In the photography industry, it’s very probably that you will come across criticism. Sometimes this criticism can be constructive – from friends, mentors, or fellow creatives, it can be intended to help you improve your craft and get better results. Sometimes, however, it can take a more negative tone, and end up doing more harm than good.
To receive negative feedback from those we do not know is often crushing: those who comment on social media are afforded a certain amount of anonymity and feel as though they can say whatever they like without repercussions, so the feedback can be harsh. At times, comments can be made that are derogatory or needlessly cruel. They can take a personal tone, insulting your work and your work ethic. It can even become repetitive and bullying behavior. Here’s how you can deal with this issue if it happens to you.
Take a deep breath
The first thing you will want to do is to try and relax and breathe. When we read a negative comment it can sting to the core, and that reaction is both an instantaneous and a strong one. It can be followed by anger, hurt, depression, or shame. Instead of having a knee-jerk reaction and making a comment straight away in response, take a moment of your time to breathe and calm down. The comment is already posted, so the damage is done – and it won’t do any good to rush in with an instant response. The great thing about social media or website comments, or even emails, is that no one can tell when you have read the comment and how long it takes you to reply.
Assess the comment
Let’s try to look at the negative comment in an objective way. First, you need to work out whether you have been handed constructive criticism that you can use, a negative comment with no basis, or a case of bullying. Answer these questions before you move on.
- Does the commenter have a point? For example, if they criticise your composition, are they right that it could be improved?
- Do they offer advice to improve it?
If you answer yes to both of these questions, the comment is constructive criticism. Even if you feel too stung to reply to them, try to take the comment on board and think about how you can do better in the next shoot. If it improves your craft and your sales, then in the end it was a helpful comment.
- Is the commenter talking about something personal? For example, describing you as a bad photographer, making a derogatory comment about the appearance of the model.
- Do they offer not justification or advice? For example, saying it is a bad shot or low-quality work without stating why or telling you how to improve it.
If you can answer yes to either of these questions, the comment is a negative one by no basis. In all likelihood, the commenter is just trying to get a reaction or being mean for no reason (perhaps your image has been featured in a magazine or on a social media feed that they have been rejected from, and they feel personally slighted).
- Is this the second, third, or more time that they have made a similar comment on your work (or that of another member of the creative team)?
- Is the comment needlessly abusive? For example, using racial slurs or racist language, attacking sexuality or personality directly.
If you can answer yes to either of these questions, you may be dealing with a bully.
Decide on action
Now you need to decide what you are going to do. In almost all cases, there are at least two courses of action which would be sensible to take. Never, ever respond with an attack on the commenter. At best, all you are going to do is continue an argument that neither of you will be able to win. At worst, you may lose clients, get banned from using a social platform, or appear to be the instigator of bullying yourself.
If the comment is constructive, you can choose one of two actions:
- Politely thank the person and let them know that you agree. State your intentions to improve in future, and ask for further advice if you feel you need to.
- Take the comment on board silently and do not acknowledge it.
If the comment is negative with no basis, you can:
- Delete the comment without responding, and report it as abusive or spam if you feel it would be justifiable to do so and it is on social media
- Ask the commenter to justify their opinion and provide constructive feedback so that you can do better.
If the comment is bullying, you can:
- Report and delete the comment, and then block the commenter.
- Report the commenter to the police if outside of social media or significantly abusive language is used. Particularly if threats are made, make sure to take screenshots and show this to the police.
Even if you have dealt with a comment and removed it from being viewable, it can still linger in your mind and haunt you for a good deal of time afterwards. If this is the case for you, there are a few things that you can do in order to help yourself recover mentally.
The first thing is to work hard at improving yourself. If your composition was criticized, for example, you can find free guides on how to compose images more naturally or how to think about your frame. This is a very positive way to react because instead of feeling down about the comment, you are actively going out to improve your craft. The results for your images will definitely be positive, and you will also feel as though you are being proactive.
You can also put the comments out of your mind by going to look at the positive comments made by your clients, admirers, friends, and family members in the past. If you get feedback which is particularly encouraging, then save it in a file or write it down in a notebook. When you feel bad about your work or you have been attacked with negative comments, looking at these positive comments can really cheer you up and make you feel good about your work again.
If you like to be a bit sneaky and get revenge, then go ahead and look at the social media profile or website of the person who made the comment. Chances are that their work is not to a high standard, so take some pleasure in going through their gallery and mentally listing all of the ways in which their work is poorly done. Don’t be tempted to make comments of your own, but go ahead and laugh at them if you can. You will almost certainly see that bullies or internet trolls are people who are unsuccessful, untalented, or unfulfilled in their own lives. Once you know that, their words cannot harm you.
Have you ever been involved in an instance of photography bullying? What happened, and how did you deal with it? We would love to hear your story <3