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Photographer’s Ego Bust: Dealing with Criticism and Rejection

Updated on March 25, 2013
The cure for discouragement is perseverance.
The cure for discouragement is perseverance. | Source

Ask any avid photographer about challenges that they face, and they’ll probably tell you about dealing with criticism and rejection. Particularly if you are seeking to make money from your photography, or if you’re entering competitions, there’s no doubt that you will face this as well.

Artists generally don’t like when their work is negatively criticized, and absolutely hate when they are rejected. But when you think about it, it’s simply a part of our human nature to react in those ways. No one likes to feel as if their work isn't good enough. But in the same breath, you have to quickly develop a thick skin to deal with harsh negativity that may flow around you. It may even do you well for you to actually listen to some of the criticisms you receive, so that you can create even better masterpieces.

Are You Taking Things Too Personally?

We may agree that a person’s work of art is an extension of himself or herself. And if someone comes along and makes a remark that you don’t like, it can be quite easy to be offended. But if you do react with that attitude, it may just be a signal that you are taking things a bit too personally. Remember that photography, just like other art-forms, is highly subjective even though there are fundamental composition rules. Think about it, does everyone have to like the Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa or Michelangelo's sculpture of David? Nope! As a beholder of art, you have the right to like or not to like. Let people be. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

Who are You Making the Photographs For?

Unless you are making fine art photographs for yourself, you may want to pay keen attention to the kind of photograph(s) that your client or judges are looking for. This is not to say that you should kick your personal style through the door, but just because you like the photo you made, doesn't mean that the judge or client should like it as well. Still, they may very well like the images, but do they love them? Photography competitions for example, tend to have well detailed specifications of the kind of photos judges are looking for. But there’s more. Take a hint by looking through the photos that won the previous competitions. What do you see in common? Is there something that you can incorporate in your own photography entry while still staying true to your style? A bit of pragmatism can be good when you are creating work for others.

Negative Criticism Can Offer Negative Motivation

As hurtful as it can be to get turned down for your work, you can use that experience to be stronger and better. In Psychology, there’s a concept known as negative motivation -- even though the surrounding stimuli for a person is discouraging, he/she perseveres and aspires to do or be better. It’s a powerful thing to say to yourself that you will prove that you are more than good enough when someone says or suggests otherwise.

In such a competitive industry as photography, you've got to be strong and if you may -- thick-skinned. Once you are knocked down, you've got to dust yourself off, and quickly get back up. Your work will only improve once you work at it. But remember, that once you are producing work for someone besides yourself, you've got to find out what they like and want. Cole Thompson shares some strategies that you may like to incorporate in your quest to win photography competitions in his article about rejection. In this discussion, it should also be noted that not all criticisms are negative, or destructive. Simply put: some critics know what they are talking about -- listen to them.

The greatest among us have been rejected and criticized countless of times. And this is what separates them (the warriors) from the wimps -- perseverance.

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