There is a disturbing trend that is plaguing the photography industry. This phenomenon is the overall hating, disrespect and “trolling” behavior we are seeing in online educational communities and social networks (our own included). This behavior creates a negative environment where those with a genuine desire to learn and share become afraid to participate. After all, after seeing someone get torn apart without a shred of constructive critique, would you feel comfortable putting your ideas, images and questions up on the chopping block? We don’t expect this article to change the industry. But as SLR Lounge has grown (now surpassing over 160,000 monthly users) we want to make sure SLR Lounge remains a positive environment.
There are three factors contributing to this phenomenon:
1. Misdirected anger
2. The “elitist” mentality
3. Internet anonymity
1. Misdirected Anger
Many people feel that the photography industry is being destroyed by “weekend warriors, new photographers, low priced DSLRs, etc.” Some photographers blame their own failure or lack of success on outside factors, when in reality they can find their reason for failure simply with a little humble self-reflection and analysis.
I highly recommend an amazing book by Jim Collins called “Good to Great” where he analyzes the quality in the leadership of great companies. One of my favorite parts of that book is where Jim describes the “window and the mirror” effect. Basically it is to say, and I paraphrase, that “great leaders will look out the window with success, while looking in the mirror with failure.”
In every industry, over time the tools of production become more accessible as technology improves. While this forces us to adapt, it doesn’t change the overall need for photographers that can execute a vision, provide consistent professional quality work, communicate well, etc.
In fact, let’s try making some of these arguments in some other industries and see if they would fly:
“Inexpensive sports cars are destroying the careers of race car drivers, because now everyone can afford a cheap sports car to practice with.”
“Everyone is a professional basketball player these days, because everyone can play basketball anywhere.”
“Because everyone owns computers and laptops, we are all computer programmers.”
“I own a set of pots, pans and cooking utensils, therefore I am a professional chef.”
These arguments make no practical sense as there are not that many professional race car drivers, basketball players, programmers or chefs despite the fact that we all have access to these tools. The fact is that every industry goes through change as technology changes. For photographers, this means several things. Either your work needs to stand out, you need to be providing a better service, or you need to be the cheaper option. Whatever you choose, you need to have a competitive advantage to run a successful business; and how you sustain that competitive advantage is up to you.
I understand that running a business can be a very frustrating process, especially when you are not reaching your goals and dreams. But, you will never reach them by blaming others for your failure. Cameras and the overall tides of technological advancement will always continue to advance; pushing back is as futile as trying to stop a mighty river by standing in it. Instead, don’t fight it, move along with technology and find new ways you can utilize it to create a better and more differentiated product than your competitors.
2. Internet Anonymity
Another factor that contributes to all of this negativity is internet anonymity along with the lack of genuine social consequences. While walking along the street, you might see an image or piece of artwork and think it is complete garbage, but I don’t think anyone in their right minds would stop to tell the artist “your work sucks.” So why do we do it online?
Well, because of social anonymity, as well as the lack of genuine social consequences. In real life, such a statement could be followed by a vicious argument or even a fist fight. But, online you can mask your identity and make these statements behind the comfort of your LCD screen. Even on Facebook, where we see someone’s identity, there is still a lack of social consequence for being blatantly rude.
Imagine if every comment you made online required you to say the comment to the person face to face, would you still make the same comment? Would you find a more polite way to critique? Or would you just not say anything at all?
3. The Elitist Mentality
We define the “elitist” mentality as the thought that the only work worth merit is your own. While we all should have confidence in our work, there is difference in having confidence versus thinking everyone else’s work has no value or merit.
We shouldn’t overlook the value in other people’s work because of stylistic differences or simply because of our own pride. This is what we call the “elitist” mentality. The pitfall of this behavior is that it severely cripples ones development and growth as a photographer because they refuse any outside influence or opinion which could greatly help one’s own growth. Each of the images shown above displays different types of photography, as well as different types of production styles. While you could say that you don’t stylistically agree with an image, or perhaps with the way it is produced, these are all very subjective statements and opinions. Each of the images above, and production styles will appeal to different people, but I guarantee that they will appeal to someone.
It is funny how many photographers absolutely abhor Instagram, but why? Obviously there is a huge desire for this look as millions of people love and use the program on their images. We can lift our noses to the “toy camera effect” but doesn’t that just close us out from working with clients that want that “toy camera” look? I am definitely not saying that every image should have vintage toy camera filters applied to it; and if a client asked for that, I would say that it wouldn’t be a good idea as they might look back one day and regret it. We want to keep our images and effects non-dated and as timeless as possible. But, at the same time I have seen a lot of images that work incredibly well with the vintage toy camera effect. Just because that effect has become “mainstream,” that doesn’t mean I should lift my nose to using it when a certain image or situation calls for it.
In general, if you don’t agree with someone’s work and if you can’t find a positive way to provide constructive criticism, then do as your mother would have told you and just “don’t say anything at all.” After all, what good does it do to attempt to tear someone else down without providing any sort of valuable feedback by just saying, “this is terrible,” or “that picture is crap.” These comments only serve to discourage the photographer, as well as alienate the commenter from the community as he/she is labeled a “troll” or “hater.”
Regardless of what type of photographer you are (landscape, wedding, sports, etc), you can draw inspiration and ideas from everyone and virtually anywhere. The sooner you can recognize the merit and value in other people’s work, the quicker you will grow yourself as a photographer.
This unfortunately is the current state of our industry. It is a state where our own images and style are the only ones that exist; a state where success is attributed to luck and the ease of purchasing a cheap DSLR; a state where failure is attributed to “weekend warriors destroying the industry”; a state where we can say anything we want to whomever we want online because there is no consequence for being unkind.
I am sad to say that this is the industry that I am a part of. It discourages me every time I attend trade shows like WPPI, PMA, etc. Because I see the look in people’s eyes as they look down upon other photographers who maybe shoot with different equipment, different styles, or belong in industries that some don’t consider to be “true photography.” Most of all, it saddens me because we are in an industry that would be so well served by each of us seeing the beauty in other people’s work; an industry where helping and lifting others would benefit others as well as ourselves in the long run by developing lasting relationships; an industry that could be so much more than it currently is.
I don’t expect this article to change the industry. In fact, I doubt that most of the offenders that I speak of would have even read or completed reading this article. But, I do intend on making a change here on SLR Lounge. Treat this article as a warning. The last thing we want is to moderate comments, and constructive criticism is always permitted and welcome on SLR Lounge. Comments like, “The skin tones in this image are terrible, I would have warmed it up, also watch out for those highlights!” is something we would consider a bit harsh, but overall constructive and is completely welcome. But, from here on out if we see comments or behavior that is not constructive or bears no use other than to just put others down such as “this image is garbage”, we will moderate and delete your comment. I can’t change the state of our sad industry, but I can make SLR Lounge a more open place for all of us to enjoy, inspire and educate one another.