How to Accept Criticism as a Photographer
Last month, Chase Jarvis recently gave an in depth answer to a question of mine. He peeled back the layers of my website and tutorials and gave some hard advice to something that I have been struggling with for a long time. That show has since been added to a recent podcast of his as well. Now, this has put my photography, my site and even myself in a slightly harsh light. Due to the popularity of the show, it has opened up the door to a number critical comments. However, it has been one of the best things that I could have ever asked for. Here is how I deal with criticism as a photographer.
How could someone be happy about a random stranger saying “I looked at your site and your photos and many of them are certainly amateurish” as one person stated on my most recent youtube video. The reason is that I am learning from these comments and you should too. Great comments and “virtual hugs” are great and I certainly received a few of those as well. Peter DeMarco as well as Dylan Goldby at F-stoppers gave their 2 cents and I couldn’t have beeen happier. Not to mention I have had a number of people write to me with very supportive advice which I am forever grateful for. However, critical comments are like the pain caused from a day at the gym. Thus, the old saying still stands “no pain, no gain” The supportive comments are like the shower and beverage after. They make you feel alive again and then you want to go and do it some more. To grow as a photographer BOTH good and bad comments are needed.
Seek Reason, Not Reaction
The first thing that you have to do is calm yourself. Being pissed off because someone thinks that your photos are crap or that you are “only in it for the money” as some have stated to me recently, will only make matter worse. It also blocks any sort of lesson from occurring. As a teacher, I give feedback to a lot of my college students. The one thing that I have noticed is that the ones who really understand why they got the grade that they did are the ones that I see showing the greatest improvement. I am no different. You have to realize that there is a reason for some of these comments.
Recently, I stumbled across an article written by John Aldred over at DIY Photography who gave some hard advice. This was an unbiased objective look at my work and my site. He took the time to read my own article and made his own conclusion from there. I rarely have been in the position to have so many people critically view my work and write about it. The article outlined John’s thoughts on my situation and it enlightened me on how my current efforts to transition into the world of full-time photography may come off as a person seeking a quick buck.
What you have to do when your work is criticised is step back and really think about the critique or comment as objectively as you can. There is no room for emotion here, you have to simply look at what is being said and then think about what you can do to improve. This is where the real learning happens. If it does not look professional or is sending the wrong message, what can you do to make it better?
If people are thinking that my transition to full-time photographer and educator sounds like a scheme to make money then I have to step back and look at what I have put out there. By staying calm and reading these articles at face value allows you to really evaluate where you might have gone wrong. Did I push too hard to promote my courses or did I not show my best work to really show people that I have what it takes?
Most of the time, we seek to defend ourselves when somebody criticizes our work or who we are as a photographer. We puff out our chest and in a sniffling 6-year-old way spout back “Am NOT!” or “You are too!” as if that will change things. It hasn’t worked since kindergarten and certainly doesn’t work online. The only one that I can blame here is myself. This is also not done is a self-depreciating way either. This is done in order to improve.
So why are people thinking this way? Why did Chase immediately jump to the conclusion that I was only doing for the money? Why did John think the way he did? The answer is that’s what I put out there. I have to accept responsibility for ALL the content that I put out online. Yes, it is an incorrect assumption that I am just looking for quick cash, but it is not unfounded. Chase did not pull this out of thin air. If people are looking at the content that I have created and thinking that “oh Jason Teale is trying to make a quick buck” rather than seeing the years that I have put into my craft, the publications that I have worked for and the accolades that I have received, then I have to fix that. This is my fault because I didn’t take the time to create a proper site that shows my best work, who I am and what I’ve done.
If someone takes a poke at you, sometimes they are only reacting to the vibe that you are giving off. Sure, there are trolls out there that want nothing more than to rip you apart and laugh at you. However, this is not always the case. The people that are looking at your site are most likely people who are in the photography industry or people wanting to learn more about it. If I am not getting the right response from them, then it is up to me to change how I present my work and my courses.
Learn from your Criticism
Accepting the jabs and doing nothing just makes no sense. You have to take action. For me the attention to my site and my photos was a HUGE wake up call. I looked at my site and wondered “what the hell was I thinking?” and immediately changed the template and the content. It still needs a lot work and improvement, but I am aware of that now and am taking steps to correct it. I have made goals to try and tweak it and even invest in a complete redesign by the end of the year. This is the patience and dedication that Chase brought up. You can’t just flip a switch and make everything better but you can seek to improve over time.
Reading the comments about my question to Chase also made me realize that you must always put your best foot forward. Don’t just publish whatever you managed to shoot. Seek to make it the best and as Chase said “master your craft” or something to that effect. Really look at what you are putting out there. I reached out to John for a follow up and he also suggested seeking the advice of photographers that you respect and see what they have to say. He noted that “it maybe harsh but they mean it in the best way” and I have to agree.
The bottomline is that you are not always going to get the warm fuzzies from complete strangers. Not everyone is going to like your work but NEVER write them off as “trolls” simply because they didn’t give you a thumbs up. The more that put yourself out there the more that people are going to look at and criticise your work. The best thing that you can do is learn from these comments and always seek to improve.
Here are the major learning points from this article:
- Seek reason, not reaction. Try and find the reason people are criticizing your work and don’t get angry. There is always a bit of truth in every comment.
- Accept responsibility for your work and your situation. Realizing that your work is what people are reacting to is part of the problem. There is a possibility that you haven’t given 100% and that is what people are picking up on.
- Learn from the criticism. Take a look at what people are saying and seek to improve. Often, the ones that take the time to write comment or articles are the ones that have invested enough time in you to have some sort of advice. Just dig a bit and see what they have to say, even if it is a bit nasty.