Learning From Your Critics

Learning From Your Critics

Intro by Skip Cohen

There’s so much incredible content on the Photofocus.com website. Wandering through their archives, I found this post from Julie Powell, and it’s so perfect for this time of year.

Why this “time of year?” Truthfully, it’s great all the time, but during this slower time of year, most of you are online more often than usual. And in the process, you’re sharing images in various forums on Facebook, for example.

As an administrator for the Facebook Wedding Photographers forum, I’m often pulled in to referee some of the most ridiculous arguments between photographers. They happen for a variety of reasons…first, the group is over 36,000 members from all over the world and English isn’t everybody’s primary language. The result is often somebody using the wrong words.

Second, now and then a troll pours gas on the fire. You can never win battling a troll in a public forum. They hide behind the anonymity of their computer screens and thrive on conflict. Even more damaging is in responding badly – remember there are no erasers on the Internet.

Last but not least, people are too sensitive. Just because somebody doesn’t like one of the images you shared doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good shot. As my good buddy and legend, Dean Collins, used to say,

“Beauty is in the eyes of the checkbook holder!”

None of us likes being criticized. At the same time, learn to sift through the criticism, and then, like an old miner panning for gold, you’ll typically find some nuggets of wisdom to help you grow.


I don’t really like being criticized, I guess few people do. I mean a single criticism can ruin my whole day, even my whole week. Unless you live under a rock, do nothing, say nothing and be nothing, it’s a bit hard to avoid it sometimes.

I don’t really like that saying about developing a thicker skin much either. However, if we sit down and really look deep at the criticism aimed at us, there is some value in it — sometimes. So here is a few things I have learned from my critics.

  1. Not all criticism is personal

While sometimes it is personal, it’s also true that sometimes people are just lashing out due to their own circumstances, more than a personal attack as such. We can’t always know their circumstances. So stop and listen, and perhaps think about things from their side. If possible. Although it is often difficult to distinguish between the two.

  1. Don’t respond too quickly

When we speak too quickly to a critic, it’s often an emotional response that we regret later. I’m learning to keep quiet although it’s not easy. Take an hour, or even a day or two to ruminate on the context, before responding. I find once I have thought on it, I am often better able to respond with thought and intelligence, rather than anger. Is their point valid? Or just purely unhelpful?

  1. Some criticism can be helpful

Occasionally, remarks that sting, hurt for a reason. I am often hurt by criticism. I just can’t help it — it’s who I am. But if I stop and consider WHY that comment was hurtful, it can often actually be helpful.

Perhaps I was silently concerned I did not do my best work. That criticism could cause me to re-look, evaluate and approach from a new and much better angle. Making that piece of art or image much better than the original.

Maybe I was quietly suffering from impostor syndrome and the comment, while hurtful made me realize that the piece evoked response, and not all responses are good. Critics can help define who you are, make you a better creative (whether that is in writing, art or photography, or any creative outlet). However, change can be painful.

  1. It can stop me from criticizing others

I know only too well the pain of criticism, especially what I consider unhelpful (or dumb) comments. So I try, to remember that when I am tempted to criticize others. Do I truly believe my comments could be helpful? Has a comment been requested? Some people ask for constructive criticism and find it helpful. Some people receive it even when NOT asked for, that’s when I keep my mouth shut.

  1. Decide on whether to really listen or not

Some people are just plain negative. Often they will argue and put you down, no matter what you do. They do it to everyone, it seems. They are just plain mean. Ignore and move on. Some people just should not be listened to at all. Sometimes we’d rather only hear the praise, but beware that’s not always helpful either.

  1. Sometimes the critic is right

As much as we might hate it, good constructive criticism can help us grow. As people, as artists and creatives. Criticism helps us find areas that need improvement, areas to grow and learn and expand not only our knowledge but ourselves.

So next time you are criticized or even about to criticize someone else, take a moment to stop and think. Is it worth it? Is it helpful or hurtful?

Written by Julie Powell a Melbourne, Australia-based, passionate photographer and educator, running online classes and workshops for still life, macro, food, and portraits, with permission from Photofocus.com.

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