Why I Can't Stand the Photography Community

Why I Can't Stand the Photography Community

In three years of working in photography, I've shot roughly 1,500 family sessions. I've dedicated all my time to growing my photography skills whether it be watching online tutorials, going to WPPI, reading articles, and reaching out to fellow photographers. In my time spent doing this, I've come to one major realization; photographers seem very guarded, opinionated, and close-minded. I've tried to understand what it is that stops us from helping one another? Is it the fear that we are training our competitors, are we bitter that we may have had to learn the hard way, or is it the fact that we are too proud to admit when someone is better than us?

I work for a local photography company in Utah called FotoFly. We shoot 37 studio sessions a day and have 15 full time photographers on staff. We are all very close and love to help push each other. It's hard to go from working in such a great work environment where we all want to see each other succeed and seeing how much it helps our photography, to the worldwide photography community and how opposite it is. It's almost impossible these days to post an image on any photography website or social media group without someone being incredibly negative.

It's very easy to be negative towards someone who may not be on the same level of skill as you are. I see it too many times on social media groups where someone newer to the photography field posts an image looking for some sort of guidance, help, or tips on how to better their skill. Instead of receiving helpful feedback, their images are torn down, and they are told they shouldn't be a photographer. It's easy if you are a professional, or have been in the field for years to see what's wrong, but someone just entering photography does not have your experience. You cannot and should not expect them to produce your quality of images. Instead of tearing them down, lift them up, help them push their skills, and in turn it may elevate your own photography.

There was an article that recently came out on Fstoppers talking about natural light photographers. I understand where Jason Lau is coming from and it is a fantastic article, but reading through the comments you'll quickly see a lack of acceptance for other photographer's styles or artistic vision. It seems that we as photographers tend to be very proud, and it is very hard for us to admit someone is better then us. Especially if that someone has been shooting for less time than we have been, or may have a different specialty.

As photographers we are incredibly protective over our chosen specialty, and will defend it fiercely even if it means tearing someone else down. Being a family photographer, it is very easy for me to look at a photographer who works with professional models and think, "Of course your images look awesome, it's impossible to take a crappy picture of beautiful models." I have even been guilty of throwing that out there a time or two. While it is easy to take images of someone who is paid to be pretty, we shouldn't forget all the other aspects that go into making a great image. The photographer is the one who lights, poses, retouches, and directs the photo shoot. Don't let your jealousy of a great image affect how you react to it.

It seems as if there is a never-ending battle between strobists and natural light photographers, and who is better. Why does there need to be a contest? Is it really that hard to appreciate the skill needed to accomplish either one? Look at Dani Diamond. He labels himself as a natural light photographer, yet while looking through his gallery you will see he is quite accomplished at using a strobe. I also have immense respect for Diamond, and his willingness to teach on the subject of natural light photography.

When someone asks us how we may have accomplished a certain look, it's easy to give them the cold shoulder. Why shouldn't we? You just spent countless hours learning all the tips and tricks to achieve a skill set, why should someone who hasn't worked as hard as you learn it, too? That is part of being a community though. You help each other learn and grow. You support each other. And it seems there is not a lot of that happening anymore.

A word to the new faces in the photography community

Learn to take criticism and grow some thick skin. Not everyone is going to like your work, and that's OK. Don't let it discourage you. Push yourself in the direction you want to go. Eventually you will find your own personal style, and people will respect you for it. Never become satisfied with your work. I'm not saying you shouldn't be proud of your work, but know that you can always do better.

You can't expect free handouts wherever you go. You still need to be constantly pushing yourself, and proving to yourself that you deserve help. Sometimes the advice you receive may not be what you are looking for. Take everything you receive and either use it or don't, that's up to you, but don't react negatively to advice you receive. That photographer didn't need to help you, they chose to. Be grateful for what help you receive.

The Challenge

I challenge you to be the better part of the photography community. Push yourself to be humble rather than prideful. Push yourself to help others learn and grow, and to be supportive of their aspirations. If you can help build others up, only good things will happen. You will have a greater sense of ownership within the community, you will gain other's respect, and you will become a better photographer. Oftentimes when you are teaching, you learn just as much as the students. We have all been down a time or two, and we have all received a helping hand. Whether it was to push our skills to the next level or to get out of a rut. I challenge you to be more willing to be that helping hand, and to be more supportive.

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111 Comments
Anonymous's picture

Nice article. Photographers have to be able to discern the constructive type of criticism that will help them learn and grow from the more prevalent "you suck" type that I think discourages many newcomers.

Anonymous's picture

Yeah, I think both parties need an attitude change. Newcomers needs to grow some thick skin, and professionals need to be more welcoming.

Robert Lachaine's picture

Well said ...seen that kind of attitude and behaviour many times ...

Anonymous's picture

I don't like the way you wrote this. You could have done much better with the phrasing and margins. The title also could be better. Put down the keyboard cause you are horrid at writing!

Sorry, couldn't help myself. :) Great article

Anonymous's picture

At first glance of your comment I figured the first troll had spoken. Love it though haha thanks.

Anonymous's picture

lol Sorry.. had to play the typical forum photographer troll. :)

Kevin Hatcher's picture

Great article Kenny. And loved the reply from Mark :) hehehe!

Ted Bowling's picture

Great article. Over the years, I have migrated towards on-line communities that are positive and encouraging (sometimes through legitimate and polite critique. I do photography for fun, so I don't have time for the negativity on some of the major community boards. As you say, most of the photographers I know in real life are kind and generous with their knowledge. Happy New Year!

Anonymous's picture

It seems people are more genuine and nice in real life. When people are able to hide behind a computer screen they become meaner and more critical.

Chris Smart's picture

I don't believe that. They would simply not be as honest in person. They would remain the same person inside.

Chris Smart's picture

We have to be careful though in using the term negative. Many people like to claim someone is being negative just for stating an opinion that simply differs to theirs. You could be obviously right, have references to the topic being discussed backing your position, assuming you are debating an issue, and otherwise being respectful, and you would still be accused, and eventually attacked, for being negative. In many cases you will often be banned from certain forums.

DPReview, for example, is terrible for that. I've seen people ganging up on someone many times on that site's forums simply because they have taken a different position to the cliques and biased moderators. They will respectfully debate their point but will will eventually end up being banned. I stopped reading that site's forums because of that. The people running that site, and others, don't really have a respect for what a forum truly means.

At best, such sites wish to create an atmosphere where consensus rules and the slightest bit of potential offense is attacked and ultimately banned. It's a phony and artificial atmosphere that tries to protect raw nerves and insecure people. Such sites are examples of the madness of political correctness, and the dishonesty and bias at its core.

Andrew Feller's picture

Great article! I've personally found that the guarded and closed off photographers are in every genre, but some genres have a lot more... in my area I feel that its mostly driven by the "you're gonna steal my clients" mentality.

What I love about live music and event photographers is that literally everyone I have met has been awesome, welcoming, and open to sharing ideas. I've met a few portrait photographers that have been amazingly nice, tore my family/senior portfolios apart, and gave me some great tips in working with newborns. I have even met a commercial advertising photographer that invited me to his studio to just hang out and ask him questions.

Anonymous's picture

Yeah, it seems as if the more guarded photographers are in the portraiture field, and I do think it's the fear that you are truing your competition.

Anonymous's picture

awesome article! you hit a lot of good points. people can be so mean in general, not even just photography & on the internet. it sucks!

Michael Coffman's picture

I really appreciated this article. As an amateur ive posted images to a site expecting some feedback. From constructive critics, we learn. But i get almost nothing. One thing you didnt mention is simply having your images ignored. The site ive posted to seems "clubby" with a handful of photographers sharing comments back and forth only within the club.

Anonymous's picture

Sometimes it can be hard to find a group that accepts newer photographers. It's annoying at times that the only images that receive attention are the half nude models. There tends to be Facebook groups dedicated to your state of photographers. Like in Utah it's "Utah photographers group" and they tend to be pretty accepting, I'd look into that.

M Clark's picture

You read my mind today. I'm more a retoucher than a photographer and offered to play with a acquaintance photographer's images to style them. Their mind instantly went to thinking it was a criticism. And then another friend who is a more advanced photographer than I (and who I always work hard to be complimentary toward) always focuses on the negative on photography I share with him. I appreciate his feedback because there's a lot of good in what he says, but some people don't know how to mentor. I think that's the gist, as a community we are very poor mentors perhaps of the competitive nature of the business.

Anonymous's picture

It is a lot easier, especially when your skill level is higher to point out the negatives, people really have to try hard to see the positive, and unfortunately people are usually to lazy to try.

Nasser Ali's picture

Great article, thanks Kenny!

James Korn's picture

I guess I have to count myself lucky. The photography community in my area (Northern Indiana) is very open and eager to share. I'm guessing it's because when the digital revolution happened, there were relatively few pro photographers in the area. Then there was a big influx of new photographers, and we all "grew up" together.

Anonymous's picture

My trouble isn't with the local communities. Those seem to be tightly knit and helpful. I'm glad you have a great community to work in. I'm more worried about the national community.

James Korn's picture

Well. sure. This is the internet after all. Doesn't matter which community you're part of, here there be trolls.
On the flipside of that, the prevalence of photographers on the internet willing to lift up the craft and make it accessible for the rest of us has been incredible. If suffering a few trolls is the tradeoff, well, you know what they say about opinions and assholes...

Chris Smart's picture

I think we should also be careful about labeling people as trolls. The fact is, a real troll is actually rare. Too many people use the word troll as a way to simply attack someone and discredit them just because they don't agree with them. They try and make the discussion about the person instead of what they are actually saying. It becomes personal, rather than topical.

Scott Mccusker's picture

Someone should make this post a sticky and put it at the top of the fstoppers Facebook group. It's gotten ugly in there lately.

Eric Fialkowski's picture

Lately? I left that group awhile ago and it was ugly then. ;)

John Sheehan's picture

You put into words what I've been feeling, especially after seeing the comments on Dani Diamond's article. I believe in new photographers learning to grow a thick skin, but sometimes they get overwhelmed by the negative response that they just want to put the camera down for good. I was at a college show last spring and a student asked a guy I know what he thought of her work that was displayed. Instead of giving a critique that could help her, he tore into her work with negative comment after negative comment. I could see he was not coming from a place of trying to help, but a place of jealousy. I had to break in and say, "With that said, here's what you that's amazing and here's what you can do to improve on that." I'd much rather be a source of positive encouragement than a negative experience that makes someone want to never create again.

Greg Taillon's picture

I don't deign to speak for whoever was offering critique, but one should also realize that some read 'critique' as "what do you dislike/think is wrong with..." in terms of providing an evaluation of photography. A film, fine art/painting, music critic for example, **never** provides (often facile) pointers about what could "be done better". Besides which, offering pointers about what could "be done better" is usually code for "this is what I like more", and "this is more popular [right now]"—neither of which are objective statements of quality, and both of which are historically-conditioned under rubrics of taste, and perception of consensus,

David Vaughn's picture

Great article. I have noticed that a lot of photographers seem to be very...rude...When it comes to people wanting to learn and grow. Maybe it's insecurity about possibly helping a photographer surpass them someday that makes people so guarded? I don't know, but it's really disheartening.

On the same token, I challenge beginners and pros alike to stop tactlessly searching for the secret sauce in others' images. There's never a time when I go to a forum or even a local club that I don't hear someone say "Wow, how'd you process that/You should make a tutorial."

If you have a technical question, that's fine, but also consider just appreciating an image for what it is and the hard work that the photographer put into it instead of trying to capitalize on it.

Dan Ostergren's picture

Especially after seeing the response to Dani Diamond sharing some of his technique, I am incredibly less likely to ever share mine either.

Anonymous's picture

People are too close minded, and if some ones advice is even slightly different than how they shoot, they shut it down. Dani's product speaks for itself, and people should be smart enough to realize he knows what he is doing.

Jason Ranalli's picture

My solution to this is to stop visiting a lot of online stuff in general. At some point in your life you just realize that all that negativity is going to help you get nowhere.

I will say that for the most part I feel the community here at FStoppers is several notches above the rest. I appreciate that and that's a bit part of the reason I keep coming back outside of the some of the nice writing.

Dan Ostergren's picture

The site itself is definitely an amazing, positive and very helpful resource and community.

The FB page is a very different story though.

Jason Ranalli's picture

Oh well I usually get my FStoppers fill here so I admittedly haven't visited the FB side much.

Dan Ostergren's picture

You aren't missing anything but the exact thing that Kenny is describing here.

Greg Taillon's picture

On the contrary, I like to read the FB comments because they're unsparing, and tend to have a broader, non-photographic diversity than a "photo enthusiast" website.

In this environment, there's a sample-bias that tends to reiterate our own preferred positions & responses by virtue of the demographic most likely to participate. For instance, the vast majority of photographers on here seem to be working in commercial photography (wedding, portrait, fashion...) and industrial (christmas, highschool, family...) markets (if they are working photogs at all), whereas there are very few art and "fine art" (ie wealth-controlled landscape and portait-cum-fashion) photographers who weigh in. The perspectives thus become dominated by those who have interests most immediately-served by what this website offers. When was the last time we read a debate about Barthes's perspective on the indexicality of an image, for instance? Who is aware of the disjunction between the reality-principal (modernist) and the index-principal (early postmodernity) in photography? These last points I intend not to be critical, but simply to illustrate that communities differ in the range of perspectives they can offer.

What this author seemingly "can't stand", then, is 'negativity' and an atmosphere that does not contribute to (and take for granted the concept of...) the 'improvement' of its audience. The fact the author opens with the intro that they are someone who's "shot 1500 family sessions" over a 3-year term (about 500 sessions/year) says to me they're working in a highly industrialized environment, and not, say, one which is challenging conventions of the form. Thus, what someone with that background, and someone with eg a fine art history background likely "can't stand", will be very different.

In my opinion, communities which do nothing but pat you on the back and hide from providing frank accounts of their positions—how easily-discouraged are we?—are not very worthwhile for feedback or an edifying experience.

As a last point, yes, working photogs are often closed to providing advice when it is sought from them. And yes, it *is* because it involves introducing competitors, especially today. Most working photographers I know have personalities that align more with networkers, socialites, and 'ambitious' types approaching the Type A mentality than someone who is [usually] only strictly-interested in the work they do. This a necessity of the job: anyone not that way tends not to succeed long enough in the field to make a thriving career of it. (Working photojournalists are an odd breed, though—don't get me started on them. )

Jason Ranalli's picture

Greg, I'm not sure why you felt the need to vote down my comment but I'm not necessarily in disagreement with you.

I've been around the internet a long time on various "communities" and while I agree that you learn nothing where folks only pat you on the back I find a lot of communities either have that or just outright buffoonery where you get caught up on some stupid flame war with members and end up learning nothing.

At least for now, I see a lot of learning going on here and sharing of knowledge, not a lot of infighting and so for now that's where I'm at.

Brian Comeault's picture

Amen Bro!

Joshua Boldt's picture

You must be new to the internet. :)

Every internet community is like this. These comments are exactly the same as any other place I hang out online. I just have to substitute the words photographer for "World of Warcraft" or "computer technician" or "Dr Who fan" or any of the other things I am interested in and swap out the lingo, then the comments are basically the exact same for all of them.

You just have to ignore the bad people and make friends with the good ones and you create your own circles where it is safe. Random internet people have no reason to be nice to you. Apparently no one cares about etiquette or manners or just plain politeness anymore. Even face-to-face they don't seem to care much. I worked at a college for the last 13 years and students got more rude and less personable every year.

Paul Lujan's picture

I'm a retired,self taught pro photographer. When I first started I couldn't believe how closed all the local photographers were towards me. I finally just stuck to lots of reading and trail and error. I stopped trying to contact other photographers. On the other hand I was able to help several others that wanted to get into the business.

Gilbert Kleinwechter's picture

Good article. Feedback provided in a teaching or, even better, coaching manner is how I prefer to operate. In my opinion a true professional is someone in any field that continues to challenge themselves and their abilities while being open to sharing their experiences. Your technique may not fit with my style however I typically find some new nugget of information that proves useful as I evolve in the art.

Brent Thale's picture

Well, in the case of the referenced article about underexposing that apparently drew negative comments, the title, "A Natural Light Tip That Will Have Strobists Selling Their Lights", seemed deliberately controversial in an attempt to get clicks. I read the article and have no intention of selling my lights. I laughed off the obvious bait, but some people are going to bite and rant about it, that's the nature of comments on the Internet.

Justin Haugen's picture

Click bait for sure, and then the author debated some very expert rebuttal that correctly pointed out some inefficiencies in the author's technique and it was quite the shit show.

Jason Ranalli's picture

I understand why FStoppers put the article up as-is but I think the way the title was worded generated a lot of controversy around a technique that truly works at times.

If it had been entitled something like "My natural light workflow that is a strobe alternative" that might have went over a little better.

Then again, I hugely respect Dani and his work and if you look at his work that's all you really need to see IMO. Images with huge impact is what he produces....I don't care how technically right or wrong his workflow is exactly.

Kalpesh Modi's picture

Some food for thought here...nice article.

Anonymous's picture

Great article, well said. Unfortunately, fstoppers is one of the worst offenders. They use the comments on photos to praise themselves and promptly delete any comments that offer criticism or questions.

Talyn Behzad's picture

Kenny, first of thank you for writing this article. I too am from Utah and have experienced a lot of the same frustrations that you have. I have always said that photographers should look to the tattoo community as an example of what a tight knit community means. Many tattoo artists are willing to praise one another and help people of all skill levels grow and become better artists. If you are willing to put in the time then they are willing to teach. They even go so far as to tell clients that they do not specialize in certain styles and will recommend a client to a better artist. And what is the end result? Tattoo artist are making a significant amount of money off their art because of how well the community promotes one another. This in turn has lead me and two actors to create a group from Utah that focuses on connecting artists from all backgrounds to create amazing pieces of work. We recently started a group called Ignotus Valley (check us out on Facebook) that brings together painters, sculptors, photographers, graphic designers, actors, musicians, dancers etc to envision and create amazing pieces of work. We would love to meet and talk with you and other like minded artists about these issues and see how we can break down these walls and begin creating something amazing.

Ralph Berrett's picture

https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4120/4757474711_0741270757.jpg

I come out of an environment in which I worked with 2-6 full time photographers and then shooting against many other shooters. I would shoot 3-6 assignments a day. I loved the environment of going head to head with other shooters.

I was lucky at 19 I started shooting the NFL it was a great experience because I was shooting some amazing shooters with state of the art gear. I shoot a game then check the AP Leaf desk to see how I matched up. Couple a basic lessons I learned was there was always someone with bigger badder gear and there is always someone who is better that you can learn from.

I think part of it is photographers tend to be loaners when shooting so their is that insecurity. Also there is a tendency to marry into gear and styles. Because of that it tends to be personal. This also a profession that you do need a little attitude.

I once had an editor ask me if I could handle a certain large shoot.

My answer was "Yes I could, Why because I am that damn good".

Like religion and politics I learned some basic topics to avoid.
Full Frame vs Crop sensor cameras
Nikon vs GraFlex
Pro shooters need to able shoot manually
Studio Flash vs Continuous Lighting for studio work.

Tony Carter's picture

VERY good article! I almost liken the general, modern, online photography community as being analogous to professional sports fans. Everyone will scream and cuss at the coach on the TV, and will say that the players made bad decisions on the field, but rarely will those same people say those same things to that person while sitting next to them on the bench. Also, negativity is contagious in and of itself, so it makes it that much harder to actually here the 1 true fan out there that's actually cheering you on...yourself. Just keep shooting, peeps!

Stefano Catalani's picture

Good article, keyboard warriors are everywhere tho. Musicians' forums are as bad as photographers ones sometimes. And the funny thing is that the real pros are (most of the times) nice and helpful, while the amateurs or semi-pro (or, those who spend more time on the internet rather than shooting), are the nastiest.

Dave Wilson's picture

Thanks for writing this. Some photographers forget that they once knew nothing.

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