FAQ: How to Deal With Photography Naysayers

I received a great question via email the other day regarding a situation that most of us have experienced at some point, but have either shrugged off or bottled it up inside of us. I’m talking about the photography naysayers out there. The people who, for some reason or another, feel the need to tell you that you aren’t doing something “right” and put you down as a photographer or even worse – as a learning photographer.

The Naysayer Effect

It is an unfortunate fact of life, when people (who don’t personally know) us see us taking photos, there is a tendency for them to think, “Look at this guy/girl taking photos… Who the heck to they think they are, some pro or something?”. Couple this with another unpleasant side of human nature that some people feel that their opinion is “expert” in anything and everything, and the result is an all too familiar situation not only as a photographer, but also in life. Believe it or not, there are negative elements in this world that compel some people to put down others, challenging our shooting technique, our gear, our creativity, etc… They like to tell us that we’re amateurs for not using manual mode, or that full frame cameras are better, or our lens is too cheap… What’s amazing to me is that 99% of the time, these people are not holding a camera of their own. They either claim that they “used to do photography” or they “have a friend who is a pro photographer” and that somehow entitles them to a baseless opinion.

Now, I’m not against opinions per se; we all have them and we are all entitled to them. I expect people to share them (hint hint, leave your comment on this post below!) and I expect us to sometimes agree and disagree. However, I do have a big problem with people demeaning others when they are in no position to do so. Believe it or not, this happens a lot in photography.

How to Deal With Them

It’s probably crystal clear how I feel on this topic, so I’ll end the naysayer bashing here and move on to how I believe you can effectively deal with them. The one thing you can count on with complete certainty is that no matter how right you are, you cannot change someone else (or their opinion). What you do have complete control over, is how you choose to deal with the situation. Communication has become more of an art form than a means of delivering your sentiments.

Our mother’s all taught us never to stoop to someone’s lower level, and this couldn’t be more true in these types of situations. From personal experience I have learned that the “kill them with kindness” approach has been 100% effective for me. If someone has the nerve to approach you while you are shooting and give you an opinion which initially makes your blood boil, take a breath and introduce yourself to them in a friendly manner. Be polite and professional, and even if you KNOW they are wrong, don’t bother engaging in an argument with them. Of course it would be nice to tell them to mind their own business and just put them in their place, but why ruin your day or your shoot by having a heated debate with someone when ultimately the end result isn’t going to change anything? It just doesn’t serve any useful purpose and can stifle your creativity. Hand them a business card, invite them to your website, give them a smile and just move on. It can be rather disarming when people are expecting you to react strongly and you still treat them with respect. Present yourself professionally at all times because you never know who else is watching; your perception from others is important, but even more so is how your perception of yourself. Like I said, it’s an art form these days, but it works.

Knowing who you are is important here too. If you are just beginning and are in the learning process of photography, that’s absolutely fine! Everyone starts at square one when learning a new craft, hobby, and/or profession. There’s absolutely no shame in knowing that you are just starting out, knowing that more expensive gear is our there waiting for you someday, and knowing that you still have a lot of room for improvement. As long as you are self aware, negativity shouldn’t dissuade or discourage you; don’t even allow it to ruin your day. You have control over your emotions, your reactions, and your responses. If you are an experienced photographer, then you are fully aware that you know what you are doing and that is all that matters. Professional photographers, you already know you are successful. You’re living your dream and nobody can change that, especially not with an opinion. Stay positive and enjoy your photography experience. Focus on your craft and your own determination will help you to continuously improve and enjoy photography – which is the whole reason we do this in the first place!

About the author

Dave Seeram is the Editor of PhotographyBB Magazine, photographer, Canucks fan, Lostie,  fanboy, Dad, blogger, entrepreneur, and part-time superhero. Dave is the owner of this blog, Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of the PhotographyBB Magazine and CLARITY: PHOTOGRAPHY BEYOND THE CAMERA
7 Responses
  1. Photoshop Tim

    Ha! I can’t even tell u how many times this has happened to me. people saying things like “oh, you are using aperture mode, my friend only shoots manual and he’s a real photographer.” What does that even mean? I mean, aperture and shutter modes are there for a real purpose, manual mode is not always the best or fastest shooting mode to be in, nor does it mean you are a “better” phototog for using it.

    Great post, nice to know i am not alone here.

  2. Sylive

    I think sometimes people feel that by giving you their opinion, they are trying to help you. While their intentions may be good, if you are not looking for help it may not be welcome.

  3. Great response to a troubling question Dave. The only thing I might have added… Oops! LOL! Very well put my friend. There are times when we let people, whether experienced or not, affect the way we feel about what we are striving to do. You have given us a great perspective in how to deal with such instances.

  4. Bartek

    Stay positive even when you’re shooting flash directly info artist’s face on a non-flash concert. Enter the stage and disturb the band, you are the media and are entitled to with your DSLR and kit lens. So many times I’ve been info such situations and guess what: never hesitated to actually tell people politely that they’re doing in wrong. Does it make me a “naysayer”? My advice would be simple: stay humble. Do not waste your time arguing with so-called pros, learn from the ones just trying to help you. Even if the latter may be embarassing sometimes or make you feel so small.

    1. Thanks for the comment @Baretk. I think we are talking about two completely different topics though.

      Inconsiderate people (including the type of photographer you mentioned) should be put in their place, or better yet, leave society all together. I have absolutely ZERO tolerance for people who are ignorant of their inconsideration of others, so no, that doesn’t make you a naysayer for pointing out their selfishness.

      I do have a big problem with people who feel the need to belittle someone else who is minding their own business though. Especially the jerks who feel they need to tell a new photographer that their gear isn’t good enough, or that they should learn another craft because the industry “is so competitive,” etc… People have absolutely no business pushing their opinions on others, just as photographers have no business getting in the way of others as you described.

      If someone approached me on a shoot and made a negative remark, I’d reply as I suggested in my post. However, if they approached me and said “Could I offer you a suggestion?” I’d be listening intently 🙂

  5. Great points of view. I have seen pro wedding photographers go after newbies trying to break into the business. I agree everyone starts somewhere, even myself. I try to help new photogs with a smile.

  6. darrask

    Hi Dave,
    All that is well said… why don’t you publish on dpreview forums?

    Everytime I have a look at the most discussed topics of this “venerable” greatest photographers community forum, I am wondering…

    Why do so many idiots (sorry Dave) Why do so many people just spend their time on this forum to wage a war against other photographers, putting down their gear, their style of photography, and every single sentence that does not fully fit their personal view of things? I read so many insidious and cynical posts, that led me to think: Are so many people just bad?
    Just who they think they are, all-knowing gods who are the only ones entitled to make good photographs? What is the result of that, is it productive, is it satisfying, do they sell their photos better afterwards or what?

    There is so much arrogance, it is simply off-putting. I wonder why so many people don’t understand the simple fact that art is not an exact science, and that aesthetism and beauty are a PERSONAL thing, that depends on your background and your personal taste.

    Owning a pro camera and knowing all about the technical stuff does not mean that you are the only one who makes food photos. Even being an art professional or selling lots of photos does not give you the right to decrete what is beautiful and what isn’t, simply because that it is RELATIVE.

    It’s a big step from saying: “This picture is bad” and saying “It’s not my taste, I personnally don’t like it”.

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