Thursday, July 11, 2013

Tip of the day: What to do when people don't like your work

Skyfall. Perhaps the most "unique" image I've shot in recent history

Usually these posts are technical in nature. How to do something specific. How to read a histogram. How to select good models. Etc. Or at least I think those are some of the posts from past ToTD. Today I want to talk about what you should do when people don't like your work.

The question stems from a Facebook message I got from a photographer asking the following:

Q: Is there any style when photographing runway? I ask for many reasons. One is that some other people tend to discredit my work, while claiming that it lacks interest. I enjoy shooting runway, and have a passion for it, yet these concerns are brought forth to my immediate attention. From your perspective, in this fashion industry, are there many other photographers trying to get or take advantage of other photographers to get ahead?

CL: Why do you think people claim that your work "lacks interest"?

Q: Well, a couple of people brought it to my attention that my work lacks sophistication. And then tore apart my magazine, saying that it has no style and that a 12th grader could have done the text. Is it just jealousy or envy?

While I could answer these question as they pertain to this specific situation, I think there is much more educational value in answering these questions in the broader context of how photographers should deal with these situations. General disclaimer, there is no right answer. Everyone handles these things differently. YMMV (your mileage may vary).

First off "there's a little bit of truth to every rumor". While haters will hate, there is often some legitimacy to what haters say. If someone doesn't like your work and they offer a reason for why they don't like your work, it might behoove you to investigate the validity behind those claims. Hence my question above. Why do you think people claim that your work "lacks interest"? The photographer should know the answer to this question. Of course the question is loaded. Because in order to answer this question the photographer must first define "sophistication" and "style".

Without answering these questions, one can not gauge whether or not these criticisms are valid. What standards of style does the photographer adhere to? And how far is he/she from those benchmarks? And does said photographer aspire to even achieve sophistication? And what kind of sophistication is he/she trying to achieve? Lastly, what is "interest"? Is said photographer trying to accumulate Facebook likes? Or are he/she trying to get validation by way of clients? No right or wrong answer here. One just needs to be specific about how one defines "interest".

But regardless of whether or not any of these criticisms "check out", at the end of the day you're the judge and the jury of your own work. Which is to say, does it really matter if others like your work? To some it does. To others it doesn't. After you figure out which side of the fence you fall on, then you can decide how you should approach these issues. Because if you're just trying to make some pretty pictures as a creative outlet, then fuck all of what anyone says because you're doing this for your health. But if you're aspiring to some standard of excellence defined by the industry, then you actually do have to care what other people say.

Here's where I go into left field on the situation. Generally, photographers worry too much about what others think. Most photographers would be truly depressed without Facebook or Instagram or tumblr. Without 'likes', 'shares', 'notes', 'reblogs', life seemingly isn't worth living for many photographers. I understand that people seek validity through others. I really do. But do you really think that little of yourself to doubt your work when you receive random comments or criticisms? It's the nature of probability and statistics. Not everyone likes the same things. So when the population (of the people that see your work) expands you'll naturally get more people that like your work and more people that dislike your work. If you only focus on the people that dislike your work you'll complete neglect the fact that most people actually like your work.

And so what if they don't? That's the great thing about "art". It's open to interpretation. It's whatever you want it to be. If everyone liked it, then it would be "normal". And if it were "normal" then no one would think it were "special". And isn't that the whole point? To be unique? To be heard, you gotta make a little noise. And while not everyone will like that "noise" as long as you are passionate about your own "noise" that's all that matters. If more photographers were more concerned with creating their own style and less concerned with what everyone else is doing, you'd find a lot less light leaks and pink/purple streaks on Instagram.

And you'd also find more photographers that are happy with their own work.

I fear that social media has created a generation of photographers that can't wipe their own asses without public approval. That every move is predicated on "what will the people on Facebook think?" or "I wonder how many likes I'll get on Instagram?" And you know what's sad? Even I have asked myself these questions. FML I have been guilty of the same shit that I'm preaching against. My only saving grace is that I spend a lot less time surfing Facebook and Instagram than most photographers. As I often state, it's self-preservation and merely trying to insulate myself from tainting my own creative process. That being said, I'm still not immune to wanting to be liked.

So where does that leave us? Well, pretty much in the exact predicament we're in. A generation of photographers that do the same thing because they lack the courage to explore their own ideas. Considering that I only know 200 of my 5,000 friends on Facebook I'm pretty much whoring myself out for the approval of random strangers. If that isn't the lamest thing I've ever heard, I don't know what is.

Sure there's the argument that we need to abide by "industry standards" and that we need to be "relevant". But none of that has anything to do with having your own identity or having the courage to shoot how/what you want and not what/how others want you to shoot. You gotta be your own person. Maybe by turning off social media you'll actually discover who you really are and what you stand for.

Try it, you might actually find yourself inspired.


  1. Agreed. I used to be that type of photographer that measured success by the number of Likes or responses from a posting. But I was just starting out and a little insecure about my work.

    Now I shoot what I want and make it the best as I see it. I get minimal Likes of a photo? So what? I love it. Lots of Likes? Great! Then I know when to insert a link to a future posting for maximum exposure! LOL!

  2. "Then I know when to insert a link to a future posting for maximum exposure!"

    Love this!

  3. Very true! A very well written post

  4. there is validity when another photographer says the photos are bad or could be better. if you are honest with yourself, and can put aside your PRIDE and really look at your work and post them and see the difference in a photo from a so called semi-pro fashion photographer and it is of a girl who is obviously not a model, who is in front of a green bush, with no interesting clothes, or styling, bad makeup and bad lighting and this has NO editing, NO photoshop, and this is the photographer's photo for a magazine COVER-with all the same FONT, all boring Times New Roman, with no styling to the graphics or fonts then compare to a photographer who has put a lot of time and care into the process of styling a model, with clothes that are in fashion, hair and makeup on a real model, then in post, in photoshop has take this photo to the NEXT LEVEL and put it in a cover with sophisticated FONTS on the magazine. Be honest and really figure out by looking at professional work like AMPHOTOSITE.COM, someone unknown yet really has gone to the level of excellence. or KEN SAX. they are not way up there but be honest and see if your photography is at a level of excellence. When many photographers start to tell you your work is really good, it doesn't mean you are not creative, it means you are striving to be at a level of really taking your time to see perfection in your craft. I look at my work and it's good, not great, bc I am honest about where I am and I know it's painful to get criticism but I need it to kick my ass into gear of where I want or need to go to get to a legit level as a pro photographer.

  5. People are not jealous or envious when they say something about your work unless you are doing really well and your work is awesome. Publish your magazine cover and all your pictures and then compare them (not creatively) but we have to be able to be neutral and objective honest about our craft. I remember sitting in photo class and looking at my classmates work and YOU KNEW who was good, and you knew when their work kicked ass and you can tell when they take time into that shot, styling and position and clothes and makeup and hair (as a fashion photographer). You can tell on this site, who wants to take their work to a level of excellence. BUT some of you think you are ALL THAT and your ego is inflated but your photos are messy, there are things in the background that are obvious mistakes...I am not talking about a perfect photo, You can shoot a fashion editorial of a girl messed up drunk on a table but YOU KNOW IF IT HAS STYLE of a concept and a lot of work was put into it and work done thoughtfully in POST in photoshop. Grow up and learn to be honest and mature enough to handle and take criticism so that you can show people like Ken your work and say this is what I have done but help me to see where I need to grow and perfect my craft.