Hey Photographers! Why Are You So Mean Online?

Hey Photographers! Why Are You So Mean Online?

The internet has been an integral part of allowing photographers to showcase their work to the world. Yet, no one is safe from the trolls hiding behind their computer screens.

Picture this. It’s midnight. In the center of a dark, damp room is a desk littered with SD cards. There, sits Ken, a tightly wound, screw-faced photographer, staring at his computer screen. His beady eyes gaze upon a photo. This photo, with its off-axis horizon and heavily saturated colors, sends intense rage through Ken’s body. He notices the comments. The likes. The attention. “This ghastly, unprofessional, vomit-inducing photo is not real art,” he thumbs into his keyboard covered in crumbs from the avocado toast he ate days ago.

Of course, this is an exaggerated story and Ken is made up, but it’s not too far off reality for some photographers. You see it most often in the comments section, whether it be Facebook or under an article post. Interestingly, every photographer I’ve met in person has been wonderfully professional, some of which, however, have had very different personas online. It seems the safety blanket of the computer screen enables people’s inner demons to come out and play.

'Your Work Is Not Real Art!'

I’ve never really understood the mentality of people like Ken, who bash photographers' work for no other reason than it just isn’t their cup of tea. This is even more evident when the photo in question has received a lot of praise from peers. It would be so easy for Ken to keep on scrolling, yet that photo of an attractive model lit with neon lighting and super blurry bokeh is too much for him to handle. Therefore, he must scream “Uninspired! It’s not real art!” at the top of his lungs as he types away his negative comment.

This statement is a particular pet peeve of mine. Art is subjective. One of the most subjective things in the world, I’d argue. There is no clear definition of what is good or bad art, nor what constitutes real art. In my opinion, it comes down to one thing: does it resonate with people? Generally speaking, people follow artists because they admire their work. There’s often no more thought than “Cool! I like this!” and that’s okay. Unfortunately, it’s the other artists who often end up attacking people simply for wanting to showcase their artwork. In this case, it’s grumpy, patronizing photographers.

Model pictured: Theo Stinson

This isn’t real art! Where’s the deep meaning? The framing’s off! I’ve been a pro photographer for 20 years and… (insert insecure ramble). - Ken the Photographer

Your Insecurities Are Showing

Behavior like this often comes off as jealous projecting in the form of negative putdowns. This is evident in the boasting part of their comments. People like Ken will name drop and mention how long they’ve been in the industry in an attempt to patronize a 25-year-old Instagram photographer with five million followers. Ultimately, that comment will get lost within the thousands of other comments like coal amongst rocks. The problem, however, is when Ken spreads his hate towards the beginners in the photography community, gatekeeping and getting a rise out of his self-appointed power.

Making the Community a Better Place

Photography is this beautiful visual art form that many people connect with, not just photographers themselves. Someone may look at a photograph and allow their brain to escape into its’ visuals, getting lost into a journey despite no movement or change whatsoever. Many famous photos are admired because they make your mind do the work. They make you think, and that is one of the main intentions of art. Photography is highly relatable and identifiable too. Everybody owns a camera, and even if it’s just the camera in their smartphone, people will take photos and share them. We are so in tune with what we look like and what reality looks like through a camera. Photography is all around us; therefore, we don’t shy away from it. We embrace it.

In order for the photography community to flourish, we must create an environment that is non-toxic and accepting. We should be encouraging creativity, not inhibiting it by belittling someones' choices. Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned pro, no single person gets to be the voice of all reason. Think a photo is bad? That’s your opinion. Please present it that way, as you do not represent the entire art form. If you have a critical opinion, there are many great ways to express that critique in a constructive way. For more information on this, read the article How to Give and Receive Constructive Criticism the Right Way by Nicole York.

Not All Photographers

The majority of photographers online are not mean people. In fact, they are often very helpful and up for an interesting discussion. Unfortunately, it is the most obnoxious people that get heard the most. They leave comments that linger in innocent artists’ minds as they try to go to sleep. “My lighting wasn’t that bad, was it?” they anxiously replay in their head. So yes, it is not all photographers, but the whole community should do their part in making online public forums a pleasurable place to share work, rather than a toxic environment that discourages creativity. Call out Ken for gatekeeping and jealousy. Back up the artists you love from haters. Do so, but be careful not to bite too hard on the troll's bait. Also, flag comments if they insult anyone’s race, gender, sexual orientation, or disability. 

Of course, this issue doesn't just happen in the photography world. Pretty much any creative industry is full of people waiting to project their insecurities onto you. Having experienced the film industry first hand, I can say this happens with cinematographers equally as much as photographers. The most important thing is to just have fun. That’s the reason we’re interested in this art, right? So, it’s vital not to lose track of that.

Ken is a fictitious character and any resemblance he has to anyone dead or alive is simply a coincidence.

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35 Comments

Adam T's picture

What no, F@ck you, how dare! ;P

Ken Flanagan's picture

Hi, I’m Ken.

C Fisher's picture

It's funny how these people are so self centered that they have to mention themselves during their "criticism".

Jordan McChesney's picture

I think this is an important thing to point out since (as the writer pointed out), this kind of criticism usually has more do with the person criticizing the image overcompensating for their own lack of success, than the actual image itself.

Robert Nurse's picture

Even right here on FStoppers, if you're going to rate someone's work negatively, there should be a mechanism for an explanation. Then, the whole world can examine just how much you know and real debate can be fostered.

Przemek Lodej's picture

I've said this about 4 years ago but no one at F-Stoppers bothered to look at the problem. I've stopped posting photos because of that. These are too many frustrated dic***ads out there that only wait for an opportunity to shit on your work just because. This whole premise of FStoppers being a professional site for photographers is laughable, because of that. Yes I am frustrated ;) Have a great weekend lol

Robert Nurse's picture

Meh, just post the work that you really liked and put a lot of effort into. There's work that I just don't like. But, I remind myself that, "Just because you don't like it, doesn't mean it's not good". Someone will enjoy it.

Kirk Darling's picture

It's not photographers, it's not art. It's a factor certain people being able to spew their hatred with impunity on the Internet.
There are people sending death threat to actors because they don't like the characters they play.

J.d. Davis's picture

I have found that both sides of this story do not understand 'constructive criticism'.

Patrick Kelly's picture

It's not the internet. Go to an art opening and listen to the "artists" sniping at the featured one. I contributed photos to a charity auction and was included in the brochure for "contributing artists". An artist called the organizers for the auction complaining I wasn't an "artist". When they told me this I agreed with the woman and said I wanted to be considered a photographer. I have my own reason for not wanting to be an "artist". I did have a moment of schadenfreude when .my three photos sold we at the auction and her work was stacked with the unsold.

Kirk Darling's picture

"Is photography art?" is a different conversation.

Sidney M's picture

deleted (sorry) :)

A M's picture

Life is pain

Matthew Lacy's picture

This isn’t real writing! Where’s the deep meaning? The concept's off! I’ve been a writer for 20 years and… (insert insecure ramble).

- Seen below many an article recently.

Glem Let's picture

A funny post with some great comments, it’s nice to see that we are not all grumpy, insecure ‘b’stards’ all the time.

It’s easy for me to say this because I am old, do this professionally and have sold my work to people who like it and hang it on their wall.

If you starting out and want acceptance/praise/likes then that is only natural, you are not insecure for wanting those things.
What I will try to pass on is to do your best to please yourself, do you like your work...??? Ignore the critics, the haters etc. Try to create your work for yourself. Yes brush up on skills and techniques but photograph what you see and what you feel.

In the late 80’s the Irishband U2 were in a studio making The Joshua Tree and at the time they were saying to each other ‘are we mad..? This sounds nothing at all like what we hear on the radio...’

That record was a massive worldwide hit, they became truly global, the worlds biggest band because they ignored current trends and made what they wanted to make.

Tom Anderson's picture

Hi Glem! Thank you for your comment :) You touched on something I completely missed in this article - "try to create your work for yourself". Spot on. Art isn't about pleasing other people. Make art you're proud of and your fulfilment as an artist will follow. Cheers!

Malcolm Wright's picture

'Everyone I've met in person has been wonderful, some of 'xxwhichxx' whom, had a completely different persona on line..'

Apologies, just couldn't resist..😉

One of the problems with anything on line, compared to a face to face meeting, is the complete lack of non verbal empathetic feed back. Some say 90% of communication in meetings is non verbal, meaning the words used become much less significant.

On line and in text you only have the words. So much gets missed or misinterpreted.

Trey Mortensen's picture

That reminds me of the opening of Hitch (the non-verbal communication).

I think the other problem is that we humans are really bad at empathy when there is a separation between us and the other. I'm thinking of those experiments where good people were pressured into "torturing" someone behind a wall because of wrong answers. Since there's the wall of the internet, it's so much easier to treat others as "just text".

Kinda sad really.

Sourov Deb's picture

Real photographers are busy making actual money.
It's the other one.

Tom Anderson's picture

What a perfectly timed video by Erik! :D

Dan Ostergren's picture

I think this is something much more widespread than just within online photography communities. Meanness has been the clear internet "culture" since the start of the internet, so it stands to reason that any online community that isn't heavily moderated will likely have very mean individuals or groups within that community.

jim hughes's picture

Since before the web. Usenet was a bad part of town.

Kim Jensen's picture

I think it is the same mechanism that converts som people to morons when they sit safely behind the windscreens in their cars.

Ken Flanagan's picture

I wish my name wasn’t Ken today. So is Ken going to be the photographers version of Karen now?

jim hughes's picture

Sorry but I vote to make "Ken" a verb.

"The dude totally Kenned me".
"Not to be Ken here, but... you missed the focus."
"So, Ken, you really think you could have gotten a better shot?"

Ken Flanagan's picture

It’s life jim, but not as we know it.

Tom Anderson's picture

I'm sorry, Ken. I'm sure you're a lovely person! :P And to answer your question: yes that was the intention.

Ken Flanagan's picture

I'll take the hit. It's about time that men had their version.

jim hughes's picture

This is so true - of the entire internet. Anonymous posting is a dangerous drug for a lot of people. Back in the early days of the internet, on Usenet, it got so personal that people threatened to track you down and burn your house.

I got some truly venomous feedback on a "critique" site for which I foolishly signed up. Some photographers here might identify with my experience of being bloodied by "curators" so I wrote a blog post about it:
https://jimhphoto.com/index.php/2021/03/18/my-1x-com-experience/

Dave McDermott's picture

Never listen to critique from people who eat avocado on toast. :)

Timothy Roper's picture

Is Ken Wheeler back?

Peter Mueller's picture

Agree that the platform's anonymity factor breeds this kind of behavior. True for many/all such situations on the internet, certainly not just photographic sites. I suppose I'm lucky, stupid or just mature, but for a long time "sticks n' stones" philosophy has ruled in my case... or just don't care about your (insert dickwad commentator name here) irrational/angry/ignorant opinion.

I do however point out photographic flaws (or possibly the photographer's hubris) when I'm with someone that has an interest as we view an artwork/photo for sale, usu. in a gallery/tourist giftshop of some sort. A piece that is just poorly executed and presented; i.e. a large format metal print listed for thousands that has massive chromatic aberration and dead pixels printed in red (an actual experience recently), which was without question taken without adequate resolution to be blown up to the size displayed. Not to demonstrate my superiority, but because it is to me, in a way, offensive that someone would be trying to pass this "artwork" over onto some unsuspecting tourist who is impressed by the grandeur of the location at the moment.

Does that make me a dick then (in the context of Patrick Kelly's comment below)? I don't think so...

Michael Ernest Sweet's picture

More needs to be discussed on this topic. This article is a good start. Thank you. It isn't unique to photography, though. The internet is just an ugly place due to its anonymous nature. Read some political pieces! I've written hundreds of online articles (mostly about photography) and have received at least as many negative comments. The thing I always find so interesting is that none of those people ever felt confident enough to sign their name to their opinions. None. Every comment was signed with some cryptic or dumb handle. When someone wants to criticize my work and sign their name to it, then I will pay attention. I write articles, opinions, essays, reviews, etc., and I sign my name to them all. Comments without proper and real names aren't worth the 1s and 0s they take up on the screen.

Tom Anderson's picture

Thank you, Michael! You're absolutely right - people hide behind false names just to spew their insecurities. That's a good indication their comment is not a true critique. All emotion, no meaning. Cheers :)