Do they really “like” it? If you are a creator of anything you know exactly what I am talking about. You made something and someone told you they “liked” it. Maybe they even said they “loved it” and it made you feel good inside and there is nothing wrong with that. But who said it? Who gave you this compliment? Was it a coworker, a friend or maybe it was dear old mother and father? So you put some photos on social media and all your friends hit the “like” thingy and left comments about how nice the images look. Well not to bust your bubble, but____ the last time I looked Facebook didn’t have a “dislike” thingy and Twitter doesn’t have a “not so favorite” star and same goes for Instagram too. And of course if they leave a bad comment you can “unfriend” them and that is the cyber equivalent of an ice pick to the eye. Oh I know I will “block” them… “There take that” you rat-bastard.
So the point of this post is to drive home the fact that as a creator of anything you must find the strength to look past all the sweetness your family & friends throw at you about whatever it is that you create. They have to tell you they like it, that’s what friends and family do. I don’t care if you are baking cookies or painting a 24×30 landscape scape scene, they will tell you it is great. Then they’ll feed the cookies to the dog on the way out the door. Do they like your painting? Will they pay money for it? But they paid money for the paintings they have in their home now. So why not pay for your painting? Now let me step back and clarify that maybe you do make the best cookies in the world (I wouldn’t know, I would have to taste them first lol) and they really do like them, but I think you can see where I’m going with this.
So let’s focus the topic on photography (pardon the pun) after all this is a photography blog and I am a photographer (or so I think). Yes, I have been through the “oh your work is so____ awesome” stage with family and friends and I have no hard feeling about anything they have ever said… again I will state that they are only doing what they are supposed to do, feeding the cookies to the dog is all part of if (just as long as you don’t find out). So as a photographer where do you go to get some real appreciation for your work? I know I’ll put my photos on Flickr… ahhh the Flickr hugs… they feel so good. Or how about 500px dot com? 500px has its usefulness, but it is by no means a place to let someone tell you how good you are. Why? because everybody wants to tell you how great your photo is and hit the “like” thingy just so you can go and do the same for them. …and they have a name for that and it is called a “circle jerk”, I think you see what I mean lol. But let’s not totally discount social media just yet; there may still be some hope amongst the smoke & mirrors and I’ll address that in a minute.
So where do I go? The answer is; find a good friend, find someone who may not necessarily be a friend, but they are someone who’s opinion you really trust. Everybody has that one person who they can go to, maybe they know nothing about photography and that is ok too. They will look at your images and tell you what they like and don’t like and tell you exactly what it is that they don’t like. And if they know very little about photography you are going to hear some really interesting answers, ones that will make you want to poke their eyes out… Oh I forgot we can’t do that. No seriously they will tell you some really strange things that you never would have thought of and this is ok because now you are really getting great feedback about your work. The hardest part is you have to let them talk and not interrupt and you need to really listen to what they have to say. Even better find a second person whose opinion you trust and let them review your work. In fact I think the best reviews come from non-photographers, people who do not even own a DSLR. I have about three people whom I really trust, they are all different in age and come from different walks of life, and none own a DSLR and only one has had her eyes poked out… no just kidding, almost.
It really is the hardest thing you will ever do if you are a photographer, but if you want to grow it is a must do. I’ve used this analogy before but it is so 100% true. I remember my first motocross race. I was a young novice racer; I had several years riding experience, but none on an actual official motocross track. So when the gate dropped that first time… well they call it “dusted” need I say anymore. Before I arrived at the track I was a legend… in my own mind. There are a lot of photographers out there who are platinum legends… in their own mind and only in their own mind. Photography is one field of work where there is no “best in the world” because it is perceptual, it is like beauty (oh no… hold your hat here comes the cliché) it’s in the eye of the beholder. I pass a huge billboard every day on a local highway that has a beautiful woman selling something, I don’t know what it is because there is a totally distracting object next to her that is out of focus and it draws my eye in every time. Moving sixty miles an hour I only have enough time to look at the blurry object (trying to figure out what it is) and then I’m past. In my opinion the image is a total failure, but someone paid a photographer good money to make that image.
So let’s get back to social media and dig a little deeper. So you have a personal Facebook page and you post your images and all your “friends” like the images. Yeah I’m happy for you. But what about when people whom you have never met before stop by and like your images and they also comment on them, they are not even a photographer. This could be a good thing, at least in my opinion it is. Or how about a person who is a photographer or retoucher who lives on the other side of the world and asks “hey can you teach me how to do this certain kind of look or style or lighting technique.” Yeah now you are starting to make some little baby waves it a pool bigger than you could ever dream. Get your head straight… you’re not a Jay Maisel or Joe McNally but you are getting truer appreciation than when uncle Mort hits the “Like” thingy on Facebook. I urge you to (if you haven’t done it yet) make a Public Facebook page; get on Instagram, Twitter ect… You’re staring at your damn phone all this time anyway, why not do something useful for your craft, something that will help you grow. Please know I am certainly not talking about who can get the most followers. However I am talking about getting your work out into the great abyss and seeing what feedback you get. See how long it is before it gets stolen (been there done that) no bigger compliment that some moron taking your images for their own. The safety net for protecting your images is another topic and I have blogged extensively about that already. I will say this “learn what you need to learn about copyright, it is your right as listed in the body of the constitution” (Article 1 section 8 To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries) Read The Copyright Zone and learn.
So in the end finding someone to critique your portfolio is what everyone must do. But I’d rather be dropped into a pit of snakes… I swear! With this all said; please don’t take your portfolio to a trade show and sit down with some nobody at the portfolio review booth. In my opinion this is a total hit or miss. Who are they? Sure you don’t know them so they can be very frank and forward about your work, but who are they really? As stated above you don’t want a total friend or family member, but rather someone you really trust… and not a photographer. Most times the people giving the so-called “free portfolio review” are photographers who are getting something for free from a sponsor to sit and tell you need to do this or that to be better. If I was going to ask a photographer for a review it would be somebody notable like Lindsay Adler… and then afterward I would most likely beg her to kill me with my camera. But seriously she would be giving me quality advice rather than Harjinder the first year college student whose main body of work is butterflies and his girlfriend.
And yes, I’m blogging about this because my fate is at hand, it is time for my biannual portfolio review… boy that pit of snakes looks so comforting about now. But I will do what must be done and I promise not to poke out anybody’s eyes… this time.
You will know you’re getting better at photography when you find a style and people start seeking you out and paying you. It will happen believe me… As long as you are pursuing the path in the right direction. For me it was Instagram, Facebook does very little for me as a paid photographer. I also should mention it is not all about the amount of followers or the number of likes. It is all about the direct messages at your inbox that are requesting a phone number or email and wanting to know prices for what you do.