Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Pros: If You Have the Chance to Be Right Or Kind, Be Kind - Please

Buddhist proverb: "Love the whole world as a mother loves her only child." Photo © Rick Sammon
Readers of my blog know that 99 percent of the time I write for amateur or part-time photographers - and for photographers who want to someday turn pro. I also write for folks who simply love photography, who tell me all the time, "Photography is my passion."

This post is for professionals, but it's also for passionate photographers. Here goes.

Last night, I met a young, talented and enthusiastic photographer who was very hurt and crushed during a portfolio review at a big photo convention by a very well-known photographer.

The pro, who of course, like all pros, started out an amateur, basically told the young photographer that his work sucked.

Man o man. The pro's comment got my Italian blood boiling. I could not believe that the pro was so downright mean to the aspiring photographer. Even if the did not like the photographer's work, he could have at least considered the expression: If you have the chance to be right or kind, be kind.

Why not be kind? Why not sandwich a criticism with compliments? Sure, be honest and truthful, but don't hurt someone's feelings and come off like a pompous (fill in the word).

I have seen the "amateur's" work and he has some great shots. Look for them here on my blog in the coming months.

Explore the light - and be kind,


Mark Freedman said...

That drives me crazy as well. My wife and I have belonged to a couple of photography clubs (you've been to one of them a few times yourself), and way too often, we've seen this type of judging at competitions.

People join these clubs to improve their photography skills and share their passion. But way too often we've seen some judges give crushing criticism that doesn't help the photographer to improve, but at times has actually driven people away. Some, no doubt, to give up before getting started.

Very sad, and unnecessary.

Ken Toney said...

Rick, I have a good idea who this is. I think it would depend on what type of personality one might have before subjecting themselves to a one-on-one review. I believe that you must take them with a grain of salt. Some pros who might give a review also might be the type that really wouldn't tell you the truth no mater what in fear of hurting fellings. I had a recent follower slam what I considered one of my top 20 pics of all time. This really hurt my fellings but that's my personality and I have to remind myself to not take these "comments" so serious. Photography is SO subjective.
With our great social media outlets we have now it's easy to get a lot of folks to comment and give feed back. Many times shots (mine) I think are not real great get a lot of attention, then I like them more.
I commend this person for doing a review and would say that I would think about the criticism and decide if I would accept it. If I am selling and doing well or satisfied with my own work then who cares what some "expert" thinks?

KPep Photography said...

Avrebbe potuto maneggiare ciĆ² meglio

I agree with you Rick. There is a way to offer criticism.

I get asked for my opinions on images and styles all the time. While I am still a long way to the level of you, when asked by an aspiring hobbyist I am a proponent of delivering criticism in such a way that you sandwich the negative with two positives.

This method leaves a person feeling good about the feedback... but they still hear the constructive opinion I offer.

Hope you are well.


Joseph Ferreira said...

I am a passionate lover of photography, and I have a hard time subjecting my work to "pro" photographers. I am more inclined to subject it to photographers who I work with and trust, but I also want the truth. Constructively.

Carolyn said...

I don't know what the exact words given were or what sort of personality the receiver of the critique has, so it's really tough to express a comment on that. However, when folks ask "what do you think," some things they need to keep in mind:

• Others don't always couch things in the way you need to hear them.

• It's not personal.

• Keep an open mind.

• Information may not be something useable at that moment, but might be something you can file away for future consideration.

• No one is right all the time. Even "experts" are far from infallible.

• Taste is extremely subjective. (I don't like everything others rave about, do you?)

• If feedback isn't what you expect, ask more questions to clarify what they are commenting on. Maybe you were thinking they would tell you if your composition worked, but they were noticing the colour combinations (for example). It's so easy to hear something through some sort of filter.

I know so many types of people who ask for critique and some honestly want to know everything you care to comment on and are more interested in the information than the way in which it is said; others are fragile souls looking for affirmation and are easily devastated when someone doesn't see their work as they do.

Myself, I go by a rule that I don't ask a question if I don't want to hear the answer. If I ask, then I want to hear that person's opinion, which may or may not be in line with mine.

That's not to let someone off the hook for being a jerk, but we never know what sort of day someone is having, and both sides should be giving the other side a break. If the words really were, "your work sucks," I'd be inclined to say, "I hope your day gets better, but until then could we talk about what exactly is sucking? In this image, what are you seeing (so I could figure out how my image was communicating)?"


Puggle said...

I agree. Some people need to learn how to behave. Sounds like a Dale Carnegie course is in order for that person. Let me guess... are his initials SB?

Sam said...

Ultimately, harshness stems from weakness with an intention to hurt and never to help. But, I believe that you don't need to choose between Right and Kind. Criticism can always be delivered in a constructive way.

Kent at Ananda Village said...

love the thought. We, as amateurs and hobbyists, look to, maybe wrongly, sometimes as in this example, other photographers we admire for inspiration and feedback.

Now, perhaps we should all be thick skinned enough to handle something like that comment. In reality we are all human. I would like to know if my work is not good, but would prefer that feedback is constructive as you guys have done with us.

There are ways to give criticism as Kpep says. However, this sort of comment by a "professional" doesn't seem very professional. Or even very good general behavior. We are all less for it.

Much better to be kind and thoughtful. Or offer nothing at all.

Thanks for the reminder.

Sharon Thomas said...

Feedback and constructive criticism can be given without injuring the soul and spirit of an aspiring photographer. The idea is for the person to grow. Negative comments do an injustice to both the receiver as well as the giver and the pro should remember where he/she was in the beginning.

Marty Cohen said...

Hey Rick....
What you wrote is why I love to follow you, respect you and learn from you. As one of those "aspiring photographers," I love that you understand people at there very human core. And you treat them with love from your heart.

Who you are as a person, and photographer, is why it meant so much to me to be chosen as one of your Tuesday's Talented Twitter finds.

Thanks for sharing who you are along with sharing your photography techniques.


A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things that renew humanity. -Buddha

PowerVision360 said...

No matter who we are - we all started somewhere and it was that special person that gave us encouragement - could have been a parent, teacher, reviewer, friend - doesn't matter. When we leave a positive influence on others we better this world and the quality of future generations.
there are so many classes available to everyone these days. maybe there should be a class on how to teach and review a students work.
That being said - you are such a positive person and your influence is felt by all in how you go about sharing your knowledge and your skills and your kindness.
Thank you Rick.

Jane said...

Wow, that's not very constructive criticism -I am sure that the persons work did not suck and hope we get to see that it didn't, maybe the pro was jealous ( there is always a possibility of that) that this person's work was better than his-even pro's can take crap photos but they think they are chocolate when comes to their work. However, peoples styles of photography are different, the same way artists work is different and not all to everyone's taste but that doesn't mean you say to the artist that his/her work sucks its mean and not very helpful, personally I would of asked why it sucked but the pro should of given this person proper advice -like composition, lighting etc and criticised this persons work constructively or given him some tips-very mean of them.

Mandy said...

It's such a shame that a pro who other photographers will look up to, chooses to deal with a review in this way.

It sets the tone...

Pro photographers just like any other leader in their field need to remember how much weight their views can have.

David H said...

Pro. Amateur. Whatever. It seems that many folks are losing sight of the fact that being incredible at something makes you incredible at THAT. It does NOT make you incredible at everything.
Being a spectacular photographer, whether professional or amateur, is only half the story. Being a spectacular photographer does not automatically make you a spectacular teacher.
"What if the pro is sick and tired of the whiney amateurs and snapshot-quality portfolios—expecting to get an atta-boy? What if the pro is disgusted by the constant stream of fragile, weak-minded photographers who can't take ANY form of criticism, regardless of how it is couched (even with the most sweetest, kindness words known to man)?" I would suggest that the "pro" at this point, exercise his or her judgement, and recognize AS a professional that doing portfolio reviews at this time is NOT the best use of their time. Would they take the same approach with a client who said they weren't happy with the results of a shoot? Would their response be "Well, too frikkin' bad, those the pictures I'm giving you, I think they're great, suck it up and pay me because I'm tired of whiney clients always thinking they know what they want from an image. I'M the professional, you just don't know how good the shots I gave you are."?
If you can shoot, shoot. Be amazing. If you can teach, be amazing. If you can do both, great. If you can only do one of them.... learn that about yourself, too. Don't shoot yourself (and your professional reputation) in the foot by trying to do something you aren't prepared for.

Aleksi said...


I have to say that you are more than likely the most polite, and kindest professional I have ever "met." I had the pleasure of being at one of your talks in Sacramento, CA a few years ago and even my wife, who usually doesn't enjoy photography, was interested and amazed at how "cool" you were.

There's a lot of jerks in the world, and not just in photography. For some reason people today feel like their ability to perform a skill excuses poor social behavior. While that argument could be made, it's nice to see some people have perspective about life.

After all, we can all learn from the idea that we're telling someone else's story, and not our own.

Lee Varis said...

Yes - I've thought about this a lot. There are some who seem to feel its their responsibility to "tell it like it is" in the most brutal (honest?) way. I have personally witnessed "pro" reviewers dismiss decent work as "total shit", and very often, they have no personal experience in the particular genre that they are criticizing! I myself am not sure enough of my own artistic credentials (even with 35 years of award winning commercial work under my belt) to be able to pass judgement on someone's work. I feel like I can only offer suggestions about technical issues or perhaps offer another approach that "might" yield better results. In fact, a lot of the time I see work that is better than what I would have done and it is extremely humbling to be a reviewer in that case! I think sometimes pro reviewers can feel threatened by something unexpected and original and will come down hard on something that could actually be really good and innovative.

The message for artists submitting work for review is: 1. take everything with a grain of salt - what is the reviewer's personal prejudice? Is their work really in alignment with yours?
2. What can you learn from their prejudice? There might be a kernel of wisdom in an overly harsh critisism - try to look past your ego involvement and see if you can still learn something from the exchange. Sometimes you can't but there might be some little thing that you can incorporate to make your work stronger.
3. In the end -- its your vision, be prepared to own it and not need any approval to keep working towards your personal best!

Leen Lauriks said...

David H, that's exactly what it's all about.
As an amateur photographer, it might be a good idea to read some comments about the professional you are going to ask a review, to check what his/her teaching skills are. E.g., it's clear dell these comments that Rick is a pretty good teacher. I hope I might have a chance to learn from him in the near future...

Libby said...

When I had my own personal work seriously critiqued many, many years ago, the 'tog ripped up one of my prints and put it into the trash can. It made me better, and now that I look back at it, the trashing was well deserved. You said, "national photo convention." When you hit the pitch at that plate, it's good for people to go in prepared for anything. It's a bit different when you try and play with some of the guys at that level.

On the other hand, back in the olden camera club days, one young girl brought in her prints. Unfortunately she incurred the wrath of the Leica owning lawyer and self proclaimed photo expert. He made her cry. That was totally uncalled for. There is a difference between offering criticism, even if it is all bad, and just being plain rude.

As a photo editor in my day job, I wade through tons of garbage each day. Submitting for licensing is a bit different from being stroked by ooh ahh awesome comments and the badges given on Flickr. That's the reality of the commercial world.

Lesli said...


This is one of the reasons I read your postings and follow your career - as aspiring professionals we are constantly working to learn and grow. Do we make bad pictures at times - sure, and generally we learn from our mistakes. Art is a subjective medium. If someone asks for an opinion, how about presenting it in a way that a person can learn, not in such a way that is mean spirited. You can be right AND kind - just like photography, though it takes practice, practice, practice!

Garrett said...

Any aspiring creative professional regardless of their chosen field of endeavor needs to be tough. It's the ability to take constructive criticism that forges us as artists and gives us the insight to hone our skills.

In a artist / client relationship, there's only one question that needs to be answered : is it what's needed, does it met the standard we require and will our deadline be met.

I'd assume the same holds true, whether your an art director at an ad agency, a photo editor for a magazine or music publisher.

Anyone who's ever worked in the creative field will know this.

You'll always get butterflies in your stomach when you take your book into an agency, but the answer either be a simple yes or a simple no - the simple no, more often than not because your style's not quiet right for the job at hand. I've experienced both.

Mentoring however is a completely different ballgame. It's as easy to crush or disillusion the aspirant as it is to inspire and frankly, there's no excuse for a mean-spirited rip on someone just because you're having a bad day. There's a name for people like that and it's unprintable.

DeShawn said...

Great blog. It ticks me off when a "professional photographer but rookie in etiquette" feels the need to bash someones work without offering positive feedback. A lot of those individuals slither on social media sites trying to promote some brand they're paid to endorse or trying to get you to buy something.

I agree with Ken Toney, photography is SO subjective.

Cody Gochnour said...

Sounds like he may have wanted to drive off some potential competition.

pnmaryf said...

This is good advice for all of us in our lives, Rick. I'm glad you were able to help this photographer. There is no need to tear people down when asked to critique their work.


Jim said...

I didn't comment when this was first posted, but it sure gave me pause for thought. I've personally seen this behavior in other branches of art. Example in point: a gallery owner reviewing student work (sculpture) at a local junior college for a show. So many students were devastated because of his behavior, when they thought they would get some decent input - maybe even get into a show. Rude, inconsiderate, non-constructive, you name it. My opinion with the incident with the "pro" in your post is the same as I had then for that one - there's simply no excuse for this harsh behavior. There are so many ways to be kind *and* honest. End of story.

Jason L. Eldridge said...

That is what I was most worried about when you did my review. You made it a great learning experience rather than a demoralizing one. If I ever get to the pro level status I will certainly remember this when reviewing others work.

Mark Levesque said...

You should be both. To the best of your ability, you should offer suggestions for improvement or at least explain the challenges that a photograph has. Those are things people can learn from.

Saying "this is crap" is not meaningful unless you explain WHY it is crap. And there's no reason you can't do it nicely, with consideration for the photographer's feelings. We all take our work personally, and nobody wants to be told their work sucks, even if it does. That being said, it is incumbent on the person doing a critique to be honest and fair. Don't say a photo is better than it is, because that reinforces something that should not be reinforced (bad technique, composition, etc.) Do tell the photographer what the strong points are as well as the weak points. The key to growth is understanding the difference.