Why Do You Care if Anyone Likes Your Photography?

Why Do You Care if Anyone Likes Your Photography?

Why do we care so much what people think of our photos? Do we shoot for others or do we shoot for ourselves? Does it help us progress by having strangers or even people we know comment on our photos? What about formal reviews by so-called experts?

I recently watched a video by Joe Edleman where he states we shouldn't care what others think of our photos, and it got me thinking about the subject. On one hand, I have to agree with him. Why should we care? But on the other hand, if our goal is to improve, shouldn't we care? Shouldn't we seek out the advice of others? 

First, we all should be shooting for our enjoyment. Yes, I understand that for some of us, I included, need to shoot for the satisfaction of our clients, but we also need to shoot for ourselves. This is where self-projects come into play by permitting the commercial photography to shoot whatever and however they want. I do this and have many photos that no one else will see, but the photos made me happy when I made them, or they make me happy when I look at them for any numerous reasons. For those who do not shoot for clients nor need to get paid, you have even more freedom to shoot for your enjoyment. You can experiment and find what makes you happy. Nothing is absolute in photography. Aside from documentation photography, photography is a form of art to be developed by the artist behind the camera. So if that is the case, that you shoot for your enjoyment, then why do so many photographers seek the approval of others? What does it matter what others think of your photos, especially from people you don’t even know? And they don’t know anything about you other than one picture.

Looking for feedback and praise all the time can hold us back from expanding our photography skills and artistic expression. Having a hundred or thousand of Instagram likes doesn’t do anything for our photography. Or just the opposite, having people critic and perhaps provide comments that are not supportive can discourage us from perusing a new technic or vision. I don’t think any photographer nailed their new concept on their very first shoot or the hundredth shot. It takes time to refine our vision and technics. I was in Madrid recently, and I visited the Magnum Photos exhibition. I noticed how various photographer’s work changed over just a few years, and I believe improved over those years. What if they always looked for confirmation from others? Would they have pursued that vision? Would they have stopped after a few photos that people didn’t like? There is a danger of always looking for confirmation from others.

Second, and this is where I disagree with Edelman, and even contradict my own previous comments. I believe if you want to progress you do need to have some feedback. However, there are limitations regarding comments and feedback. 

One limitation is the feedback has to be constructive and with a purpose. Feedback of "I simply like it" or "I don’t like it" is not helpful. As I mentioned earlier, the number of Instagram likes is not useful feedback. It has to be from people who understand what you were attempting to capture the photo and they need to be knowledgeable. I’ve had my portfolio reviewed by numerous experts that have given me good feedback, but I never take their advice as absolute. Why? Because they are humans and have their own preferences. Just look at how often Lee and Patrick disagree when they do the Critic the Community. Of course, we all know which one of them is always right, don’t we? I can remember two distinct times when I had my portfolio reviewed by rather impressive reviewers, and on both occasions, one reviewer preferred one photo over another and the other reviewer said just the complete opposite. Those two times thought me that we should always take the advice of why the reviewer didn’t care for some aspect of the photo and evaluate that advice ourselves. For this to be successful, we must be open to the input and not merely make excuses why the reviewer is not correct in our view.

We must get feedback from people who understand the subject matter of the photograph. Sure there are fundamental basics that good photographers or critics can point out during a review, but knowing the subject matter….well matters. I was at a workshop a few years ago one of the courses involved photographing various motocross riders. During a group review the next day one of the other student’s photograph was critiqued by the instructors. Of the instructors mentioned that the handlebars should be turned more so the viewer didn’t see the bike’s number plate. As I shoot motocross, I mentioned that the rider’s number is significant to them. The riders see their racing number as part of their ID. The instructor said, “Well it isn’t important to me.” Let’s take a look at this. Was that a bad comment or an excellent comment by the instructor? I’m going to say neither, but it could have been better. I would agree with the instructor if this photograph were not shot for the rider or perhaps their team. If the photo was used for a laundry detergent advertisement then yes then seeing the number plate doesn’t matter. However is this was shot for the rider’s PR or the team’s media effort than seeing that number is very important. Where I look at the instructor failing, and this is kind of weak since it was a photography workshop, is to put the comment into context based on how the photograph might be used differently.

So should we ask for opinions about our photography? What do you think? I believe it depends and it should be limited. I think we shouldn’t take comments as absolute. We should first and foremost enjoy photography and if we need to improve our photography for whatever reasons we should proceed carefully.

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24 Comments

Michael Jin's picture

It depends on why you're doing photography. If you're doing photography as work, the opinion of others is more important than your own. The same applies if you're doing it to draw attention or create a following.

If you're just doing photography for your own personal reasons, then the opinions of others could be helpful in giving you more perspective about your work and helping you to see things in it that you might not have otherwise, but I wouldn't say that you should necessarily care about how they value your images because in this case the photography is not meant for them.

So it all comes down to the intended purpose and intended audience.

Personally, while it would be nice to know that my photos could speak to people out there, I don't particularly care whether others like them or not so long as I'm satisfied with them.

Robert K's picture

Hey Doug.

GREAT article. I have been thinking about Joe's video since he posted it. I am certainly guilty of seeking the opinion of others regarding my photography skills. I have been shooting with a Canon T6 for the past two years after miving up from point and shoot cameras. My goal is to become a professional photographer one day and be viewed as a competent photographer as well.

I submitted some photos on dpreview.com and asked for feedback. Nearly everyone was helpful and offered constructive criticism, which as you mentioned is important. Most of the critiques i agreed with but some i have chosen to disregard. i think a person HAS to have some type of vison of their own, while also understanding the basic rules of photography such as rule of thirds, iso, and aperture.

Again, GREAT article. Enjoy your Thursday😊📸

Rob Davis's picture

Find people whose opinion matters to you and listen to them. Don't listen to just anyone with an opinion, including me.

Christian Lainesse's picture

If there is no one in one of my photos, the most important thing is that I love my own work. If there is someone as a subject of my photo, it is also important that this person loves the photo.

Han Seoul-Oh's picture

critic=person
critique=what a critic has said

beyond that, for me it depends. some photos i take for myself, others i take for, uh, others, while none of them are for profit. so, i share those for others and i don't for those that aren't. i would prefer a thoughtful critique from every response on my publicly shared photos, as it can be useful to improve my abilities or give me insight into different things to try next time i'm out. however, even thoughtless responses, rather than valuable critiques, can be helpful in a very limited way by pointing out those images i share that are more widely liked or "accessible," versus those that are more niche or less accessible and those that are just plain bad (which i try not to keep or share). in that way, it can help me refine my vision by pointing out when a certain image contains elements that are more accessible and putting that in my toolbox for future endeavors.

it all depends on the image, intent and the person who took them. not every image is to be shared publicly (like your nude bathroom selfies saved on iCloud, for example) and not everyone wants to share their images (like Vivian Maier). but to impose restrictions on whether images should be shared is antithetical to the whole raison d'etre of photography: to share a moment with others who weren't present to witness it, no matter the photographer's intent for sharing.

one could argue that the current trend of instagramming, where people are one-upping each other with photos in remote locations, is rather egotistical and not done purely for the sake of sharing. or the paid promoters who take photos of themselves using stuff given to them, it could be argued, aren't truly sharing but are just shills. maybe a cynic sees all of this and just declares that photography isn't for sharing, but that is simply ridiculous; learn to look past those who aren't actually sharing to find those who are.

David Pavlich's picture

Good article! I have a reason to really care what others think since I sell my prints, then I have the other side that shoots stuff that makes me happy. But I do appreciate comments on both sides of my photos. I do okay, but I've had shots that I thought were pretty good, but the right person made a comment or two about with a bit of a different approach to a shot and darned if it didn't make an improvement!

I know from looking at a lot of images here that there's a lot of really good photographers that haunt this place. The best thing we can do is post an image that maybe giving you a bit of a problem getting it "right". Someone that is distant to the problem may just have a more unclouded, unbiased view and just may solve your problem.

David

I don’t care if you don’t care that I don’t care that you care for my photos.... Capiche?

As I’m sure others have said; it’s the opinion of people who’s opinion matters that are worth listening too.

Clients on the other hand, that’s a different kettle of fish...

Einar Gudmann's picture

I base my living on selling photos and using them in my own projects. There is only one rule. Keep shooting what I enjoy, hoping others will like what I like and buy the photos. So far it´s going fine, even though I only shoot landscape and wildlife - never people. I believe it would take the joy out of photography if it was only based on pleasing others.

Please proofread your articles for spelling and grammatical errors. They disrupt the flow of your thought-provoking ideas.

Samuel Peter Cohn's picture

Maybe a bit off topic: Can anyone recommend a Facebook group, Flickr group, Google+ group or site that is aimed towards photo critique that reallly works? I mean where people just don't "hit and run" and aren't interested in contributing with their time, knowledge and efforts to give (constructive) ctitique, but just are interested in obtaining critique and praises? Preferably , without sounding snobish I hope, where the level of the most photographers are beyond complete newbies. TIA! :-)

David Pavlich's picture

Post your images here and ask for constructive criticism. Some pretty good shooters here with some pretty good ideas. You may not get a lot of comments, but usually the one's you do make up for it in quality.

Samuel Peter Cohn's picture

Thansks a lot, David!

Seems everyone wants to be a professional photographer. The competition is insane. People are very competitive about their photos. I like photography but I have zero interest in getting paid to do it. It allows me tons of freedom. I like to get an attaboy for my photos but mostly I don't care if anyone thinks much of my photos or not. If someone asks me to take photos for them, which I do from time to time then of course, I hope they approve. But I'm doing it as a favor so they get what they get. Tough to say if I will ever improve in someone else's opinion since I don't actively seek approval. Can't say it really matters if I'm enjoying myself.

user-197098's picture

I actually don't care if anyone likes my photography. I've been a photographer for over 65 years of my 76 years. I share my photography to encourage others to share theirs. I have always been informed and learned from the works of others and hope to share some of that learning through my work. I no longer have to feed my ego by caring if others like my work or not. I'm much more pleased with competent criticism than with accolades.

Alex Armitage's picture

I like it

Carl Kruse's picture

Same question could be asked of any art. But, want to improve? Want to sell? Might not be a bad idea to listen to what others are saying.

Austin Williams's picture

If a customer is paying you... you should care about how they think of them. (It's all about expectations really)
If a customer is not paying you... who cares... do what you want.

Kirk Darling's picture

Austin Williams, I gave you a thumbs up because I basically agree. However, there often needs to be some "client education" done, particularly in this age where many photographers think emulating cell phone selfies is a good idea.

I remember when I was a teenager my barber absolutely refused to give me a particular haircut I wanted. She told me it would make me look stupid, I'd get an embarrassing nickname, and people would remember it for the rest of my life. And she was probably right--I saw that happen to another kid. That was fifty years ago, and he still has that nickname.

Part of what we're being paid for is our artistic judgment. Good clients know that's what they're paying for.

Sure, sometimes we go with our artistic gut and the client still disagrees. That's why Sargent's painting of Mrs Gautreau is known as "Madame X." But...Sargent was still right.

Przemek Lodej's picture

Being an amateur photographer I'd love to hear actual opinions, suggestions when I post my photos on line. Opinions even if harsh help in development, as with every other skill. It was incredibly frustrating at first when I would post my photos here and all I would see was a bare minimum score of 2 stars. I got past the frustration stage and I don't care one bit about the whole scoring system BUT I would love to see a bit more involvement from "experts" who simply press a button. FStoppers seems like a very professional community where one would expect that level of professionalism to continue in this department. No luck. Wishful thinking. I for one seriously believe that the whole scoring system here is absolutely useless and many times it actually serves one purpose only: to make members feel bad about their photography. I don't care if someone doesn't like my photos, but at least tell me why, honestly and constructively.

I have to disagree with a lot of things :

"But on the other hand, if our goal is to improve, shouldn't we care?"

I think the question is ill-posed. If our goal is to improve, for whom do we want to improve ? Which still goes back to question 1. The problem is others don't know what you want to say, they just know what they like.

"Nothing is absolute in photography."

Some things are. Cinema and photography have developped a language that is shared, used and understood by most people. The most obvious example is the fact we associate the future with the right and the past with the left, in the same axis tham reading. Asians do it the other way around, but still know how to read occidental pictures correctly beause they were told.

"Aside from documentation photography, photography is a form of art to be developed by the artist behind the camera."

Look at Sebastiao Salgado's work and tell me again documentary photography cannot be art.

"I was in Madrid recently, and I visited the Magnum Photos exhibition. I noticed how various photographer’s work changed over just a few years, and I believe improved over those years."

I think the difference between Magnum photographers and the vast majority of us is, while most strive to make good pictures (individually), they strive to build a body of work, consistent, with a distinctive voice, a subject they are involved with, and just keep carving this particular area, developping their own vision, voice, vantage point until death comes. Fstoppers is a very good example of what prevents people from doing that : too much care on the gear and newbies, lots of quick Photoshop tricks (dodge & burn, orange-teal color grading, split frequency), all these things to work on the style of the pic, make it look better, but not that much on the core of the image. How to edit pictures (meaning : choose pictures) for a narrative series, an exhibition, a book, how to build long-term projects and so on…

Also you have to know what you are : a commercial photographers, working to please customers, an artist, working to convey his message, or an artist whose day-job is to please customers and can work for himself after business hours. Because what artists do is building a whole universe, not always easy to enter for the general audience, so they have to deal with rejection on a daily basis, just because it can take some time to accept their vision.

But I think willing to be successful (= having large audience) while trying to build an art project is kind of antinomic. People don't respond well to novelty, it takes time. It's more about targeting an arty audience than trying to get popular. And, in this goal, Instagram and such are way too noisy to keep focusing on your work : you give away your body of work half-baked instead of waiting for the book/exhibition to be ready and finished.

So, here, I think you mix up a lot of things that don't belong in the same field.

But I don't buy the "pictures should please the client" narrative. Clients should hire you to make pictures you like because that's what you do best. I know a bunch of photographers who shoot glamour/erotic gigs for escorts and massage salons… They don't like what they do, but they do it because it pays, and they hate themselves for whoring out their skills. They are on the verge of burning-out and/or depressive.

At the end, I think the question is : for what do you want to be remembered in 80 years and what do you want to bring to the community ? Keep digging that until death comes, and hope for the best.

i only care if they are paying clients, because it will get me more work. if not, i don't care what people think. i agree to disagree.

I judge my photography based on engagement, followers and how often models post my work on their feeds. As of now, all of those things are low for me. Therefore my work isn't great. Now, before you go all 'That's a terrible thing to do..' spare me. 9 times of 10 if you say that you have 1000s of followers with excellent engagement. IOW I don't believe you, save your breath. Engagement is the only metric most photographers have and until I see something better, I'll continue to abide by it.