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News & Insight

Internet Trolls Vs. Obscurity | How To Think About Internet Criticism As A Photographer

By Kishore Sawh on June 2nd 2016

Being Editor-In-Chief of SLR Lounge allows me to sit in an exceedingly fortunate position to see the works of photographers from all walks of life, with all levels of skill/success, and with each a different personality; It allows me to have somewhat of an ‘overview’ effect, if you will, of the photographic and creative community. And what an incredible community it is; vibrant, evolving, generous, and evocative. It’s a sort of meeting place of science, art, and sex, just bursting with stimuli and introspection. We are fortunate to be a part of it.

However, something mars the typically attractive ethos of the community on a whole, and stifles burgeoning creatives the world over: trolling.

Trolling was birthed out of the desire to give and receive feedback that would be used to encourage growth and cure obscurity, but in the quest for the cure (constructive critique), was created a monster – the troll. It is the metastasizing cancer of the creative facility, and there’s no getting away from it, so we must address it.


Almost every photographer I know of has had some significant level of trepidation when it comes to sharing their work, as there’s that purgatorial gap between what your current experience is, and what you consider may be worthy to share. The primary reason for this in current years, is the omnipresence of ‘the troll’. Simply, we are less likely to create if we think we will just be destroyed.

The trolls are often easy to spot, but still insidious in behavior because they bask behind a shield of relative anonymity that affords them impunity. And, with the surefire predictability that night will follow day, their discourse quickly degrades into ad hominem attacks with the intention of shaming personal attributes to discredit whom/what they’re attacking. They do this because they aren’t coming from a place of ‘give’, but from a place of ‘take’, which means they never intended to deal with confrontation, and ad hominem attacks are the only way for them to undermine someone’s case, without having to actually engage with it.

All creatives would like to have feedback, because inherently, we don’t know if our work is, really, any good, and we tend to seek that validation externally. But here’s the thing, and please, allow me speak boldly, bordering on hyperbole for a moment to tell you that if you want feedback you must be prepared for it, the same way you shouldn’t ask a question if you’re not prepared for the answer.

[REWIND: The Best Hard Drive For Photographers]


Also, the community, or ‘the market’, won’t have a damn clue if your work is good or not. Or if it does, it won’t necessarily tell you. Why? Because popularity is what it most often measures, and popularity isn’t married to quality.

How many now-famous painters became famous posthumously, shunned by their era? Why is The Harvard Business Review sold in less volume than the tabloids? Does Justin Beiber’s shattering record sales for ‘Sorry’ mean it’s better quality than Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody? Of course not – sometimes you need a ‘Scaramouch’ in your ‘Fandango’, and damn the impudence of those who say otherwise. So, put whatever you have out there; run it up the flag pole and see who salutes. Expect the trolls, and ignore them, and seek the right kind of critique.

If you’re still nervous, think about using our SLRL Critique section, where you can set what level of critique you want, and it’s a positive community that will be hard on you, but constructively so. And if you want a nice framing of dealing with trolls, see Sean Tucker’s video below, as he approaches it bravely by sharing his experience, in the hopes you will suffer less. We’ve featured Sean before, and he does some great work. Find more about Sean here, and on his site.

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Jason Trayer

    Who cares what a troll has to say.

    Art is open to interpretation and compared to what? And does that what qualify? See the pickle?

    Yes, creatives need validation, a pat on the back, job well done, it’s part of our makeup! We work really hard, well most of us, to achieve what our mind’s eye sees. However, who are you making the art for? What’s it’s purpose? That’s the real question and does it align or is it even in the ballpark?

    I have seen things that I think looks awful, but others like it. Just know there are a lot of opinions out there, qualified or not. As creatives, most of us are very passionate and take things to heart and respond with “my feels got hurt” if something is said to derail the high of achieving something that they have been working on for some time. Most things in life are like this, regardless of industry. I learned the key is to never believe my own press, most people don’t know what they are doing or they know slightly more than you and they can speak as if they know more. At the end of the day, put your adult pants on and know that being vulnerable is part of the game and you control the situation by your reaction to the troll.

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  2. Nikki Guardascione

    I love this! When I was only about a year into my wedding photography career I wrote a blog post rant that went viral all over the world. It was wildly unexpected and I didn’t know how to deal with “trolls”. For years I was scared to post anything online because of the personal attacks that had nothing to do with the article I wrote. I definitely went into a bit of obscurity after and haven’t attempted to climb out since on anything larger than a local level. I wish this video existed 5 years ago!! People don’t realize that there are other humans on the other side of their keyboard attacks… or maybe they do, which is the sad part.

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  3. Nicole Briner

    “You won’t find a talented troll”

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  4. Warren Senewiratne

    Gold, pure gold. A Must-Watch video for Every serious photographer!

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  5. Matthew Saville

    One of my all-time greatest mentors was a wedding photographer who feel squarely into that “rockstar wedding photographer” category which some of us experienced in the 2000’s. His outlook on this matter has stuck with me today:

    You only have so much emotional energy to spend each day. Spend it on the people and things you care about most.

    Do not waste your energy or your emotions on someone whose only goal is to forcefully trade their feelings of dissatisfaction and hate for your feelings of pride and passion. Because that’s all they’re trying to do. Beat you down, because that’s the only way they learned to feel good about themselves. As the saying goes, don’t feed the trolls.

    This happens unfortunately in every single corner of photography, and life in general. It’s not just the critique of your recent few photographs, it’s also in the gear you decided to buy, or even in the advice you try and give others.

    In fact that’s one of the newest breeds of trolls, the advice-giving trolls. I know, because I’m frequently tempted to participate in such activities. If I see one photographer giving what I think is terrible advice to another photographer, I can’t help but jump in, and inevitably the side of my personality that is a sarcastic ass comes out.

    But, I’ve learned something else on my own journey in photography and teaching others. That is, nobody responds positively to negative input. They’ll just hate you more, and they’ll close themselves off towards future input. So if your whole goal is in fact to “set the record straight”, or to positively influence someone else, (whether artistic style or gear purchasing) …then put your money where your mouth is, and bite your tongue when you feel a mean, sarcastic comment brewing.

    Be positive, or at least be polite if you have to deliver bad news when someone asks for input. Otherwise you’re just a troll, and you might not even realize it.

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  6. Philippa Dodds

    I would imagine that the process of analysing and then offering constructive criticism is also a learning process for us.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Without a doubt, Philippa. It sort of forces us to read an image with specificity that we may not otherwise do, and think about it [the image] versus react to it, which helps explain why we may react how we do.

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