You Are a Fabulous Photographer: Here Is the Reason Why

You Are a Fabulous Photographer: Here Is the Reason Why

You are a fabulous photographer. I love your work and find it inspiring. When was the last time you said that to someone? Evidence proves that the more you praise others, the better your own work will be.

Although there seem to be many meanspirited people in the photography world, they are a tiny minority. They are just very vociferous. Always happy to dig at others, these constant cynics who look down their noses at others miss what is staring them in their face. Their boisterous, unkind comments say a lot more about them. As my middle school headteacher used to say, empty vessels make the most noise.

Research has repeatedly shown that creativity is directly associated with positivity and kindness:

The creativity-mood relationship is bidirectional; emotions are both predictors of creative behavior and creative behavior affects creators’ emotional states.

Ivcevic Z, Hoffmann J. Emotions and Creativity: From States to Traits and Emotion Abilities

Similarly, numerous studies have shown that pro-social behavior, for example, encouraging and supporting others, is food for our emotional well-being. Combined, these findings lead us to the obvious conclusion that those who excel creatively are more likely to be the most supportive. The same is true the other way around: those that are encouraging to others are most likely to succeed creatively.

Therefore, it also follows that the opposite applies too: those that show negativity toward others are less likely to be as successful creatively. Indeed, it is well known in the creative industries, including photography, that most of the nay-sayers, who are always quick to criticize and condemn others, are usually not very good creatively. Next time you see a negative comment from a photographer, look at their gallery, and you will see what I mean.

This is probably not too surprising. We have all met those who mistakenly believe the only way they can make themselves look good is to disparage others. I've worked in plenty of toxic workplaces like this.

Most photographers that are worth their salt struggle with accepting their work is good enough. Although the majority always strive to improve, they know that helping others will also lead to themselves improving.

But they have also realized something disheartening. It's long-held knowledge that you should not ask a family member if your photography is good enough for you to become a professional because they will always answer yes. Additionally, if they post a pretty picture on social media, it will attract far more little red hearts than a better photo that is nonetheless more challenging to appreciate. Despite those unusual photos bringing the most satisfaction to the photographer, they are pressured to produce more crowd-pleasing images.

So, where should you turn? On the one hand, some will praise your work no matter how good it is. Then, on the other, some will use every opportunity to knock you back.

The obvious answer is seeking awards or prizes in photographic societies. But this is not without its own difficulties. Many judges rate images within the parameters of widely accepted ideals. That, in turn, can restrict the ability of the creative photographer to grow. Furthermore, it is not unknown that club judges denigrate good work because it threatens their position at the top of the tree.

A whole industry has built up around patting photographers on the back. Whether this is an award from a national society, a prize in a photo competition, or using psychological marketing tactics to encourage you to post on social media, that support helps boost the confidence of photographers. But should we also treat these rewards with a pinch of skepticism? After all, they all rely on subjective decisions made by others. Moreover, there is no regulation. Consequently, at its worse, it has led to online businesses that sell expensive, low-quality, unaccredited courses that claim they are giving diplomas when the award is little more than an attendance certificate.

There is excellent training to be found online and from professional photographers, plus established and accredited education providers. But I have had clients come to me after getting a diploma from an unaccredited online course who didn't understand the basics of exposure.

If you break away from the establishment and dare to do something different, you may be penalized and discouraged. Yet many new and successful art and design movements are condemned at first by the establishment, although that can ultimately lead to the movement becoming more successful. As an extreme example, Bauhaus was condemned by the Nazis, leading to the designers and artists running from Germany and spreading their aesthetic ideas worldwide. Their designs are still hugely influential today.

So, there is a balance to be achieved between these two opposing forces: we should both encourage others and accept encouragement, and we should also beware of both well-meaning but fallacious praise and malicious criticism.

I am, of course, referring here to photography taken purely for its artistic merits. The motivation behind some professional photography needs to fall within rigid boundaries. For instance, a pro doing a product photoshoot for a business may have a degree of artistic leeway in producing the photos, but there will still be restrictions in place; the client will probably want their product identifiable and at the forefront of the pictures. A couple having their wedding photograph shot will also have expectations about what their images will look like. Whereas someone providing photos for a bird identification book is likely to deliver the widely – and unfairly – disparaged bird-on-a-stick pictures.

A photo unlikely to be used in a bird identification book.

Successfully challenging the accepted norms is not easy because people will criticize. However, being different for the sake of it doesn't work. It's akin to building a barrow with a square wheel. Nevertheless, the pneumatic tire greatly impacted the barrow's usability, so maybe we can look for the photographic equivalent of inventing that.

What areas can we break away from when trying to do something different? What variable ingredients do you need to capture that one great shot? There are two areas that we can think about.

Firstly, there is the design of the photo. This comprises the mathematical rules that make the placement of subjects in the image pleasing, including different approaches to using contrasts in color and tone.

Secondly, there is the art of the photo. Art is the intuitive, instinctive side of the image. It includes the mood, subject matter, movement, lighting, and the story the picture tries to tell. It is the aesthetic decisions you make.

Control these and break away from the norms, and you'll become a fabulous photographer. I'll find your work even more inspiring.

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12 Comments
Steve Vansak's picture

I will get the ball rolling by letting you know that not only are your images terrific, your writing here is damn good we well.

Ivor Rackham's picture

Thant's very kind. Thank you. Your wedding photos are grand too!

Tom Reichner's picture

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I especially appreciate articles about these types of subjects, instead of articles about gear that are just written for page views and referral link sales commissions. These types of topics are what actually matter most in photography, or any other creative field.

Really love your use of the ambient light in that photo of the two photographers shooting at the beach!

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Ivor Rackham's picture

Thank you, Tom. I enjoy researching and writing them too. I actually like writing about both sides. I hope that when I review gear and software, I can give an honest opinion and not just toe the line and submit to peer pressure that brand X is the best. It also gives me the opportunity to play with gear I wouldn't otherwise touch. I'm currently testing a couple of lenses on loan from Sigma for writing up, and I am testing several Lightroom alternatives. It takes a lot of time, and my hourly rate when I do them isn't that great. But many people want to read about gear, so that is good.

I certainly don't chase readership numbers, if I did, I would not be submitting articles to be published a Monday afternoon! Also, apart from the one sponsored post I've written, a tutorial walkthrough of ACDSee that was for people who already use it, adding Fstoppers affiliate links to articles makes no difference financially for me personally.

I'm glad you like that photo. It was shot before the pandemic with an old camera. I re-developed it as part of a software test!

All the best, and happy New Year. I look forward to reading more of your comments in the forthcoming months.

Kaisa Leinonen's picture

Great thoughts for January when many photographers find themselves less busy. Community over competition 🙂!

Ivor Rackham's picture

Kiitos, Kaisa! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

David Pavlich's picture

Competition can be a double edged sword. First, if you don't have thick skin, stay away. In the back of our minds, we all know that a lot of the stuff we produce is subjective when it comes to how every individual views the work. But, even with that knowledge, with thin skin, we can be offended instead of learn.

I judged a local camera club's competition about a month ago. For the most part, the three judges were fairly close in the scores. Of course, there's a few outliers that come from deep ingrained prejudices....we are human, after all. :-)

When the competition was completed, one of the members had been invited to make comments. One of his shots happened to be one of the outliers. Two judges gave him a pretty good score, but one gave a less than flattering score. He ranted on for about 5 minutes about how it could be that two scores were good and one wasn't. In the end, it wouldn't have mattered in the low score matched the high scores because the combined score wasn't within the top tier. Yes, I was the rascal.

I like competitions. Some don't. We have to accept that our work is being judged by people, not computers. We all have certain parameters that grab our attention that tell us whether or not a photo is 'good'. That's what makes this hobby/profession so terrific!

Ivor Rackham's picture

That's very interesting, David. I was going to write a reply to that, but it is a good topic for a whole article, so I'll save it for that. Watch this space! Thanks for the comment and happy New Year.

David Pavlich's picture

You're right! It's a good topic that's pretty much assured of a lot of responses. I only mentioned because of the following paragraph from your article:

"The obvious answer is seeking awards or prizes in photographic societies. But this is not without its own difficulties. Many judges rate images within the parameters of widely accepted ideals. That, in turn, can restrict the ability of the creative photographer to grow. Furthermore, it is not unknown that club judges denigrate good work because it threatens their position at the top of the tree."

I'm looking forward to your article since I'm an advocate for entering competitions.

Tom Reichner's picture

David,

Thanks for sharing your experiences with competition.

I think that there are three main reasons why people enter their photos in competitions:

1 - to win ... they want the prize money or other tangible award

2 - to get validation ... they want praise or acceptance from other people

3 - out of curiosity ... to see what other people think about their work

I already have a very firm idea in my head of what a good photo is, what a great photo is, and what a subpar photo is. When I see my own photos on my computer, I know where each of them stands when it comes to "how good is it?"

I don't need anyone else's opinion of my work to help me figure out how good it is. My opinion is the one that matters to me, inasmuch as validation and internal satisfaction is concerned.

When a friend was over and we were looking at pics on my computer, he saw one of a big deer in snow and wanted me to click on the thumbnail to see it bigger. He loved it, and said, "if you put that on Instagram, you will get a TON of likes". And he was shocked that I hadn't already posted it there. I went on to show him the flaws in the photo, the things that kept it from being satisfying to me. He didn't seem to care about any of that.

At his bidding, I did go ahead and post that photo to Instagram. And it did get a ton of likes. Over 5,000 of them. And it was re-shared by several "hubs". My posts usually get 100-200 likes, so what he predicted was right on the money.

But did that so-called "success" make me feel any differently about the photo? Nope, not one bit. I still think and feel exactly the same way I thought and felt about that photo before all those people liked it and re-shared it. Validation or approval from other photographers really doesn't mean much of anything when it comes to my assessment of my own work.

David Pavlich's picture

Can't argue your points, Tom! Funny thing...when I moved to Winnipeg, our photo club had an image review and was critiqued by a pro portrait photographer of some regional fame. One of my shots was one of my granddaughter...a B&W. She asked if I had ever entered it in a competition. I hadn't. Well....

There was a national competition based here in Winnipeg, so I entered four B&W shots, one being the granddaughter shot. It didn't pass the initial judge's screening. But, one of the others did get an honorable mention so it was a worth while endeavor, but the results sorta' surprised me.

Shows how an opinion of a shot can be great from one, but others see it differently. That's why those with thin skin need to stay away from this stuff.

Ivor Rackham's picture

I've written an article about competitions. It will be (of course) contentious. It should appear on the 16th. I look forward to hearing your counter arguments in the discussion!