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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Jeff Lohne's picture

But for every closed off photographer there is another who is willing to help others grow and learn and are willing to give back. I myself have learned from so many out there, between workshops, online tutorials etc. that I would feel bad about not giving back to others when I have learned from others myself. It keeps the community growing and going forward.

Great article... But unfortunately those attitudes will remain for a long time because some people cannot change...

Great article. I do not work in photography, so it is just a hobby for now. A lot of truth in this, and it is not only confined to this industry.

Dan Ostergren's picture

I've never experienced someone try to break my spirit as an artist until joining the fstoppers site and community. When someone you admire tells you that you aren't an artist, and intentionally tries to cut you down for no reason, it hurts bad. I'm not a photographer because I want attention. I do this because it is the one thing that I have discovered that I can do that actually makes me feel "normal". Something that makes me look forward to being alive tomorrow, and if I'm lucky 5 years from now. This nastiness in the community is disgusting. and I've had enough of it.

Anonymous's picture

I for one am happy to see you leaving. YOUR nastiness and threats made me leave and eventually come back.

Dan Ostergren's picture

Pardon me? What on earth did I do to you? I voted a comment of yours down and you tried starting a fight with me and started posting "CENSORED" in the comments of my images as a result. The extent of my communication with you went as far as me telling you to stop commenting on my photos and that I was going to report you if you didn't. You're projecting, and the way you've spoken to me on this site proves Kenny's point on this article exactly.

It shouldn't hurt bad at all. Your skill, and more importantly, your self-worth should never depend on someone else, and what they think. Learn to love yourself, try the best at whatever you do, and maintain healthy relationships with those that are positive and supportive, and you will always look forward to being alive tomorrow.

Dan Ostergren's picture

You're right, it shouldn't. But it did. That being said, I'm finding more understanding of myself through it, and it doesn't hurt the way it did before. I'm realizing that these people are only bullies, and that I am sensitive to them, and always have been. It's not an overnight change, but I'm working on it.

You recognize that it shouldn't, but you need to develop an attitude and habit that will see to that. Also, keep in mind though that you may be seeing a bully at times where none exist.

Rogier Bos's picture

Thanks - great article. Totally agree. My theory is that spending your life behind the camera and observing life always through a lens can make you very cynical.

Oddly enough, all the great photographers I have ever met or seen seem rather generous people. It leads me to believe that a generous attitude is a necessity for greatness. If not in photography, than at least as a human being.

It would depend on what you are observing with your camera, and ultimately your attitude and what you value. Everything I view through my cameras is beautiful, otherwise I wouldn't be taking pictures of what I view.

Criticism or negative comments have always been part of human nature and aren't specific to the photo community. I think people are generally more clued up about photography now and can spot quality or the lack of it. However perhaps they are unable to articulate their thoughts concisely - which may come across as blunt and negatives at times - but they shouldn't be dismissed. Then of course there is the separate troll issue

Real trolls are actually rare. The term troll is unfortunately used much more as an attempt to try and discredit whatever someone is saying by trying to make the discussion personal instead of keeping it topical.

David Adamson's picture

Having been a photographer for over thirty years, now retired, I have seen this too. It did not seem that way during the realm of film but with the takeover of digital and image precessing the attitudes have changed. Also many past want to be photographers are now putting themselves in the realm of "professional" photographers. I have used backups who simply fire away with there cameras with the attitude that they (the images) can be fixed later. Digital has taken out some of the challenge and therefore fun out of being a professional. On the flip side I enjoy digital and what I can do with it, embracing it completely. New photographers just need to realize that we can all learn from one another, not being secretive and antagonistic.

Martin Moore's picture

I guess I am lucky that I have not really experienced the negativity in the communities I've been in. I always try to help and inspire young photographers, that's what others did for me.

George Johnson's picture

Sure people are welcome to keep their knowledge to themselves, they worked hard for it and I understand they may not want someone else getting an "easy ride", especially if they haven't had one. However personally I have nothing to lose by sharing! I will happily share my knowledge with anyone who asks me. I can write page after page on a single image I've made, how it was shot and processed if anyone asks. I have nothing to hide and nothing to gain by hiding my knowledge.

I am completely self taught and I know how frustrating it can be sometimes. I share my knowledge because I know that while I can give you everything you need to know how to shoot an exact copy of one of my images, you will never do it as you will not have the same experience, equipment or conditions to recreate my exact image, yours will as unique to you as mine is to me. If I share my knowledge I will get th pleasure of seeing what you created from using it, reward in itself. I have helped a few people over the years from complete beginner status and they have gone on to be absolutely superb photographers, I shared a lot in their early days and they still come back to talk me now and share their latest experiences, which I now gain from them in return.

After nearly a decade of shooting as an hobbyist landscaper I know how hard it can be to have your creativity bashed from pillar to post, I've been pushed right to point of dumping my gear on eBay 'cos I've been so demoralised. I've had it done to me and I would hate to be the person who killed someone else's burgeoning creativity.

If you want to ask me anything, either online on in person, asks away! I'll talk for hours about photography, getting me to shut up sharing with you is going to be your biggest problem! ha ha!

Dani Riot's picture

I can see where you are coming from with your post, but its not just a photography thing, it is a business thing.

Do you think a new cola company will get some hints and tips from coca cola or pepsi?

Adrian Sommeling's picture

I think the reason why is because of photography, as an form of art is easy to start for everybody. Almost everybody has a mobile phone that can take pictures and post it on the different social media. A good photo moves you. It inspires you.The light, the composition, the expressions, the models etc. makes this pictures special and you can shoot this with just a simple mobile and some talent.

The problem is that there are to many photographers that are focussing on equipment and technique. They don't realise that this is only important for the quality of the picture, but not for the emotion it brings.

So they see a photo made by just somebody scoring better on every level compared to the technical high quality photos they make already for years but can not put the finger on it how this can be and there start the envy ;)

And of course... photography is done by so many people that there are some jealous people amongst them is higher compared to other forms of art. ;).

Michael Kormos's picture

I always took it at face value. It's like when you hire a plumber to fix a leak. The first thing he'll do is point out how the "previous guy" did a shabby job, should've put a P-trap here, and vented the pipe there. But you're onto something I think. Although I don't think it's specific to photographers. I think it applies to all creative types. I've worked as an art director at a number of high profile ad agencies up and down Madison Avenue, and I can tell you the creatives there have high-flying opinions very much like photographers (if not worse). And artists, painters, musicians? We all know what Kanye thinks of Taylor, right?

Hey you're holding that camera wrong! What lens are you using? That's too wide, it'll distort the people at the edges! You should be using a lower ISO! You don't know how to connect with your subjects! Stop micromanaging!

I think creative minds are just that, quick to judge, slow to change.

A great article. I've only been taking photographs for under 3 years. I'm constantly trying to learn and get better. At this point I know I'm better than some, worse than others. My genre is music photography, arguably one of the hardest (or so the nice photographers keep telling me). I've noticed that often on the forums the ones most unpleasant and critical of new photographers efforts are frequently the ones with the most 'oh dear' portfolio. I have a huge amount to learn (when do you ever stop) but I ALWAYS try and share experience and support 'newbies' efforts just as so many lovely photographers have and still do help me. Don't be 'that' person, you're only showing your own insecurities!

Sadly, the source of negativity is often fear and insecurity. Many people working in the field have a certain bitterness about the changes in the last 20 years and many hobbyists indulge in their armchair pontification. So much SEEMS to be secret sauce that some feel that can acquire over a weekend and thus discount the near obsessive work that some put into developing their skills. In addition criticism is often from those unschooled in art, design, art history or literature but have memorized all the spec sheets and relevant quotes from gear forums.

another view2's picture

Stop whining. Too many words. Man up. Do photography.

Jaime Johnson's picture

Thank you for a great article, Kenny. I am happy to have some faith in Fstoppers restored after a disheartening article written on here. More than a few of this writer's generalized, brash statements on art school photographers and why he only hires someone without any knowledge of photography was quite negative. He did the opposite of what you did here. Thanks for encouraging support of others! This is the article below, and I'll say, what a way to ruin a follower of the site! https://fstoppers.com/business/why-i-will-never-hire-art-school-graduate...

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I think you're just experiencing a mismatch, Kenny.

The web is not where anyone can go to gain mastery via a quick, contextless Q&A, show-and-tell critique.

And people offering free feedback on the open web have nothing better to do, duh -- if they were photographers, they'd be photographing, not web surfing (like I am right now).

Mismatch, that's all.
__________

Wanna learn for your own satisfaction?

Do.

Wanna learn for resale?

Apprentice yourself to a master.
__________

But neither of those include going to the wrong place and wasting everyone's time, as you bear witness to in your opening post, Kenny.

If you think camera folk argue, talk to car folk, coffee folk, cosmetics "product" folk, any groups handling competitive goods and services, and you'll witness territorial infighting and massive wastes of time in the "my dog's bigger than your dog" battles for momentary supposed supremacy.
__________

For me, especially with my face behind a camera, I'm isolated, never much a part of the subject scene.

Then I'm isolated when I'm reviewing and producing captured images.

So for me, photography is not much of a "community" thing.

I use the gear "community" to solve a gear problem; then I'm back on my own.

I'm not going to take someone's advice on my art and expression anyway, so who would I ask, and why?

For example, who would I ask what for, or teach what for with some of these photos?

They're just stories -- they either speak to you, or they don't::

Peter Blaise Photography Today's Photo on Facebook http://goo.gl/cQgH8
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Webmaster, FYI, I got THIS when trying to upload a photo via the image icon in the post:

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steven spaulding's picture

i see these exact same arguments on a few facebook groups im in.

first some people are far too sensitive and really only want to hear nice things, and there are those that really have a hate on for the world and only want to tear people down.

nobody learns from either of those, its ok to be honest but there is a way to say it. as well, instead of leaving oh you did this wrong and nothing more, we should be adding next time try this or keep an eye on that.

be supportive and it will come back to you in the end.

Don't like the Photography Community? As the owner of a gun forum I can tell you... hang out in the Firearms Community for about 10 minutes and the Photography Community will start to look like a love-in.

1500 sessions in 3 years? hmm. This might be a hint to where the problem lies. Impressive

Pro organizations are great for support, feedback, and learning from your peers. I'm a member of ASMP and PPA, and recommend them highly (depending on your specialty). I can also recommend APA, and even though I don't think they have regular meetings like the ones already mentioned, NPPA, Etc.. People you can interact with face to face are usually far more supportive than Lone Wolves hiding behind their keyboard.

I've been authoring my glamour photography blog and sharing what I do and how I do it for 8 years (with over 1,000 written updates) and appreciate the 500 to 1000 photographers who visit my blog daily. Speaking for myself, everyone in the photography community isn't as guarded or tries to keep secrets as some of you might think, leastwise things they've deluded themselves into believing are secrets. Some 411 for newer photographers: There are no secrets of the pros. (Or others.) None. Zero. Nada. Zilch. And that's in spite of what you read on the fronts of photo magazines who often claim to be revealing them. Everything you need to know is out there for you to discover. All you need to do is take the time to discover those not-so-secret secrets, learn them, and then practice them. Practice. Practice. Practice. Practice will do more for your photography than anything else. And if you're participating on FB pages or forums where many small-minded, thin-skinned, uber-critical, way-too-impressed with themselves but generally clueless photographers gather, perhaps you should try participating on some other pages where that's not the case because those latter sorts of pages and forums do exist.

ade adetayo's picture

Nice article,
Photography isn't unique with such bad behavior.
The reason many sports use referees, is to ensure this sort of negative approach doesn't ruin the game for everyone. One only has to watch the crude diving tactics in football (soccer) to see it at work.

While bad behavior is also present in other endeavors I think it is particularly bad in photography because there are simply too many photographers for available paid work. Other jobs have very strong organizations to protect the interests of established members (Not saying if this is right or wrong). New entrants aren't seen as such a threat to the industry as a whole.

Also, in very few other industries can one buy pro-level tools and proclaim oneself an expert after a few weeks work.
For instance it is much more difficult to get into Cinematography, Engineering, Theatre acting or Accounting even though the length of time and effort required to become competent is probably similar.

Ultimately, extremely negative and destructive comments are in the minority, and generally written by a small percentage of people. A very active, but still a small minority. It's an unfortunate fact of life, but negative opinions tend to sting more and travel further.

Fstoppers.com and others can certainly help, by officiating and ensuring it does not get out of hand on their sites. i.e. new entrants and experts alike are not bullied by a small but extremely vocal minority. Just like the referees in sports.

NB: I also read Mr Lau's comments on "Natural Light Photographers". Taken the wrong way, one could come to the conclusion Mr Lau thinks natural light photographers are ...... (fill in whatever stereotype you want).

Mr Lau, made fantastic points, shame it came across the wrong way. Keeping the same theme with a little bit of rewording may have helped, but then again, maybe it wouldn't. sigh!!!!

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