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Photographers Need Thicker Skin Than Ever Before

Photographers Need Thicker Skin Than Ever Before

The advent of social media plunged the vast majority of us into a new era, face first. The alleged centrality of the medium to photographers meant your work is constantly under review, which isn't without consequences.

I am admittedly jaded with social media of late. Moreover, I am jaded with Instagram and Facebook algorithms waterboarding me with sponsored posts and echos deep from within my chamber. I do, however, have a few places of solace: private photography Facebook groups is one. It's not always easy to find the right group, but once you do, they're usually interesting and only lightly curated, at least with the groups I choose to join. But more and more I've noticed a trend within these groups which has served to highlight its prevalence in comment sections of every site in the industry: "feedback".

The commonly rowed out problem with social media, is everyone is hunting for likes and your photos are double-tapped by robots and dreary-eyed commuters. While I think that's only partially true — though I admittedly do look like a dreary-eyed robot when I'm scrolling — it becomes more difficult to deny when there are swathes of vapid comments and emojis. The less inquisitive of us might appreciate the attention, but the majority I suspect do not. Nevertheless, the uniform positive reaction to posts from robots and supportive (albeit not necessarily helpful) friends stand in stark contrast to the reactions I see elsewhere on the web.

Every week I see a new photographer post their latest image in groups, to the raucous laughter and cutting sarcasm of a subset of members. The photos are invariably of poor quality and technical skill, as one would rightly expect of a novice with their first camera. But the militant commenters tearing it apart without regard make me squirm. I can't imagine how I would have got out of the gates with such vicious critique. While in that foetal stage of artistic pursuit, extreme derision could really damage one's confidence and motivation to improve.

Never before has this been soft often the case. We're all acutely aware of keyboard warriors and the lack of true accountability with comments on the internet, but it's easy to forget that when somebody is tearing apart your work. Typically, photographs would have been shown to friends and family in the flesh, or perhaps in photography societies you were a member of. The feedback in these scenarios is typically far more tapered than on the internet where you're met with thousands of times the number of eyes, and little to none of the personal connections. As a result, photographers have a much greater need for thick skin, and thicker than ever before. But not just for the reasons you might think.

This occurred to me after I recently saw half a comment section on a photo by a retired lady taking pictures of her grandson. She admitted this was her first try at portraiture and the photos were lackluster, albeit not bad. The jokes and laughing reactions flooded in and I wondered if she'd ever share a photo again. Yes, there were some helpful comments, giving her some constructive feedback and direction, but most people will remember the bad. I need only think back to my early time here on Fstoppers where my articles could get 19 positive comments, but I'd remember the 20th which accused me of being an idiot. It's human nature and one that takes time to develop a resistance to. Though, that isn't the only resistance needed.

The other side of the coin can be equally damning. The amount of positivity towards everything you produce can be unending if you seek it out. Surround yourself with people who throw likes and enthusiastic comments on every post (the suspicious part of me thinks that's merely to boost their own interaction rate) and before you know it, you've got praise in droves and on tap. The stagnation can result all the same if you don't shrug off both with relative impunity. You need to make sure that most praise and criticism doesn't penetrate too deeply, and instead seek feedback from trustworthy and knowledgeable sources.

Has a comment on something you've created ever affected you for longer than it ought to have?

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Benoit Pigeon's picture

Back in the 80's I took a train to Paris in an attempt to have my portfolio reviewed by photographers. I wasn't successful, but I caught one on his way in to his studio. We never stepped in but he gave me a few minutes. He just trashed me, but the way he did it was a clear attempt to make me review my own work. So I took it the way it was intended and I have been making photography a full time occupation since 1992. Trash with class or be the trash.

Irene Rudnyk's picture

I have very strong opinions on critique because usually it's based on subjective likes and preferences. Very rarely do I hear actual good critique that comes from a positive place of trying to help someone improve. More often it's negative comments that make the commentator feel better about their own work.
Plus if i want critique, I'll ask someone that I really admire and trust, not some random tog on the internet.

Jim Cutler's picture

Bravo Irene. That's exactly the right thing to do. Only accept constructive criticism from the 2 or 3 people whom you admire and trust. There are just too many angry anonymous out there who only tear down. I try to keep in mind that those kids in school who ate paste now have a keyboard and broadband. By the way you have always done terrific work. Whether it's shooting in your apartment a few years ago or the little shed studio, you show that a great photographer isn't held back by their space. Cheers.

Ivan Lantsov's picture

shutter make rain go up in top photo?

Hans PBoom's picture

Discharge curve/fade-out of the flash

Duane Klipping's picture

Yeah um kind of like this post confirms what the author is saying.

Ivan Lantsov's picture

yah, is joke picture funny!

Joseph Ting's picture

It's snow, blowing snow at that. Note the brown grass.

Alex Yakimov's picture

Thank you, Robert. Vicious critique and superfluous praise are not productive. It is hard to find a good feedback. Do you think that the raise of social media and trolling just made society less sensitive for critiques?
PS the best way to avoid ads “waterboarding” on instagram is to use a desktop browser for your feed. Of course it is not as convenient as to use a smartphone.

Indy Thomas's picture

The thick skin is necessary because photography for so many is an FPS game.
There are a zillion new and aspiring photographers turning to SM to get feedback, praise, visibility whatever.

As SM is chock full of trolls it is just part of the territory that you are going to get a ton of destructive commentary.
Face it: Social media is free and the criticism you get is worth precisely what you paid for it.

The one true fact of the internet is the anonymity of the users. Knowing that, why does anyone want to get feedback from a random poster whose credentials are at the very least unknowable?

For me, I have had a few portfolio reviews. They were all valuable as the reviewers were professionals at the top of their craft and trade. The feedback stung but I knew it was informed.

I feel my work has improved as a consequence but the memory of the reviews keeps my firmly on the ground and immune to the praise of friends and family. The best motivator for me is to think I still need improvement.

Deleted Account's picture

There’s only opinion I’m bothered about, the one paying the invoice.
The rest, opinions, we all know that opinions are like arses, we all have one and they all stink.

Marcus Joyce's picture

Matti and peters podcast put it quite eloquently.

Hanging out with people better than you will make you better.

Now we are not talking about better as seasoned YouTubers and armchair trolls who never made a video.

I mean the same basic ability to deliver a show two to 3 times a week regularly.

Your practicing every time you setup you are investing time and if you are always trying to be better then you will.

Photography doesn't have the same requirements of video. So walking outside taking a snap spending hours saving it in post is still a rubbish picture.

J.a. Spieringhs's picture

Nice artikel. But I think you’re looking at it from the wrong side. It’s not the photographer that needs a thicker skin. But it’s the one giving the reaction that should have more respect for the person behind the image.

Larry Wynkoop's picture

I couldn't agree more! In fact, I posted a video about this topic back in June. What's interesting is that I only examined the aspect of the negative comments. It never occurred to me that positive comments could have a negative impact as well, but you're right. It can become really easy to accept all the praise and think "I've arrived!" Instead of continually pushing forward and improving.

I don't do this often (in fact I don't think I've ever done it here), but I am including a link to my video in case anyone wants to check it out. Please note: this video (and my channel in general) is aimed at amateurs and hobbyists like me, not pros. Thanks!

Lee Ramsden's picture

Same in all aspects of life, we are all different, you say to my mrs you can't do it, she goes sod it, i can't and want, where as i want to prove you wrong.
I have tried Crossfit and just don't fit in, i can't handle the happy clappy yay your amazing BS, where as i perform much better under military conditions and your best is never good enough and so work work work...

I remember years ago posting an image that i was super proud of and someone ripped it apart.. and you know what. it made me rethink and keep visiting the same image to try better... ok i did look at their work and it was superior to mine so i was happy to comply.
Its when someone tries to validate your work and theirs is horrendous.
usual case of talk the talk you have to walk it too if your gobbing off.

We are always learning at all levels, surround yourself with peers who you regard more experienced than yourself, be it business of technically and see what they think of your work

David Pavlich's picture

First, I shoot what I enjoy. Second, I shoot what I think will sell (prints). Some of my best sales are prints that many, especially the 'purists', pan for the most part and that's tone mapped stuff, some to extreme. But, it sells, so I acknowledge that this sort of stuff isn't for everyone, but for the buying public, it works pretty well.

If I had thin skin, this type of print may have never happened since selling wasn't something I did right away. That came later. I got a lot of 'you're just trying to hide a bad picture' or 'any self respecting photographer wouldn't consider these shots good', that sort of stuff.

I do agree that having a respected shooter look at your stuff to get an honest opinion is very important. Also, entering exhibitions is a good barometer. Although, it is up to judges that have particular likes, you're still putting your stuff among others of the same mindset. Heck, I see a lot of shots here that make my stuff look average, but, those shots make me think what I could do to make my stuff a little better.

A P's picture

Well said. Thanks for putting this out. It's ridiculous out there for beginners on either end of the spectrum

Vladimir Vcelar's picture

I'm beyond the puerile sense of superiority. Trolls and self appointed critics are to be considered as benchmarks of mediocrity. Like the old saying goes: those who can't... teach. As with all things in life.

Chris Warner-Carey's picture

The most helpful critiques I have received have been from the local community college photography department staff. They don't get paid very much to teach, but most of them do so out of love for the subject. They also work with mostly younger students (I'm in my 50's) and understand that at the beginning of a student's exploration of photography, an honest, measured critique, along with concrete suggestions are what will be most helpful. God knows, if the young students move on into the cutthroat world of fine arts photography, the critiques can be brutal and unhelpful.

Sue G's picture

FaceBook allows you to block attacks from individuals by blocking them. Fstoppers does not allow such nor even record who is attacking.
Fstoppers be more like Facebook.

Deleted Account's picture

My favorite shirt to wear out while making images: "Chasing the Light not Likes"

Here is how you grow thick skin:

Stop following the pack, and LEAD it

Improve your craft, for You

Drop social media and #GrowYourOwnPlatform

Ken McCurdy's picture

I do not seek out critiques but when they appear they are taken with a 'grain of salt' wether good or bad. I will seek out the author, of some, and review their work to see where the expert opinion is coming from.

Robert Molan's picture

The mindless trolling is grating as is the moronic likes. Both equally unhelpful to getting people to improve their craft. I.try and find examples of the trolls images to see what they can do. If they post at all it’s usually not much