Photography : Handling criticism 101

The one thing that I sometimes hate about art is that it really is about beauty in the eye of the beholder. Often I come across images in which I see as a 10/10 somehow gets pulverized by another critic who sees it as trash. Not just beauty, it’s about the interpretation of a subject or may it be even an ideology or opinion on everyday things that defines each individual. Like it or not it is the difference in each of us that defines us as who we are. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a difference in opinion because we will simply be mindless zombies if we just follow in another person’s beliefs like a parrot learning how to talk. We are all wired differently from our upbringing to the people that we mingle around with. Things like education, society & more times than not, even our race & sex plays a role in our perception of our surroundings. These differences sometimes cause misunderstandings in which history has shown time & again to spark revolutions & wars just because we can’t quite get along with each other!

So one day you happily capture an image on your camera in which you are almost certain is a masterpiece. Eagerly you post & share the photo on your favourite forum & anxiously wait for “positive” feedback even though you ask the audience to provide feedback & criticism. Instead of good feedback, you’re hit with a barrage of unfavourable comments from the way you composed the photo to how you mishandled the lighting on your intended subject. Suddenly you lose focus and can’t stop thinking about what they said or wrote. You know you shouldn’t be bothered, but knowing doesn’t help you stop thinking about it over and over and over. You try to justify & explain but the sheer numbers of these critics push you into a corner. Then you lash out… utterly demonstrating the ugly side of your personality which you never knew existed. Familiar?

Happens to even the best of us. Probably will happen to me if I hadn’t played the scenario over & over again in my head, then think of a more sensible & level-headed approach to tackling the situation & stop it from escalating to something you absolutely know has no benefit whatsoever either to you or those who think your work is crap.

Understand the criticism

It is about a difference of opinion. When someone comments on your work, it’s about what they think looks good. It’s never about you! You can probably dismiss or ignore an opinion if it’s only 1 or 2. But generally, some people can be wrong some of the times but all people can’t be wrong all the time. Take a step back & think about it before you react.

When you ask for comments & feedback, expect the worst! When I was managing a team of people in my company a few years ago it dawned on me. For all the 9 good deeds that you do, people will criticize & remember you for the 1 lousy decision you made. It’s inevitable! So in other words, we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t!

It could be true! Don’t let your ego drive you. As photographers we are here to better ourselves & the best way to improve is to find out what other photographers think of our work. The LIKE button & comments like “Nice”, “Good photo”… isn’t going to help you get better. If any it could just mean that the photographers in your community whether it is on Facebook or a forum simply think you are not worth their help so they will just continue to give you LIKE clicks & words of encouragement just to see you fail! Don’t get me wrong, positive feedback is good on moral. But too much of it doesn’t make you better. It’s like playing chess with someone who is obviously lesser skilled than you. Your rate of improvement will be slower than say the noob that you are pitting your skills against. One day, he will beat you!

Accepting criticism

It is never personal. It only gets personal when you take it personally. Some people can be less tactful than others when providing comments. Remember that over the internet, words are words without any inclination of expression. The lack of face to face interaction sometimes contorts the intended meaning of a phrase if uttered incorrectly. You need to learn to recognize that.

Learn from it & toughen up! Remember that you are the one who asked for comments & criticism. Take it sometimes with a grain of salt if it comes from sources that you know is unreliable. However like what I mentioned above, all people can’t be wrong all the time! If indeed this is the case, open your mind, perhaps even welcome it by expressing gratitude to your critic. It may not be nice to hear criticism, but such feedback is often a part of the learning process and can provide us with valuable insights into how we can improve and grow as a photographer.

Ask yourself, what was really your intention?

Was it really to obtain useful comments so that you can better improve? Was it that the comments weren’t clear to you in which perhaps you needed to ask for clarity on the subject? Or was the whole thing just to satisfy your insatiable sense of pride & ego, expecting only dying admiration for what you perceive as glorious & unadulterated excellence? Seriously?

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  1. Photography : How to get criticism « What I see, How I see… - February 16, 2012
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