Photographers - Should We Care What Others Think?

06th May 2013
In: Blog
Following a recent conversation I had with a fellow photographer I thought I'd give you some thoughts on what we talked about. Basically the subject discussed was whether you should worry what other people (namely photographers) think of your work, or more precisely how you achieve your imagery.

Throughout life we seem to be obsessed with the opinions of other people, constantly seeking assurance that what we do, buy or produce is good enough. It a natural obsession, but from a photographer's point of view, whether it is particularly healthy or helpful is another question.

When I first started out in photography as a keen hobbyist, I will admit to being very concerned about what others thought of my work. I joined an online photographic community, where every members work could be voted for and commented on. Most of the comments were of the positive reinforcement kind, "Great Image" or "Fantastic Capture" were very common (thankfully). Occasionally someone would point out technical aspects, which as a beginner I would have missed. This kind of constructive criticism is invaluable, especially when starting out. The person giving the critique has obviously spent time looking at your work, has assessed as they see fit, and worded their observations in a respectful way. It's only good manners to take on board what they say, you may or may not agree, but it doesn't hurt to listen to what they have said.

Unfortunately, not everyone can be as balanced in their view point. Photography is a branch of the Arts, and so opinions on what is and isn't good is very subjective. The expression, 'One man's meat is another man's poison' is wholly appropriate in this case. Being a part of the Arts, it attracts the clique element and those that 'must be heard'. It's here that taking on board someone else's opinion becomes difficult. I'm not tarring every member of Photographic Societies and Communities with the same brush here. A very large majority are every day folk who take photographs for a hobby or a living, they love the subject and appreciate great images. Like me if they don't like something, then generally don't talk about it and move on. There is, however, a minority containing the high brow purists, that abhor any form of post-production in that devil called 'Photoshop', or can't abide anyone that doesn't follow their own methods and opinions, and they like to let everyone know too.
Photography is an art form, which generally means that 'rules' are merely for guidance in the pursuit of a great image. Personally I'm all for 'each to their own'. Some things I like, others I don't, it's my personal preference, but I wouldn't spend my valuable time venting my spleen on my blog page, about people that over-process images, or don't practice the purists method of image production.
What these people fail to realise is, that every image produced will have an audience that appreciates it. That audience may be very small, very large or somewhere in between, but someone somewhere will like it. There is also the argument of artistic license. I'm sure Constable or Turner didn't paint exactly what they saw, some elements subjects of the scene would be tweaked or even removed to suit the desired composition. Traditional film photographers used darkroom tricks such as dodging, burning and even painting on final images.

So should we care what others think of our work? To answer that we have to ask Why are we creating the images in the first place?
I can only speak for myself, but how I see it is this. I take landscape images solely for me. It's my getaway, it's my quiet time, it's my moment to appreciate the world around me. The only person that those images need to please is myself, but if others like them too, then it's a bonus, and nice to know people appreciate what I am producing.
My commercial portrait work is obviously different, I have a client to please as well. That said, I have developed my own style of portraiture, which is clearly displayed through images on my website, and, I would hope, it's the client response to that style that is the driver for them to book me to capture images for them.

In summary the answer isn't straightforward, there is vast area of grey between the black and the white. Personally, I think listening to others is vital, if the critique is balanced and respectful, and they have your artistic development at heart. If it's the Photography snob, then my advice would be to shut your ears, walk away, and just enjoy what you are doing.

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