Photography: Subjective by Nature

Sunset light in the high country at Devil's Castle, Alta Ski Area, UT

Sunset light in the high country at Devil's Castle, Alta Ski Area, UT

It’s late, and I’ve got photography on the brain (what’s new). So hold on for what’s sure to be a semi-coherent rambling on a topic that has been covered by countless photographers the world over.

I posted this image on a well known photography forum the other day. I regularly try to post on several forums to both participate in photo-centric communities (online) and drive a bit of traffic to my website as well. It’s a great opportunity to see good, and sometimes great work, as well as get a feel from the photo public out there as to what they think of my work. In the end, there’s a lot of back patting, ego padding, armchair quarterbacking, pixel peeping and the occasional solid critique with well thought out criticisms and compliments. It must all be taken with a grain of salt, and, depending on who you are, it may have more effect on some than others, as to what they think of their work, and how they approach new imagery in the future.

Which brings me to a question that every photographer asks themselves over and over throughout the course of their career. Do I care what others think of my work??? To say no would be a bold faced lie. To give an outright “yes” would be misleading. My answer? Yes. Sometimes. Kind of. It depends. Perfectly clear, right???

Let me preface the rest of these thoughts by saying this–no matter where you are in your career and how accomplished you are with your imagery, I think you can ALWAYS benefit from critique. Whether it be positive or negative, it is always well worth it to hear what others think of your work. What you do with that critique really depends on who is giving it. Do I care what the amateur photographer thinks of the work I just submitted to “X” magazine? Probably not. Do I care what the editor of that magazine thinks? You’d better believe it.

Do I care what the editor of “X” magazine thinks of the fine art/scenic work I just did? Maybe. Do I care what the amateur photographer enthusiast with a penchant for photo workshops thinks? Yes I do. Do I care what the editor of “X” magazine and the amateur photographer enthusiast think about the edgy personal work I just did? Actually, yes. Because in the end, everything I put out there reflects my ability to perform behind the lens. It is a reflection of me. My brand. We all have a brand, whether you understand it or not.

The key is this: while I care what others think, I will never, NEVER be able to please everyone. And neither will you. And that’s just how it works. Once you have found your personal style and have become comfortable with that, the criticism will sting less and the truly worthy critiques will shine through. It’s important to give ample attention to what others think of your work. It’s even more important to understand when your personal and creative vision trumps the mainstream minds of…the mainstream.

Care what others think. You have to care to some degree to see success in this business. But we all know that the path most traveled is worn for a reason. There are times when you must leave the comfort of the well trodden path, buck the unfounded criticisms and venture off into your own photo-topia of sorts. I can remember the first portfolio review I ever received. I took my work to one of my professors (I didn’t study photography in college) who was a former photojournalist. I got ripped apart. Torn to shreds. Can’t recall one positive thing said about my work at that time. And I am now so grateful for an honest eye. I cared then, and I care now. But the extent to which I let the critique of others direct my work has changed to some degree. I know what I want, and I know where it will take me. I know my style, and I know what I want to convey when I shoot an image. This will always serve as my internal creative compass. Let’s hope it points me in the right direction!