How To Handle Irrational Internet Hate As A Photographer

How To Handle Irrational Internet Hate As A Photographer

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know how much random, toxic, hate is spewing around the internet. Many sites have even started getting rid of comment sections because trying to moderate so many putrid posts gets exhausting after a while. Photographers are often the target of completely uncalled for, targeted, hateful notes from some of the web's most vile cretin. Learning how to effectively handle these sorts of attacks is critical to maintaining your sanity and resolve.

As someone who creates a lot of content for a high traffic website, I've become pretty immune to this sort of thing at this point. I expect it, and sometimes laugh at it but never let it pull me down. I'm, however, not the norm. A lot of the internet hate finds its way towards aspiring photographers who simply aren't used to being bombarded with negativity. This post is for the people who get completely blindsided by this sort of noxious caustic vitriol and let it tear apart their motivation to continue chasing their passion. 

The inspiration for this article came from a comment that I came across in a thread on Facebook responding to a young photographer who was brave enough to share his work with the world. There really isn't anything special about this particular comment other than that it is pretty representative of internet toxicity and that it inspired me to tackle this topic. I've included a screenshot of the comment below.

The photo, in question, wasn't anywhere near as bad as this wretched excuse for a human being seems to think. It was a nice photo, the photographer was probably proud of it, and rightly should have been. Is it going to win any awards? Probably not, but I'm pretty sure it was something the photographer felt very good about, at least until they posted it. I could tell the photographer was quite offended as they replied with a rather harsh and aggressive comment attacking the the commenter.

How To Respond To Internet Hate

Don't. That's really it, there isn't anything you can do about it so why waste your energy doing battle with it. Furthermore, any response most likely will reflect poorly on you because it will be polluted by a combination of anger and shame. Trolls like this seem to thrive on the validation that their nasty remarks are actually having an impact on the person they are attacking. By completely ignoring them you rob them of that validation. If you'd like, I suppose, delete the comment but don't go beyond that and certainly don't let them pull you into a pissing contest.

How To Not Feel Bad

Even when you ignore hateful comments they still have a sting to them that can weight upon our conscious. Photographers put heart and soul into their art, and all it takes is one harsh response to shatter passion. I used to always joke to people that they couldn't possibly offend me because if they say something I disagree with I just assume they must be wrong. It was always meant as joke of sorts to make it seem like my ego was unhealthily through the roof. I delivered it like a joke and made it pretty obvious. There was truth in that statement though, the opinion of trolls simply doesn't matter. They are wrong. They are not even trying to be right. Their goal is to hurt, not to help. They are no more qualified to give you a review than any other steaming wad of fecal matter that may be traveling down the sewage pipes below your feet. I can even prove it. Next time someone makes a nasty comment on one of your photos, click on their name, go find the great portfolio of amazing work that makes them think they are qualified as the harbingers of great photography. In almost all cases it doesn't exist. Trolls are too busy trolling to actually ever create any good work. They have no authority other than in their mind, unless you empower them with authority by letting them make you feel bad. 

Unsolicited Critique

Sometimes, however, the comment that is making you feel bad doesn't come from a troll. Sometimes the comment comes from someone genuinely trying to help by offering advice without realizing that their post has a terrible draining impact on the motivation of the photographer. Unsolicited critique can often by very harsh and even harder to shake off because it feel more honest than a direct attack. 

More often than not, however, those throwing out this sort of unwanted feedback really have no authority to be speaking on the topic. Start by doing what I said above, click their name, figure out if they have the experience to back up their opinion. If they don't, don't assign their comment any weight. Sometimes, however, there is something to be learned from these sort of critiques, they may reveal a weakness in your work that you may not have considered. Think strongly on them and decide if they are saying something constructive that actually is worth addressing. Never forget, though, that photography is always subjective. Just because someone has a different opinion of what makes a successful photograph doesn't mean your photograph is wrong. It just means your photography isn't for them. Not everyone likes spicy food, does that make spicy food bad? 

A couple years ago Scott Kelby did a great episode of the grid covering the topic of unsolicited critique, it is worth a watch and has a powerful message.

Conclusion

Don't let the demons get you down. They are numerous and always rabidly snapping at your heels. By slowing down to fight them off all you do is allow more to catch up. Keep racing forwards and eventually you will get high enough that those demons will be powerless to reach you. Your photography is great. In the future your photography will be even better. Keep at it and always trust in your creative vision.

 

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25 Comments

A few lines in here seem to be directly lifted from an article I wrote on this exact topic a couple weeks ago that was reposted on Petapixel.

Ryan Cooper's picture

They weren't. The article was written in its entirety yesterday. I haven't seen your article. Great minds think alike I guess. ;)

there's that healthy ego again, Ryan Cooper, lol

Max Leitner's picture

The smiley face that justifies everything: " ;) " hahaha

Michael Murphy's picture

Haters Hate; their goal is to hurt others. They need to spew their hate everywhere to let everyone know how much better they are than everyone else. Tell me if a person is ’so much better than everyone else’ then why would they ‘need’ to tell everyone else that they are so much better, just so everyone doesn’t make the mistake of not knowing? Tell me does a rose need to be told how beautiful it is in order to be what it is? Does telling it that you think it is beautiful or deficient in some way change what it is or just what you perceive your relationship to it to be?

In case you did not clearly get my meaning and inference thereof let me explain it further. You are putting your Photographs/Artwork/3D Models or whatever out there for others to see because you are proud of your work. These are ‘yours’, your babies, your heart and soul, everything you measure yourself with or by, your self-worth. They really shouldn’t be but as an artist and photographer I ‘m out there with you. It’s devastating when someone like this inappropriately hammers your work into nothingness. If you are really struck a devastating blow by some stranger’s useless prattle then please go see the movie Ratatouille and listen to Ego’s review near the end and you will see the clear picture of what is actually going on here in situations like this.

This person probably hates everything because everything is less than what he could do. You will never catch them posting any of their work out there for others to judge because let’s face it, everyone is less than they are so why would anyone assume they have the right to judge this persons work? He values his or her opinion over everyone else’s and risks nothing and will flame anyone who dare question his opinion.

Do not respond, do not empower this person directly or indirectly; this person is attempting to create a relationship with you where he is the dominant individual and you are the one who will eventually be trying to run from this ‘stalker’. That is actually what they are looking for; they ‘need’ someone to ‘empower’ them to make them worth something. They will make sure you will have ‘no choice’ but to acknowledge them because they will refuse to be ignored. This person feeds of anything you or anyone will do to try to rebalance the situation or relationship or straighten out the conversation or correct their inappropriateness. They need to be in the relationship, for someone to be afraid of them or what they might say or write.

This person wants, ‘needs’ you to value what they have told you and will continue to tell you ‘all the negative things’ they can think of in the future true or not, mostly not. Who are they? Why should you or anyone else value what they have told you? Why would they rip you apart instead of trying to constructively lift you up or educate you?

This is the ‘Look at me’ personality. They have nothing/are nothing and ‘need’ you much more than you or anyone else needs them. They provide nothing, their value is nothing.

My Friend, Walk on and pass these people by, they are but turds on the side of the road.

Stephen Fretz's picture

"These are ‘yours’, your babies, your heart and soul, everything you measure yourself with or by, your self-worth."

That feeling is the reason I became a photographer instead of a writer. Couldn't handle criticism of my prose AT ALL. Photographs were just "impersonal" (for want of a better word) enough that I didn't see them as extentions of myself, and getting notes on them didn't hurt.

TL;DR: the feeling that you're only as good your photos is just ... not healthy. We all have it, deep down, but it's best to try and fight it. YMMV.

Yeah, I seem to get alot of comments that claim my photos aren't photos because I edit them to look like pencil sketches, watercolors & oil pastels. They're digital images taken with a camera so I consider them photographs...

Michael Murphy's picture

A Rose by any other name shall still smell as sweet.

Everyone is into labeling these days instead of just enjoying what is there for what it is. I believe it is a form of separatationalism; he is not a 'real' 'professional' photographer because he doesn't take photos like I take photos and I'm a professional purist photographer. You 'Alter' your photos to look like what you wish them to become, your end result. Its called your process.

You could list them as photos, processed photos, altered photos, creative photos you processed to look artsy and creative works all are accurate and acceptable. But heaven forbid if you were to list them as only creative works without telling everyone you used a camera to take the original then you would have 'cheated' and they would not be as valid because you didn't 'actually' create them you only took a photo and altered it in the computer. Shame on you, Not!

I used to do a similar process but took it slightly further, i.e. Hirosage woodblock inspire artwork. It is amazing how many people will shoot your work down but then hijack a copy to use as their computers background or as a screen saver because they liked it enough to want a copy of it.

Do what you do, let other people figure out what they wish to call it.

Tony Northrup's picture

Many commenters don't realize that they're being rude. I often ask, "Please be more polite in the future," and it often works. Most people apologize, and many offer some explanation, like they're having a bad day. Some portion probably change their online behavior long-term.

Ignoring negative comments is a good "default" practice, but there's definitely a time to respond to commenters. Often, they go beyond just writing one comment, and will carry on an ongoing attack campaign on forums, YouTube, whatever. Unaddressed, these campaigns can go on for years, reaching tens of thousands of people.

Politely responding can often stop the attacks and the underlying bad feelings. It lets people know that you're human and real and can see what they're writing. It also lets others see your side of the story.

That's a great point. It is easy to forget how important nonverbal communication can be when dealing with critical comment -- your body language and expressions often show that you mean well, but those get lost with a forum post or tag and a comment that one would receive well in person comes across as an attack.

But, equally important for all of us, is that there are mean, uncaring people out there. Many, sadly, make themselves feel better about themselves by trying to drag others down.

It's really hard in general not to let crappy people get to you. I sometimes try and figure out the motivation for their being a$$holes and wonder if they were treated very poorly growing up. Feel sorry for people who act this way. How much must their lives suck? It's been said a million times, "misery loves company" I agree with TN that politely responding might possibly show someone that there is a better way.

Alex Cooke's picture

I think it's important to remember that you can't argue rationally with an irrational person, so know when to disengage.

Michael Kormos's picture

It's even more important to remember that no serious discussion should really be had in the "comments". Internet anonymity grants many the refuge they seek in order to simply troll, and these individuals get a real kick out of seeing someone else get angry and furious over their pokes.

I merely enjoy yanking the chain of some fstoppers staff. Patrick in particular :-)

Good perspective, and I like what you say about checking out the source of unsolicited critique. I'd bet you've never gotten one from a Joe McNally or a Scott Kelby or a Joey L. And if you ask shooters of that caliber for an opinion and get one, it is invariably private and constructive, not destructive.

Also, haters should learn to spell words like "unnecessary" correctly.

lol, spellcheck. hello?

The problem online is that one person's "truth" is another person's "hate."

It's easier to avoid telling the truth rather than it is to say it and be considered a hater or a troll. I'm not saying that people should intentionally be mean to each other. I'm just saying that there is a climate of fear of offending others that actually creates tension with no way to release it. Then, when it does get released it's like a volcano.

Michael Kormos's picture

Photographers are like plumbers. Each one has a "better" way of doing a given job, and everyone's a smartass. The first thing they all do is tell you what the previous guy did wrong, then chuckle when you tell them what they charged you.

Interesting article, but at the risk of making you "down" I thought I'd point out one thing: hate is not always a bad thing for a photographer. In fact, hate, when it comes to one's images, might be exactly what you're going for - at least the emotional part of "hate." Response is what most photographers strive for, or should be, even if it's negative. I for one am sick and tired of all the "nice, nice " sites that are so focused on being nice, you can't get any honest critique for your images. We all know who they are. The sites that wouldn't give a negative comment if you paid them are useless to real photographers who are looking for honest feedback for their efforts. Not all harsh or even hateful comments are intended to hurt the other person - and here's the kicker: It's most often not the poster that determines if the comment is a "hate" comment; it's the receiver that makes that determination. That's the problem. One man's honest critique or emotion, is another man's "hate" mongering. I would think no comment at all on your work would be worse than any hate comment one could offer up.

One more thing: the article says "click their name, figure out if they have the experience to back up their opinion. If they don't, don't assign their comment any weight."

Seriously? Is this really what it's come down to? You won't value opinions on your work, unless the one giving the opinion is "qualified" to give it? Does that work both ways? Say a person LIKES your work. Will you then click on their name to see if they're qualified to like it and have the "experience" to like what you've done? Wow. That reduces photography down to a huge fraternity of like minded ego massaging bigots who play mind games to make themselves feel good. No thanks. Photography is for everyone, and as such everyone will have an opinion that is equally valid - even if you don't like that opinion, and it doesn't come from a professional that you admire. I'm not interested in policing everyone that views my work. Granted, if you get positive feedback from a well respected photographer that's great and might have a little more weight, but generally that won't happen.

Sorry if this all sounds so "hateful." You'll just need to get over it. If you can't - maybe you need to revisit why you want to take images and show them to others in the first place. It takes personal energy to react, let alone write to someone to give them your feedback. That alone should make you feel good regardless. Whether the comment is nice, lukewarm, indifferent, or even hateful - it's a response. If you illicit any response at all, you can feel good that you've done your job as a photographer. The same goes for your article: it elicited a long response from me. That should tell you something.

dale clark's picture

Maybe a little off subject...

What is funny, the same people who would knock the photograph the author of this article talked about as an example, would call it genius if one of the "big names" (Annie, etc) posted the same image. Many years ago, a psychology class I took in college played a video of an experiment on people's behavior. They took numerous groups of people. The professor would introduce the poet who wrote a poem. The poet would come out and wave then sit back down. Then the professor would read the poem (not the poet). The poem had quirky phrases, very "out of the ordinary". Then the audience was asked to fill out a survey. Half of the groups saw a "nerdy" to normal looking kid being introduced at the start. The other half saw a longer haired "cooler" Kurt Cobain looking person. Same poem and poem reader for all groups.

Guess what...The groups who were introduced to the "nerdy" poet had negative feedback. Many words like "stupid" "dumb" "hillarious"were used on the feedback forms.

The cool Kurt Cobain looking kid groups gave much more positive feedback...."ahead of his time" "different level" "very deep meanings", etc

I just find it so funny how the messenger sometimes has more influence on people than the actual message.

Kyle Jackson's picture

I suggest that any unsolicited "critique" should be ignored as well. Anyone worth listening to, and who genuinely means to help, won't just throw unsolicited critique at you, and certainly not in a public-audience drive-by manner. (The only exception of course being my comment on this article, haha ;) )

Probably good advice. I once brazenly asked Rui Palha to critique a couple of my photos. I liked his answer. He politely told me he doesn't critique the work of others. He feels that everyone has a different take, different likes and dislikes, and he wasn't qualified to judge my work - so critiquing per-se would really be a waste of time for both of us. I figure if a guy like Rui Palha looks at it that way - I should too.

When a photographer puts an image into the public domain, he should expect a public response. If he wants to control the responses to his work, then he should also control who is looking at his work by only making it available to close friends, family, and other trusted individuals.

Simon Patterson's picture

This does work. So far I have published very little of my work online. If people want to see and discuss my photos, they will visit my home and look at what is hanging on the walls.

Nomad Photographers's picture

That's very true Ryan. A week ago I commented on a thread about Sigma lenses quality just to say I was very happy with some of them like the 50mm f1.4 art and gave link to my website for examples. However I hadn't pay enough attention to the fact that a certain commenter seemed on a war against Sigma and us dumb heads who dare buy them. No longer had I posted my comment that I got a comment back from this charming person saying "Great collection of bland uninteresting stock photography, just as Sigma lenses, keep on". I took a deep breath and thought "Ok, I have to treat people as good as I am not as bad as they are" and simply pointed out the the man there was no need for such harsh hurtful comments. I got a replied immediately, telling me "Truth hurts doesn't it". At this point I read some of this commenter thread and I quickly gave up. Obviously this person not only has more time on his hands to write lengthy unappropriated comments but I think he actually takes it as a game.

And that's exactly my point, it's the same as staying silent and moving on when being aggressed by someone. You will most of the time disarm them because all they really want is you to reply for the whole thing to escalate. Don't play the game, don't answer as you said, this just isn't worth it.

Jeff Colburn's picture

Good article. It's been my experience that most photography forums are filled with angry and hateful photographers that love to tear people down. Because of that, I only post on two photo forums now, this one and NatureScapes.net These two forums have photographers that are more concerned with helping than hurting.

Have Fun,
Jeff