With strangers generally eager to offer their opinion on what we do, albeit mostly unwanted, when should we listen to their criticism and when should we ignore it?
I am confident that, whether you are a hobbyist or a professional photographer, there have been instances when you have received criticism from others even without seeking it. Whether it be a stranger giving you their opinion on how you could improve your photograph, even if you never asked for it, or someone schooling you on how to run your business, we're definitely familiar with receiving criticism in all its possible forms. So, how should we filter the advice and criticism we receive, and when should we put in practice the information we've received?
When Not to Listen to Criticism
The internet is a wonderful world, one full of free and available advice and tutorials on practically everything imaginable. Have you got a question? Search engines most definitely will have an answer for you. Are you unsure how to correctly fix something? There are plenty of videos of people showing you exactly what to do. However, with such an easy access to information, it also means that strangers have an equally easy access to view, comment, and criticize anything you choose to put online.
If you use social media to share and showcase your work, be prepared to receive unsolicited advice and comments from people who know what they're talking about and from people who most certainly should not be giving out advice, too. If you willingly ask general public to critique your work, my first question would be "what credentials do these people hold and do they have the experience to objectively critique your work?" Most likely you will receive varied responses, with some praising your work, perhaps also because they may know you or they have seen your work before and feel somewhat obliged, although subconsciously, to give you positive feedback. But, you will also receive criticism from people who may simply not like your type of photography or your subject, and don't forget that we go from post to post very quickly which means that the public won't generally set aside additional time to thoroughly read your photograph or gallery, and will settle for a rushed comment.
Both the positive and the negative responses should be taken with a grain of salt; most people don't have the experience to constructively provide you with feedback that benefits you in the long run. Furthermore, it can be almost fruitless requesting strangers to critique your work because they aren't familiar with your current development as a photographer, your goals, and they certainly won't be acting as one-to-one mentors to help you with a plan to cultivate your growth as a photographer or as a business owner.
While it can be useful to quickly receive advice on certain things, don't let strangers on the Internet determine who you are as a photographer and as a business owner because it takes more than five minutes for someone to offer you constructive criticism on how you are creating or running things. It also requires experience to provide you with a doable plan of actions that are created uniquely to suit your photography or your photography business.
When Criticism Can Be Useful
If photography is also your business, asking for client feedback can be an effective way to track your progress. There will be clients who will simply be unhappy with whatever you might deliver and that may be down to their own insecurities or because you and your client were a bad match from the very start. The trick is to filter which ones should you put in your imaginary "useful" folder, and which ones you should let go and move on from. I have had clients express certain opinions that, upon reading them, I took too personal but looking at it objectively, I did see that there are things I can learn from and take them with me for when I work with the next client.
Sure, you can be at a point in your career where any form of criticism won't make a difference to you, your business or your photography but until you get there, hearing client feedback and any criticisms can be helpful for you and your future. Sometimes, we can be so wrapped in nonsensical things, such as, "should I make this image warmer or should I not?", that we can miss things that matter, for example, getting your client to hire you, retaining clients, and being so good at running our business that our own clients start spreading the word for us. If photography isn't your business, then the same applies to your development as an artist. I know all too well the danger of getting hung up about the small things when I should be looking at the bigger picture and working on improving my way of seeing things.
Hiring a mentor can also be beneficial; having someone work with us closely, will provide them with all the information they need to be able to give us constructive criticism. Knowing who you are, how you work, and what your goals are, gives them a better idea on how we can improve than, for instance, a stranger online who quickly glanced at your post and provided a brief comment that they may not truly even mean. Needless to say, it's crucial to research the right person to hire as your mentor.
All in all, it's wonderful that we have access to so many groups of talented and experienced people at the click of a button, but when it comes to truly objective criticism, remember that not everyone's opinion matters. Be your own person and be your own artist, and don't fear receiving a healthy dose of criticism but remember that sometimes it may require you to thoroughly filter the information to get to the bottom of it.
What are your thoughts on receiving criticism on your work as a photographer or as a business owner? How do you determine which advice to take into account and what to disregard completely? Have you ever received unwanted criticism of your work or of yourself as a business owner?