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Dealing with the Haters – What Do You Do When You Get Hate Mail? – Photographer Inspiration

By Matthew Saville on February 6th 2012

As the saying goes among professional photographers, “You know you’ve arrived when you get your first hate mail!”…That first scathing comment from hurting your feelings.Indeed, even a guy’s feelings.:-P

What do you do?Delete the comment / post / email?Respond to it politely?Fire back a scathing retort of your own?Cry on the shoulder of a friend as you quit photography?The short answer is, well, it’s complicated. It is certainly safe to just ignore the haters, and deletethe email / comments.But I’d like to dig a little deeper for a moment, and see if hate mail can actually be seen in a POSITIVE light!

First of all, let’s take a long hard look at exactly what they’re saying.Of course if it’s just some troll yelling “you suck!” then yeah, that’s pretty useless.Delete and move on!But personally if the comment mentions ANYTHING specific about my work in general, or a particular image, I take it into consideration.Even if it’s only for a brief moment, I mentally determine whether or not they’re talking about something that I could improve on. Everybody makes mistakes, and everybody has something new to learn.Sometimes the comment is about a simple mistake that I already KNOW I made, in which case I might even politely agree with them and say “Yeah, I usually know better!”Sometimes though, they really ARE pointing out my greatest weakness.Of course if the comment was rude I would still delete it and certainly don’t feel a need to respond, but I still put that critique on my list of thing to work on.

What it all boils down to is whether or not you can be your own worst critic. Can you be ruthless when it comes time to self-critique?It may hurt your ego a bit, but it’s the best way to dramatically improve the quality of your work, as rapidly as possible.And it usually turns out that the haters hardly bother you, because you’ve ALREADY identified your flaws etc.

This fast-paced, no-excuses approach to improving your photography may not be for everyone.And it may take you very close to “burnout” once or twice.So it’s perfectly okay to just go at your own pace, and get feedback as gently as you wish.I just happened to take a different approach, and I like to think it served me well.
So if you’re a beginner, or a skilled hobbyist, this is pretty much where the discussion ends. However, what if you’re an aspiring or budding professional?You’re just starting to put your name out there, get a few clients, and (scary part!) …put your WORK out there, calling yourself a professional.Somehow, this takes the ego bruising to a whole new level, and it certainly opens up a whole different can of worms on a philosophical level.Are you charging too much?Should you even be “going pro” yet?

Well, the same rules apply in my opinion.Ignore the haters, especially the rude ones who have no real substance / critique in their attacks. Or if they mention something specific, tell your ego to suck it up for a moment and consider it.And above all, LET IT MAKE YOU STRONGER!

This discussion could go on for days, so here’s my favorite way of seeing things:Actually when you really think about it, this is all VERY ironic- That person is probably struggling with their business, while yours is on the rise. They might even be a better photographer than you, for now, but because you’re achieving success with your current skill level, they can’t get past that and so they begin to wallow in self-pitty and play the blame-game. They lash out at people like you because they think you’re stealing their busines and ruining the industry, …when in reality, all they’re doing is WASTING TIME that they could be spending on SAVING THEIR BUSINESS, …and here’s the good part, …their snide comments are HELPING YOU BEAT THEM.Isn’t it a lot more awesome, when you think about it that way?I mean I kinda feel sorry for ’em now.It can’t be easy to be in that situation. So, here’s to all the haters out there.If you’re bored enough to waste your time insulting and discouraging a fresh new photographer, well,we can do you the honor of turning your negativity into something positive.Thanks!


Take care,


(One of my all-time favorite images, that nobody else likes as much as I do for some reason…;-)
Nikon D70, Nikon 24-85 G, tripod, polarizer – “Little Corona” CA – 2005 

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Matthew Saville is a full-time wedding photographer at Lin & Jirsa Photography, and a senior editor & writer at SLR Lounge.

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Q&A Discussions

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  1. Ed Rhodes

    haters gonna hate, and ain’ters gonna ain’t

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  2. Shawn

    Just got hate mail number 2 today!  (number 1 was almost a year ago).  Neither were critiquing, but rather the (in a nutshell) “you suck” type.  Best part about hate mail number 2.. the person had some real issues spelling and sent it anonymously from kijiji.  hehehe.  I have to admit it gave me kind of a cheap thrill… is that bad?

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  3. Thrurickseyes

    As I became familiar with my point-and-shoot camera, I started using the scene modes a lot, especially close-up. The 1,000’s of shots I have taken of insects and colorful plants around my house have brought lots of knowing smiles, shaking heads and comments along the lines of “you’re kind of strange.”  However, some friends have offered encouragement by pointing at some aspect of a photo that could be improved or seen differently. I guess when you are doing something you enjoy and sharing the bounty with others, not everyone will be an encourager.
    Like the photo, by the way. Blue is one of my favorite colors.

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  4. Michael

    I hate it!  Nah, but in the spirit of the blog, I could not resist!  Great article!  I have some photography friends that can only take validation and not critique…yeah, I’m talking about myself too.  I want them to read this! 

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  5. Joe Gunawan

    The blue doesn’t look blue enough and it looks Photoshopped. Just kidding, it actually looks nice and calm. I like it, Matt!

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  6. Jeff

    isn’t there a guy selling stuff like that a couple millions each. Oh, no! This one is way better

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  7. Pmailletblogs

    Can’t imagine why people wouldn’t like this one, I LOVE it! Great job!

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  8. Clodius #

    I too like your seascape image

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