Why Do Really Bad Photographers Think They Are Amazing?

We all know that person (if you don't, it's you) who thinks they are amazing and are completely useless at photography. Chances are that we have all also been that person, but why?

Although photography is subjective, I am going to put it out there that some photographers are simply bad. Be that due to technical abilities, poor execution of concept, or just bad taste, they suck. And I was certainly one of them. I was useless at photography for the longest time imaginable. I nearly gave it up because I was so bad. However, during that bad patch, there was a period where I thought that my work was amazing. Looking back at it now triggers some sort of anxiety mixed with shame. I was utterly delusional. 

However, you mustn't be disheartened. It turns out this is really common and actually completely normal. In this video, I look at why this is, as well as offering some test that you can take to work out where you really sit in the grand scheme of things. I also look at ways in which you can help people who are currently stuck in this rut. 

This phenomenon is not only related to photography. It is no mistake that more than 50% of drivers think that they are better than average. Have you fallen victim to the Dunning-Kruger effect in the same way that I did when starting out?

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56 Comments

stuartcarver's picture

I’d rather a bad photographer who is actually out taking photos than these anonymous forum commenters who offer no indication that they even own a camera, yet like to offer snidy opinions about everything from someone’s portfolio or different types of gear.

Deleted Account's picture

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

stuartcarver's picture

It’s not about providing evidence, it’s about keeping your mouth shut if there is nothing good to come out of it, or in this case the virtual mouth that is a keyboard.

Deleted Account's picture

I'd ask if you are new around here, but I know the answer.

However, your post was specifically framed around the notion if you do not show work then you somehow have less right to comment.

Stating something you should already know, this place is full of trolls, and the moment you say something unpopular your image rating mysteriously falls.

stuartcarver's picture

And that was kind of my point.

Whilst I fully agree in the concept of bad photographers needing to open their eyes and realise their skill level (I’m a massive advocate of modesty being the best skill you can have in any line of work as you will strive to get better) I also feel that anyone feeling the need to make snarky comments about someone else’s image should at least be demonstrating their own expertise before feeling the need to run someone else down.

The same goes for those gear sites (looking at you DPreview) where everyone thinks it’s ok to comment on sample galleries either slating the lens or the person who shot the photos... it’s far to easy to create an account just to be nasty for the sake of it, and imo it needs regulating better.

Making unpopular comments and being snidy are two different things and the former I have no issue with as long it’s not taking aim at someone specifically.

Deleted Account's picture

Fair enough.

Hans J. Nielsen's picture

Are you implying, that common folks with no photographic experience should not be allowed to criticize other people's artwork? Is art not meant to be critiqued? But if it can only be critiqued by your equal peers, does the critique even matter?
Are common folks not literally being taught about art, by being exposed to it?

Some philosophical questions that, I know, won't have any substance when talking about the majority of people on DPreview.

stuartcarver's picture

Critique is fine as its often constructive and done in a polite manner... the key word here, as ive already repeated 4 times on other comments is 'Snidy'... thats not critique, its just trolling, because its the internet and people can.

Hans J. Nielsen's picture

Just reread the tread and can see I missed your point. My bad!

stuartcarver's picture

Haha no probs, im all for someone offering an opinion on things, but keeping it civil on the internet seems more and more difficult these days.

stuartcarver's picture

P.s. I fully expect some 1* on my gallery after making the comment above lol.

Venson Stein's picture

I'm headed there right now to *Trash all your work.* :-)

stuartcarver's picture

Hahaha.

Justin Sharp's picture

Careful not to fall victim to the tu quoque

stuartcarver's picture

I just had to google that as it’s not something I’ve heard of before, can you explain please how it’s relevant to my comment??

Justin Sharp's picture

Tu quoque is a logical fallacy that, simply stated, if a person makes a statement, their actions do not affect the truth of their statement. If I say that a photograph is bad, the fact that I have or have not posted a photo shouldn’t affect the accuracy of the original statement. It may not be fair that I comment without first posting my own photo. It may not be ethical. You’re correct in your original post. It can be very frustrating when this happens. In some circumstances, I may need to be instructed that it’s best to post work before I comment on others. That being said, The original comment of the photo being bad shouldn’t be dismissed solely on the fact that I have not previously posted my own photos. Tu quoque.

stuartcarver's picture

I think to counter it, if you were to say a photo is bad, explaining reasons why and what might be done to improve somewhat mitigates the need for having your own work posted.

I’m talking about snidy comments, not constructive ones, there is a massive difference.... anyone who makes ‘snidy’ comments without displaying their own skills can fuck off imo, regardless of what anyone else says.

Justin Sharp's picture

I’m in agreement and you have every right to dismiss these commenters. Realistically, people that fall into this behavior are rarely correct or have any insight. However, I’ve dismissed many of these in the past but rarely they have said something that has a grain of truth. I have to be careful that I dismiss the behavior but be aware of anything that I need to hear that contains any bit of truth.

stuartcarver's picture

Yeah true on that, I’m just happy to keep learning the skills and don’t think I’ll ever hit the day where something can’t be learnt

stuartcarver's picture

Snidy opinions being the key, not constructive criticism, there is a massive difference. And on the internet people seem to think anonymity of it allows them to be nasty with no comeback. Please read my comment as referring to ‘snidy’ comments only, of which there is zero need for in any walk of life, it’s not big and it’s not clever.

stuartcarver's picture

And there definitely are Caveats fully agree.. a recent example of my point that I’ve come across is on the review of the Nikon 70-200 on DPR. It was the almost expected ‘I find these images dull and boring, soft with poor colour’ etc that are now mainstays on every single lens review... we all know those observations are just complete bullshit and offer nothing but trolling the photographer. There isn’t such a thing as a soft lens now so people saying that are just doing it to seek attention and try to be snarky about either the pictures or the brand.

Simon King's picture

I’d guess saying “thanks” when something nice is said to you is basic manners. For the negative comments, I think the response is dependent on whether the negative comment has been explained or not as to how a person will respond. If someone just says “that’s terrible” with no explanation, that’s just nasty, whereas if someone says, “I think a would have preferred if you had done this...because it would have had this effect...” that’s a totally constructive way to say something “negative” that a person can consider taking on board.

Julian Ray's picture

Spot on! Thanks for posting this Scott.

Justin Sharp's picture

As soon as I read the title, I thought Dunning-Kruger. Since learning about this a few years ago, a large part of the world around me makes more sense. It’s everywhere. Everyone of us has at some point fallen victim to some degree. We all need to continually to a D-K self check.

Mike Shwarts's picture

Beat me to the D-K post.

c0ld c0ne's picture

And always keep the Peter Principle in mind.

Waleed Alzuhair's picture

All generalizations are false 😊

c0ld c0ne's picture

As are statements that include “with a single click” and superlatives that end in “ever”.

Dan Ostergren's picture

I know far too many who fit this description, and sadly some of them have been shooting over a decade, make little to no improvements or even become worse, yet they still think they're god's gift to photography and their ego only gets bigger every day. Or there's the guy who picked up a camera and immediately starts spouting off opinions like they're facts, such as "men should NEVER be retouched", or "if you aren't using soft light, you don't know what you're doing", without any actual experience to back up their opinions.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

Because we are!

PS: Imposter syndrome is something which is OK to have, but avoid showing it to the public (and, God forbid - to the clients). I.e. if you are bad and sure about it - avoid talking about it to people who hired you.

Bela Acs's picture

Self-declared loud YT masters, gurus even geniuses do the talking. Good images do the talking themself, silently. A quote from a world famous photographer, you know him 100%. "They call me a Master photographer, sure I took a very few good images, but never a significant one".

c0ld c0ne's picture

Ken Rockwell? 🤪

jim hughes's picture

KR is IMHO a pretty good photographer who's been told too many times that he's great.

Bela Acs's picture

Ken Rockwell is a big mouth YT gear reviewer far from being a good photographer. The quote was from David Bailey, maybe you guys never heard from him. He is not a YT kind of photographer.

Juan Ortega's picture

A good photographer is the one that will only show his very best photos and hide or destroy his bad ones, we all have a few good ones but have thousands of bad ones, so in reality every photographer is good sometimes but most of the time is bad, not all photos are winners.

AJ L's picture

Didn’t Jamie Windsor already make this video?

Alex Reiff's picture

He did a video on the same subject, but his take on it was a little different. Seems like this video is more techinal/career oriented, whereas Jamie's is more about introspection.

Fritz Gessler's picture

yes, I am amazing, you know? ::)

Deleted Account's picture

What's worse? Being caught in the delusion that you're far better than you are, or being caught in the Impostor Syndrome spiral of never believing that you're good enough? I'm kind of curious of what people think.

Mike Ditz's picture

Somewhere I have a DVD about Avedon (google if you've never heard of him - he's not an "influencer") putting up a show in Paris. After a week of working at the gallery he came back for one last look late on the night before the opening. He wanted either rearrange it and take out half the shots or cancel altogether.
The "imposter syndrome" runs deep.

Todd Wasylyshyn's picture

Thank you for your insight and honest self-reflection. Covid forced me into a new career path, and my rapid ascension into real estate photography has come with a compressed cycle of technical growth, self-satisfaction and self-criticism. This group and others help keep me grounded, as I value critiques of mine and others’ works.

Billy Paul's picture

Problem is only going to get worse as a generation of children who have been lied to for the sake of their self-esteem grow up.

A while ago I looked at an online revision/exercise quiz for junior school children. To the question what is 2+2 I answered 5 and the site's response was "bad luck try again".

Knowing what 2 + 2 is has nothing to do with luck. Imagine a generation growing up thinking they are all as smart as Einstein but really really unlucky.

Hans J. Nielsen's picture

Dam, I much be a good photographer, as I think, all my pictures are rubbish.
Or maybe I'm just such a bad photographer, that I don't know enough to know what good pictures look like.

Thomas Androxman's picture

meh

Kenneth Muhlestein's picture

I've definitely fallen victim to this especially in regards to my editing. Looking back, i was terrible.
I'm extremely happy with my growth. In the past i was afraid to crop cause i would be "losing" resolution. Now, i realise and know that composition is number one! Who cares how many pixels you have if the photo looks bad in regards to composition?

Joseph Ting's picture

My wife has given a definitive critique of my photography.
It sucks.
She would reel off 5 things that I did not consider when taking the photo, whatever it is.
Things like "Collar not straight and symmetrical.😣

Ruth Carll's picture

I think this is why novices and non-photographers (without knowing your wife's background so no insult intended) are very important to have as part of a feedback team. They see blatant problems like you describe when the experienced photographer can look right past them while critiquing technical aspects. I love the non-photographers feedback! Besides, most of the people who will look at and enjoy our work would say that the only camera they are familiar with is a part of their phone. They have eyes and opinions though and chances are they know how to use them! I recommend getting input from this group without fail.

Bjarne Solvik's picture

You need to be able to believe you are a reasonable good photographer to be able to do the job. Not everyone is aiming for the stars. It depends who you compare to. Some people (clients) are more then happy with technical good average work. I know for sure that whatever I shoot, I can do a reasonable good job, compared to someone without the tools and technical knowledge. And my clients are happy. I think that is a good start.

Being a good photographer is a relative term. I think it is true that a bit of humility comes over time. But I think being a little cocky on the job, being the boss, having some confidence is a good thing.

A friend of mine used to say that comparing is a curse. To rate yourself against others that is. Still I enjoy looking at good work. I think knowing what you like is a good step towards self development.

tomu san's picture

Eh, I say if someone is happy doing their hobby, do it. We all deserve to be happy no matter how small or large the world is.

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