How to Handle Criticism on your Street photography

Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots – Frank Clark

Criticism is negative feedback and I’ve had a very small handful of them on my photography through peers and folks on social media. I’m human, sometimes it gets to me but I try my best not to let it. Criticism is negative feedback without any guidance or suggestive improvements. For example, if someone saw your photo and said “It’s crap” and not explain why the photo is crap then it’s all deaf ears to me.

However, saying that the photo is crap but yet explaining why, is constructive feedback. There’s opportunity to learn and grow knowing why your photo just doesn’t work.  I had one person say (and I won’t give any clues) that one of my photo essays was pretty good but that’s because they edited the photos down and cropped some of the images. Or said (same person) it sucks without further explanation.

I’m open for constructive feedback and I think I take it pretty well, I’m all ears and open to a discussion. I also believe in defending your work if you truly love the image and regardless what others think, if you like the photo stand by it. I actually appreciate when someone gives me their constructive feedback, to take time to either type a message or waste their breath on me, I feel appreciative to an extent. I have always believed if the person didn’t care then they wouldn’t waste their time saying anything.

Also remember to keep in mind, everyone has the right to their own opinion. That’s the beauty of this country, the freedom of speech. So that we can have dialogue and come to an mutual or better yet…a better understanding of both perspectives.

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To take the advice or not

The way I see constructive feedback is 1. What would make the image work better instead or 2. From the perspective of the viewer, how it’d be a better image. There is no right or wrong in street photography but there is good, better, and just not there. I think most people don’t know how to give good constructive feedback, for photography good constructive feedback is saying this doesn’t work but I’d be curious to see if a particular subject passed back or if you got lower it’d add more emotion or mystery to it.

For me even if I receive good constructive feedback I won’t always adjust to their liking’s or to use less words…agree. But I am appreciative of their feedback and thoughts (never know you may learn something new). You got to remember even if Bruce Gilden gave you feedback on a photo you truly liked and he chewed it up to pieces (like he did to mines in San Francisco) and he pointed out why it’s a weak photo, etc, and with over five decades of experience, a Magnum photographer, the list goes on…Even he has a particular style he likes or prefers (plus I don’t think Bruce Gilden ever complimented anyone’s photos besides his very own).

Imagine if someone asked you to review and critique their photo and there’s parts of the image that you do or don’t like about it. You’re giving your opinion  based on your own experience, personal fondness of what type of photos you cater towards. If photographed a scene that included vibrant colors and had a very minimalist aesthetic to it and you ask a fellow photographer that loves black and white photos, that tends to incorporate layers and lots of people in their frame…they probably won’t appreciate your photo compared if another photographer presented photos that shared the same ideas and have similar taste in style.

That’s why I believe in not having a style. Lots of photographers talk about having a style to call your own, to separate from the pack, or to use less words…branding. For me I just shoot what I like, what catches my attention and keeps me curious. I don’t want to be pigeon hold to one style or one way of shooting…I’d get bored too quickly.

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Conclusion

Be open to other opinions. Take what you can learn and filter the rest. People giving criticism online and social media are likely to be more harsh with their feedback because they can hide behind a screen. They’re not dealing with an actual person right in front of them. Think of customer service, when someone calls and make a complaint versus making a complaint in person at the store. Nobody wants to cause a scene at the store and go viral on Facebook. Even if it’s someone you know, their critique online will be much different in person.

ultimately, my advice is to always follow your gut, be true to yourself, you can’t please everyone the only person you should be pleasing is yourself. Life is about taking the bumps and bruises and just picking yourself back up and keep on keeping on.

Defend your work, stand up for it if it’s something you like. Don’t let the opinion of others demoralize you. And don’t change because society tells you to or the feeling of pressure from your peers. Change when you’re ready to change, when you’re ready to take that leap of faith whether that’s in your photography by changing up your approach and style…or if that’s in life where you need to subtract old friends that are nothing but toxic or if you need to move to another country for a change in scenery. Do it by your own terms, create your own destiny, write your own narrative.