I never went to college or any other secondary school for photography. I have been blessed to fall into this hobby turned career in an era when photographic knowledge is readily available online, and a vast amount of it is 100% free. However when it came time to make my work public on the web, the outcome wasn't always pleasant. You see, constructive criticism is a great tool for learning and growing, but the keyword is constructive.
When I started getting into off camera lighting and trying to advance my skills I would post my work to my Flickr, and then subsequently to groups within Flickr. It was great, people would give me virtual high fives, and of course awards that sparkled and spun… Occasionally someone would come along and offer some constructive criticism. It would sting a little, but the insights they gave me helped me to continue to grow as a photographer. Then one day someone came along and ripped apart one of my photos, and then proceeded to go through my feed of photos and rip apart many older shots too. I don't mean he ripped them apart and told me what was wrong and how they could be fixed, but he just proceeded to trash my work. It hurt. Here I had felt I had made so much progress and this individual took a proverbial dump on everything I had. I was left wondering if I should just give up, but even more, I was left wondering why this person was so mean to me? I know, I know, enough with the sob story already, but I promise this is going somewhere.
I am active in a couple different groups on Facebook and various other sites and forums. I truly enjoy sharing knowledge I have gained with others, because I wouldn't be where I am at without the help of others. All too often though I come across a photographer that could use some help, but when I read through the comments I see people making rude and blunt remarks about their work. What good does making a sarcastic remark about someone's work do for them? If you spent time and energy on something, and you were proud enough to put it on the web for critique, how would you feel if someone came along and just made fun of it? If you claim it wouldn't bother you, I would like to meet you in real life, because I am certain you are a robot. Nobody likes being told their work isn't good, but if you are going to tell someone their work is flawed, explain why, and how it could be corrected next time.
"If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." I am pretty sure we all heard this at some point in our lives. They are some very simple words to live by, and they will honestly help you in the long run. Think about it like this: you come across a photographer's work and it could use some fixing up to be a more presentable image. You could tell this person it sucks and move on with your day feeling like you really schooled this wannabe, or better yet you could point out something you like, and then point out what you think could be improved and how to do it. Aside from good karma and the good feeling of helping someone, you have also made an impression on someone. Do you think the great photographers in history started out shooting the covers of major magazines? No way; they had guidance, they rose to where they are now, and I am willing to bet they never forgot the people who helped and mentored them along the way. You see, being helpful to your fellow photographer doesn't just benefit them, in the long run it can benefit you as well.
In this internet era where so many of us are learning at home on our own, we are not getting the networking opportunities many of those who went to college for this got. Networking is key in this industry, because knowing people can go a long way. A lot of my close friends are photographers I have met via the internet. My girlfriend, who I have been with for three years now, started out as a Flickr contact. I know that there are some photographers who have given me some wonderful advice in my life who I have never forgotten. As I grew as a photographer and booked more work there were times when I couldn't handle it all, and guess who the first people I recommended were? However guess who I would never recommend for a job? The guy who ripped out my still beating photographic heart and spit on it. He might be a great photographer, but on a personal level I do not like him, I most likely never will, and because of that I will probably never extend a hand to help him or send work his way.
So in conclusion sticks and stones may break my bones but words will- SHUT UP. Words can hurt, we have all been on the receiving end of criticism and hated it. So be nice to your fellow photographers, professional or hobbyist, you never know how their career will turn, and you never know how it could affect you...
...and on that note I leave you with this...