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When Is Your Photography Just Wrong?

Opinions matter to most people, but when the opinion of another photographer goes against or deviates from what the original photographer intended for that image, does that that make the image wrong?

You've probably read on forums "CC welcome." Genuine people will provide constructive criticism on the compositional elements, technique, lighting, etc., and that's what we are all looking for to improve our images. Then, you will get the people who will start with "In my opinion," and for myself, that's where it all falls down. Opinion was not sought out in the first instance, constructive criticism was.

Now, this entire article is based on my opinion, and good or bad, we are all allowed opinions. Whether we choose to keep them to ourselves or freely make them available is a choice we make, and most of the time, I'd rather keep mine to myself. But, upon noticing an ever-increasing trend of put-downs, laughing emojis, and downright trolling, I wanted to hear what you think of this destructive culture.

Constructive Criticism Versus Opinion

The definitions of constructive criticism and opinion are as follows. I'm sure you are aware of the differences, and no offense is intended, as they're for the purpose of the article.

Constructive Criticism adjective

helping to improve; promoting further development or advancement (opposed to destructive)

Opinion  noun

1. a thought or belief about something or someone. 2. a judgment made by an expert.

When the above differences are clear, why do a minority take it upon themselves to berate what a photographer is trying to achieve with their images when all they have asked for is constructive criticism? I don't get it, but perhaps I'm just naive in that respect, as we are all here to help each other to improve and should be happy when others achieve what they are trying to do. 

Constructive criticism is quite clear in that respect, whereas opinion can cause a gray area for some, namely keyboard warriors. A thought or belief about something doesn't make it fact. It makes it an opinion, same as this article. An opinion from an expert, on the other hand, covers both constructive criticisms and opinion, and they know how to deliver them effectively and should provide a positive outcome for the individual. Good or bad, it's a positive result for the receiving individual, because it's from an expert in their field. 

There Are Rules to Follow

Photographic practice starts with the basics, and then, we move from there to enhance our photography. These rules are there for a reason, and that is to give you a good foundation in photography and the theory behind the practice. These are your fundamental building blocks, and when you have a good understanding of them, these rules can be broken. Trying different compositions. Changing shutter speeds to varying effects. Moving the camera during the shot to see the end result. Changing the f-stop to see how the resulting image differs from what you are expected to do when shooting certain subject matter.

These varying practices are there for photographers to explore our medium, to create something new and perhaps create a stir with the imagery in that it excites other photographers to try something new with their own images. I am not saying this is progress, I am only implying that, in fact, it's healthy to do so, as you then know what works for you and your photography and what doesn't.

So, Is This Wrong?

By experimenting with your camera and moving sideways from the learned fundamentals, you discover techniques new to you and new ways to capture your images. So, is this wrong? Conventionalists may say yes, as you capture what the scene depicts, so you shouldn't process the raw. Are they wrong? Others may say that it's their creative freedom as an individual to do as they please with the images they capture. Are they then wrong? Well, actually both camps are right in their approach to their photography, simply because it's their photography.

If you have learned the basic principles of photography, it's then for you to pursue whatever direction you want to take it, be that very little post-processing or replacing skies to create an image that you feel proud of. I mention replacing skies simply because, if you have learned how light interacts with your subjects, you'll be able to replace the sky quite seamlessly, unlike the image below.

So, is any of this wrong? The plain answer is "no." If that's what you want to do with your images, go ahead, do it well, and then, keep on learning. Look at the light, look at the surrounding environment, the colors, the contrast, the time of day you shot the image, everything that comes into play to put the image together, and then, do it better. That's personal progress. Is that a photograph? No, it's your creation, but it is yours.

The Worst Culprits

Generally, as photographers, we are more than happy to receive criticism and in most cases, provide a healthy critique to our fellow practitioners. We are providing information learned from whatever source that helped us progress our photography and lessons that you think will perhaps help the individual asking for critique. Now, this information will vary, and what works for one may not work for another. Again, that does not make the information wrong if it comes from an understanding of the theory and practice. What makes it wrong, in my opinion, is when the delivering individual scoffs at the image and then proceeds to instruct them how to do it properly without considering where the photographer was trying to take the image visually. I've even read on forums "just sell your camera" as a critique. For me, that's just totally disrespectful and downright cowardly. If you can't provide anything constructive, don't say anything at all. The flip-side is that they may indeed have something worthwhile and constructive to say that would genuinely help the individual. But unfortunately, they are too much of a narcissist to provide anything other than slander, or perhaps they feel threatened by the progress of others.

The Takeaway

Your photography isn't wrong. It may be unpolished for you and your journey at this time, but it isn't wrong. Others may have their own direction and principles in what drives their practice, and great, that's for them. Let them go and do it, do it well, and succeed. It may differ from you and your practice, so you go down your own path and create what makes you happy. Learn the fundamentals, enjoy what you do with what you have learned so far, share it, and don't be one of the cowardly put-down brigade, the minority. Just ignore them, move on, and don't let their negativity fester in you and put you off. It may sting at first, but you will quickly recognize the positive and constructive people out there. Listen to them, take the advice, and progress your photography. Yes, my head may be filled with idealistic nonsense when it comes to things like this, but I was taught that sharing knowledge positively was good practice. 

Wherever you are on your photographic journey, just starting out or many years down the line, you'll possess some information that someone else doesn't know. Share it constructively. You don't know how much that may help the individual on their own journey.

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20 Comments

William Murray's picture

G'day Gary.

The behaviour you are commenting on isn't a photography thing, it's a humans on social media thing.

Although I had already generalised such a conclusion, I was still surprised the day i learned there is a great deal of toxicity in the knitting community; who knew people are nasty to others because of the type of yarn they use - that still feels like someone was taking the piss, but it's a thing.

Gary McIntyre's picture

Hey William, totally is a humans on social media thing agreed, and in all communties by the sounds of things.

W Mitty's picture

"I was still surprised the day i learned there is a great deal of toxicity in the knitting community..."

That just made me chuckle. Thanks.

Robert Nurse's picture

I literally laughed out loud at the visualization of intense yarn battles. Those folk must come to blows.

William Murray's picture

I know right! I'm rarely shocked, but that...

Fristen Lasten's picture

"Betty! You better stop needling me over my yarn choice!"

Stuart C's picture

Another recent example that amuses me is the amount of negative trolling over the new Farming Simulator game… I’m fully aware of just how toxic gaming in general is but people making nasty comments about a game where you drive tractors around a field is quite hilarious. Including personal stabs at the game developers.

Mike Ditz's picture

That's pretty funny

Stuart C's picture

Its quite possibly the most chilled game on the planet, and people are on YouTube berating it for not being realistic enough, or not having the same graphics as Forza (one of the biggest gaming studios on the planet makes Forza, with Microsoft dollars behind it). The whole thing is bizarre, nasty little trolls are everywhere.

Mike Ditz's picture

Many years ago there was a farm sim game that I played for a while. Forgot about for a year and when I opened it up again all my crops had died and my cows and chickens were gone. I was depressed for the rest of the day.

Stuart C's picture

Haha yeah that’s no good:)

Mike Ditz's picture

Regarding art, it seems like there's going to be a biggly cross over with opinion and criticism/critique.
It isn't like math or engineering where there are formulas to prove a result is correct.
In photography there are things that people get hung up on like rule of thirds, SOOC and Butterfly lighting, all opinions that cannot be proven right or wrong unlike a maths formula.
If I give a critique of a photo, it's just my opinion man...

Stuart C's picture

I have a simple formula when looking at peoples shitty comments on others photos, and that is to check if there is evidence of their own work. The same applies for people making snide comments about gear, or ridiculous demands and claims about it.

You will find that 99% of the people who fall into the categories above are invisible.

William Murray's picture

Mate, I look every time I see it; I don't declare the fact, or say anything afterwards, but I always make a point of looking.

I would amend your 99% into a group of people who do not display their work, and a group who display work of poor quality.

My hypothesis is the behaviour is a manifestation of poor esteem; this would appear to be supported around the motivational drivers for trolling more broadly. Intuitively, it makes sense that a person who receives no recognition or success for the work they have emotionally invested themself in, may become resentful, and externalise blame.

I wish we lived in a world that was kinder to people.

Stuart C's picture

Yeah that is definitely another factor... then I guess a sideshow to that poor work person is the person who's work is fairly decent but they think it took some immense amount of skill and talent to capture the pretty good but also pretty bog standard image. They often come across as arrogant more than trolling, but the outcome is largely the same, negativity.

My preference for shots im not keen on is to just scroll past and move on with my life.

Robert Nurse's picture

I really find it difficult to critique other people's work when I haven't fully grasped what "good" work is. Art either moves or it doesn't. All I know is that I like it or I don't. I can explain why. But, is that really a constructive critique especially when the photographer was successful in constructing the image to their liking. I'll always preface any criticism with my tastes which aren't the gold standard.

Fristen Lasten's picture

Came here just to mention that I like the thumbnail photo. Stayed for the laughs.

Don Yates's picture

I recall bring on the receiving end of a snide comment (on this site, I believe) about being an amateur for 45 yrs. It was something along the lines of... how could anyone be an amateur for anything that long - you should give it up? I've considered that for a long time. I still come down on the side of... I'm okay with being that. I mean, I wasn't even showing my work!

William Murray's picture

Amateur literally means "one who loves, is fond of, or has a taste for anything."

A professional is someone who makes their living from something.

There are terrible amateurs and spectacular amateurs, and terrible professionals and spectacular professionals.

I can't help but think the word has no meaning in the sense so often intended.