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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Chris Smart's picture

Well, if you are in the business of photography it is understandable to not want to help someone that may end up competing against you where you work, though that doesn't mean you have to be rude and unfriendly to the person. The same goes with interacting with other photographers online.

As for the general attitude amongst photographers, I don't see it being much different than any art community. What strikes me so much about the art community is how often "closeminded" it is, as you said it is with photographers. These are the same people that talk about being so liberal minded and tolerant and yet are often the most closeminded and intolerant people you can meet. Then there is their pretentiousness and elitism. It is because of these attitudes I did not go into a certain art related profession. There is no way I could work with such people.

I don't subscribe to the idea of simply saying grow a thick skin, as that implies you should tolerate certain negative attitudes. While you will always have to deal with certain truly negative people, you shouldn't tolerate such attitudes without a stern rebuttal. On the flip side of that though is how senstive the artist type tends to be in the first place. I'm wary of using terms such as a person being negative since so many like to throw that around today for even the slightest bit of criticism. Kind of like the race card thing. Seeing an offense when there is none.

Another thing to consider is that people today are simply not as nice as they were in the past. You see a disturbing amount of cynicism, negativity, and sarcasm in America today. Those are not historically culturally defining American traits. You see it in the media, movies, TV shows, online forums, social apps, etc. Just compare the positivity of TV shows of today with those of say the 70s, where there was typically a moral lesson to be learned by the end of the show. It's a stark and sad difference.

Kristi Woody's picture

Great article! We have a great local group where I'm from. We're all either wedding or portrait photographers (or both), and we mostly interact in a Facebook group. We do get together in person a few times a year and have a blast! It's fun to have other photographers to swap stories with, share tips and brainstorm ideas. It's also nice to have other photographers to confidently refer people to!

One of our friends is moving this month and has had the hardest time getting any photographers in her new area to respond to her. She's worried she is going to be pretty lonely up there without a community.

Jim Gerkin's picture

I NEVER comment much as I don't like the banter but you article hit a home run with me. Recently joined a site on Facebook that has hundreds of people looking for comments on their work. RARELY does someone provide helpful advice. They do however always seem to have opinions of why the image(s) are not good. Every image (if your willing to post it) is something you like or are looking for a way to improve it. Comments like "I never," "you should," or any number of other opinionated comments should be banned before they even are sent. I prefer to post about how "I" feel about the emotion if they post asking for critiques. Others looking for specific instruction are often looking for ways to increase an affect or an emotion. In my humble opinion, if you like it them it's good. If you don't like it and you are looking for help on the poise of affect then that is what should be offered. Just because I would or wouldn't have taken that shot is irrelevant.
I took a long way around to say "GREAT ARTICLE!"

Bruce Kaplan's picture

I can relate to this article. The first thing I did when I started shooting was rub shoulders with other newbies in Meetups and group studio model shoots. Those people were all great people. However, my problem was that after a few years, I was starting to outgrow those groups and I wanted more. I wanted to learn from the pros.

I used to try to reach out to other pro photographers in my area for an opportunity to learn, for a chance to gain an eventual mentor; anything. I live in the greater LA area. I posted 2nd shooter ads in every photography forum I could find. No results. So, I then researched every photographer in my area that had a great portfolio; I found about 60. I wanted to tell them why I like their images and why I wanted to learn from them. Unfortunately, it was a complete waste of time. So, I ate some humble pie and then tried to VOLUNTEER my time, sweep the floors, carry the heavy equipment; offering a long-term commitment and bringing only my hard work and integrity with no ego or baggage. To my surprise, I was still snubbed by 80% of the photographers. A few photographers did take the time to tell me why they don't work with new people; stinging, but honest. I also had a few tell me that they didn't want to waste my time because they basically had their 2nd, 3rd, 4th shooters and backups to those were all filled; they even had a line of interns out the door. Ouch again.

So, with that failed strategy behind me, I tried a different strategy. I started trying to offer to buy lunch, just for the chance to get career advice. No results. I was floored. My final tactic was to offer $100 on the spot just for a sit-down; I only offered that three times to some photographers with some really exceptional work. All I got there was a chuckle and an "I'm too busy" excuse. When the shock set that all of this was going nowhere I decided that I probably will never get a mentor or someone to show me the ropes. So, I gave up for a while; consigned to the fact that I will never make a full-time living at my craft.

Fast forward to two years. I am in a better frame of mind. In the end, it is my clients that drive me forward; the goal of happy customers and images that I can be happy to say are my creation. I am not sure if I will ever get the chance to do photography full-time. But I can truly say that when I am working a gig, snapping shots, I believe in my heart that I am creating memories and telling a grand visual story; all of this with or without someone else's help. Photography is my therapy and my passion.

Dean Ing's picture

Great article! We have a local camera group that was formed to encourage newcomers and watching nervous beginners flourish into competent photographers is incredibly rewarding. One initially and very nervous aspiring fashion photographer that had received negative criticism elsewhere and had given up any thought of pursuing her dream because one dick destroyed her confidence. In just over 12 months she has been published in over 20 fashion magazines and recently had work accepted by Vogue. That is what a bit of encouragement can achieve.

Robert Cornelius's picture

YESSSS THANK YOU!!! I so connect with this article like you wouldn't believe. I don't see why we are guarding all of our "secrets." Why wouldn't we want to help each other out so we can all produce more beautiful artwork to put into the world? This is exactly why I started blogging and sharing everything that I wished others had shared with me when I first started. http://www.robertcorneliusphotography.com/blog-home/

constance avellino's picture

I just want to say.. bless you.. that is a great article.. i posted this link to my fb page.. thanks for shedding light on a difficult subject.

Gerardo Guzman's picture

I was that noob a year ago or so and my first ever images got Slaughter! I didn't lose motivation but never have asked for advice since, instead I has been a wonderful year of failure and my images are starting to look somewhat more professional. Jus bought the wedding DVD from F stoppers and aiming to be a wedding photog full time. #gottastartsomewhere :)

Paul Pichugin's picture

The other side of this coin is that nobody owes their knowledge, techniques, settings, GPS Co-ordinates or anything else to you... stop acting so entitled to all of their knowledge. Try asking nicely instead of the only interaction they ever get from you being your demands: "what settings did you use?" "Where is this?" etc.. I'm always happy to share my knowledge, settings etc.. but try to be nice about it instead of demanding.

Brad H's picture

In my few years of experience, I've felt there are a large number of reasons to hate the photography community.

Gear snobs are a huge one, and one that's kept me off photography forums. You just started out? You NEED this 24-70, it's the best lens of its kind. Two years later: Yeah, your lens is garbage. You need the NEW 24-70 because IT is the best lens of its kind now.

I almost wonder if those people realize that what they have isn't the best of its kind (or won't be for long), either, or in ten years if they're going to amass a ton of the BEST lenses they never even use along with a load of crippling debt. There are people who buy equipment to use, and those who buy equipment just to tell everyone else about. And then to top it off, some of those same people will tell you "It's not about the gear, it's the person using it! Now, let me brag to you about my new D5 and 400mm 2.8 because they're the best…"

Another is critics who tear someone else's photo down because they're always right and you're always wrong. I'm an art major so criticism is something I've faced every day for almost the last 20 years, but there's criticism and then there's dumping on people because you're a miserable person. I've learned to start taking photos for myself and keeping them off the forums for people's opinions. If I'm happy with the result that's all that matters. Anyone else can stuff it.

Yet another is that stupid "Buy wrong, buy twice/always buy the best you can" logic. I get the intention, but some people throw that around so much it makes me think they're robots. So someone who's just starting out and isn't sure how long they'll stick with it should drop $10K on equipment?

Another is the whole "labeling" of cameras and gear. Pro, consumer, prosumer, whatever - all of that is garbage/sales talk and absolutely meaningless, but it's incredible how many seasoned photographers are suckers for that stuff. Average nobodies have taken better pictures on their phone than someone with a D5. Just because you own it doesn't make you a pro. "But pro cameras have more buttons that pros use" - so if I walk on crutches, that makes me a pro runner? Again, it's all about the person behind the camera.

And finally (for now) - "pros" who get annoyed when asked what equipment they're using. Just MAYBE, you think someone is in the market for a new camera and wants to ask you about yours? I don't know about you, but when someone asks me about my camera, I don't sit there with an ego the size of Texas assuming: "Hmph…this peon thinks my gear will make HIM good? Nobody's as good as me. He should just quit now". I am MORE than happy to talk about camera stuff with normal, down to earth human beings.

The profession/hobby is chock full of snobbery.

Reno Lee's picture

Couldn't have said it better myself. Thanks for the article.

As a hobbyist photographer, I have more than a few times been on the receiving end of unwarranted criticism/flaming. I don't claim to be a pro. I don't expect to be. I literally do this for fun and as a passion. (Don't we all to some degree?) But it seems that so many pro / semi-pro photographers are quick to judgement whenever another person isn't doing it for money, or isn't at a pro level yet. Did they ever think that maybe some of us are just here for the ride and not for the money?