We've all been there, you make a shot. You think it's awesome and even a few of your friends think so too. But it happens. A guy simply rips you to shreds and you feel like a fresh turd from a tired horse. Yep, criticism hurts! but fear not, here's a few ways I discovered to handle criticism about your images.
Why we fear criticism so much
The way we react to criticism I think says more about us than those who actually give the criticism. I actually will go as far as to suggest that the reason we fear criticism is because we tie whatever we do to out ego, heck we hinge upon what we do to define us.
When photography validates us
As a parent I always ask myself one question all the time, how is my son going to interpret this or that event? Of course there needs to be a reward and punishment system that mirrors the real world (making it in life and avoiding prison) but I think if there is no conscious effort to tell kids that we just plainly love them, many will interpret that they are loved because of their doing and not their being. The danger lies in the fact that they might never outgrow this idea. I mean, what is the first question ofter “what is your name”? It's usually what's your job?
Yeah I'm proud that my son can do 2 numbered math but I make sure he understands that my love is based on his being and not his performance. Depending on how we were raised our self worth might be attached to being able to attract the opposite sex, to money, to knowledge, to work and even to art. The moment self worth is attached to photography the moment we are begging for trouble in my opinion.
First of all in the spirit of self preservation the ego will never let itself be touched, moreover we will seek validation of our work in order to validate ourselves. And let's not forget when critique comes we cringe because it's our sense of being that we feel threatened and we will vehemently be defensive. In other words we become needy of other's approval of our work and angry when it's the target of criticism because we associate our sense of worth with our images.
Your photography is you but your are not your photography
Moreover having your photography linked to your ego will ruin it because of the underlying motivation. There will be a tremendous pressure to perform, to keep a certain front, you'll beat yourself up for not doing better, and essentially end up feeling like a fraud. Your photography reflects you and your inner being but your inner being is not your photography.
If you always feel scared or too prideful of your photography, make sure you examine your relationship with it, so that whatever waves come your way, you are not affected at the ego level. The way to divorce our ego from our photography is simply to put it somewhere else. That can range from putting it in your value as a human being or your character or something else.
For a while I used to go up and down depending on how many sales I made at the end of the day. This is somewhat the same but in this case what determines the ups and down is the response to the images we publish.
You are not perfect
Even if if the ego is not involved, we might still feel a bit apprehensive about someone coming in and criticizing our work. This is perfectly understandable, I mean who does this goofball thinks he is huh? He didn't make the picture and has no clue what went behind the picture!
This is called having a blind spot to blind spots. Do you know the most perfect man on this earth? When he burps you can hear angels sing and his farts smell like a field of lilies. His name is….Kanye West. I'm kidding of course but watching him on TV I am sure He believes that about himself. Everyone has flaws but the biggest flaw of all is the flaw that makes you believe that you have no flaws.
It's pretty crazy for someone to believe they have no flaws but by refusing to listen to any criticism about our work….aren't we suggesting that it is flawless? I'm not saying to take every piece of criticism at heart mind you but I do believe all of us need to have the humility to realize that maybe, just maybe we are fooling ourselves in certain areas. Maybe you are awesome by maybe, just MAYBE you and I are not as great as we think.
It's well known that alcoholics would be the first to tell you they ain't got no problem. It's also documented that we have a more grandiose view of ourselves than we really are, ask your wife or hubby if you are THAT nice and see what I mean. It pays to stay humble, as it is what allows for Kaizen to happen and is a safeguard against fooling ourselves à la Kanye West.
Kaizen over and over again
So how how does one tell Kanye West that he is not that great in many aspects? The simple answer is it's impossible. Nobody can ever improve if they don't believe they need to or they believe that they arrived at perfection. That's why I view photography not as a title to be gained but as a continuous process of improvements ad infinitum. Studies show that learning a skill creates physical changes in your brain, but it also shows that the newly formed pathways in your brain can revert back if not practiced.
Kaizen is the art of continuous improvement and it never stops. But even while trying to always improve we invariably reach plateaus because if you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you've always got. Surely you can find ways to improve without any help but invariably we will always reach a plateau and stay there.
That's where criticism shines, it's a way to see in things in a new light and to continue being better. If criticism is too strong of a word, maybe feedback is a better one that is less emotionally charged. We can only improve so much without the constructive feedback of others because maybe, just maybe our pictures do not have the effect and the impact that we want them to have, only critics will confirm or deny that suspicion. That is why we should welcome criticism and not fear it, it's improvements waiting to be made. But unfortunately not all criticism should be taken into account.
Haters gonna hate
Check out this cartoon, one of my favorites:
Yep. In this world we live in there's a breathe of people called jerks, haters trolls. They are like vampires, there's only one thing that they live off and it's not blood, it's making sure you feel bad about yourself. There criticism must immediately be dismissed because it's only aimed at hurting you and not really for you to improve anything.
You suck. FAIL! You call yourself a photographer? I saw your pictures HAHAHA! Something along those lines is usually from a hater, usually hiding behind an anonymous email. How do you know it's hatin'? Simple it's almost invariably a statement of negative opinion. That's it. They just want to blurt it out, make you feel bad, they win.
While many think they deserve to be shut, I think they need love more than anything. Can you imagine how poor of a life one should have in order to feed off making others feel bad? Poor souls, but let's move on. Their comments are usually in a condescending tone crafted in a way to make you have a gut reaction, and the moment you respond the way they want you to, you've lost. These are best left ignored. There is only ONE instance I have ever seen a comment that sounded like hate “This is the worst street photography I've ever seen” but was actually probably the comment's author's genuine reaction and not hate hate per se, the images that were posted were quite bad tough.
Constructive criticism and feedback
Constructive feedback on the other hand has the intent to help, to build up and improve. Unlike jerkish criticism, there is always a concrete item in it. Something along the lines of Maybe this line is too crooked? Maybe this part needs more attention, etc.
Some of these can also be dismissed if it's something you intended that is being pointed out. For example I love clipping my blacks, I love mystery and it's part of my overall style, so someone who tells me that my blacks are clipped doesn't tell me much.
Also always keep in mind WHO is criticizing. There is a benefit when everyone criticizes what you are doing as you have a wealth of differing perspectives but not everyone's opinion has the same value. A street photographer's opinion on a street image is probably more valuable than a landscape photographer's. It's up to you to figure out the good feedback that is constructive and to make the most of of it. It might just be THE one piece of information you needed to take your photography up a level
We probably fear feedback because we associated our ego with our photography, something that ends up being counter productive as we end up resenting criticism and wanting more and more validation of our images. We are not perfect hence feedback is actually very beneficial for those who seek to improve beyond the eventual plateaus that will arise. With that being said, be yourself, stay focused and keep on shooting
P.S: Feel free to criticize, yeah? 🙂
About the author
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