Does Posting Work Online Make Us Better Photographers?

Does Posting Work Online Make Us Better Photographers?

Being a photographer in the digital age is a double-edged sword. On one hand, we have an endless resource of articles, videos, and experts right at our fingertips. It’s truly a golden age for education, and a motivated person can go from an absolute novice to an expert almost completely on their own. But at the same time, we are more exposed than ever before, and as photographers, posting our work online means opening ourselves up to a sea of criticism —  both good and bad.

I have found that the positives of posting my work have far outweighed the negatives. For those of us who are still apprehensive about posting our work online, here are a few reasons why I think you should consider putting yourself out there.

The first image posted to my Instagram account. Nothing to write home about for sure!

Your Fans Far Outweigh the Trolls

The reality is that most people play nice, even online. I am a member of many photography groups and forums, and post work on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube regularly. At first, it was a huge challenge to share my work, but I quickly realized that the majority of feedback I was receiving was positive, and thankfully so, because it encouraged me to post more. It’s also important to keep in mind that it's natural to amplify one negative comment and diminish one hundred positive ones, so this is something to be aware of as you post. This is not an excuse to post every photo you took on vacation, for instance, but it should help encourage you to share photos that you are proud of, and that represents you at your best, at that moment.

You Learn Much More from Your Failures Than Your Wins

If you study the lives of successful people in any field, it becomes clear that almost every person who has gone on to accomplish great things in life has first failed miserably, usually more than once. I have found that I learn much more and much faster from my mistakes and failures than from my successes. And trust me, I've failed a lot, and I'm sure that I will do so again at some point.

The fear of failure and judgment from others has to be one of the biggest obstacles for us as photographers. Personally, my work has been subjected to multiple critiques, and sometimes the harshest critic has taught me the most and helped to propel me to the next level of achievement, even if they intended to tear me down. Although it’s much preferred to have a critic who is constructive and has your best interests in mind, sometimes, it’s the mean, petty critic that teaches you the most. When this happens to me, I use it to motivate me instead of letting it discourage me and derail my progress. Being afraid of failure and judgment only serves to stifle progress. It keeps us from making decisions, from pursuing our dreams, and from taking on new challenges. It keeps us in our comfort zone, which is the last place we want to be if we desire to grow as artists, or in life in general.

With the anonymity of the internet and the proliferation of trolls, I understand how tough this can be, and I empathize with anyone who has a genuine fear of putting themselves out there. One way to make failure, rejection, and just plain meanness easier to deal with is by having a group of cheerleaders in your corner to encourage you when you feel down. In my photography journey, mentorship has been extremely important in helping me to stay focused and move past my failures, but that's a topic for another article.

Posting Can Change Your Perspective

I know this sounds crazy, but I can’t be the only photographer who has experienced this phenomenon. You spend hours pouring over an image, revising and editing it multiple times, and you finally feel ready to post the results. Exactly 10 seconds after you post it, you look at it online and realize there is something about the photo you are not happy with. Now, I'm not sure why this happens, although I have some theories. For one thing, the excitement associated with capturing a great photo sometimes leads to missing something in the editing process, since we can get preoccupied with seeing the final result. Also, once it’s “out there” in the virtual world, our sense of the work seems to heighten, perhaps in part because we are seeing it in the context of a social platform like Instagram or Facebook. Whatever the reason, having a fresh perspective on our work is extremely beneficial to our growth as both artists and technicians. And, although this might seem like a reason not to post, I look at the glass being half full instead of half empty here.

A recent portrait posted to my Instagram account.

Socials Can Provide a Virtual Timeline of Your Growth

One of the best advantages of posting, especially on a site like Instagram, is that you have an organized timeline, complete with thumbnails, at your fingertips. As you scroll through your past posts, it's easy to see how your work has changed and that the time and energy you are putting into your craft is paying off. This is a powerful and balanced way to reflect on past work since it’s difficult to see our progress without taking time to reflect on where we were a month or a year ago. Moving back and seeing the forest instead of just the trees provides an entirely different perspective, giving context to our work over a period of time. Seeing your work get better over time is an awesome motivational tool that spurs continued growth.

You’ve Got Nothing to Lose

One of the strongest arguments for posting your work is the simplest. You’ve got nothing to lose. Some brilliant artists spend a lifetime hiding their work because they are afraid of what people will think or how they will be judged by society. Emily Dickinson only published a handful of her poems while she was alive. Most of her friends and family had no idea that she was a prolific writer until after her death, when her relatives discovered her manuscripts and realized that she was one of the most brilliant poets of her time. I also think of Vivian Maier, who amassed over 100,000 negatives throughout her life and hid them in a storage locker. 

Art, by its very nature, is meant to be shared, enjoyed, and explored by others. Some of the greatest art is also the most controversial, so negative criticism can be a sign that you are doing something right. History has also taught us that many of the greatest artists were rejected at first because their work was so revolutionary. I think of Mozart, who was supposedly told by the Emperor that his opera had "too many notes." When we think along with these terms, it's an excellent reminder that all of us have something unique and beautiful to offer, because we are all truly one of a kind. 

It's About the Journey, Not the Destination

The irony of photography and all artistic pursuits, for that matter, is that there is no destination. I will never wake up, take a deep breath, stretch out my arms, and say: "I did it! I have arrived as a photographer!" This mentality makes for lousy artists because they get to a point in the journey and decide to stop. Once you stop the journey, you also stop the growth, and in my mind, this is to be feared much more than some negative criticism or mistakes along the way. So, don't fear to share, and certainly don't fear failing. There are many bigger things to fear in life, like living with regret for never trying at all. 

Pete Coco's picture

Pete Coco is a portrait photographer and musician based in New York. When not performing as a jazz bassist, Pete can be found in his studio working with a wide range of clients, although is passion is creating unique portraits of other musicians and artists.

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You remind me of something I often reflect upon on when presented with the culture online (including Fstoppers).

Artists are emotionally sensitive people; indeed, there are examples of authors who have stopped writing or committed suicide after receiving criticism.

But people online are quite happy to go out of their way to wound other people - I have to remind myself it's a minority, and it takes an effort not to respond by crushing them (after all, we are all fighting our own battles).

That portrait is lovely, Pete. Thanks for posting this article.

Thanks, William. It's very sad how vitriolic and mean some people can be when talking to total strangers on the internet. I'll never understand it. And you're right, it's best to ignore them and just go about working on your own growth as an artist and individual. Glad you like the portrait!

I agree that posting your works and getting some feedback is important: it helps you to see some things from different perspective and next time you shoot you'll be thinking about either trying something new or avoiding mistakes you've been told about, etc. which is great. Also it's a good way to demonstrate your potantial clients what you are good at, even a simple before/after of a picture colorized via some Photoglory can bring you the client who needs exactly that.
And I loved your point about no real destination in photography! So true, yet sometimes people forget about that and it unfortunately shows.

Thanks for this, Jenny! Great point about letting potential clients see your work. I've actually booked a lot of clients based on my Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn posts.

Great article and well said, as someone who has just gone live with my first website, one of my first thoughts was "why didn't I do this sooner" But I answered myself with "you weren't really ready" which was true, thank you for highlighting this challenge that we all have to face at some point in our journey.

Thanks, Michael! Glad you are making moves on your own journey!

The very first thing you need if you're going to post images for others to see/critique is a thick skin. Thin skin will do nothing but hinder your work. You cannot please everyone, so there's no reason to try. You do your best work, critics be damned.

If your work is for specific clients, friend, family, and your target audience is pleased, then you've done well. I haven't been serious about this stuff as long as a lot of you, but I learned early on that you first please yourself, then your targeted audience. After that, it's all gravy.

If you let the critics under your skin, you'll eventually quit. That's not a good outcome.

So true, David. People who care too much about what others think atrophy themselves in whatever task they want to accomplish. No matter what you do in life, there will always be someone ready to criticize, mock, and shame you. Critic be damned for sure!

Good article Mr. Pete and I hope photographers would open up to post what they like and not worry about the harsh comments that few post.

Thanks, Ivan. From my own experience, the harsh comments hurt at first, but then when I think about the random person who took time out of their day to say something offensive to a total stranger, I realize that they are not worth my energy and move on.