Why You Should Never Let Internet Trolls Define the Quality of Your Photography

Why You Should Never Let Internet Trolls Define the Quality of Your Photography

One of the most toxic poisons to continued inspiration is the sudden belief that your own work is hated by your audience. Online criticism can be a harsh weight on motivation that all photographers must face at one point or another and is something that should almost always be completely ignored.

Online Criticism Lacks Credibility

If for no other reason, you should ignore the negative comments of trolls because they are usually devoid of even the most subtle hint of credibility. If someone you happened to walk by on the street randomly turned to you and told you that you have cancer, would you listen to their advice? About topics such as medicine, physics, or any manner of other careers the automatic presumption is that credibility is a prerequisite to taking someone seriously. With photography, however, we often accept the advice of random viewers as gospel. Never let the uneducated opinion of an Internet cretin chip away at your respect for your own work.

Online Criticism Hides Motivation

Whenever a comment is made, the commenter inherently has a reason why they made that comment. As the receiver of the comment we assume that it is genuine criticism, however most of the time this is likely not the case. There are an endless array of reasons to make a negative comment that has nothing to do with the quality of a photographer's work. The commenter could merely be angry and be looking for an outlet or they could be jealous to try to tear you down. Regardless of the commenter's motivation, the comments themselves are often similar making it very difficult to evaluate whether the comment was genuine criticism or not. 

Online Criticism Is Blind to Your Goals

A troll never really has any idea what your own personal goals for your work or each individual photograph is. The troll is only able to see what they expect your photography to be. This creates a situation that almost ensures that the point of view of the troll will be vastly different to what could be considered meaningful feedback on your work.

Conclusion

When looking for genuine feedback on the quality of your work, comment sections on forums or social media are one of the worst places to look. Always make a point to ignore feedback given anonymously as it never really is a reflection of the work being commented on. Instead, look to trusted and credible sources that you can approach who you know will offer genuine critique with the goal of aiding you in your journey as a photographer.

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12 Comments

Evan Kane's picture

Good read Ryan :)

"Online Criticism Lacks Credibility"

Where criticism comes from has no relevance. The only thing that matters is whether the criticism is valid.

You said "as the receiver of the comment we assume that it is genuine criticism, however most of the time this is likely not the case" and then further down in the paragraph you say it is "very difficult to evaluate whether the comment was genuine criticism or not."

You are contradicting yourself.

"When looking for genuine feedback on the quality of your work, comment sections on forums or social media are one of the worst places to look."

It can be, except in the case of specialized forums where the likelihood of people knowing what they are talking about is very high. This site qualifies as such a forum. Ultimately though, it boils down to what I first said, it doesn't matter where the criticism comes from, only that it is valid.

****

As for the term troll, which you used four times, the widespread, lazy and incorrect use of the term troll is probably the worst thing about the Internet. In most cases it is used by cynics, people that are overly sensitive and/or do not have any tolerance for dissenting views.

"Where criticism comes from has no relevance. The only thing that matters is whether the criticism is valid."

This. I 100% agree that there are a lot of dumb opinions on the Internet and that there will always be people who are critical without having any sense of what they're talking about. But I also disagree with the tidal wave of "IGNORE TEH h8eRz" that's all over social media. There are so many people whose entire online presence is dedicated to posting memes about decrying all of their critics, when: 1) They're not actually creating any of their own content that can be criticized (or their actual content is terrible) and 2) Their critics are largely a product of their own imagination, and the noble stand against their army of detractors is simply an attempt to feign self importance.

In my opinion, which is completely my own and can be freely disregarded by anyone who has their own opinion, the best approach is this:

Be your own worst/best critic. If you succeed in doing this, you'll be able to look at the criticism of others objectively. If the criticism is delivered full of nonsensical rhetoric and personal attacks, there's a high chance that it's not worth paying attention to. But if you don't take it personally there's also a chance that you can extract 1% of relevant information, which could lead to improvement in the future. The key is that if you've already ripped apart your work yourself, all other criticism becomes secondary and the impact isn't as substantial. Being your own worst critic requires a level of honesty within yourself that many people aren't comfortable with, but I feel it's the only way to be truly great.

There's also a flip side to this whole "ignore all criticism" approach: if you're going to do that you need to ignore all the compliments too. It's only fair. Otherwise you're being a bit hypocritical when you say that this idiot over here doesn't know what he or she is talking about but this other one does, on the sole basis that they praise you. An idiot is an idiot so their opinion shouldn't count either way.

Jim Hofman's picture

I had a troll comment on one of my street photos that it was "boring" and "lacked any separation from the background". It started a flame war with some other members of the well-traveled group and I ended up deleting the post. Most street photos are shot at a medium f-stop to increase the odds of hitting focus. I started thinking about the harsh comment and decided to investigate what it would take to shoot wide open using an ultra-fast lens to create separation on the street. I bought the Mitakon 35mm f0.95 lens and taped the aperture ring to wide open while I traveled to Hong Kong and China for 2 weeks. It was a difficult challenge but yielded some cool photos - thanks to the troll.

If you're getting paid, the only critic who matters is your client. If you're not getting paid, the only critics who matter are yourself and those who's opinion you care about. :-/

Gabrielle Colton's picture

Great article, I struggle with this on occasion and have to snap myself out of it.

Jason Lanier (youtube video) gave some very good comments for these wannabes (trolls).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6yPjJGDm1A&t=48s

I understand his point but disagree. The most effective counter to a troll is to ignore them. They HATE that.

agreed, If no one responded to trolls, trolls would not exist!

Joe Black's picture

Spending time in responding to trolls shortens your life

Did we meet in '98? ;-)

Read about the withering criticisms JMW Turner received for his later paintings. Even Victoria thought he was mad! Look at the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites who succeeded him and tell me who looks more dated now. My point being that Turner's paintings after his Neo-Classical stage are now considered brilliant, but all the major critics at the time despised them...