“Dear New Photographers” – Why Internet trolls don’t really matter

May 28, 2015

Allen Mowery

Allen Mowery is a Nationally-published Commercial & Editorial Photographer with over 20 years of experience. He has shot for major brands as well small clients. When not shooting client work or chasing overgrown wildlife from his yard, he loves to capture the stories of the people and culture around him.

“Dear New Photographers” – Why Internet trolls don’t really matter

May 28, 2015

Allen Mowery

Allen Mowery is a Nationally-published Commercial & Editorial Photographer with over 20 years of experience. He has shot for major brands as well small clients. When not shooting client work or chasing overgrown wildlife from his yard, he loves to capture the stories of the people and culture around him.

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dear-new-photographerThe Interwebs are rife with mocking and ridicule, from armchair pundits spouting their views on politics to religious nut-jobs attempting to bludgeon the public into belief conformity. Heaven knows I’ve done my fair share of it (which typically coincides with a depleted supply of Midol).

But, there’s one specific demographic that I frequently see getting beat on, and it’s really beginning to irritate me. Why only one in particular when there are so many options from which to choose? Because…I can’t really tune it out due to my own career choices. I can tend to be a pretty apathetic guy about most things, but it’s when I become annoyed that I start to speak out.

Those of you new to the photography world, whether you joined as a hobby or are a career-minded individual, are under attack. A lot. From Top 10 lists mocking your approach to “experts” shouting about how you’re ruining the pristine world of photography to individual trolls attacking you on a personal level, you take flack from all sides. Heck…you get shot at with friendly fire before you even step foot in the recruiting office!

Dear New Photographers

You are a brave bunch. You are an ambitious bunch, and I laud you for that. You are excited to explore this new world and eager to make your mark. Whether you’re using a point-and-shoot, a cell phone, or a dSLR, you are trying…and that’s important. You aren’t sitting on your ass and doling out “expert” opinions. You are making a difference, even if it’s just in your own skill level. You are excited about your work and want to share it with the world, yet you become vulnerable when you do…and that’s when the blood-suckers attack.

How to respond to the trolls

The simple answer is: don’t. They deserve no response, plain and simple. These are faceless individuals whose words have no real impact on your life or work. These are insecure, self-absorbed keyboard-punchers who wouldn’t know common decency if it showed up naked wrapped in a Christmas bow. They’ve made mistakes, probably most of the same ones they’re lashing out at you for. Ignore them, and move on.

Why I was once a closet troll

Yes, I used to be one of them, although mostly in my head, especially with those I knew personally. “Pfft…they just have a point-and-shoot.” “I can’t believe they call themselves a photographer.” “MY work is so much better than theirs.” “Their exposure is crap, and they suck at Photoshop.” “They don’t even use Lightroom…” Yes, I’ve thought it all before. I’ve pretended to be interested when a hobbyist photographer would show me the picture of that sunset they were so excited to have captured. I would talk to those new to the field with fancy terms that left them a bit confused. I would criticize (not critique) their portfolios and share with them my “superior” images as a way to prove to them that I knew how to take a photo. There are times I would lash out online in comments lambasting the horror they called photography…and for what?

Why was I like that? Because I was a scared, uncertain, insecure narcissist. I wanted a career in photography and felt threatened by those around me who showed an interest in the field. I felt unsure of my own approach and needed to make myself feel better by placing them on a lower level. I was insecure in my own worth and felt that, by devaluing theirs, I would increase my own.

And, chances are, that’s where the majority of your opposition is rooted. Now, does that sound a person who deserves your attention?

“Professional” Is Relative

Is a professional photographer someone who does it on a daily basis? Is it someone who has achieved a certain level of technical prowess? Is it someone who derives a large portion of their income from it? Is it someone who had a friend pay them $20 for a shoot? Is it someone who’s passionate? Is it someone who had a random photo published in a local magazine?

If you are just starting out, might I caution you against automatically calling yourself a “professional photographer” or slapping a watermark on all of your images. This can lead others, including future potential clients, to dismiss you as reaching too far too soon, and they might pass over you in the future. On the other hand, there is no set standard by which you are finally allowed to call yourself a “professional photographer.” This is a gray area that it not for me and, might I say, others, to define.

But, I’ve been there myself… I called myself a “photographer” before I had accumulated much skill or experience. I got paid for shoots when it probably wasn’t the client’s wisest decision. Don’t feel bad.

To all you omniscient photographers

I am not allowed to post the language I feel like using towards you sometimes. Where did you start out at? To which rung of the ladder were you so providentially allowed to jump? So, you sunk a mortgage’s-worth of money into a fancy education that taught you everything the Internet and personal exploration has to offer for free? Good for you!…just don’t come to me offering financial advice. You’ve been in the business longer? Great!…I guess your parents kicked you over every time you tried walking just because they had more years under their belts. Get over your self-worship and contribute something meaningful to the world!

Clients’ needs are theirs, not yours

I would think that is pretty self-explanatory, but I’ve been known to be wrong twice before. You attack new photographers for diluting the photography waters and claim they are bad for business. “Why would a client pay $5,000 to hire me when his neighbor’s cousin will do it for $300?! The horror!!” I don’t drive a Ferrari because a Ford meets my needs. Sure, it’s not as flashy and might not garner as much attention, but why should I be considered an idiot for my purchase? It fits my needs and my budget and, in the end, is my own decision. If a client is perfectly happy with the work of a “lesser” photographer, that’s their friggin’ business…I don’t see you firebombing my Ford dealership because I chose a “lesser” product!

The best photographers have better things to do

Seriously… When was the last time you saw an industry icon ripping an aspiring photographer a new one? They realize the true importance of mentorship and will admit that they started crawling before they could walk or run. Got time to act like an idiot? Then you’ve got time that you aren’t actually doing photography.

If you are just starting out…

Stay encouraged. Share your work. Build your skill. Make mistakes and learn from them. Ignore the online and real life trolls. Stay humble. And, one day, be the encouragement for another learner that you wish someone would be for you.

Now, it’s off to the drug store to buy some more Midol…

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Allen Mowery

Allen Mowery

Allen Mowery is a Nationally-published Commercial & Editorial Photographer with over 20 years of experience. He has shot for major brands as well small clients. When not shooting client work or chasing overgrown wildlife from his yard, he loves to capture the stories of the people and culture around him.

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12 responses to ““Dear New Photographers” – Why Internet trolls don’t really matter”

  1. Wesley Gould Avatar
    Wesley Gould

    Truth.
    Also, K1000. Can’t beat it.

  2. Antony Cousens Avatar
    Antony Cousens

    I once read an article by a “professional” photographer who actually said that “real photographers” don’t shoot parties. Really? Felt like telling him to get off his high horse. In my book, “real” photographers shoot anything the bloody well want to and if shooting parties is your thing, go for it. It helps to pay the bills and there are millions of people out there who want beautiful images from their special ocasions who know the limitations of their own and are happy to hire a “real” photographer to capture those for them.

    1. mike Avatar
      mike

      Did he give reason for his rule? Makes no sense to me.

      1. Antony Cousens Avatar
        Antony Cousens

        Just got the feeling from his article that shooting parties was beneath a “real” photographer.

  3. Clay Swatzell Avatar
    Clay Swatzell

    Great article. I see examples of this everyday in social media forums for photography. It really burns my shorts to hear the “pros” rant about how the “newbies” are devaluing the photography industry. How you MUST do your photography “this way” and lambasting the weekend photographers who may have a M-F 9-5.

    1. Razor Avatar
      Razor

      when I was fresh out of school with my shiny new BFA in photography, all the “hate” they taught us, towards the mom with a camera, or uncle buck down the street, made me into the exact person he’s talking about. it wasn’t until a few years later, (and a lot of therapy for unrelated problems) that I realized I am not the person I want to be.

      and like you now I can point it out, and I do see it all the time. people tearing others down when we should be encouraging.

      1. GS_790 Avatar
        GS_790

        At some point I learned to relax. I’m a hobbyist, my friends are hobbyist, personal enjoyment is the only constant pursuit.

        The only time I offer gear advise is if I think someone is going to overspend. I don’t opine on an image unless I am asked directly: most people just want to show off work they are proud of. Unsolicited advice sucks, and frankly, without talking about how to make a specific, technical change, I’m usually just saying, “I like my stuff better.”

  4. Paul Wren Avatar
    Paul Wren

    This is probably one of the best outlooks I’ve read on the subject in a long long time. Hear, hear. I had a canvas printing shop where many people asked me to take their pictures (as I had my own on display too), eventually someone from the local University saw my ‘work’ (I classed it as fun and a bonus that people would pay me to take their picture AND print it) and I was offered a course for a BA Hons degree which I started but then completely lost my love of Photography for awhile for exactly the same reason. People telling me that pictures aren’t supposed to be ‘nice’, they were all supposed to have meaning, and that I should increase my charges from £50 to over £500 if I was to be seen as a proper Photographer. The best thing I ever did was quitting that course and having my fun again, and slowly but surely the people that I catered to, and was happy to take pictures for are now turning up again asking for portraits, or even buying the odd landscape photo that I take. I don’t look down in derision on those that charge a fortune to their clients that can afford their charges, I just wish that in turn those Photographers that I know didn’t do the same to me. Oh well, C’est la vie. At least I’m happy once again, and that is the main fact in life, be happy in what you are doing. Great article!

  5. Razor Avatar
    Razor

    Tis very well put but I would add in there, that they do at least need to read their manuals and learn a bit about their camera I can’t tell you how many times I or even my 13 yo son has tried to have a conversation with someone about the mechanics of taking a photo (shutter speed, manual mode, aperture priority, lens preference) and they have no clue what you are saying, but they know how to push a button and get “pretty” images…

    I’m not tearing anyone down, I’m just saying, Learn a little first….

  6. Virginie Ivy Dubé-Ménard Avatar
    Virginie Ivy Dubé-Ménard

    Nice :)

  7. Pete Woods Avatar
    Pete Woods

    QUOTE [Google] People Who Tear You Down – Lessons From a Recovering Doormat
    “People who criticize others do it because they don’t like themselves and need to bring others down to share their unhappiness. People who feel good about themselves want to make others feel good and don’t need to knock the joy out of someone.”

    An idiom that comes to mind when I look at a ‘Trolls’ need to spread their brand of vile. “Surely the intelligent know they’re intelligent, whereas the unintelligent does NOT know they’re dumb as a post!”

    Yes, agreed the article is well articulated and well said,
    … was needed and needs to be continuously said …

  8. KC Avatar
    KC

    Bravo, Allen! I grew up in the arts, went to school for art and photography, and was lucky enough to jump right in – at the bottom. I was the “poor kid”, and I worked with whatever I could get my hands on. It was great. It taught me to make the most out of whatever I had. I worked in some studios that were so comically old they could qualify as silent movie sets.

    The point is I’m very grounded. I never tear another photographers work down. I may learn something from them. I hope I have something positive to share in return. I was sent a class out and the assignment was “red”. The best photo (by vote) was taken with a point and shoot. The outcry from the “but I have a professional camera!” bunch was amazing. Yes, but nobody cares.

    To all the aspiring photographers out there: you’re not a professional because of your equipment. You’re a photographer with professional equipment. Owning a chef’s knife doesn’t make you a chef. Owning a hammer doesn’t make you a carpenter. Wearing plaid flannel shirts doesn’t make you a lumberjack. (I could riff on that theme forever.) Be known for your work, not what you carry. I can’t think of a time when someone asked me to work with a specific camera or brand, or could tell what camera I used from the finals.

    An aside: someone once asked me why my cards, or profiles, simply say “photographer” (among other things), not “professional photographer”. Well, you don’t see “professional oil painter”, “professional sculptor”, “professional doctor(?)”, and so on.

    Yes, I hear a lot of grousing about smartphone cameras and photography. Look back in history a bit. 35mm was considered subminiature and not a professional format at one time. It took a while before it was accepted. The first time I used a 35mm in a studio, I had a steep uphill climb to prove it could be viable. Smartphone cameras are the new subminiature cameras. Like 35mm, they have their place.