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Dealing With Criticism

Every artistic field is rampant with critics. Movies, music, painting, sculpture, photography - every art form has an entire sub-field of writers, bloggers, personalities and just average Joe's who make it their job to criticize other people's work. But it's not just professional critics. You'll find critics in your friends, family and casual acquaintances, too. Pretty much anyone who views your work is one comment away from being a critic.

It's this phenomena that gave birth to the old phrase "everyone's a critic." But although it can feel like everyone's a critic, it's actually a very small number of people. The only problem is, critics are loud and, so, they seem like a bigger group than they are. Most people you'll run into will have only positive things to say, or nothing to say at all (which is almost as good) about your work. But every once in awhile, some critic won't be able to resist the urge to take you down a peg. Especially when you're starting out, these criticisms can be really demoralizing and can even hang you up for a little while in a mire of self-doubt.

With a little over 11 years experience under my belt and a few successes to my name, I'm happy to say I'm no longer bothered by criticism of my work. It rolls off my back like water off a duck. But it's because I've realized a few things - things I want to share with you so you can avoid letting these criticisms get the best of you.

Keep in mind that when I say criticism, I don't just mean the blatant ones. Sometimes they won't be as obvious as "that's a bad picture." Those criticisms are actually easy to brush off because the person just comes off as a jerk. It's the more subtle criticisms that you don't even really notice until later that can really bog you down. I mean comments like "You know, I've taken a picture exactly like that" or "You must have a really great camera" or "That's pretty good for how long you've been shooting."

It's just anything that hints at you being inferior or not knowing what you're doing. Camera store salesmen are pros are dropping these comments.

These comments can really gnaw away at you and make you want to scream at the person who's saying them. But these comments are much easier to ignore when you realize the mechanism behind them.

These people who make a career out of bringing people down a peg - and I don't mean literally make a career, I mean they tend to bring everyone around them down a peg regardless of the topic at hand - these people do it because they are scared. They are scared of the entire world around them. They're afraid of people being more successful than they are, they're afraid of people being more talented than they are. To these people, life is a competitive sport and everyone is competition. And instead of spending time practicing and being a better person in order to get ahead, they take the easy route of bringing everyone around them down to their level. Instead of working hard to be first place, they work hard to make everyone else last place.

If it seems a little extreme, just think about it. Think about something you are completely confident in your abilities to perform. Cooking, making birdhouses, photography - whatever. Just think of something you are a pro at. Now think of someone who's worse than you. Someone who sucks at cooking or making birdhouses. Do you criticize their work? Do you make comments to demonstrate your superiority? I'm betting not. You're clearly more competent than they are, so you don't need to bring them down a peg. Ever notice that the most critical people are never themselves any good at what they criticize?

Most people operate this way. Most people are generally nice and don't want to hurt other people's feelings. They won't offer up criticism unless really provoked and they will be much quicker to point out the positives in your work. Even if you really, truly suck, people are too nice to say so. They don't stand to benefit from making you feel bad about your work, so they will either lie and say you're great, only point out the positives or just say nothing at all.

That's most people. But it's these critics you gotta watch out for. They are few, but they can really mess you up.

So next time someone critizes your abilities, whether it's a peer, teacher, friend, family member or camera store salesman, just feel bad for them. Pity them. See that they are either consciously or subconsciously intimidated by your abilities. They see you striding out towards first place and they're just trying to grab a hold of your shirt to pull you back to second place. Their survival mechanism is kicking in - that's all.

My advice here may seem a little trite and even a little motherly, but it's really true. Next time someone criticizes your work, take a look at their work. It's probably worse than yours. If it's not worse than yours, then you should feel extra bad for them because they have serious self-esteem issues that prevent them from seeing their own talent. People who are competent and confident in their abilities don't waste time making other people feel bad about their work.

These critics only bother speaking up when they see a threat. So really, if you think about it, criticism is usually a compliment. 😀

Featured Testimonial and Student Image

The following is a testimonial from one of my students, Kim Murphy. Kim has done a few of my seminars and lots of private lessons with the bulk of our discussions centering around landscape photography. Her work is superb and is even giving mine a run for its money, as you can see with the sample photo below taken by Kim.

Here's what she had to say about my services...

I first took Nick's Landscape Photography class which is jam packed full of information. Soon after that I started taking private lessons to learn to gain control of my camera. In a short period of time, with Nick's help, I went from auto to full manual control. My snapshots became photographs that actually resembled the landscape that I was seeing. From that moment on, I was hooked! Nick awakened in me a passion for landscape photography. I absolutely love it! Nick has taught me everything from manual exposure to setting up Lightroom. Nick is an excellent teacher. He is very laid back and not intimidating. He has an abundance of knowledge and experience which he is very gracious in sharing. I feel very fortunate to be a student of Nick's. He is an amazing talent and person. I have two of his fine art pieces in my home...they and he inspire me.

- Kim Murphy

Photo by student Kim Murphy

For information on private lessons, click here. For a list of upcoming seminars, click here.

Featured Testimonial

With over 100 private lesson clients under my belt, 600+ hours of private instruction and 100+ hours of classroom instruction experience, I've received tons of positive feedback from my students regarding my services as a photography teacher.

I'd like to start sharing these testimonials from my students in this new blog feature called "Featured Testimonial." If you're on the fence about doing one of my services, maybe it will give you the confidence you need to join me for a private lesson, seminar or online course. Here's the first installment from one of my private students by the name of Sheri Pascual.

"I took private lessons with Nick Carver in 2010 and I am back for more this year. I have taken a course at our community college and a few on line courses and have not found any to be as informative and easy to understand as Nick's instruction. He is patient and truly understands how to teach a DSLR camera. Most of the people that I have asked know very little about digital cameras. I purchased my Nikon D5000 from an expert photographer, but he had very little understanding about how to use my digital camera.

"Nick doesn't use my camera type or manufacturer but he had no problem figuring out how to show me the functions. I am planning to take one of Nick's group seminars at the next opportunity. He is very accomplished and will get you creating amazing pictures with your digital camera. If you would like to get a well rounded understanding of how to shoot your SLR camera and apply your knowledge in a creative way, I can highly recommend Nick."

- Sheri Pascual