I’d like to bring up a topic which has been on my mind as of late, with regards to the reactions we give each other as peers, mentors, and students. As photographers, when we put out work out in the public eye (as a hobby or professionally), we are expecting some type of reaction. Perhaps we are seeking self-gratification, validation, or even the hopes for receiving constructive criticism. I cannot imagine a photographer arrogant enough to feel that they have no room for improvement, but I do understand that seeking a reaction in the hopes of learning something more is not everyone’s goal. For the beginners in the group though, I’d like to speak about the reactions you receive from others regarding your work. I say “reactions” in a broad context which should more accurately be broken down into: feedback, advice, and opinions.
Whether it is positive or negative, feedback is a wonderful tool to help the willing photographer learn to improve, but should however, be taken with a grain of salt. Feedback is a way to gauge the popularity of your efforts as either a learning or established photographer, but like any tool, you must learn how to use it effectively if your purpose is growth. I say this because feedback is most often a mixture of advice and opinions, those of which may not mean very much unless you know exactly who they are coming from. If you put your work out there amongst your peers in the hopes of receiving feedback, be prepared to receive all types. There are plenty of strong viewpoints amongst our peers (one of the natural characteristics of being an artist/photographer). Keep in mind that positive feedback shows you what you are doing well, and negative feedback gives you an opportunity for improvement.
Advice is a whole different ballgame, one which should be taken more seriously. Personally, my belief is that advice should only be sought from those who are in a valid position of giving it. For me, that means someone more successful, who has walked in my shoes, and who has more experience than I do in my field. Sometimes we ask the advice of others who are in no position to be handing it out, which can actually be quite damaging to your future as a photographer. This is why getting good advice is so difficult – because you need to first find the right person to ask.
People in general are quick to give their thoughts on what you should be doing better, but that is usually largely based on their outlook for their own lives, not yours. When you find an appropriate person to ask for advice, you should listen both carefully and cautiously too. Although we are all photographers, we are not all the same type of photographer with the same vision. Adapt and apply important advice to your situation, and you’ll have gained a step up from where you were once sitting. Of course, it isn’t as easy as it may sound, but believe it or not, the effort is worth it!
Opinions – The Ugly Children
I divert this part of the posting into rant mode as I present my ugly child to you… Opinions are what make us individuals. Some would say we are entitled to them and I suppose that we are, as long as we are not using them to belittle or degrade each other with them. Opinions should not be confused with feedback or advice, since opinions are quite often based on feeling rather than fact; a product of our upbringing, our environment, and our individual beliefs. Opinions are often just individual emotional reactions to a situation (or in our case, to photographs, articles, etc…) and like it or not, they are self-serving.
Be both accepting and cautious when receiving advice; it must be taken in a way that applies to your individual creative vision. Feedback is a fantastic tool which can help you gauge the effectiveness of your efforts. There are very few perfect things in this world, which leaves plenty of room for opinions on improvement.
Ultimately, when it comes to your work there is only one opinion that truly matters – how do YOU feel about your work, and how would YOU like to improve? We are all capable of learning anything we want or need to in order to grow as photographers. Keep an open mind and stick with your vision, be mindful of true advice and the feedback on your efforts, and you’ll find yourself consistently reaching new heights in your photography.