I am probably the only person who will ever give you the following comments, but then again, I am probably one of the only photographers capable of looking at your work and who knows how little you know.
You have no idea about posing whatsoever. Not to worry, most photographers don’t know anything either so you are safe.
… and so began one of the most insulting emails I have ever received. (I purposely didn’t have quotation marks there at the beginning of this post, to not give the game away.) This email was from a few years ago. I kept it in an email folder called “Weird and Idiotic”. Yup, I get those often enough that I have a folder just for weird shit like that.
“reduce the power of your off camera flash by at least one stop…it will improve your results. now your subjects are completely separated from the backgrounds because your flash is to strong…reduce the power and they will look like part of the scene, instead of looking like you “pasted” them into the scenes.
hope you are not offended…but you could use some schooling.”
This specific email always makes me smile, especially when I look at the guy’s site. It’s quite bad. I would show his website so you can revel in how bad it is … but I don’t want people to harass him.
So where am I headed with this? Hmmmm .. dunno, I’m probably headed dangerously close to the “believe in yourself” feel-good territory. But yeah … fukkem. Fukkemall. Do what you know works.
How to respond to criticism
It’s a fine balancing act – being confident about your own work, but also knowing where there is room to learn and grow. So, I didn’t post this for validation of any kind, needing people to tell me how great a photographer I am, or something like that. I am all too aware of my own limitations, while at the same time I do recognize the moments when things come together and my photographs are pretty damn good.
I do feel I am constantly growing as a photographer, and those of you have have followed the Tangents blog, and my wedding & portrait blog, One Perfect Moment, over the years, will know that these websites have plotted my own progress over time. You’ve been part of the journey.
Being able to honestly evaluate your own work – it’s a fine balancing act. It helps getting neutral opinions. Neutral opinions from people who are straight-forward and honest enough to give gentle but firm opinions, without being sycophantic or, the other side of the coin, just plain damn insulting.
- So how should you respond to criticism?
I never responded to this email. I rarely do when there’s an insulting or weird email. In this case: he is an old-timer photographer who used to be in NJ, and obviously is filled with resentment towards a newer, fresher crowd with a modern approach.
I rarely respond to negative comments – it takes away too much energy that should be spent on better things, such as becoming a better photographer, learning more, and improving my business.
So often when I check out photography forums, I see flame wars and nitpicking about the minutia of equipment. Stuff that’s not that important in the grand scheme of things. Resist the temptation to get involved.
My best advice is to just ignore those who try to break you down. Give it a cursory glance – are there any nuggets to be picked from the (possibly) harsh critique? If so, use that, but do not get dragged down by negativity.
- So how should you respond to a critique?
When you ask for a critique and you’re given feedback about your work, do listen carefully. But also know that any opinion comes with certain baggage – the other person’s world view and personal history. So evaluate what you’re told, and take to heart that which is helpful, even if it isn’t what you wanted to hear. (And if you are on Facebook, have the courage not to delete the thread.) I know that most photographers, including myself, would rather hear nice stuff about our work. Therefore, even a critique that you asked for, can be pretty rough to take. But do listen and mull it over, and then use what you need to.
Anyway, I hope you’re not offended. But you could use some schooling.
- Critique – photographers’ websites
- Photographers: what’s holding you back?
- Photographers, what have YOU done today for your business?
- A passion for photography
42 Comments, Add Your Own
1Tony Mancuso says
Great post Neil, some interesting food for thought..
Two things struck me about that email: The fact that he uses a lower case i to refer to himself..
Also, the number of times he uses the *i* makes me think the email is more about him than it is about you.
2Charlie Simms says
Love the post, Neil!
I’m mainly a street and fine art photographer, but I visit your site at least five to six times a week in order to learn as much as I can in the hopes of turning all my photographic weaknesses into strengths. That being said, this New Jersey-based photographer obviously had (or still has) some jealousy issues he needs to work through. It was extremely thoughtful of you not to post the link to his website, however, if he’s as talented as he says he is, he should have made his sentiments public rather than authoring a condescending e-mail for your eyes only.
Quick FYI – without your website, I would have fallen flat on my face my first time tasked with photographing a wedding. Not many veterans would take the time to help so many of us rookies improve our photography by posting free tutorials and hosting workshops. Your level of talent level and expertise are truly a thing to behold. My street photography has improved leaps and bounds since discovering your Tangents blog and I just wanted to say thank you for all the hard work that you do.
3Shane Elliott says
If his wedding photography was as good as his writing skills and people skills, I’d say he could use some work.
Neil, I think the guy is right, you are just in denial.
There is such a thing as valid criticism/critique and trolling/flaming. The above writing is obviously a troll/flame post. As well, there is no “perfect photograph”. Any photograph can be picked apart especially by an armchair general who was not there with you at the time. Could that armchair general have done better with the same equipment? Probably not. It also comes down to a matter of taste. For example, I enjoy well saturated shots while others like more neutral offerings. So there really is no right or wrong way to take a photograph. In fact, my sister-in-law had bought a photograph for $7000. I looked at the photograph and in my mind the word “WHY???!!!???” seemed to scream out. However, she seemed to like it and the photo sold. The artist was compensated with $7000. While I didnt like it, the artist went away with $7000 in their pocket.
Now, that said, lets examine the statements made in the above writing. “I used to have a business in nj.” If this person is so good at the art of photography why do they no longer have a business in NJ? Why are they now armchair generals on a message board? How come they did not master the business?
Its so easy to sit on a message board giving tips, commentary and advice. However, its entirely different lugging around the equipment in imperfect settings trying to get a shot which will sell and bring business to your door.
A very valid point about a matter of taste being just as important to reviews as impartial advice.
I tend to find that it’s very difficult to give totally impartial advice, particularly when you look at a picture and the first thing you think is “I love” or “I don’t love” that image; you’re comments tend to reflect that initial gut feeling, rather than stepping back and putting your initial feelings aside. As much as I try to get away from that, on occasion I do let my personal taste get the better of me, even though I know it’s not as helpful to the other person.
So, when I’m on the receiving end of critique, as it were, I try to separate truly impartial critique and personal taste when mulling over any commentary and take anything that smacks of the latter with a pinch of salt (or, certainly give it less importance than advice that is clearly impartial).
6Jon Lloyd says
That made me smile… at first I thought (given your forthright approach) that you were serious in your own subtle way!
I have yet to receive criticism like that but I have been critiqued! One such place that thrives on negative critique for posted images in Photosig (www.photosig.com). Flaming and negativity were generally the order of the day whilst I resided there. I grew tired of armchair critics constantly using the term “distracting” about some random element in the image.
Your comment “do what *you* know works” is very true. It is an art form after all. Sure there are fundamentals and that’s why we are here on Tangents but, importantly their are variables and in turn those variables are our own interpretation and style.
Great post. Sad dude. Why do I have this image of some guy looking over his half-rim glasses into an uncalibrated CRT monitor in a beige cardigan?
7Neil vN says
The funny thing is, when I posted this on Facebook, two different people immediately knew who this guy was, just from his tone. It’s his thing apparently, shooting people down where he can.
Hi Neil…Ive been follow you Tangents site for a little while. Its a fantastic resource for light (although I still struggle) I tend not to ask for CC – if i post something Im usually happy with it. If i cannot figure something out, then I might post the resulting pic and ask for CC, BUT i will put in the request what i was hoping to achieve and the set up (incl. camera settings) I wish more ppl will do this when asking for CC…it helps determine what CC to make. if you ask “Please CC this image” then all you’ll get is other ppls interpretation and bias etc…
anyway thats my two cents :-)
thanks for your blog!!
…whew, yes, there are some trolls out there. Crazy people, unhappy with their photos and their lives :-))
I have to admit, when it comes to critics, I often feel tempted to first have look at the portfolio of the critic.
There are such things as personal taste and also as experience, that influences my perception of critique … :-)
And then, I’d say that “awkward pose” of my model is intended and my taste.
Or I’d say “uips, these people in the background are disturbing — rrrrright, I should clone-out that in Photoshop.” :-)
What you can do with only a on camera bouce flash with the BFT is truly amazing… And (could be only me) I never saw that anywhere until the tangents. Also you’re blog is filled with tons of tutorials well structure and defined for entirely free. Not only you’re an amazing photographer you’re a hell of a dedicated teacher, and that’s sometimes very hard to find. Be able to know how to teach and pass your knowledge is not for everyone…
Nevertheless, how you deal woth criticism?
You always have to be good with yourself, and trust yourself. If you do, the bad criticism don’t really affect you, the constructive ones you digest them and learn with them and try to learn more about it, and the good ones only puts a smile on your face.
All the best,
An everyday tangents student,
OMG–Just saw that video from Mr XY on youtube. Yuck! He has his hands everythere on the poor girl, and you can see in her face, how she *hates* it and how uneasy she gets. That guy is really, really creepy! Knowing not so much about modern lighting is one thing, writing rude mails to strangers and touching models is already the next level …
I’d say, he seriously needs help.
12Scott Wyden Kivowitz says
I think I received an email from the same guy, who couldn’t write well (or spell) yet said that one of my eBooks was kindergarten dribble. HAHA. I definitely think this person has a vendetta with the photo industry and is going around emailing those are educating others. Oh well. Thanks for sharing this Neil.
13Ian Jones says
Nice piece, take what you want from any critique it is after all only an opinion. Personally I have learnt so much more from people pointing out my errors and it these people who I prefer to surround myself with. It is even more pleasing when one of my harshest critics turns round and say i like that a lot :). Don’t get mad, get better is my watchword.
Thanks for posting.
Fantastic! I am a part of a group where I do ask for constructive criticism of my work and when taken and applied I’ve found that my work has become much better. There are always a few ridiculous suggestions (like cloning out a giant tree in the background…) but for the most part I’ve had a really good experience. I guess I’ll know I’m in a good place when I start getting poorly written emails from retired professionals. :)
Neil: Several years ago, you opened my eyes to doing flash photography. I find your expertise in this side of photography unsurpassed. You have the gift of imparting your knowledge and understanding of flash photography in terms an ordinary photographer can absorb and use. I cannot thank you enough for helping me learn flash lighting.
The first time I took pictures at an event using my Speedlite with the BFT, I obtained results with the most flattering lighting of people. My confidence and skill in doing photography with flash lighting has only grown since that threshold moment. Looking back, I see this moment as a turning point in my practice of photography.
Whenever an online discussion brings up the subject of flash lighting, I always mention your Web-site as a resource for learning to do flash lighting in photography.
As to the critical e-mail you received, it has two sides to it: The technical and the insulting. Ignoring the insulting, I tend to agree with some of the technical analysis of your photographs. But then some of the analysis has to do more with style or convention and personal taste.
That said, I narrow my appreciation of your teaching to, How to do flash lighting. Your teaching succeeds in part because you generalize enough so that the student of your technique can apply his learning as he sees fit for his intention.
Thank you again for your reaching out to the community of photographers with instruction in doing photography with flash lighting.
Hey Neil… I see that you don’t want to revile this guys name, so in an attempt to not spoil something here, I just wanted to know if his last name started with the letter “G”? I’ll do no additional guessing beyond this one question.
16.1Neil vN says
17Dave Block says
I never *NEVER* take a comment seriously if the poster uses poor grammar or spelling. Stupid is as stupid does, and yes, neatness, spelling, grammar, and oh yes, capitalization at the beginning of sentences, all matter.
Wow, my photos have gotten so much better since I read your books and followed your blog… even if you don’t know what you’re doing :)
Let me just add to the other voices, I am a better photographer because of your excellent work and willingness to teach and share Neil. I appreciate all that you’ve done to help me get the best results possible from my camera and flash. I was one of those guys in the beginning that stayed away from flash and avoided flash like the plague. Now, I don’t leave home without my flash. I know you didn’t post this to get a bunch of accolades, but thank you for all you do.
Some people have interesting ways of dealing with their own insecurities and shortcomings. It makes them feel better about themselves to attack others; they’re seeking to gain attention and provoke anger.
In all of my experience those who are genuinely skilled, accomplished and confident in their area of expertise – whatever it may be – have zero inclination to treat others in such an aggressive and insulting way. In fact it’s the last thing they would do, they’re more likely to offer generous encouragement and support for anyone who would like it (as you do, for example). Making this sort of aggressive unsolicited criticism while boasting about how many ‘awards’ they’ve won simply wouldn’t occur to someone with well-founded confidence, regardless of what they thought of another person’s efforts.
This guy revealed much about his own inadequacies in his letter. Your achievements and success speak for themselves – I’d suggest he is jealous. I wouldn’t give him another thought :-)
PS he clearly also has too much time on his hands!
There are appropriate ways to critique a persons work. First, you say what you liked about their work. Second, you tell them what you found lacking. Finally, you end with a positive note again detailing what you liked. In essence, you have to be as classy as possible balancing what you liked with what you did not like.
However, one must ask themselves first if a critique is appropriate before delivering it. Obviously Neil seems constantly booked and doing photo gigs all the time. He has great reviews on weddingwire and other websites. I did not see one negative review. He seems like he is constantly in motion and never lacking jobs. So, if I am not as busy as Neil, then who am I to give Neil a critique? It seems like he is doing just fine and, in fact, any critique I offer Neil might even harm his business model if he decides to act on my critique.
A critique should be classy balancing the good and the bad. It should be delivered by someone who has just as at least as successful and talented. Finally, one should ask themselves if a critique is welcome. Did Neil ask anyone to judge his photos and reply back?
The letter above lacks class and style. Its being delivered by someone who admitted they are no longer in the wedding business for whatever reason. Neil never asked anyone to send him emails about his work so it was not exactly welcomed.
23Simon Young says
I would have corrected the grammar mistakes and sent it back. Then again I’ve always been a petulant child at heart. :)
It’s funny how it so often is the older crowd, still producing sub par work compared to modern photographers, who feel very insecure and threatened and fall back on the tired old “decades of experience” so I know better than you syndrome. Not all of them by any means an a minority, but here in the UK I have seen exactly the same thing. These people really struggle to accept someone new, or relatively new compared to them, can out-shoot them and be more successful than them. I agree, best thing is not to give them the time of day.
25Jason R says
Great post, I can relate to this. I did get some nasty emails and messages on Facebook which I stupidly responded to, the guy was trying to drag me down and went on about how he has a studio and a better camera etc. He has now been exposed as a fraud, he has taken ALOT of money of couples and most of them not even bothered to turn up (used the same excuse with all of them) and now the newspapers are getting involved. One thing I did learn from him was not to rise to idiots.
26Jennifer Lynch says
As someone said on Facebook, this is a classically-trained and arrogant photographer who rigidly adheres to the ‘rules’ and dismisses anyone who does it differently, no matter how talented or creative he is or how beautiful and successful his photos are. It’s like a classical painter telling Van Gogh he’s doing it all wrong.
You make a good point Neil about looking beyond the arrogance and sheer gall to find any nuggets of knowledge within the criticism. I heard this character give a talk once and he gave a great analogy when referring to photographers who take a zillion photos during a shoot and offer the client a long unwieldy gallery of proofs from which to choose prints.
He said something like “When you go into a pizza shop and order a slice the guy behind the counter doesn’t give you 10 slices and say ‘Here you go. Hope you get a good one.'”
His point was to take far fewer shots and make them all beauties. He also had a few other helpful things to say. So it’s too bad he’s so rude and off-putting and disparaging of nearly every other photographer.
“i’m probably one of the only…” Simply can’t stop reading this over and over again while laughing like an idiot.
28Mark Harris says
You should watch scott kelby’s episode of “the grid” on unsolicited feedback, he really lays into this so trolling.
Best solution, hit Delete
29Michele Stapleton says
Neil, please continue to share your horrid work and techniques with us. I’m learning to be a better photographer because of your suckitude.
The bottom line?
Your work rocks.
Your teaching rocks. Joriana and I learned so much from the one seminar we were privileged to take — it did and still does make a world of difference in our photography and we continue to learn from you by enjoying everything you post.
Let this sad little man stay in SD…
31Rajoo Chatlani says
Thanks for this post. It gave me a chance to evaluate why I have bought all your books, subscribed to your Youtube channel and visit this site often. Bottom line, I have grown better as a photographer. I have sometimes taken a fresh look at my portraits over the last few years and can see the huge difference. By far your books and site have influenced me the most. Simple, the proof of the pudding……
32Dean Phelps says
You did the right thing.
As Bugs Bunny would say, “what a maroon!”
So I went to Youtube and did as he said, and searched for “posing and lighting.” I found videos by Doug Gordon, Bambi Cantrell, Tony Northrup… Nobody with two and only two videos on “posing and lighting.” The guy doesn’t even rate with YouTube!
Now I’m really curious who this guy is (more importantly, I’m piqued by what he considers good lighting and posing!). Could it be… Missy Mwac’s father?
And what cave did he climb out of not to have ever heard of NvN????
Hi Neil, I’m going to assume you never spoke directly to this person. With that said all of us, every single one of us on earth read into an e-mail emotions and inflections that come from within ourselves. I wish I could count how many times what I wrote in an e-mail that has been taken so wrong. Even though this person was certainly being very honest about his opinion and thoughts about your work, he may have meant in the most soft spoken tender hearted way possible. You may have found him quite wonderfully truly concerned about wanting to see you improve as a photographer. You of course would see his genuine concern genuinely wrong :-). But he may have been very genuine non the less. I myself don’t care the “studio lights” outside look myself. You excel at this look. You are good at it. I mean that sincerely. I just don’t like that look. In no way do I think you “need schooling” it just isn’t a look I have an appreciation for. With that said it is actually a look have achieved myself. I still didn’t care for it, but some liked it and others didn’t but I posted it anyway. I also 100% agree with his opinion that woman should be short lit (Rembrandt lighting) I’m sure your humility as well as mine will have us both admit we are NOOOOOO Rembrandt’s of photography. He sure had his stuff right though. Must be he was onto something with that “short lighting” thing. Anyway I could go on but I think you get my point. In no one was anything I’ve said here convied in malace. Some will undoubtedly point out the idea of “success” being a determining factor in who knows their “schitt”. Every one just remember that WalMart has the largest photography studio in the world. Yuck!!!
35Neil vN says
No, he wasn’t well-meaning or “genuine”. As I mentioned earlier on in a comment …
… and he is well-known locally because of his insulting abrasive manner. Nothing “most soft spoken tender hearted way possible” about him at all.
While you think you’re giving him the benefit of the doubt, and thinking I may have mis-interprested his intention (although I don’t know how anyone could mis-interpret that insulting email), this really is how he is. Abrasive on purpose, and insulting.
When you say, “I also 100% agree with his opinion that woman should be short lit (Rembrandt lighting) ” … which photo are you referring to?
Additionally, Rembrandt lighting and short-lighting aren’t the same.
So no, I don’t get your point?
36Michael Rapp says
Great Post, Neil, thank you for sharing!
Me, being in a permanent state of Padawan, always try to listen to good, sound advice, which is all too sparse.
For the reasons you mentioned I have abandoned photography forums, I don’t want some geek to “evaluate” my picturess based on my exif data and then “reverse- engineer” (quotation marks are appropriate in this case, I think) the quality of my image.
I’m allwas open for sound critisism of my images (list the good AND the bad), what works and what doesn’t and what can I take away from the critique to grow as a photogapher. “Your pix suck” falls quite short…
So, although I still call myself a Padawan, I refuse to heed the calling of the dark side of the force.
I am a big fan of you and your articles. I consider you as my guru. I am following your site for several years. Your teachings improved my photography very very much. Thanks sir. As far as the Criticism is concerned this man seems to be in jealous of you. Ignoring him is the best way to deal with
Too funny, this post really made me laugh. You have way more patience with the public than I could ever muster. I can only imagine the emails that someone like yourself must get from time to time.
I just have to tell you that before I bought your books I bought Joe McNally’s books on flash photography and as much as I did learn from his books and enjoy his writing, I don’t agree with his approach (it obviously works for him). I found it to be very difficult to get consistent results because he shoots in aperture priority most of the time. Which means your shutter speed is flying all over the place. Then after reading your books I came to the realization that there was another way to approach this and loved it. Like many have said, thank you for all you do. You make flash photography fun.
By the way, I had no idea who this guy was but after a quick search I think I pegged him? Does his last name start with a “D” by chance?
39Neil vN says
Nope, not a D. How many obnoxiously bitter photographers are there out there?
Thank you for the kind words about my books. Put the word out there!
40Bryce Arnold says
I once received an email like this when I had just begun using my camera and to be honest it crushed me. So I went back to my images trying to see all these errors the person mentioned and I could not understand how their suggestions could help me… So after a bit of sulking and an email than began something like “Hi Asshole”, and ending with “fuck you :)” at the end I pulled myself together. I have only been at this for little more than a year and the photographer I got the email from was an established albeit mediocre DSLR Nazi really.
It does shake your confidence but I used the email as a confidence booster. Attended more workshops, read more, shot more. More more more. Till I had more coming out of my ears. My advice to every new photographer is simple though… They will laugh, they will tease, they will hate you… But what is art without pain?
Thanks for the post.
Oh and I bought a few of your books too! They really helped a lot! Please do keep writing!