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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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.

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.

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.

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 Sherer'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.

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

michael buehrle's picture

i know that there are many many photos that are better than i am but i doubt they are better looking. that's gotta be a plus right ? i always say that i have a face for radio.

Kendra Paige's picture

I feel this article is a bit poignant, personally, because I feel it is spot on. I have dabbled in several different art forms, from writing, to costuming, to digital art, and I've stayed with photography. With that said, photography has been by far the loneliest medium. I have less than a handful of photographer friends that I speak with, and it's not for a lack of trying.

I have always been open about my techniques, perhaps because I am self-taught and have gained much of my knowledge from others, or from learning through mistakes. As most of my work is fashion, that is a particular genre that is very secretive. I found myself intimidated by many aspects of the industry that were completely unnecessary once I committed to the task at hand. I believe the least that I can do is give back to those that are interested.

I believe the primary opportunity for the photography community is the inability for most to separate 'technical' and 'stylistic.' Many critiques are just opinion pieces based on their personal taste, and not information that is critical to the techniques employed.

Andrej Ivanov's picture

I really enjoyed your article! And I agree that a lot of the "older" guard take the stance of "Those who can't do, teach, so we won't teach." But I find that more and more, there is a layer of pros that are taking up the stance and mindset that say "Okay, we were beginners at some point too, and we may as well give some sound advice, because not everyone can just look at a photo and know how it was created!". I am all for that as well! On the flipside of the coin, I see a lot of newcomers (at least where I am) that take up a haughty attitude as if they just found the holy grail. I'm guilty of having done it myself, and then someone gave me a VERY thorough and tough critique of my portfolio, and that cut me right down to size. That was the instant where I realized "No I'm a newbie, and I have a LOT to learn!" So that's definitely something I recommend to the new people, take the criticism - good and bad alike - and grow from it. I find that there is a SERIOUS problem - especially in the music photographer community - where there are way too many groups that simply serve as ego-boost mills, with comments such as "What a gorgeous image!" and the sorts, not offering anything of substance. So I think everyone who "Critiques" an image, should at least try and point out one strength and one weakness to the image. Or at least say WHAT specifically makes it a good and strong image.. There is a lot of things that need to adapt, and social media doesn't REALLY always help..

Okay, that was my two-cents, sorry if that was long! I definitely agree with the points you raise, and I'm glad you included both sides of that coin :) If we work together, we grow together. There really isn't a shame in teaching!

interesting to read this. i re a very amateur with no real intention on going pro.i live in melbourne australia and i have t one honest i find it completely different here. I have read various forums in the US where a person will ask a question and will get absolutely hammered if that questions deemed to be not worthy but here in Australia i have seen on various FB forums get massive amount of advise and once in a while some one will say some thing nasty and they will get hammered. way i look at it i have a lot to learn and i learn from other photographers so now that my knowledge is getting up there i feel i must help others starting out.

Eric Flores's picture

I had to make an account to comment on this. A year ago, I was doing some headshots for someone. I Just did portrait photography for fun and to practice framing for my videos that consists with actors. I will admit that they could have been better but at the time I was just learning that there is a difference in locations, the presentation of the talent. but he was happy with my work and posted it on reddit. Everyone just torn it up and just told him to get his money back and to tell me to quit. He was a good friend by defending me but I did listen to some of the advice. through them I learned a little bit but everyone was in competition to deliver better results. in they end, they just fight among each other.

I was very bummed out, I asked my mentor for some advice and was told that not everyone will like your work. a few days later, the client told me that he sent those headshots in to someone and said "These are some of the greatest headshots I had seen!" which made me feel a bit more confident to keep moving forward and someday I would reach to a high standard for myself.

I will add that in the cosplay photography community, they are very friendly and generally share information. its like a whole different world. talk about gear and experiences. but the edits seem to remain a secret on how they do it, but they do post "before and after" photos. :)

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

Interesting point of view.
I haven't see much negativity in regards to creative process or final picture. I see either very positive opinions or non.

I was honored to be part of the local group who was meeting to practice, learn from each other, and to help beginners to learn to understand light. The meetings were hosted by local commercial photographer. Very talented and great person who unfortunately passed away too soon. In my experience photographers help each other.

On other hand I have seen a lot of bad advises out in internet. I have found a lot of misleading articles. A lot of blog writers that think they know so much, that they can teach others. Often the case is however, that they found the "recipe" that works for them but they don't really know why does it work. It is not bad thing that they want to share with others what they have learned. The problem is that they speak about technical aspects of photography that are just incorrect or incomplete. Not everyone need to know how CMOS works or if and what is the difference between 12 and 14-bit, what SNR is or even understand in depth color management, to create great images. But if one decides to write about it, one should have knowledge to back it up.

In my opinion, if one publishes the word, publicly, one assumes responsibility of that word to be correct and accurate. Also if one decides to publish something, one should be ready to receive and deal with the critique. Either positive or negative.

Justin Haugen's picture

Learning to accept critique is such a bitter pill to swallow. I've been through so many peer and teacher critiques in college and I realized very quickly I wasn't worth a shit compared to my peers and industry leaders.

I think people aren't very self-aware when it comes to their own work and they put the blinders on when it comes to slotting their work as it measures up against the great work that others are doing. It is important to know where your work is lacking, how it needs to improve, and what it takes to get your work where you'd like to see it. Social media is a breeding ground for this type of mindset and it's really apparent when you see people unprepared for the harsh critiques waiting for them.

Jason Ranalli's picture

Very well said. I also think there are a lot of actual pros out there who are not very self-aware producing what I would consider mediocre work that somehow still seem to make a living off photography - not that they need to be critiqued and I'm more than happy for them, however, it tells me that there is still room for those wanting to produce high quality content in the field.

Justin Haugen's picture

VERY good point. I think on social media people tend to unnecessarily inject their critique into discussions where it wasn't invited. Really though, unless it's specifically asked for, the middling market/class of photographer deserves to be exactly where it belongs if there isn't a self-awareness of their own talent and inefficiencies.

We should all know whose coattails we're tugging on. Work hard until your idols become your rivals :D

ALEXANDER TARDIF's picture

Some good points, Kenny. The part that I think often sets off a rant is the click bait titles of the articles. I mean, just how many "ultimate" or "epic" guides or methods or whatever can one read. The negative reaction is then often exacerbated by the author who comes across way too opinionated or authoritative or has some definitive statement...it' all downhill from there regardless of the rest of the content.

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