Sometimes we feel really lucky to be in a field that allows us to showcase our talents through an online portfolio; it means that potential clients can easily see what we have to offer, and anyone can appreciate our work in a way that just isn’t possible with a conventional job.
But at other times, we may wonder if the artistic exposure we get is worth the vulnerable position we put ourselves in by having an online presence. Anyone who posts their work on the internet quickly becomes familiar with criticism, and no matter how many compliments we receive, the critics always seem to be the loudest.
If you want a successful and healthy life as a photographer, then learning to deal with criticism is essential. We as artists should be able to incorporate useful criticism into our work and dismiss useless or mean-spirited criticism, all without taking it personally.
It’s easier said than done, I know, but with practice, you’ll be able to train negative and unhelpful patterns out of your response to criticism.
Don’t Take it Personally
Our work can feel very personal to us, especially when we’ve spent long hours educating ourselves and honing our skills in the field.
We easily forget that, to everyone else, our work is just work and our businesses are just businesses. Online critics don’t view our photos as part of us, the way we might, and they don’t mean for the negative feedback they give to feel like a personal attack.
We can start to control the emotional responses we may have to criticism by taking this fact to heart.
Don’t just tell yourself “it isn’t personal”, understand that this is true, and move on; when you receive criticism, really think about the critic’s intentions and let that motivate your response.
If they were trying to help, then your feelings shouldn’t be hurt. If they were trying to hurt your feelings, then their criticism holds no value.
Do Identify and Ignore the Trolls
The negative comments that are designed to be hurtful can provoke the strongest responses, but they are really not worth listening to. Fortunately, it’s easy enough to figure out which feedback isn’t genuine.
On social media, accounts that have no profile picture, no posts, and no friends or followers should pretty much be ignored. Sometimes they’re bots, and sometimes they are throw-away accounts made by people who specifically want to cause trouble.
Even comments from accounts that appear to be real humans may not be worth your time if they are rude rather than constructive and nothing on their profile indicates any interest or knowledge in photography.
Sincere critics, whether you agree with their opinions or not, will at least try to explain their reasoning and what changes they would recommend.
Do Embrace Constructive Criticism
If you get comments from a photography business account or an individual who knows their stuff, be open to what they say.
Their criticism will probably include clear suggestions for improvement, and they’ll try to avoid phrasing it like an insult; after all, they’ve been on the receiving end of criticism, too.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t feel insulted, but you should aim to overcome that initial response as quickly as possible and take the comment as it was intended.
In the photography world, constructive criticism is a critique that is constructive– it informs the photographer how to improve. When you provide constructive criticism, you’re actually giving the photographer useful information that tells them how to improve and get better.
To me, a constructive critique is positive, optimistic, and helpful/useful.
We spend a lot of time staring at our own work and may become blind to habitual errors. By allowing ourselves to be part of a community of peers, we can get lots of trained eyes on our photos and learn what mistakes we’ve been ignoring. Constructive criticism can be just that: constructive.
Don’t just tolerate this type of criticism; embrace it and actively seek it out! We can learn a lot about our art from what other photographers think of it.
Don’t Reply Without Thinking
It’s common to get defensive and want to argue with critics, but you should fight that impulse as much as you can.
Even if you’ve identified a commenter as a troll and feel the need to call them out on it, you’ll be doing more harm than good. Those people are trying to get a rise out of you, and you let them win when you waste time responding to their insults.
It’s also simply not professional. Entertaining rude comments with immature replies isn’t a good look for you or your brand, so the best way to handle them is by ignoring them completely.
Replying to genuine, reasonable criticism, on the other hand, makes you look good. When you acknowledge concerns, or even ask for suggestions, you’re letting people know that you understand you aren’t perfect and want to learn from your mistakes.
Clients also appreciate the ability to keep cool in stressful situations and take feedback well, so demonstrating these traits online gives them another reason to hire you.
Do Let Yourself Grow
Dealing with criticism well means more than just being professional about it and keeping yourself from getting angry or hurt; it also means allowing yourself, your personal style, and your business to evolve.
Learn from your critics. If your response to their complaints inspires you to explore a new path with your art, don’t be afraid to do so.
Appreciate the attention. You receive feedback -- good, bad, and ugly -- because people are moved enough by your work to say something about it, and that’s a positive thing.
Teach yourself patience. Clients like to give feedback, too. If you decide to always view criticism as an opportunity for growth rather than something negative, your life will be much easier, and your career will benefit from this attitude.
Good Luck Out There!
We don’t expect you to leave this article as a paragon of calm and understanding in the face of online criticism, but we do hope you’ll start to see things differently. The next time your photography account has a notification, open it with excitement, not dread because it will be your first chance to implement the things we’ve talked about.
Remember our advice and refer back here as necessary, but don’t be hard on yourself if you have trouble following it at first; responding well to criticism will start to come naturally sooner than you think!
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