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Why Photographers Behave Badly Online (And How To Make Sure You Don’t)

I’m still debating whether I want to bring this up.  But it’s time. 

Have you ever hesitated to share an image on a forum because you were afraid someone would turn on the nasty hose and drench you with negativity?  Have you ever obsessively written and re-written a forum or blog post because of what people might say if you misspoke?  Have you ever had a lump of fear rise in your throat when you introduced your work to a wider audience or otherwise exposed yourself to anonymous attacks?

You’re not alone.

Jodi over at MCP Actions recently posted new rules of conduct for her facebook and blog comments.  This was triggered by waves of negativity, arrogance, and destructive criticism that made new photographers in her community feel “hurt, frustrated, and scared.”  (Good move, Jodi!)  Her new rules emphasize respect, empathy, and awareness of others’ views.  I’m a fan.

Her brave stance also nudged me to ask:  Why were the new rules necessary in the first place?

Why do we, as an industry, “eat our young”?  

Why do people instinctively look at others a few rungs below them on the ladder and want to knock them down further?

What’s with the unproductive nastiness that scums up what could have been a useful and constructive critique of someone’s work?

I see at least five basic reasons for the rising tide of ‘mean.’  And I believe the potential for it hides inside all of us.  Perhaps it’s time we parade a few things into the light so we can find better ways to respond.  

(Note:  Not every one of these applies to every ‘mean’ incident; this is simply an exploration of why one human being might behave badly toward another human being.)


Reason #1:  We sacrifice a lot to be a photographer. 

Zach Arias said “Photography will take everything from you if you let it.”  He’s right.  We get up early and stay up late.  We blow our exciting birthday money on (yawn) a flash stand.  We sacrifice time with spouses, children, friends.  We abandon other hobbies.  We plunder our bank accounts.  We exhaust ourselves.

And we’re threatened and angered by anyone who appears to be giving less and getting more than we are.

When we see people who appear to be less talented, less committed, or less invested – particularly when they seem to be doing well – it’s hard to handle.  We feel defensive.  WE had to give up so much to get to where we are – who the heck is THIS clown??  And they’re making more money than me?  Ridiculous.  An outrage.

It’s a toxic cocktail of cognitive dissonance and sour grapes.  If someone in your neighborhood bought the same house you have for 25% of the price, you’d feel sick to your stomach – you don’t want to think that you wasted all that money.  It’s physically uncomfortable.  So you look for reasons why their house might actually suck.  It’s on a worse piece of land, the materials used were shoddy, the contractor was just copying your design.  There must be SOME reason why it’s okay that you spent all that money.  And you’ll find it, even if you have to invent it.

Little wonder why people attack others online when they’ve entered this mental place.  The minute their hands hit the keyboard, they’re no longer speaking like the decent person they probably are.  They’re writing from a place of fear and anger, a fight-or-flight reaction to survive and defend their holdings.

Reason, consideration, and kindness flee.

Reason #2:  Criticism is a bonding tool.

Oh, the juicy, guilty pleasure. To sit in a group and dump on someone, to point out all the reasons they stink, and re-validate why you are better than they are.  When you’re feeling small, it’s the fastest way to gain the illusion of greatness and make some new ‘friends.’

Richard S. Gallagher wrote: “There are two essential ingredients to a clique:  a sense of who you are, and a sense of who you are not.  This is why there is often a strong incentive to gossip about people who aren’t like “us,” and why this kind of criticism often bonds people closer together.”

When we feel threatened by the “state of the industry” or by “all those cheap photographers,” it feels safe to turn to a forum for validation that our sacrifices are worth it.  That WE are the REAL photographers.  We are not like THEM, those un-talented dolts who don’t know what they are doing.  And WE are going to verbally shut them down so that they can’t threaten us anymore.

Then we lock arms like some sick game of Red Rover to keep anyone else from joining our team.

Reason #3:  We feel validated when we finally know enough to be able to critique someone else.

We remember too sharply the days when we didn’t know what f/2.8 meant.  It’s crystal clear in our minds what it was like to ask questions and get dumped on by others.  Well guess what, we’ve now been around the block a few times and we’re not the slowest kid in the class anymore.  We get it.  And here’s our chance to show it!

We want to appear as smart as we now feel, so instead of caring about the recipient’s feelings, we write coldly, clinically, and sarcastically.

Reason #4:  Mean = Lazy.

Paul Saffo said “There are two ways to get famous in cyberspace: Say something clever and memorable, or say something outrageous. And unfortunately, it’s a lot easier to be outrageous than clever and memorable.”

It’s easy to be sarcastic and hard to be supportive.  It’s faster to be angry and harder to be helpful.  Building is a heckuva lot harder than destroying, so the quickest way to get our validation fix is to selectively shoot someone down.  It’s the lazy man’s choice.  And we’re all lazy at some times in our lives, especially when we’re hurting.

Reason #5:  People are more comfortable inflicting pain when they don’t see the consequences of their actions.

A variety of stomach-churning studies suggest that people are more at ease inflicting pain on other people as their physical distance from them increases.  When they’re up close and personal, compliance with study procedures drops – no one wants to confront the results of painful actions up close.

Although these studies weren’t examining emotional pain, I would bet the principle translates.  If you had to see the flushed faces, the tears, the dropped jaws, the wounded expressions, and the wilting “I really was trying my best” sentiments, people would be significantly kinder.

Partly because we don’t like feeling like jerks, but partly because we’d see that the recipients of our words aren’t so different from us.  It’s a mom who is struggling to learn a new skill with four hands tugging at her leg all the time.  It’s a burned out graphic designer who just took on a second job and is still trying to reignite his passion.  It’s a human – a real person – who is probably a lot like someone you already know and care for.  Someone of value, someone who wants to go home and fall into the arms of someone they love, just like you do.

We all say we know what the solution is.

If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.  Etc etc.  But I think we can expand that a little.  Judging from where we are, kindergarten rules appear to be forgotten when faced with the hurricane winds of adult insecurity.  Here are some additional alternatives to avoid acting on the bitter emotions described above:

Practice self-care.  When you’re frustrated and threatened, recognize it and step back.  Go look at your best work.  Re-read happy emails from past clients.  Re-affirm why you became a photographer.  (It wasn’t to feel like this.)  Seek validation from the people who love you, and then go create more beautiful work.  It will do much more for you than an outburst.

Understand that success is not a fixed commodity.  There is always more.  If someone else grabs some, it doesn’t lessen the amount that remains.

Commit to always using your energy to support.

If you want to validate how much you know, start teaching.  Add value to other lives.

Above all, never say anything to another photographer that you wouldn’t say to your grandmother (or insert other beloved elderly relative here).  Sometimes it doesn’t matter what is “true” – “truth” can be reframed and told in a kinder way.  Take the time to look for it.

And the biggest secret I can share:  Selflessness always fills the hole inside you faster than selfishness will.  It will seem counter-intuitive, but when you’re hurting, try it anyway.

Your thoughts?

UPDATE:  For thoughts on giving constructive feedback (the non-nasty kind), check out this post.

For a post about receiving critique, click here.

Libby - Needed this more than you know today. Thank you!

Liz Garland - I just read a blog last night that was a photographer… a very successful one, going on and on about the “newbies” to the industry that are just giving it all away for free and devaluing the photography profession and hurting the real pros etc. etc. etc.
Now, I did agree with a lot of the points she made… but boy did she sound angry as all get out! I mean, bitter and angry!
She did make a good point about how it seems these days that unless you are giving raving reviews of everyones work, saying how wonderful it is… even if it so happens the work they are producing isnt all that great… that you are seen as a horrible bad guy, that everyone just wants pats on the back instead of constructive critique of their work, and CC can be done without being mean and hurtful and hateful, it CAN be done in a nice way and when it is, photographers should welcome it and learn from it… but if it is intentionally done to be mean and hateful, well, that is uncalled for and folks should be ashamed to treat others in that manner.

Allison - I love this. In the heat of the moment, when you see someone else using the same location you used, when you get the flier in your mailbox for another local photographer offering the same service for pennies on the dollar.. that’s when the side of your lip curls and it’s hard to remember they’re just trying to do the same thing as you – make a living doing what you love. I love the line about success – because I have felt that panicked feeling before, where you see everyone around you succeeding and you’re afraid there won’t be enough success for you, when you’re ready to receive it. Been there. Thank you, Jenika, once again for hitting the nail on the head.
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Jeanine - This was the most beautiful read. I’ve shared it in numerous places. I hope you don’t mind. SO applicable to situations beyond photography as well. THANK YOU!

Jenika - :-) Happy to hear it, my pleasure!

Jenika - Agreed. And sometimes people ARE being positive and constructive and people get defensive anyway! We all only want to hear good things about our work, and I think even when criticism IS nasty we’d do well to search for grains of truth in it. But I agree, you can do it in a nice way, and that’s what I think we as an industry can work on.

I’m actually going to write a follow-up post to this one about how to choose words that build, even when you have to deliver a critique. Hopefully it’ll add something positive to this discussion.

Jenika - I had a moment like that THIS MORNING when a new photographer in my acquaintance invited me to ‘like’ her facebook page. But you know what? Rock on to her, it doesn’t change a thing about what I’m doing. These ‘upset’ moments pass more and more quickly when you embrace the idea that there is enough for all….

Jenika - Thanks for the kind words, Jeanine.

Heather - Ha, I love how you balanced this post with pictures of cute puppies!

Soly - I’m new to the photography business and still learning my way through. It discourages me to post any picture for critique because I have seen some really nasty remarks on other photographer’s works and its a shame because as Jenika said, “there’s enough to go around”.

Jenika - Hehe, glad you caught it. It’s a tough subject. And puppies make everything better!

Ewa Chang - Believe it or not, I was actually quite offended by this post. I know it was meant to generate positivity, but for me, it missed the mark by throwing accusations or suggesting that established photographers who voice their disdain about the state of this industry are somehow jealous. I am not jealous of someone working for third world wages (at least in the third world those $2-3 per hour go a long way!) I also don’t think that someone who is busy is successful. Technically I’m still a baby (I’ve only been in this industry for 4 years), yet even in these short few years I’ve seeing things deteriorate to the point where when I meet someone new and tell them I’m a photographer they’ll reply “Oh, my friend is, too! So, you think you’ll ever go back to work?”

Rayleigh Leavitt - This is a great post. I’ve experienced this hurtfulness a number of times and it’s made me want to avoid other photographers and just do my own thing at my own pace without any help from other photographers because with the help you seek, often comes hurt. But there are a handful of photographers that have blessed me so much by reaching out to others and teaching and for those people, I’m so grateful.

Suzanne - Great Post! Thank you for taking the time to write it. I often come across comments that cause me to just shake my head.

terri - Did you write something?….All I could see were beautiful photos of cute puppies! :)

susan - fantastic read and you are right about success not being a fixed commodity! Good way to think of it.

Dot McQueen - What a brilliant post! Well done.

Cyber-space gives people false courage and they then feel they can deliver any comment without recourse. The recourse is, of course, that someone just like them is hurt. Basically these people are called bullies.

Tanja - Wise words! :)
Too often we are comparing ourselves to others… It makes life so much easier just to do your own thing. :)

Pam - What a beautiful post, I love it! I think our world needs a lot more civility and kindness, just like you say. I’ve been on the receiving end of some negative stuff and I actually really struggled to get past it. Selflessness, that’s the way to go! Thanks so much for your inspiring words.
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Jaime Alison - Wow…Amazingly wonderful. Over the past few months, I have embarked on this new fun and exciting journey of photography – and may I say, I am happiest when a camera is up to my face. :) Since I have begun this path, I have tried to find different people along the way, to lead me in the way of awesomeness – and a few weeks ago, I found your “letters to me” (that’s what I call your blog). The blog that you write really hits me every week – that is not an exaggeration. There is always some facet of your words that leaves an impression on me. As you are well aware, there are many things that a person can read on a daily basis/whether online or book, concerning photography (from lighting to posing to business practices) and personally a collection of them have not the dynamics to equal 2.6% of what your writings entail. Thank you so much for spreading your insight through this piece of the internet. I have shared this post on my Facebook for the mere fact that I will strive to remember that CC is not to hurt me, as well as help others when I too, one day, come to a place of example. You’re the bomb diggity…yeah I said it. :)

Andy Mills - Unfortunately I’ve seen this “nasty” behaviour a fair bit on a couple of photography related web sites, especially one of them since it has become more popular.

On the latter, it seems there is this “clique” of so-called professionals who seem to think they know it all. They will often come out with strong, even arrogant, opinions one why this or that is correct without considering that there are other considerations at play.

In one case, a gallery of images by one particular photographer was showcased, but because the theme was not widely liked (kind of Japanese/Manga/Cosplay inspired), the absolute hate that poured out was horrendous. If I were the artist, I would have been devastated.

Instead of saying something like “This is not to my taste and as a result, I don’t like it” (or not saying anything), people were literally saying “This is b***s**t!” What is the point in that? They’d not do it in person…

I also came under flack for “having a go” at them for this behaviour and not putting in the effort to come out with a fair and reasoned post as to why they didn’t.

Jan - Wow. Thank you for this article. I was just on the receiving end of something like this and it was kind of crushing. An aaquaintance invited me along on her stylized photo shoot. I’m just getting in to digital photography and it was done as a mentoring opportunity. I told her I would love to see her at work. She’s a great photographer and has a thriving business. When we left the shoot I said that I would post on my facebook and she could tag any she wanted. I took a lot of pictures of her taking pictures. She said fine. I posted them that night. They came out pretty good…better than I expected…the best photos I’ve taken to date. She tagged herself in 7 photos. The model in the shoot also tagged herself in several photos. Things were going swimmingly I thought! I was beyond excited with how my photos turned out.I gave her credit in my posts and put a link to her page.
And then it happened. The model in the shoot made one of my photos her profile picture. That set off the bomb. The ‘mentor’ sent me a rather nasty message to my inbox telling me to take ALL of my photos down immediately! She went in to a rather bizarre explanation about her wanting to put her photos on a blog and if they saw my photos they wouldn’t put them on the blog. I was like ‘huh’? Her first message was very rude. As if knowing that she was behaving badly and feeling guilty..she sent four successive messages backpedaling in each one.
If she knew this from the outset, why didn’t she tell me this at the shoot? My photos were up for 3 days before she started her nasty barrage.
Why wasn’t she happy for me I thought. Some of my photos were good and she couldn’t stand it. I was really rather devastated by the whole thing. She’s still a much better photographer than I..her weddings are impeccable! She really has no reason to be threatened by me. I just got some great pictures at this shoot!
I’ve learned several things from this…I’m a better photographer than I knew! I need to stop chasing after other photographers and do my own thing. I have other venues that I’m learning in where there are many people who are encouraging. It has taught me how crushing my actions could be to a new photographer and how important it is to encourage.
Looking back, I should have known that there would be a problem. She seemed a bit arrogant from the get go. Throwing around a lot of info about her business..that she has been a photographer for niiiiine years and so on.
The little thing she didn’t know that she would have found if she had taken the time to listen was that I’ve been taking pictures for 35 years..it’s just the digital part that’s new to me.
Ok, I’ve gone on too much! I’ll get over this. I’m sticking to my groups..Paint The Moon, My Four Hens, Clickin Moms and the like. I will continue to marvel at the photos that are awesome and encourage those that are just beginning.

Jenika - Thanks for the honest reply, Ewa. Of course this post wasn’t intended to offend, and I’m sorry for that. I’m fully in support of photographers (established or not) discussing the state of the industry, I’m only taking issue with the use of ugly, demeaning, and hurtful words in that process. The five points are made refer to MEAN critiques, not to critiques in general. Those two things come from very different places. For example, there’s a substantial difference between saying “I think there are way too many beginners who jump into business before they’re ready, and this devalues the market” and saying “I’m so sick of all these crappy newbies who put up their awful work and ruin the market.” The former inspires discussion, the latter only inspires defensiveness and causes harm. And I’m against that particular virulent strain of negativity – not against discussing the industry or its flaws. And I do believe that the use of demeaning words comes from a place of feeling threatened, because otherwise the instinct to use attacking language would not be there. You can discuss disdain and even despair without attacking. You demonstrated clearly in your comment that you can express disagreement without attacking when you said “I know it was meant to generate positivity, but for me, it missed the mark.” You could have chosen to say “This post sucked and so do you.” But you didn’t – you chose another way to say it. And that is what I’m advocating here – understanding where WE are coming from and making sure that’s reflected in the way we say things. In short, I’m all for discussing the industry, and we can do it without using harmful language. Meanness does not come from the right place and won’t achieve the intended goal. Sorry if the post was not clear on that point.

Jenika - Weird! Did you try a different browser, Terri?

Jenika - I think there are bullies, but even good people can react without thinking – and the Internet speeds up that reaction. It’s not a good cycle. :-(

Jenika - Hi Jan, thanks for sharing your experience. Sorry you got tangled in a hurtful situation. I think we can come from a place of compassion here too – the person went to a lot of work to set up a styled shoot, and it probably felt to her like someone came in and snatched her hard work out from under her. It sounds like you did the right things in requesting permission and such, so it’s a shame that she reacted before thinking, but it’s also good to stay off the defense and just have an honest conversation, even when we’re feeling hurt. That’s REALLY hard to do! I hope things turn out for you as you continue your digital journey!

Jenika - I think you make the point perfectly: It’s the meanness that is the problem, not the critique! There are a thousand ways to express disagreement or personal taste without being nasty. I don’t think you or I would want the Internet to be devoid of discussion, analysis, suggestions, or criticism – critiques are totally healthy. It’s just the nastiness that renders them useless, because the recipient is so hurt that they won’t pay attention to something they could have learned from. That point is often missed.

Jenika - It makes me sad to hear that, because useful critiques are such a healthy part of growth as an artist. I sincerely hope that you can find a place where people can offer their assistance without fear of unnecessary negativity. Best of luck!

Jenika - Eeek, I know what you mean Rayleigh. Isn’t that sad? Learning from other photographers is so useful – but meanness just forces us all into isolation. I’m glad you’ve found some mentors who are constructive and helpful.

Jenika - And I’d bet that if the commenters had taken time to simply rephrase what they were saying, it would have been downright useful!

Jenika - Thanks Susan!

Jenika - I appreciate your support and kind words, Jaime. I think I have quite a way to go before I could ever live up to what you described, but I’m happy to hear that you value my voice amidst so many other great resources on the internet. It makes me want to be a better blogger. :-)

Kristin - I am sure that there are senseless bullies in the photography Internet world. They exist in all parts of the Internet. It”s unfortunate. What I find just as unfortunate though is the idea of ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all’. Forums are not supposed to be for ego stroking. They are for learning. There is no greater gift than someone taking the time to help you get to the next level in your work. Learning in photography is never finished, so we all need help getting to that next level. Being told that you have room to improve is humbling. It can be upsetting because frankly we are not used to it. Everyone gets a trophy at t-ball, every thing you post on Facebook gets approval, we are used to praise praise praise. I think that encouraging people to keep sweet is such a disservice. Teaching people to accept criticism and use to to become more awesome would be more helpful. I don’t want to discount that there really are bullies out there, those who act like you could never get better or those who perhaps tell you that you suck with no explaination or learning piece, but that does not mean that CC is a bad thing. If it is constructive, we need to learn as a society to use it to build ourselves up, not to become shocked and appalled that someone didn’t give us a medal for trying our best.

Janie - This is a very good post and makes a lot of sense.I to believe everyone should be nice to new photographers but I so very much understand where some of the pros are coming from.It is so hard to see so called pro photographers post horrible pics of a weddings bragging about how awesome their photos are and how they are so much more affordable then anyone else.I don’t understand why I can see orange skin tones because they had their cameras set on landscape mode and out of focus faces and they can’t.Yes we should all be nice but I will never lie and tell someone something is good when it’s not.I just don’t say anything at all but I honestly do get disgusted by it.I myself am a new photographer,I have been studying for three years and am almost ready to start charging so I understand how it feels to be new and the feeling of wanting to know it all now.I feel like some just want the quick $50 for a cd of all your images and don’t really care about the clients.I believe it is FRAUD when people do this. I really don’t care that they are taking the pics,my concern is for the families that will look back and be hurt because their most important day was captured by someone who didn’t care enough to take time to learn photography.This is peoples lives that they are playing with!
Also I feel like pages like MCP are geared toward the new photographers so of course they want to please them and make them happy but telling everyone their work is great when it’s not won’t help anyone.I guess what I’m trying to say is it goes both ways…two sides to every story..I would love for someone to write a post about the other side..maybe encourage newbies to study awhile before they start taking peoples money..Hoping this comment doesn’t come off mean ..thats not my intention. I love your blog.. :)

Janie - Absolutely the head photographer should post any photos she wants first.In fact I believe they normally get all the images and do with them what they want.The second shooter is there to shoot for the pro photographer.Sounds like you are on your way to doing your own thing though.. :)

Jenika - Thanks for your thoughts Jamie. Good for you for working hard to make sure you serve your clients well. I’m writing a post for Thursday that discusses how to better give a positive critique. I completely agree that we need to be able to share our thoughts with others and offer critiques, we just need to make sure that it is useful and not destructive. Negativity and criticism aren’t the same thing. I’m all for criticism – just not negativity! Sounds like we’re on the same page here though. :-)

Peggy/DogBreedz.net - “puppies make everything better”

Oh how very true! I’m a bit biased however : )-

A variation of this has been eating at me for awhile now. My specialty is pet photography – both studio work (for pets of all species and show dogs) and freelance work ringside at dog shows. There is no mentoring what-so-ever for ringside work (whether at a conformation show, an obedience trial or more sport-weighted events like luring, agility or fly-ball). In fact there is a lot of “chasing the newbies away” out there.

In January I sent out a custom greeting card to the show and studio photographers in my immediate area – to wish them success in the coming year. And the second message in my card was just to say “hi!” and to network … we all have different specialties, different styles, different price points, different strengths. I only heard back from two of the photographers (two that I “kind of” knew online only – NONE that I knew definitively in-person). Well – honestly now … if I am going to refer to someone else (which I DO, when I know I can’t provide what the client needs no matter if it’s style, price point, or something else) then I am going to refer to the ones who have accepted my reaching out to them!

Thank you for hitting on this mean non-mentoring topic. It’s out there. It’s nasty. And where THIS photographer is involved, it will stop!
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Kelsey - Well said.

jan - Well, thanks for the feedback. It’s all fine as anyway. I never said a word..just removed the photos but felt very discouraged by it. I would have loved to have an honest conversation about it but she wasn’t being truthful in the first place and her messages were a bit on the hysterical side. Just telling a story from a newbies point of view. I never heard of a ‘second shooter’ I wasn’t invited as a second shooter. She just invited me to come and take pictures and ask any questions I wanted. I have no idea what the rules would be in this situation. She had ample time to explain it all and it just all came out of left field when she apparently felt threatened.

melissa stover - did you get an Australian shepherd puppy or two? we raise them and they are wonderful dogs.
love what you had to say here too. I enjoy your blog!
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Melody - Ahhh…once again you have hit the nail on the head…thank you for sharing this heart felt post. There are many many many in this industry who need to dwell on this post including myself. I am not guilt free of such garbage, but no longer. I just want to take pictures for people who want me to take pictures for them….I just want to love people and share my passion for what I do…..

Jenika - No, they’re the fur babies of my hairstylist. Totally jealous though!! They’re so sweet!

Jenika - I’m so sorry that happened! It definitely sounds like you tried your best to clear it up, and it was big of you to take down the photos. Ugh. (Second shooter just means anyone else with a camera, in a backup or supporting role. There are a lot of ins and outs of being a second shooter, and some of those are probably why she reacted the way she did – which sounds like it was uncalled for since you had honest intent!). Thanks for taking the high road. Don’t be discouraged!! Hang in there! :-)

DAHutton - Loved the article. I think it applies to every form of art. I am a painter/sculptor, and I don’t think I’ve ever treated someone badly — in FRONT of them. That doesn’t make it better; it doesn’t make me better. re. a clique: I have been on the other side of that much of my life. It is very painful.
It is indeed frustrating when I work hard and get no recognition. It’s a tough road. But your advice to continue to work works. I do it all the time. It is not our job to belittle others’ work. Drop it and move on.
So, thanks and love the dogs.

Corry heinricks - Well said! It sure would be nice if everyone remembered that photography is an art form which means that critique is subjective, your style may not be the same as someone else’s and if they really don’t like it that’s their choice but don’t demean someone by bashing their art! I’ve found a fabulous photo club in my area and am appreciative of all the seasoned photogs who are willing to help and teach and share and I hope that there are more groups like that out there. Perhaps it’s the online factor that makes people think they can say whatever because it’s not f ace to face, it’s sad really but seems prevalent in more than just this industry.

Cathie Tonkin - I have been in love with photography since the very first time I saved up for my first camera at the ripe young age of seventeen. Now after many, many years of life, as a wife, a mother and grandmother I am still in love with photography. I can’t get enough of it. I hope I never lose this passion.

Many years have passed and we found that we could really afford a pre-professional camera with some of the extras’. On any given day you will find me out with my beloved camera and lenes shooting at anything and everything. I may only get a few good shots but I have enjoyed every minute I was out there. I may never enter a contest, I may never win a ribbon but it doesn’t mean I don’t love what I am doing. I am a hobbyist, a newbie who will never be a professional photographer and that is fine with me but I can tell you I have enjoyed every minute of having a camera in my hands. The thrill of uploading my pictures to see if I got that shot still is so wonderful that I can’t find the words to express it.

My eyes are seeing things in a totally different way. It excites me, makes me breathe different just thinking that just around the next curve I could see my shot. I find this hobby makes me learn more, see more and wait, wait for what just might be ‘the’ shot that puts that smile on my face that says, Yes, thats it!

As I reread what I have written, please just be kind to others. Isn’t there enough meanness in this world without adding to it? Remember that old saying, ‘if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all’. I find at this age I bite my tongue allot, which is a ‘good’ thing. I don’t want to hurt anyone….there is enough hurt out in the world. Be kind, be nice, just be.
Thank you for a wonderful article…. I hope others will see this and not just those in those in photography family…. You are a wise and insitefull person. Thank you for taking the time to teach us all something new.
May your next great shot be just around the corner. :) Bless you for this articel.

Sincerely,
Cathie

Erin - I think you make some really good statements that a lot of photographers need to hear. But there is another side or other reasons as to why this crazy rude behavior exists.
As I have read and participated in blogs, forums, fb, twitter, and my own teachings I have found that there is a lack of respect that the new photographers have for some more experienced photographers. I don’t feel miss treated and I would hope that I don’t miss treat others, this is purely an observation.

In conversations, in forums photographers get caught up in their own little world and often forget who they are talking to. I will see new photographers getting offended easily because they refuse to do the research and look up the person that is answering the question they posted. The offence happens because they don’t like the answer to the question they asked, they won’t even consider it. It isn’t even a critique on a photo, many times it is a business question or a how to question. Then the experienced photographers get upset because the respect isn’t give when they took the time out of their day to share their thoughts and what worked for them. The pride of the new photog gets in the way, they often snap in defence and then a week later the pro will smash their bad photo that got posted because they were to proud to actually listen to what was said. It is a vicious circle. I don’t think it’s right again this is an observation. Because of this forums are changing and the more experienced photographers aren’t really there anymore to help the new ones. And now we have 3 year old photographers helping out 1 year photographers because they do know a little bit more but are they really ready to teach? Maybe some truly are. Most sadly aren’t.
What happened to the 5, 7, 10 year + Pro? I think many of them gave up, or got busy. And lets face it. Facts are Facts. 80% of business fail. I have heard pro photographers getting tired of helping new photos who for one reason or another can’t make it. It’s upsetting to help someone and watch them fail. Yes, there are those photographers that are mean and nasty, but there are others that are just sad, tired, and honestly just want to run a really good business.

Again thank you for your post.

Jenika - Hey Erin, good to see you! There’s definitely additional sides to this, and I’m glad you brought this up. There are all kind of facets here…there’s nasty behavior in general, there’s tiredness and frustration, there’s people who get tripped up while receiving critique/instruction, there’s people who don’t want to hear anything but their own opinion, and there’s people just rushing and not researching and speaking poorly. I couldn’t find an effective way to cover them all in one post, but I’m hoping to dissect them one at a time. :-) Generally speaking I think everyone would do well to take a deep breath and step back before both acting and reacting (in life as in photography!). All photographers should respect the time taken when someone attempts to answer their questions or give suggestions – particularly people benefiting from the years of experience of others. I completely agree. I’ll be writing something about receiving critique for next week, I’d be interested to hear you add your thoughts there. I’m glad you brought up the issue of getting offended easily – pride is a major obstacle. So much emotion is at play here because we pour our hearts (and our wallets) into what we do, and it makes it ten times harder to listen to others when you feel like you’ve got something on the line. (Not an excuse, but it’s reality, and I think someone has to point that out!) Thanks for adding your well-reasoned voice to the discussion. I’m all in favor of people expressing views no matter what they are – it’s the vicious attacks (from any source!) that I want to dissuade people from, because they don’t actually accomplish anything. No one changes as a result of them. And how boring is that?

Erin - I am excited to read your next post! I see that you just posted one. :) You are right. Everyone needs to take a deep breath. Sometimes people need to remove themselves and think about a post before posting it. I tell people to ask themselves one question… “Does this really effect me?”

Mel - I just found this site and I’m LOVING it. Seriously! I have had my guilty moments when I said something that I knew wasn’t very nice. There are some great ideas here. I think that sometimes we get so busy, we don’t feel like we owe it to anybody to be nice. It’s easy to forget that there are people out there just starting out and mean words do sting. Here’s to putting forth the effort to be kind to everyone, and keep my mouth shut if I don’t have the time to answer. You’re doing a good thing here. :)

Jenika - Thanks for the honesty and kind words, Mel! Cheers to all of it. :-)

Andy - Some thoughts: I do not believe someone who becomes ‘scared’ when receiving critique concerning an image they’ve posted and shared online is ready to share their work or accept feedback.

Unfortunately you missed some of the main reasons photographers tend to be insanely competetive today; the market is saturated with poor photographers and individuals claiming photography as a career while being totally unprepared for it. Lawyers don’t declare themselves fit to practice law because they’ve read a legal brief, nor do accountants take their first Algebra class and declare themselves ready for business. Getting your first Canon Rebel DSLR on your 15th birthday and declaring yourself a photographer two months later isn’t going to draw support from working professionals – it’s insulting to be honest.

Equally as embarssing for photographers is the ‘snake’ professional – and we’ve all met them. They scheme for other folks’ clients, they are unhelpful as possible to new people, they skate through on connections from parents or spouses, and they eat up comments of “Brilliant!”, and “You are incredible!” when they post work that, being a more honest professional, they’d admit is fluff. Unfortunately the snake is common; clients are few and far between, resume pumping/faking is pretty much commonplace, and internships in photography or photojournalism really don’t exist as they used to.

I think the answer is honesty; good critiques are honest, they aren’t insulting. Real professionals are hoenst, they aren’t ego-maniacs who scam on clients and sell sub-par child portraits for outrageous rates. Just my take on it; no, I’m not trying to be mean to anyone.

Jenika - I think your comment addresses a different set of behaviors than I was referring to. Insane competition is one thing, vitriol is another. Critique is one thing, degrading and malicious attack is another. I’m addressing only the latter behaviors. When someone shares an image and a slew of name-calling and nasty disparagement ensues, that’s not critique. I think if you look at the comments thread here, there are many people who have observed and experienced this phenomenon – and it’s not isolated to “new people.” It happens to established, respectable professionals. Fear of posting images has nothing to do with being “scared” to receive feedback, it has to do with fearing having their egos senselessly crushed by remarks that contribute nothing and accomplish nothing – in short, not real critique. I agree that good critique is valuable (I just wrote an entire post on that, and there’s another coming up next week if you’d care to follow up this discussion, I welcome your further thoughts). And good critique should be honest, absolutely, and sometimes that is going to be hard to hear. That’s a separate issue I will address next week. But a lot of what happening simply cannot be called critique, and this article explores the underpinnings of that alone.

It is possible to feel negatively toward a subset of unprepared and unscrupulous professionals without spewing bilge and attacking random strangers on the internet. I agree that there are major problems with the industry, and we should discuss those problems. Those discussions are not among the behaviors this post examines.

Cales - Dearest Jenika –

What a beautifully written and important post. I’m so grateful you took the time to write it. So insightful!
Love,
Ceilidh

Kim Hall - Great post! I am a newbie…I don’t know the view from a professional photographer and I think it would be important to write a post about what newbies could do or not do to upset the pros. I know I’ve read a lot of questions regarding what kind of camera and what kind of lens the photographer had used…One day the question was asked and another photographer lost it…responding don’t worry about what kind of camera and lens, it’s not the camera and lens, use a point and shoot and focus on the lighting, composition and rule of thirds. It was an arrogant response…feeling badly for the person who had asked the question, I simply responded that some people were just at a stage where they needed to move up to a better camera and better lenses…does that make you a better photographer?, no but if it was just about composition, lighting and the rule of thirds, everyone would be using a point and shoot and not spending a fortune on equipment. Equipment does matter at a certain point…there’s no way anyone can deny that…but I think somehow the question made the photographer feel they weren’t receiving the credit/respect they deserved…I just don’t think that’s what most newbie’s think…I know that the photographer is the artist and the camera and lens are just a tool. Anyway, I had no idea that there would be such jealousy, envy, fear and greed in the world of photography…boy was I naive.

Rich Saputo - I try to help out young photographers starting out, because I had the same thing happen to me. I was lucky enough to have worked with some of the biggest names in the music biz. They would not only give me advice, but they would also sometimes give me their old equipment, and even sometimes a client or two. Now, that was the days of film, and I do see people who think they are a photographer nowadays just because they can afford better equipment than me, but when I see someone who is genuinely into the ART of it, I will always be more than happy to help.

Dee Dee Newell - This also applies to the planning world amongst planners. It’s amazing how ego’s take over when a new planner pops up. The best thing we can do is help one another and teach each other industry standards. It was a great post and I really enjoyed reading it!
Denise

Emily - Awesome post! One of my favourite quotes of all time is “if you are your authentic self, you have no competition” -Scott Stratten. I try to live this daily, and encourage othe rphotographers to do the same. Instead of viewing each other in a negative way, I’d like to see everyone embrace their fellow photographer and make the communities that we work in a better place for all. I run a website for Canadian photographers based around this idea: http://www.thefriendlyphotographer.com

Jenika - Interesting perspective Dee Dee! It seems to pop up in a lot of freelance careers (writing, composing, etc). It’s understandable, but I’d like for us to collectively press back against it….Thanks for the comment!

Jenika - I’m totally on board with constructive criticism. I’m not on board with the subset of behaviors I’m describing here (meanness, viciousness, arrogance). It’s bullying I’m against, not critique. One should never pass for the other!

Michelle J.N. - I love this post and the last bit of advice is perfect! When I’m feeling ‘down’ I go out and volunteer and realize my situation would be worse. I feel better about giving back :)

Mark Kalan - Funny that I should read this after reading _IGNORE EVERYBODY And 39 Other Keys to Creativity by Hugh MacLeod_ and I suggest you all read it!
Mark Kalan recently posted..Pizza NightMy Profile

Nathan - Beautiful article. I’m an experienced photographer with multiple qualifications and get sick of sarcasm ruining a good photograph on forums.
I’ve made mistakes in my time and I’m happy to help others avoid them.
We all started the job because we love it and that love needs to be shared.
Yes I’m bitter that its so easy to start these days but that’s just honesty and not the people’s fault.

Helena Amor - Very interesting read!

Ed Devereaux - I have very clearly been one of each and a receiver of one of each. Very nice explanation.

Eric McGrew - Great post! I agree with it 100% and hope that this will be read within and outside of the photography community. This isn’t just a photography thing, it happens in many communities. Nice analogy with the house as well.

Gail Morello - Jenika as always a well written post from a great point of view. I always enjoy your posts!

I wanted to respond to the question about where are the pros on the forums – the ones who have been around the longest. I’ve owned a studio for 14 years, not as long as some longer than many. And here’s my explanation as to why you might not see me on a lot of forums.

First, some background. There are a couple of forums I am on – one is for very established photographers and the other is basically for newbies.

From the first I get straight advice on whatever question I may have, I get to see behind the scenes of some of the best photographers in the country and I never look for praise – it’s few and far between. A picture that will get 300 likes on Facebook will barely get a mention there. No matter, I’m there to learn and to help others with what I best know and we understand each other well enough – it’s a small group of 100 or so – that people do cross lines sometimes but we police ourselves fairly well.

I joined the newbie group because I wanted to up my game a bit and there’s a lot of great new photographers who have mad skills and who are on top of the latest and greatest that our clients want. Plus they seem to have lots of resources for the best deals. I also found a lot of very passionate people, and it gave a human face to a group for me. And I have learned quite a bit, just by occasionally browsing.

Here is the but. Any advice I give is done as kindly and gently as I can. Always. That is just who I am. Advice I post on actual photography is almost always well accepted. Advice on business practices? Not so much. And I see many people making poor business decisions, posting the results and, maybe looking for advice but not wanting to even consider the tough solution. Because, let’s face it, tough problems sometimes warrant tough solutions. And photographers are notoriously artistic vs business people. But if you want to run a business you either have to learn that end of it or partner with or hire someone who has those skills because the business end is ultimately almost more important than the photography end.

So, besides the fact that I literally don’t have a lot of time to spend on forums I can tell you that often enough, people don’t listen, regardless of how gently you phrase things. If someone really engages me and is looking for help and dead serious about it I will always spend the time and do whatever I can to help. But I have to tell you, that is rare.

This is a tough business and it’s only getting tougher. As a photographer you’re in competition with any product that uses discretionary income – because photography is a luxury item. You have to continue to find new ways to find and keep your audience because someone keeps moving the cheese. I spend more time today marketing and trying to figure out how to continue to improve my client experience than I ever have – it is harder to get a prospect’s attention now than it ever was and more important than ever that you really wow the clients you have. Not complaining – I love my business and I always love a challenge but the stress of running a business and the time it takes is very real. And, because I have employees and vendors and clients who depend on me, and an overhead that demands to be met month after month, time is more precious than ever these days and I spend the few spare moments I have where I think it will do the most good. Forums, sadly, are not always that place.

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