There’s nothing wrong with not being any good at photography. Everybody started out bad and none of us does all aspects of it well. But it’s a crying shame to want to be good at it, to spend time and money trying to be good at it, and not getting any better.

This isn’t like teaching a child to read. Positive reinforcement is your enemy. Your Facebook friends, your Twitter followers… hate you.  Instead of taking ten seconds to say. “This doesn’t work. You need to do better”. They readily push that “like” button, because it’s easy and they hope to get the same from you, but also because they’re cowards.

via Mostly True.

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  1. Thanks for sharing Rob.. I “like” it.
    My favorite line and the most honest thing I’ve heard in awhile is “positive reinforcement is your enemy”. I’d be tempted to share this on facebook but am afraid I’m a coward.

  2. Absolutely.

  3. I suppose that the same can be said for acting, writing, and sex…
    But we do persevere.

  4. Constructive criticism is absolutely necessary, but many of use have not learned to give or take it.

  5. I agree, but there needs to be a balance. I have been working with four or five mentors, who vary in support and criticism. Some are very harsh, leaving me with no hope, others are very supportive. I don’t count comments from friends and family, who love EVERYTHING.
    There needs to be a positive feedback from an objective audience in addition to the criticism that makes us weep.
    The mentors make me take a hard look at work I have done, and how to do it better in the future.
    I have joined local photo clubs to get other views from local photographers, who understand the local economy I am dealing with, and I have received very positive feedback. Balance is key, knowing your strengths and realizing the weaknesses, to get better.

    • Debra, you are making the author’s point.

      There is actually a lot of very unredeemably awful photography out there. And like in every other line of human endeavor, only so much of it can be improved via “positive-feedback” or futher training.

      Just like there are many people who, regardless how diligently they train and are coached, are simply not of the caliber to play basketball in the NBA. Likewise, there are some people who suck at photography, and no amount of “positive feedback” is going to change That. At a certain level, you either have “it” or you don’t.

      The technical stuff can be taught; but I’m not sure the remaining “thing” — that separates the mundane from the excellent — can be.

      Americans especially — with our culture of relentless self-improvement — are loath to hear this. But it’s true.

  6. Many people are not trained to accept constructive criticism in a positive way.
    A whole new way of delivering negative information has infiltrated our social discourse, making criticism of any kind palatable to this new sensibility. Being direct & straightforward makes people uncomfortable these days.

    That being said, I don’t think anyone posts their images on facebook or blogs or other social media looking for an informed, expert opinion. Support, perhaps or awareness certainly. No one wants their wall or blog commenbts filled with “You suck!”

    But a privately sent email, perhaps? That sounds remarkable. Who has time for that? If someone did want to do that, and had an informed opinion of my photography, then I would say, Go ahead. Please. Be brutal.

  7. I see people liking/commenting on “bad” photography all the time and Like Me and I’ll Like You is pretty accurate. I can understand photo editors postions that “positive reinforcement is your enemy”, which leads to full inboxes from photographers who have lots of LIKES thus feeding the One Eyed Cat ego that so they think they are ready to drop their day job. In reality most people are not as demanding or educated in photography as our Photo Editor friend Rob. Most people don’t have to look at hundreds of bad photography websites everyday either. So Photography is fun, let them enjoy it ! , but don’t call us we will call you….

  8. Judge by your own standards. FB & Twitter is for sharing generally a ‘like’ doesn’t mean anything other than oh that’s nice coming from you.

    However if it’s a like from someone important in the field then it probably a positive thing and by no means stay at that level. You have to keep improving if not changing after you’ve mastered one style.

  9. Social media is irrelevant as a peer critique. Ignore any praise or criticism from it and just continue to refine your own eye. Try not to suck.

  10. Positive reinforcement is rarely bad. As with reading positive reinforcement is about saying ‘keep practicing’, you’re not wuite there yet but you’re getting better. It’s not about saying ‘you’re awesome!’.
    Personally I have no trouble realizing that I suck. I have good taste so I know what’s good and what’s not. My problem is that I always seem to make pictures that fall short of my own standards because I could always have done better. That’s not necessarily a good thing because it makes me not want to show my work. Sometimes I envy other photographers who put themselves out there. Their work might suck but it gets them hired, which lets them practice, which ultimately makes them improve. Meanwhile I’m still ‘perfecting’ my portfolio in the privacy of my own harddrive doing personal unpaid work and going half broke from the costs of it.

    • I always think I have good taste and know good work when I see it… However I feel like my good taste doesn’t apply to my own work. I feel like if I like something I did its because I did it. Kind of like thinking your own kid is cute when everyone else thinks otherwise.

      • I think I’m a much harsher critic when it comes to my own work. Some things I like at first but then after the initial excitement has worn off I literally can’t stand looking at it anymore because I start to think that all sorts of things are wrong with it.

        People (friends, family, strangers) tell me all the time that they love my work (whenever I happen to let them see some of it) and I appreciate the sentiment but it just doesn’t mean anything to me. I believe that their compliments are genuine but in the end I just know that they’re easy to impress. And even if I get compliments from skilled photographers it just doesn’t mean anything if I don’t agree. If they praise some work of me I’m not crazy about I usually just think “you must be on crack”.

        In the end I think being too critical of one’s own work is worse than having too much confidence in it. I know photographers whose early work was horrible but they never stopped pushing it, never stopped putting it out there and so they slowly progressed to being great photographers whose work I now highly admire. Of course, I, too, got better in that time but they now have established a respectable list of clients while I’m still doing mostly personal work that I pay for out of my own pocket.

  11. I much prefer hearing that I suck… Conveniently, it’s true.

    Sadly, when you get that “Like” or RT it does feel good even though it means very little.

  12. Good dialog here. One of the worst offenders of the “non-constructive” “you are soooo wonderful” sites is Flickr. It can get a little nauseous seeing saccharin comments posted over and over again with the animated Gif awards spinning and sparkling in the comments – after a while they are meaningless. I agree – no one wants to hear “you suck” – I don’t find those words constructive at all. Constructive criticism/dialog is what photographers need more of to improve – not “you suck”!

  13. To Debra,
    What are you paying your various “mentors” to give you this varying criticism and/or support? It is a crime that they continue to take your money.
    I do feel that for the most part you either have it or you don’t, and if you have been doing this for a number of years and not getting anywhere – you should pay attention to that. You are being hit with a lightening bolt in the head. Don’t block that out. It is a real sign. And honestly, those “photographers” are wasting their time. I am sorry to sound like such a downer for those of you who refuse to lose and continue to carry the torch regardless of getting nowhere – but I am trying to be a voice of reason for you. It is hard for people to see clearly when it is personal – but it is no different than when you hear that horrible singer breaking glass with their voice, but vowing to never give up. You feel badly for them. But please, give up.

  14. I’m glad to see I’m not alone in experiencing what Kenneth Jarecke writes about in his article. This is one of the big reasons I’ve scaled back commenting or trying to help others new to the field, even when they ask in the posting, with a real critique. Nobody “likes” an honest critique, you quickly become the jerk and are ostracized. The truth is that many of them really don’t want to learn or have to make an effort to get better – at best they just want the answer. After all, they already know they are great photographers, just ask them.

  15. Why do people have to take Facebook pictures so seriously? Facebook is great for marketing, but is that its only purpose?

    For me personally, the pictures I post on Facebook are not the same pictures I would present to a gallery…. That’s what my website is for. I always thought of Facebook pictures as a visual diary of what is going through my mind at that moment. If people like it great if they don’t who cares, there is something cathartic about picture venting on Facebook… The good the bad and the ugly.

    • “… the pictures I post on Facebook are NOT the same pictures I would present to a gallery”.
      For me, that’s a no brainer. I have posted between 50-75 Images/Pic’s/Snaphots, etc on Facebook in the last year or so – BUT, having said that, I can honestly say that I have posted only one or two actual “PHOTOGRAPHS”, or what I would label ‘Photographs’.
      Well, the reasons are multifarious – Suffice to say that I, like millions of others, are extremely reluctant to publish my “A-List” in such an open-faced, and undisciplined forum. I have no problem posting my “C-List” level stuff, partly because no matter how much flack I get from my peers, I can always fall back on my “B-List” and/or “A-List” folders to keep my artistic ego and photo-artistic ambition intact. I realize how bad this sounds but it is the nature of the beast and the vast majority of my peers hold the same position, even if they deny it.

  16. I love this. In fact, I just re-posted it to Pioneer Woman Photography, and I am sure I’ll get roasted for it. If you know this exceptionally popular blog (it has 5 million+ followers) you know “P-Dub” is a Country Cook, a home-schooling mother of 4, and a budding (i.e. mediocre-to-bad) photographer who doles out photo tips. I try to choke down reading her photo tips every once in awhile…but I often can’t take it! She posts photos that would get skewered in any Intro To Photography class critique, (& juices them up with over-the top-actions to boot!) and her audience of Country-Loving-Homeschooling-Moms marvels over & gushes about how talented she is. This post was the perfect one to share. WE ALL need to be reminded of this on a regular basis. The only way you get better is to get kicked in the gut again and again. It’s just unbelievable the egos some people have! It is indeed easier to “like” something than to be honest.

  17. @ Lynn Donaldson I agree people need to be more honest because it might stir up some interesting dialogue. But here’s a thought… if I say something along the lines of ” John Doe’s work sucks because my opinion is important and I know what good photography looks like” whose ego am I stroking?… Constructive criticism is awesome. Telling someone they suck just because you can… kind of makes you a bad person.

  18. Yes, there are so many cowards in this world

  19. It’s not a matter of life or death to make bad art. So what is the point of telling someone they suck at it? The more time you spend worrying about how much someone else sucks, the less time you have to make sure you don’t.

  20. I am curious as to how many photographers have gone to a portfolio review? the next thing is do you feel the critiques you received we honest. When I went to my first, I was disappointed that my offering wasn’t stellar. Mot of what was said is your are not showing me you, these are common everyday photographs. I was given a glimpse of hope when I went out side my offering and let Susan Baraz scroll through photographs from my lap top to . She was kind enough to show me my strengths and weaknesses. I’m still working on it, but then again is that the struggle.

    If you want to grow stronger in vision and concepts you have to prune back the crap that is diseased, and it is all that fun most of the time. I still have fun.

  21. Yes prune for reviews. But in terms of social networking why prune? the disease is interesting… I saw a lesser known Picasso drawing a few months ago that was actually kind of bad, but that is what made it so compelling. It was an early example of him trying something different. Yeah he went through crap to get to the good stuff, but that is what makes him such a badass.

  22. I guess with reading this posting -I decided to ask myself why I post my work on FB. We do not have to be ruled by a set of criteria there are no boundary’s or rules here.
    This is what I came up with:-
    The photographs I post are based on forms, images, values which to me have a ” resonance.” To other people they may have no meaning what so ever. Based on this perspective, who am I to tell some one their work “sucks”.
    My photography may not meet all the skill criteria of a master photographer, but I have the satisfaction of sharing some of it with others. Sometimes my images may “resonate” with them as well, make them laugh, or may be look at something from a different perspective.
    I enjoy the continual creative growth process of photography and hope others will post some of their best work – so that the “bar” is continually raised. As for skill level, the more we look at other’s work, (local or abroad ), pass ideas around and understand other’s work , we can only improve.
    What’s that saying – “feel the fear and do it anyway” – quite liberating in a way. If we don’t we just stay doing the same old thing which produces the same old images.
    Otherwise, everything just stays stored away on that hard disk, never to see the light of day! – Very sad!

  23. “There is nothing wrong with not being any good at photography” I have never read a more insane premise on a blog devoted to “professional” photographers.

    This is part of a much larger problem in America in which everyone thinks they are entitled to be able to basely call themselves any title they want i.e. I’m a “photographer”, I am a “model”, I am a “director”, etc.

    If you are an aspiring “professional photographer” let me clue you into a little secret. Owning a 5D Mark II, calling yourself by your 3 given names i.e. “Jack Ray Jones”, and posting to Flickr the 15 lucky shots that you got from the 30,000 frames you’ve shot in the past year do not make you a “photographer”. The fact of the matter is You suck because you suck, PERIOD. Photography at the professional level is not something that you can teach yourself.

    The cold hard truth is that becoming high level “professional photographer” is akin to becoming a rockstar or a professional athlete. I happen to own both a guitar and a basketball but unlike most aspiring “photographers” I have the wherewithal to know that I will never be on a stage with Metallica or face LeBron James on a court.

    • I notice that your website claims that you have “developed specific workflows and capabilities that lesser photographers just can’t offer.”

      I’d be interested to know your definition of a “lesser photographer” and what workflows and capabilites are specifically required to move from a lesser to a higher species.

      • The text that you are referring to draws attention to the fact that in the industry that I work in experience matters. I have had 5 conversations with Art Directors/Art Buyers in the last 3 years that have gone like this…

        Me: how did the shoot go for the xyz campaign that you asked me for an estimate on a few months back?”

        Art Director/Art Buyer: well the client decided to hire this kid because his estimate was a lot lower than yours. The kid totally screwed the job up…so badly we couldn’t even use any of the shots.

        Me: is there a budget that you can hire me to reshoot the job?

        Art Director/Art Buyer: no we blew the whole budget and had to end up licensing a stock image to make it work.

        The issue that I have with the “kid” aka “lesser photographer” in the above scenario is that many of them have no idea that shooting a campaign is far more than taking pretty pictures. When clients are spending tens of thousands of dollars on a photo shoot expectations are high. There are typically anywhere from 10-30 people on a advertising campaign photo shoot set all relying on you the photographer for direction. This requires something that simply cannot be taught…an incredible degree of focus and nerves of steel.

        My comments here and the “lesser photographer” text should not be misconstrued as arrogance because it is not. I am simply trying to shed light on a huge problem. In America people are taught from an early age the falsehood that anyone can accomplish anything they want in life. I’ve lived in both the UK and Europe and this concept does just not exist there.

        In the world of photography this notion is perpetuated by readers of The Strobist et al who think that if they somehow learn the technical aspects of photography they can become a working photographer all without assisting or paying their dues.

        • I take on board what you say but what you refer to is an ability to juggle artistic, emotional and economical balls while giving the client a sense of inner calm, accomplishment and peace of mind for having chosen the right man for the job.

          It’s an incredible set of skills to have and I admire your obvious abilities as a man manager, but these things don’t have anything to do with being a lesser or greater photographer.

          Defining the quality of a photographer’s body of work based on the references of a paying client is about as definitive as clicking a like button on a social networking site.

          • Thank you for elaborating on the narrow skill set that I referred to.

            As to your other point…I guess it is how you define the word “photographer.” This blog was started by Robb Haggert a Director of Photography at Men’s Journal and Outside magazines. The content is geared towards photographers who work in the realm of editorial photography.

            There are many other blogs devoted to people who refer to themselves as “photographers” but don’t need to pay mortgage or put food on the table from money that their earn from taking photographs, maybe this original post is more suited to one of them.

  24. This needs to be said and seen on every photoblogging website. Nay, it should be screamed from every tall building.

    This whole culture of “I am great. You are great. We are all great together” has created the culture of banality that has plummeted us back into a new cultural dark age.

    The LIKE button is the enemy of creativity, the prophet of mundanity and the purveyor of mediocrity.

  25. This strikes me as very true for lots of aspiring photographers. I would have to disagree that even the technical aspects can be taught though– some people won’t even take to the technical aspects. But in the end, good photographers are all about taste and sensibility, and that is largely some mix of your genes, your exposure, and your background. At some point, it’s true– magic multiplies itself with work and love, but every fire needs a spark or an ember first.

    I can’t say that the ‘like’ button is in any way different than normal social interaction in regards to your friends’ approbation of your art though. I think that probably if you show a friend your art and they are standing right there, chances are you there is an even stronger impetus to be nice. It’s knowing whose opinions count more!

  26. Strongly agree. Well worded.

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