer might throw at you. Create your own good buzz through your actions and let others spread the truth for you. Be wise in choosing your mentors and those you mentor - A lot drama between photographers can come through misunderstandings during the critique process or mentorship. Understand the dynamics of those relationships and be sure to give due respect to differing viewpoints regardless of which side of the equation you are on. Learn/teach while respecting the uniqueness of each parties work and style.
  • Self-Examine - Sometimes we aren't all as innocent as we would like to think. There's an old saying that say if you are the only common denominator in all your bad relationships then you might need to reexamine if you are actually the one at fault. Try to step outside yourself for a while and be a little introspective, are you acting in a manner that may give someone a legitimate grievance with you? even unintentionally? How have your patterns of behavior affected others? Maybe its time to reach out and try to find a civil resolution to this and hear their side of the story.
  • Don't let it hold you back - Don't let the words of others take the winds out of your sails, instead, let it be a motivator for you to work harder, push farther, and expand your talent and vision. More than anything else I suggest not getting bogged down in the politics and reputation games of this industry and instead focusing on your work and your clients.

 

Glyn Dewis:

  • KEEP ON KEEPING ON
  • Recognize that 99% of the time you’re being bullied because the bully feels threatened by what you’re putting out there…so keep at it! Let them waste their time and energy focusing on you whilst you spend your time and energy developing your skills, being consistent and moving forward.
  • No matter how hard it is not to…don’t retaliate or better still, let your followers do the dirty work for you and believe me…they will; no one likes to see a friend being treated badly right?
  • Come right out with it and ask them why they say such words and behave the way they do about you. Put them on the spot. I’ve done this once before and sure enough the Bully seemed to disappear. Of course they’ll nearly always come back with the standard "I’m only trying to help"
  • If all else fails…Name and Shame. None of us want to air our dirty laundry in public and like to think we can deal with whatever comes our way HOWEVER sometimes enough is enough! So name and shame and heck why not take a screen grab of something they emailed you and post that too. Don’t suffer in silence; let others see what’s going on and that will take you back to number 3…well…the friends bit anyway :)
  • Keep copies of everything! Screen grabs, emails and anything else because if one day it really does get out of hand and potentially start impacting on your business and livelihood you’re going to need to show the authorities exactly what you’ve been experiencing. 

 

Mike Kelly:

I have always taken everything that most other photographers say to me with a large grain of salt. Unlike most, I don't really care what many other photographers say to me. I've lost count of how many photographers have told me "you're doing this wrong, you're doing that wrong, it needs to be done this way, like I learned how to do it, and you'll never get clients that way." 

If I had listened to them (and many of them can be downright condescending and insulting) I wouldn't have gotten very far in my career at all. For some reason, many photographers have this hyper-competitive edge about them and that comes out by putting others' work down. As a result of this, for the most part I steer clear of online photography communities and these people, and keep a very short list of other photographers in my 'rolodex' who I trust to critique my work.

Sure, it's fun to get compliments on your work from other photographers in the community at large, but the ultimate compliment to me is a happy client sending me a nice fat check. And there sure have been plenty of times where the client is over the moon with the shots, but the pictures have definitely been put down by other photographers because they don't really appreciate the circumstances involved. So if you have the resolve to do so, I honestly suggest that you stick to refining your vision and trust your instinct to create what you see to develop a unique style, rather than dealing with poisonous remarks from internet tough guys on forums and Facebook groups.

 

Rebecca Litchfield:

Non-constructive criticism stems from jealousy in my opinion. These trolls suddenly feel threatened by the success of others and the only way to bring them down is by being nasty and cruel. It's the only thing they can do to make them feel better about their pitiful existence and lack of talent. I love constructive criticism and have been able to progress from it, but someone outright telling you, you have no talent when you have done nothing to personally attack them is just jealous.

 

What are your thoughts? Have any tips to add? What kind of bullying have you been facing? Please try and refrain from naming names, but feel free to share your story and experience so others may know that they are not alone in this kind of behavior.

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22 Comments

The sort of nonsense from established photographers is exactly why I didn't pursue a photography career in spite of having gone to art school. The area was too small and other photographers were very discouraging because with an art school in town everyone had to scrounge for business (combine this with the economy immediately after 9/11). I was doing very, very well for my age, being shown in exhibitions around town and winning some awards. Unfortunately, my work was sometimes chosen over my instructors who did not take that well. The instructors were badmouthing the students, which was a reflection on them IMO (ultimately the program director left over that nonsense and I ended up taking his class at a CC just so I could have darkroom time). The students were badmouthing each other. It was pretty awful and difficult to learn in that environment (add to it that you're paying $20k a year for all that too). Combined with some pretty terrible wedding shoots, I had absolutely no desire to ever make it a career.

In retrospect, it was actually a good thing. I was saddled with the debt of private education and did not have the business skills one needs to really make good money. I've spent 10 years in accounting in construction and running my own businesses, which has not only taught me invaluable business skills but given me a thick skin. If I can stand to work with construction guys, I can handle pretty much anything. Also, I'm not going to give up my day job so I really don't have the time or care to deal with the BS I've heard about with photography specific professional groups. My experience with artists in general has been really negative so I'm trying to sort of overcome that by taking some fun art classes with my son. While I can handle anything, I don't want to feel combative any time I encounter another artist.

Douglas Sonders's picture

thank you for sharing your perspective Jennifer. This story is all too common sadly and it IS very hard in smaller markets.

Moving to a larger city is definitely a different ballgame. I've turned some of my accounting clients into photography clients. So far I've only had one person say something negative about wannabe photographers taking business away from the professionals. My response was, "my client was never going to be your client. If I wasn't taking the pictures, they wouldn't be hiring a photographer. I'm creating brand new clients, not taking business from anyone." People here are a bit stuck on making 100% of your income on photography (which is ridiculous but that's a different discussion) so they get very strange around those of us who make our true living on other things.

Simon Dyjas's picture

Thanks for writing this. I've been privy to this a few times. I recently had a situation where an established photog treated me like second grade material after only one day of working with me. Some people only see you as competition.

For me the best example of people, who are not afraid of upcoming creatives, are the ones who have no problem sharing their own experience and knowledge.

If you never stop learning and creating, you won't have to ever worry about standing still.

Douglas Sonders's picture

well said Simon

Sven Uckermann's picture

I had situations like this often with former "pro" photographers from the film age .. you know this family studios going out of business years ago .. And this type are the most bad mouthing persons I had the "honour" to meet.

David Vaughn's picture

Does this actually happen? =O

I mean, I've had some silently tense moments when talking with other photographers about photography stuff, but usually they'll be nice to your face and just be very passive aggressive later on if they don't like you.

But then again, where I live it's the height of rudeness to confront someone as opposed to talking about them when they're not around, so maybe that makes a difference. Talking about people either way is terrible, though. :P

Matthew Taggart's picture

I've always felt that even if someone is a bad photographer/videographer or whatever, the first compliment you can give them is that they did something. I know that's a little cheesy, but even if someone sucks on a technical level, at least they tried to do something instead of sitting at home thinking about doing something. Most bullies in the video world seem to be from that train of thought. Never make a short film or write a script etc, but have a billion critiques about yours. Oh well.

Ralph Berrett's picture

A lot of the time it is less jealousy more insecurity. This has been an issue for a long time. Back in the 90's I had a couple of local shooters upset because I shot 35mm and charged by the hour not by photo packages.

In college I would hand over the negatives with edited photos from weddings to the client which upset a few local wedding shooters. My favorite one recently I was talking to some local shooters at a meet up we were talking f/stops and lighting ratios, and I am not kidding when I say we had a local shooter get really upset saying we were talking photo jargon just so new photographers like here could not join in the conversation.

These days I don't worry about other shooters, comments. I am more concerned about keeping the client happy.

Blake Johnson's picture

"You are everything wrong with the industry"
That's what I was told in early 2012 by two of my younger peers. Basically I got an offer to have a photo in a national magazine and didn't know how to handle it properly. I was a little green and not as confident in my ability. Which was to be expected since this was less than a year after buying my first DSLR. NOW, let's talk about what has happened since. I moved on learning and growing. I shot as much as I reasonably could and spent many hours learning processing techniques. I've gotten the attention of a few brands that I like. I have one photo that has been shared so much on Google + that it now has almost 50 million views. Thats only after one year. Overall I have rebounded from that day, but it has always been in the back of my head. When someone would say they haven't heard of me, in the back of my mind I would always say "You will."

Remove toxic people from your life. Their insecurities should never bring YOU down. I continued because I had no choice. This is who I am. This is what I do.

I'm a creator.

Douglas Sonders's picture

thank you for sharing your story

Karin Daninger's picture

In my country it was difficult to become a photographer until recently. You had to work for three years for another photographer and then take an exam. Only then were you allowed to make money off your photos. We were one of the last countries in Europe that had this kind of regulation. In December 2013 this regulation was abolished because of European law.
After that happened comments in photography forums of my country were filled with hatred of young photographers who could now enter the market VERY cheaply (only 360 € of costs per year). There was anxiety that they would ruin the market, lower the prices and in the end being a photographer would be gainless for everyone. This change had good and negative consequences.

Since then everyone who has a DSLR at home has become a professional photographer. It is difficult to be taken seriously as every crazy cat lady and teen has a 5D Mark III and a 80mm 1.2 to take pictures of their food and pets. I never planned to be a professional photographer. I'm studying economy, it still is my main goal. But I was contacted by a relative who liked my photography and needed some photos of the buildings his company has built. He said he couldn't/didn't want to pay over 1000€ for a photo per building and that he would hire me instead.

Since then a lot has happened and I'm slowly building myself a career in this competitive field. I can imagine being a photographer alongside my main job. It brings me so much joy to take portraits of people and see their happy reaction to the photos. A lot of them never had a good picture of themselves, even by "professionals".

When I started my business I got a folder of the "Fotografeninnung", the legal representation of photographers, and on the second page there was an article about how there are too many photographers right now. This was their "welcome" letter. It's a joke! I'm so glad this all has changed now and that the market is being shaken up now.

I anticipate to get sued at some point, as this is a particularly disgusting pasttime here, photographers who sue other photographers.

In the States we have a lot of that attitude as well. Everyone is a photographer. And people trying to break in the business shoot for peanuts. Being a business person, I try not to do that. If I want to work with seniors, I find people through my group of friends that would not be able to afford a photoshoot at all (I'm building my portfolio, they get pictures, and no business is taken from established photographers). Most of my photography clients are my existing accounting clients or I have gotten through people I know.

I also will not be giving up my day job anytime in the near future. I have a child to support and I make a decent living that allows me to purchase equipment that I will need in the long run, put together shoots for myself, and travel a little for projects, all without stressing about money. The way I see it, very few photographers make their living on the projects they want to work on. Whether I am shooting for commercial clients because I need cash, or working as an accountant, I'm not spending 100% of my time on personal projects anyway so I may as well maintain my contacts and not live on Ramen noodles while I build a name for myself.

Yes this happened to me - Thing was the at the photographer involved did it to one to many - read on and you will see - I had never met or had any previous corro with this person - https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10202850651208112&set=a.1092...

Oh my goodness. Sounds like she needs a legal nastygram to snap her back to reality. How unprofessional. If I was shopping for any professional service and I saw that nonsense, I'd write them off as immature and unprofessional then look for someone I would trust.

First off, great article, thanks.

Second, like a lot of others, I have had this sort of behavior happen to me. I've been practicing photography for a long time and in my area it is very cut throat. I do not have a storefront, I do pick up jobs here and there and get some invites to do work, but I support my family with my day job.

For now.

Quite a while back I had an opportunity to go to a creatives and artist type night at a local gathering place. I was sort of heistant, because I am EXTREMELY shy in person when I meet new people in an unfamiliar setting, but it was supposed to be a meet and greet/collaboration type mixer. So I went, took my portfolio, one of my cameras and bag and some contact cards. I was frozen out within minutes of arriving. It seems I did a session with a local band that normally went to one of the "established" photographers. Despite the fact that they came to me, I was seen as a trespasser. One of the bartenders let me know that these monthly "meetings" were a way for a few established photogs and artist in the area to hold court and hear how great they were. It had been essentially the same group coming for several years, and new people rarley came more than once.

Where does that sort of stuff happen?

I have simply never heard of anything like that happening... and I live in a very small town for artists. No one here cares a tinkers damn about new people starting out. In fact, at most of the meetings of ASMP they are recognized and the other photographers welcome them in with offers to help them learn the town.

Just astounded at these horror stories.

Unless of course you are talking about wannabees and such... Bartender?

Sounds like more of a get together with non-professionals or the delusional wedding shooters of your town.

Aim higher.

Hmmm...

Perhaps I am a very lucky guy. I have never been "bullied" by other photographers either when I was starting as an assistant or when heading out on my own. I dealt with some extremely rude people, but there are rude people in every group or profession.

Were there some 'going behind my back' shenanigans? Yep... and both of those times were assistants working FOR me - and were dealt with quickly.

I have found more people willing to help and motivate and inspire than I can count.

But maybe it is a definition of bullying that has me flummoxed. Is their stiff competition? Sure. Are there people making comments about my work or my business? Absolutely.

Do I care? Not a whit.

Unless it is physical or criminal, it is simply people being people and the best thing to do is ignore them. As I like to say... stop seeking permission from those who will never give it for reasons you will never know. Stop asking for critiques from morons and Flickrites. Stop seeking advice from people you do not trust...

And please, stop being a victim. Victims are not attractive to potential customers.

In a world where we can easily hide ourselves behind a computer screen, it's impossible to expect people to not 'troll' on the internet. Your own mentor could praise your work to your face and then wait until you post on the interwebz and slag you off with comments under a name you'll never recognise.

But the fact is, Human nature is hostile, it always has been and always will be and no amount of political correctness or social expectation can change that, nature is more powerful than nurture and it is our nature to protect what we have and mitigate against threats.
Some people are better controlling themselves than others and you will strongly benefit if you learn to read body language to help identify those two-face scum that you deal with each day.

On another note, I find it interesting how there is often lots of today's established photographers mention about how they had mentors. But for the life of me I do not know a single person like myself (learning/up and coming/newbie) who has a mentor today. In fact all I do see are "mentors" ripping off other photographers by charging obscene amount of money for photography course/tutorials. Anyone with half a brain knows the WWW is a terrible place to start learning any topic because it's a giant mess of disorganised self-opinionated posts.

Mentoring just seems to be another line of cash income for photographers today, rather than helping a community grow they'd rather help their own wallets grow.

Kristi Woody's picture

Thanks for writing this. I have been fortunate in avoiding the bullies. I'm in a small market, but the other photographers in my town are pure gems. We all get along so well and throw each other business all the time. We push each other to learn and improve, and we try to do little classes for each other since we all have different strengths. We're mostly doing portrait/wedding work because this small town doesn't have many commercial jobs :) Anyway, I'm incredibly grateful for the community I'm a part of, and I pray I never have to deal with industry bullying.

Anonymous's picture

Oh, yes.
They tried to desroy me.
Pure envy.
Their bones are now in a rubbish container.
I'm so happy.
No need to explain how it came through.

I loved this article and all the comments.I'm thinking it means you "have arrived" if you are critiqued in a mean or rude manner. It is unhappy people frightened by someones else's bigger piece of pie that they start to throw rocks, hoping you back down and leave.
I am a hobbyist photographer by no means a pro, and was taken aback this stranger on flickr seems entitled to critique my photos. Its intrusive and rude as my profile clearly shows I recently retired, am on a fixed income and love exploring our beautiful world as well as inspired and excited looking at everyones incredible photos.
Perhaps this person and all those being mean have lost the most important thing about photography- the joy and passion it brings.