Having been an active member of the photography community for the past few years, I started to notice some toxic traits. In a community this small, how can everyone seem to hate each other this much sometimes? Let’s dive deep and see just how bad it gets here.
Before going further, I want to say that there are plenty of far smaller, close-knit, and personal communities where members support each other to be better photographers. I, for one, have a great friend who happens to be a photographer who I share a genre with — so much so, we shot the same models, worked with the same teams, etc. Nonetheless, he has helped me a lot in my career. At the same time, the wider photography community has been, well, a mix of things, but "helpful" would not be the first word coming to my mind when talking about it. Let's see just how toxic photographers can be online sometimes.
Online Versus Real Life
The thing about photographers being mean is that they are primarily mean online, not in real life. The anonymity of a platform where you can just post your wildest opinions has its attraction to such individuals. Things that you would not say to someone's face are easily said online. It can be something from small childish comments such as “you're stupid for thinking X” to legitimate death threats. Many content creators, myself included, have received death threats from random people online. Some people were even stalked. I will be not the first person to say that there are a lot of weird people online who will go out of their way to make you feel bad.
The anonymity of an online space makes some people exaggerate their hate and take it to the next level. When I read a comment from someone under my articles, I can take it to heart. As someone who was used to friends and family commenting on my posts on Facebook, I saw strangers as my friends: people with a good motive behind them. It is not hard to imagine the person who wants to interact with the content and get something out of the interaction. So, I took all the comments seriously and personally. Quickly, though, I realized that there is a portion of the audience which just wants to get an interaction, no matter the message behind it. The lesson here is to take fewer comments to heart and try to see what the real intention behind them is.
For me, this is the problem with the online photography community being toxic online but not in real life. It is sometimes hard to tell if someone is being a hater or just genuinely disliking a piece. There was solid advice that came from people who disliked a particular piece, advice that I found valuable and am grateful for. At the same time, when you meet such people in real life, you can usually tell just by the way they are that you are not going to get anything useful from them.
Camera Club Community
The usual comments on how someone’s images are awful should not even be mentioned in this article. I believe this is so downright childish it should get the person saying it a timeout and no screen time for a week. There are much worse camera club members, especially online. They pretend to be giving advice, when all they want to do is make you question your choices and ultimately quit. I sincerely wish there was a simple way to find a way to tell good feedback from bad feedback. In short, I stopped seeking feedback from other photographers and started to look at feedback from clients, people hiring me, and authorities in the industry. Look for feedback from your audience, not your peers.
Another toxic trait that often accompanies the camera club photographers is showing off titles and accomplishments, usually measured in dozens of years. Listen, nobody needs to hear that you’ve been a photographer for 40 years. Just because you had a camera for 40 years does not make you a pro. There are people that have achieved more than you in four, and there are people that achieve less than you in 40. This all goes back to some people being childish. The whole “years of experience” argument can be condensed to school kids ending a battle with: “I am older, hence I am right”. If there is any real way to measure progress in photography, it should take into account years spent and put that against improvement and big clients shot for. Everyone has their own way of telling if they made progress.
Reviews of gear are perhaps some of the most polarizing pieces online. While reviews are created as buying advice for prospective buyers, it is not uncommon for people who already own the gear to also read the review. Photography is an expensive hobby or profession. Although the basics can be bought for as little as $1,000, a lot of photographers invest a lot more than that. Photographers, especially hobbyists, accumulate tens of thousands of dollars of gear.
It is not uncommon for these people to go on reviews of their favorite gear and read what others have to say. If the review is positive, they will usually leave a nice comment. However, if their precious camera gets criticized, it opens a can of worms. I don’t know why, but a lot of these people seem to take this personally and far too close to their hearts. Sure, you worked hard to buy that camera, but that doesn’t mean you should hate everybody who hates your camera.
Reviews see some of the biggest fights between photographers. In fact, it does not really make a difference. All that matters is what images you capture. Perhaps instead of spending time arguing online, you could spend time being a better photographer.
People Projecting Their Views
Lastly, what also gets toxic is people who project their views on photography on your work. Sure, there is someone who wants to take pictures with a camera and rejects the smallest possibility of using a phone for the same task, and sure, there is someone who rejects Photoshop, digital cameras, or whatever it is. That should not mean this idea is the only right way. Photography is technical, but it is an art form where everyone gets to do whatever they want however they want. All that matters, especially in the amateur world, is the end result and how happy you are with it. Listen to suggestions, but please don’t take them as a rule.
Unfortunately, the photography community is full of people who want to be toxic, primarily online. It is really sad to see a community that can be supportive and encouraging be the opposite sometimes. Perhaps there is no one solution to this problem besides suggesting that one think an extra minute before posting the comment. Think about what the person on the other end of the screen will feel when seeing it. Remember, they may very well think that this is their best image, it might be their best piece of gear, or whatever it is you're hating may hold sentimental value.
What are some toxic experiences you have had in the community? Share with us in the comments!
This is so spot-on.
Glad it resonated with you!
Frankly, man, everything you’ve said (and I agree wholeheartedly) are common to every community and group on social media. The photography community is also attended by people who just have cameras, and aren’t necessarily photographers; others who think they are because they’ve taken pix with their phone and gained a minor following. All this applies if you look at automotive groups and communities too. Every member thinks he’s a racecar driver. You’ve got to ignore 90% of the comments outside small closed groups where you know everyone and the comments and feedback are sincere.
It seems like the online world manages to bring out the worst in some people. Didn't imagine car groups to be this bad. A few people mentioned to me that out of the tech groups online, photographers are some of the worst lol.
Shame others are like that too.
My health warning is not to visit rumors sites. Those bring out the worst in fanboy behaviour but also people complaining their preferred brand isn’t offering them all the features they want at a price they can afford. Most threads end up as juvenile slanging matches also.
Very common with sports fans' pages, too. The vast majority are blind homers and get PISSED if someone (like me) says something that is spot-on but doesn't fit their little narrative.
Reminds me why I don't hang out in Facebook photography groups. Nor FB punk groups. Nor FB marketing groups.
I was SHOCKED when a woman who shared legal, biz and other stuff with photographers told me it was just fine that other FB members attacked me. After I always praised her. Never said a harsh word.
I'll never forget how a lot of WordPress designers attacked me when I talked about contracts. People were complaining they weren't getting paid or clients not signing off. I said pros use contracts to help them deal with clients. I even mentioned a site for graphic designers about clients from ... (a hot place).
Next thing I knew, I was accused of calling that person not a pro. And that I did that often. No, I mention pros just so people know it's not a wild idea of mine. I always like knowing what the pros are doing. Lessons to be learned.
I was always, always polite and offered suggestions and support. And shocked at how vicious some people are!
I don't do groups anymore. Or if I join, I never ever say a word. You never know which leader or group member will libel and insult you. I don't understand people.
Thankfully, some people recognize my talent and photos. So I focus on them. I have many, many fans and allies. I just have to avoid groups.
Punk groups and individuals help build THEIR followings by using MY copyrighted photos. Often without my credit. Then I show up, share some photos and stories, cos people always want to know the back stories.
Then someone has to attack me. And Administrators say: oh, they do that. Well, I don't have to hear or read about it!
If I ever want to share any info in a punk group, I ask a pal in the group to do so. I don't even want to know what is being said.
I should be used to it, but it still shocks and hurts. And it's really hurting them. They should work on their art, their biz, their techniques and their lives instead of attacking others.
Yeah, large Facebook photography groups are quite the battlefield sometimes. I remember feeling utterly depressed after posting my early images in some of the groups.
You can't make everyone like your work, unfortunately. Even Annie Leibovitz gets hate from amateurs and the lot.
As you say, it would be awesome to have the majority of commentators focus on self-improvement instead of hating other people.
Ha! Whenever Annie L comes up around here, the torches come out.
Annie L is the ultimate authority lol
I am in several Facebook photography groups and the people in most of them are ALWAYS nice and friendly to each other. They are like loving families. All of this hate, I'm sure, is out there, but if you find it to be commonplace, then I suggest that maybe you aren't seeking the right kinds of photography groups.
I commented on the color of a race car in a private FB group once and learned a few things about it. I don’t participate in photography groups on any social media since. First, the owner right away admitted the color being off, but then I got some harsh comments about my note from others. The guy was popular, so may be I should have kept it to myself, but since this was a private group just for photographers, the idea behind my comment was really to point out that accuracy is important when documenting an event. I just assumed this was my message but didn’t elaborate which was part of my mistake, but then, it probably wouldn’t have made a difference since such groups can't really evolve. The picture otherwise was great and got published I believe. I learned that groups are really not for me and this is especially true if individuals “group and protect” unconditionally. I guess I was the older guy with experience described in this article, but I really did learn colors and separation from drum scanning up to 8x10 and I don’t think clients back in the film days would have liked to pay for inaccurate colors. It used to be a big deal. Just writing about scanning skills is probably a big no-no, but honestly should I care? I sure don’t.
Fact is there are groups everywhere that will get united to defend a brand, a product or a person no matter what, just because they like or use it. Paul Buff and his clients were gaining on me a long time ago about an inaccuracy I had noticed. I didn’t care their number, he was comparing his new product with shorter flash duration vs the leading brand, but never mentioned that this was achieved with power output barely usable when the other brand did not even offer such low output. One hundred people off vs one correct wasn’t bothering me, but then he suddenly got kicked out for the last time off of that forum. So no, to me a lot of the blabla on people being bad on the net has no value. I feel that most people don’t really try to understand the comments at first. That leaves the person look like an imposter but many times it’s poor wording or looking at a comment in a different perspective. When I ask questions to understand the person’s comment, most of the time the problem ends up not being a problem. Also my very first portfolio in the late 80s was really bad and when I presented it to a real commercial photographer, he totally trashed me in my face. The thing is, he explained me why and that was exactly what I needed to start my carrier.
Last year I read an article where one author admitted that authors sometimes connect with each other in the background to talk about comments they didn’t like about their articles. I get it but at the same time I find that awful. Instead, and I get it many, many are new to starting a channel and may not have on day one the experience they would like to have, but I think they should form small units and help each other correct or bring total accuracy to their articles. That’s good for any site.
Illya, honestly, there are so many meaningless photography articles and YouTube videos out there, for your article to be complete, you should really include that fact too. Click bait is a form of aggression so aggression doesn’t always come from readers or viewers. Abuse of their time with inaccurate or incomplete info or title is really not helping. To me, a click bait that gets very bad comments = well deserved. Writers who post on their mistake or misunderstanding = heroes. Those who can’t deal with posting a correction = not good.
May be we need to move on from all those readers “are bad” articles that seem to be a regular topic lately?
Thank you so much for your elaborate response to the article, Benoit. Unfortunately, your story is a common one in the online world.
Authors do connect with each other (on a lot of topics, not just comments), and I would be surprised if there was a publication where this would not happen. This helps us create a better platform for the readers to enjoy and coordinate our efforts.
I'm sure that there are a lot of meaningless articles out there, but then again, it is just someone's opinion, and nobody is forcing anything. I tend to tune out as soon as I see that the content is not relevant to me. I've certainly made a few mistakes in doing this. Perhaps it's time for a "I messed up" post.
Did I ever say that authors don't communicate with each other? I'd say a great majority doesn't and that it's fairly easy to figure out the ones that do or don't.
"but I think they should form small units and help each other correct or bring total accuracy to their articles. That’s good for any site."
I did try and help you.
A few years back I set up a Facebook photography group and the only rule is to be "fantastic, friendly, and helpful." It's got a modest 1600 members, and the admin team only very rarely have to step in. I think it is the responsibility of online group owners to ensure people behave in a kind way.
As I mentioned in an article recently, everyone notices that the worst behaved usually lack photographic talent.
Super article, thanks.
Oh, I love that! Supportive photography communities are the best. Thanks for reading, Ivor!
I think this is problem with social media, it allows people to be confrontational, argumentative etc because they can hide in the internet space. I often wonder if these people were in a group face to face they would act the same way? We are all possible guilty of it, but recently noted that a popular photography website had a discussion on the Nikon Z 800mm and the thread got ridiculous as people seemingly argues over how many had been made and how some had become armchair optical engineers overnight. Because online is essentially invisible it seems to bring out the worst in people, the other issue is that typed words can nearly always been misunderstood, in the same way a text in a book can be read in different ways.
I don't think it will ever go away, some forums are way better at being supportive and nurturing but they are small and selective.
Anyway lets get out and enjoy photography and ignore those that are seemingly trying to undermine our enjoyment.
Oh gosh, the armchair engineers make me laugh so much. It is genuinely baffling how deep the rabbit hole goes. And you are right about typed words. It can be challenging to say something sarcastic, or convey a message in the correct way. I try my best, but still, fail sometimes.
You make a lot of valid points. Sometimes I have to get out the popcorn and sit back and be entertained by the comments section. I have to admit, though, that I tend to avoid sites that don't allow comments, or be annoyed at sites that let the authors turn off comments for a particular article.
There are some sites that turn off comments when an article doesn't do well. It's a shame, but I guess they have their reasons for it.
I suppose I have a few more observations / thoughts. I have found photography to be fueled by how passionate photographers are about brands, or sensor size or sensor resolution. Given that it is such an expensive profession or hobby, once we invest in an ecosystem and make those choices, I wonder if it doesn't lead to a very strong confirmation bias. That is turn manifests itself in some ways not entirely pretty in the comments section.
Brand loyalty drives the biggest arguments online!!! It's crazy how Canon vs Nikon is even a real thing.
I've been a part of the photography community for more than 25 years now and I know the vast majority of us are kind, warm, and forgiving. When I've been to events, I've never met anyone in person who wasn't delightful, and I've met thousands.
However, many people who are struggling in their lives use photography as an escape. They immerse themselves in it because real life is too painful. Some of the most aggressive trolls have reached out and said things like, "I'm sorry I acted like that. My wife had cancer." I've talked to former trolls who were suicidal and literally off their meds.
We also have a segment of the community who simply lack social skills. They're overly blunt, and use language that sounds harsh even if their isn't real emotion behind it. Many of these personality types are really drawn towards gear and tech, and they take a lot of pride in choosing and mastering their gear.
Your biggest trolls are also your biggest fans. They look up to you, and want to be on your level, and finding something you're wrong about perhaps makes them feel better about themselves. Like, "This guy is good, but I know something he doesn't, so I'm good, too."
Point being, happy people don't attack others online. But struggling people do. It's not fair that they take their pain out on strangers on the Internet, but the pain they inflict upon you is a tiny fraction of what they're feeling. If you can absorb a bit of their pain with grace, you've helped heal the community.
I mean, photography is an excellent way to escape. I've used it to cope with the war in my hometown, personal trauma, and many more things. Absolutely agree with you on that.
Sadly I can't say that the most aggressive trolls ever reached out with apologies to me, however, it is great to see that there are people who take responsibility for their actions. I think it is simply not fair to the community to use it as a way of coping.
While, thankfully, I never had to deal with a close relative having cancer, I did have to deal with the war in Kyiv -- my hometown. I covered it, from a photographic point of view: https://fstoppers.com/opinion/russias-war-ukraine-will-leave-lasting-sca... I was guilty of taking out my emotions on people closest to me, however, that taught me a lesson. Now I stop myself because it is unfair to the other person.
Nobody deserves to be mistreated because of someone else's problems. There are plenty of more effective, constructive, and positive ways to cope with personal trauma. Just like one should not turn into an emotional dustbin in real life, one should not become one online. There is nothing wrong with seeking for help, but turning to negativity online is hardly helping anyone.
It takes a lot of grace and a forgiving spirit for you to write that comment. I know because on some photography forums I see people have nasty things to say about you, and I do not understand it.
You are the best overall photography YouTuber I have ever found, and I really value the content that you and Chelsea put out there. When you put out a well thought out video with high production quality, and people immediately dismiss it just because "it's from Tony Northrup", that baffles me and upsets me.
So I know what you have dealt with personally, so often being the target of people's negativity, and for you to write the comment you just wrote shows that you have a truly empathetic soul inside you.
Tom, you are right, they get a lot of critics typically originated by people who seem to feel stronger in groups than anything. I don't watch many of their videos because I don't really follow any channel seriously. The most I may follow tend to be Gavin Goey's up until he is done with the shoot, I cut there. He is typically sponsorized but never a click bait... But anyway, I may not watch too many of T and S videos but if the subject looks right away up my alley, sure I'll take a look. Also, as a writer, Tony seem to really share his thoughts on specific articles directly in comments rather than back channels. May be I'm wrong about him, but until demonstrated otherwise, he get a big + from me for that reason.
Great article Illya. I found it to be spot on.
The observation about titles and accomplishments is so true. If you shop around long enough, and pay enough money, there will always be someone willing to bestow a title for a photograph you took.
And don't get me started on length of service....
Fully agree with you, Russell. Thank you for reading and commenting, glad it resonated!
I've only recently come to FStoppers but I used to partake in DPReview a great deal. I quit preview because it's the most toxic environment I've ever experienced across the internet. Your piece on this is greatly appreciated.
It’s the people there who decide what cameras and lenses are great and which are terrible. They will say any lens not amazingly sharp wide open but considered ‘creative’ is overpriced garbage and attack anyone disagreeing with their viewpoint. I rarely visit that site now.
Honestly, there is hardly been a bad pro lens out in the past 20 years. It's hard to find bad points, which is why we end up comparing the finest details and looking for the tiniest differences.
One particular photo page on reddit is filled with insecure/critical beings.
Reddit is the worst sometimes. So much photo drama goes on there.
Thanks for reading and sharing your experiences, Daniel! Glad to have you with us :)
The worst is when someone shares their process for taking pictures and then someone else has a go at them claiming they’re doing it all wrong. Whether you want to use every feature going to take photos or use fully manual mode and manual lenses (two examples) is that persons choice to do so and no one should question that just because they do things differently. It’s a sort of superiority complex that is rife on social media in so many ways.
Oh absolutely! I hate when someone is telling me how to take my picture (unless it's a commercial client etc). Advice(not direction) is helpful, though
All communities around the world are a reflection of the people living in them... and just like everywhere else, there are a lot of very nice people around, but its the ones making ugly noise + being aggressive that are the ones we notice (and sadly also the ones being promoted by Google and Facebook algorithms click hunting) .
Well, I would argue that the 80/20 rule applies here as well. 80% of all the hate comes from 20% of the people.
Good, thought-provoking article, Illya. Thank you. We have all come across bullies and trolls. There are more online than in real life. In real life, they do not have the courage to tell it to my face!
Unless we react, they cannot get any satisfaction from making their toxic comments. Personally, I move on to spending more time with my hobby. I let the trolls wallow in their own toxicity.
Thanks for reading, Mano! I'm glad it resonated with you. Yeah, it's best to ignore the trolls, online makes it easy.
Yes to all that! Let me just add, that in Los Angeles, everyone is a "pro photographer," with plenty opinions to throw in-person, not just online. I have heard so many scathing gear critiques, that when I'm working on-location, I now take an assistant with me just to keep any wandering experts far away. For example, I was on-location shooting a new car for print. A rep from the car brand was there. I was absorbed in what I was doing, not paying attention to the guy that had wandered up to see what was going on - until I hear, "Why are you using THAT lens on a professional shoot? That's a noob's beginner lens! Haha!" As he's standing right next to the automaker's rep. Of course, the rep then wants to be reassured. I had to stop for about 20 minutes to explain my gear and that it was professional level - as I was losing the beach sunset. Photographers, if you really are brilliant at your work, you only need convince yourself!
Oh jeez, I hate the gear-bashing. So many of my students told me that their previous coaches told them they have the wrong gear. I try to take the focus away from gear as much as possible...to the point of not giving gear advice at all.
Any arbitrary group of humans no mater how small or large will exhibit these traits. Thats just reality. Anyway I don't see why it bothers you so much you need to write and article about it. Hopefully the writting has helped you come to terms with these issues and you can now move on with a stronger constitution and the ability to ignore certain types of people
I think a lot of the problem is the same with email or text or whatever. People can’t hear your tone of voice in a post. It’s easy to say something in a slightly flippant or tongue in cheek way which someone then takes at face value and then arguments start. I once commented on a photo of a baby who was about a year old saying it was so much nicer than newborn photos (because newborns are generally ugly and need so much photoshopping they all look exactly the same!) and a whole bunch of newborn photographers firstly misunderstood what I was saying and secondly came down on me like a ton of bricks. It wasn’t really meant as an insult but people took it as such and claimed I would think differently when I had children (I already had two!) I agree we shouldn’t aim to be rude but also people are very quick to take offence where none was intended.
That's totally true. Always ask questions to make sure you understand the message and don't take it personal until it shows it is. That's why I am so careful of groups, they are too often not healthy.
A had the beginnings of a friendship with a young newish photographer whom I had been asked to help out with some camera basics by their mentor. Things were fine for a while until the 1st lockdown arrived and I could no longer travel across Europe for my location shoots. I did not want to stop taking pictures and so I set myself projects in my local area, which also happened to be this young guys, who did not drive, photographic stomping ground. I had a project to shoot my hometowns local landmarks, light painting them at night. Out of the images I created, he had previously taken two of them in a similar way and this kicked off such a horrific vendetta against me by the photographer, his friends and online fans, that it ended up with me getting the police involved. The thing that surprised me more than anything is how his fans simply believed the numerous lies that he put up about me and messaged me with vile slurs and attacks. It went on for just over a year and I had not experienced anything quite to that level of aggression and spite before. Toxic is a good word to describe what I experienced through 2020.
Some people are just spiteful and vile and there isn't much you can do to change that.