Trolls and Warrior King photographers; Newbie photographer survival advice
This is for any photographer that feels brow-beaten by peers or shamed on social media for so called un-originality or just negativity around their photography
We all start somewhere - Every end has a start, every artist went through a stage of un-originality. We’ve all shot howlers, and we only now know they were ‘bad’ when we go back and look at our old work. I don’t see my previous work in any kind of a shameful way, I see it purely in terms of my personal growth (though I do still cringe at some of my shots!).
In any endeavour, you need to learn the basics, and working out lots of things on the fly is a given. You then forget them, repeat the same mistakes, remember those mistakes; rinse and repeat. And it’s those failings that teach us things. Photography is the same as everything else. You think you know everything at first because you are shooting in Portrait mode (the little dial on the top of your camera. Generally it is denoted by a capital ‘P’), and you are on the top of the Mountain while you are using it. You are the Warrior King, and your pictures are awesome. You begin to wonder if you are in fact James Bond. You then read about Manual mode. You are awesome, so you put the camera into Manual mode and everything falls apart in your shots. They are blurry, or over exposed, and why is the background so sharp? You now realise you aren’t even in the foot hills of those Mountains you just thought you were the King of, and you are in fact just about to click ’buy’ on the holiday to those Mountains while sitting typing on your laptop while in your PJs. And make no mistake, it’s a daunting journey, but it’s worth it to have so much more control of your camera and understand why it does what it does.
All of our journeys are different - As are the people we encounter on that journey. I was bought a camera for my 16th Birthday, couldn’t use the damn thing, sold it and bought loads of comics and books and subsequently dedicated my existence to breaking myself into small pieces while doing BMX Freestyle. I of course came back to photography, and it was through my love of Henri Cartier Bresson & Annie Leibovitz’s work (I know. Colour me a cliche’) that I did. I unashamedly love their work. Simple as that, and through that, many other fabulous photographers.
Surviving online negativity - The difference now is social media. Lots of people are uploading their work on things like Instagram, Facebook, etc and in their fledgling endeavours to show the world what they can do, their view of the world, or how awesome their cats are, are then getting savaged. And is this warranted? No is 99% of the answer. There are always the 1% delusional photographers, but as they are delusional, they won’t be reading this! Asking for critique is one thing, and you take it all on the chin, because how else can you grow? But the barrage I see daily of unsolicited criticism is just not helpful in any way, and a lot of the time, it’s out and out spiteful but that is now part of the playing field. It of course doesn’t have to be. There are loads of supportive photography communities on the web. Truthfully I’d suggest joining some of them, and let you and your art grow up in less savage and destructive environments. The caveat is of course, always know you can always be better, no matter what anyone tells you. Support and encouragement are great, someone fluffing your ego is not. If you are a big fish in a small pool, don’t carry that attitude into more advanced groups. I suspect you know what will happen if you do….
So where does it all the negativity come from? Aside from some people having superiority complexes, crappy attitudes, or just want to troll, you don’t really need to go too in depth to realise that anonymity on the web can bring out the worst in people, or even if you know who they are, they can’t see you for a person as you are just a disembodied profile picture of someone they will never have to look in the eye. Its a failing on their part, not yours. And this brings me to how Photographers can act towards other photographers, because at the heart of it as well as the public they can be a fickle mush heads. We see the same images again and again and we can get jaded. Then ten years later, an Ad agency puts out an advert with a pose or lighting that is no longer in vogue, and then it’s ‘retro’ or ‘chic’ or any number of adjectives that in truth bore me and we all chuck up our hands in the air like it’s something new and then over use it till we are all then sick of it again. So with that in mind some photographers get it into their heads that they are the last bastion of what is good and right in the Kingdom of Photography. And they then decide that they must share their wisdom with you (er, a bit like what I am doing now. We’ll just skip that ). The poor photographer who has offended their sensibilities and outraged their Photography chronometer of what should be allowed to be shot in what year is then left thinking ‘Wow. So I should be shooting something more modern? More black and white?” You have a ladder in your shot? ‘Dude, that so sub 2000’ - Beauty shots with a back light and reflector? ‘Dude, that’s the 90’s’ (Tell that to Sue Bryce).
You get the idea. And with these people, what do you do? Personally, my advice is to just drive on by. If they are persistent, block them. On your photography journey, they are just stones and pot holes that you can walk around. You don’t need them in your life, why bother with them.
What made me write this post? Negativity on social media was a large part of it. In closed groups on forums, Facebook, etc, bashing someone elses photography is still in evidence, and it always will be. It doesn’t make it good or right, it simply is, and will not go away. And for some souls that gut punch will leave them reeling and wheezing metaphorically on the floor. They’ll drag themselves off the canvas, put up their artistic boxing gloves, and carry on. They are down but not out. But there are also folks who are of a more sensitive disposition, and this blog post is for them. You are not alone. It feels like it, but you aren’t. If the negativity is too much somewhere, retreat for a bit. Do your thing. Put your camera down if need be and learn to bake bread, learn to handstand or just go out with your friends. Someone elses view on your work is just that. Their view. It isn’t definitive.
So you do your thing and grow. Don’t let the bastiches drag you down.
And if you are looking for anything to help you understand basic photography
Scott Kelby (honestly hard to go wrong here for beginners!)
Basics of Digital photography
The Moment It Clicks: Photography secrets from one of the world's top shooters (buy from a second hand seller. Much cheaper!)