When photographers put you down

What To Do When Other Photographers Put You Down

When photographers put you downAs a new or hobby photographer, what do you do when other “professional” photographers try to put you down?

Unfortunately, this happens far more often than it should. Like in any industry, some people may be afraid of giving away their “trade secrets,” or they may fear losing out to the competition.

We recently received an email from a reader that was very upset by the way she was treated by a professional photographer in her area as well as by an actual photography instructor. She mentioned that she seriously thought of quitting photography after her ordeal.

After reading the letter, I was angered by her treatment at the hands of these “professionals” and the fact that someone would bring her to feel like she didn’t deserve to be doing photography.

First, the local “pro” was icy and obviously not interested in helping.

Next, the instructor she hired started out well, but then quickly berated and humiliated her for selling her work.

Don’t talk to strangers?

It’s tough when you’re starting out and wondering who you can turn to for a helping hand.

I remember when I attended my first week-long seminar on Cape Cod…

…during dinner, a well-known photographer in the area gave me his business card and offered to show me his studio.

I was excited to see his camera room set-up, how he displayed his work and organized his office. I was hungry for any small tips or clues that I could incorporate into my own business.

I called him the week after we returned from the seminar, eager to visit his studio. He remembered me when I called, but told me this week wasn’t good and to give him a call next week…

…As you may have guessed, the following week wasn’t going to work either, and after the third or fourth call I finally got the message.

When it comes to finding a photography mentor, put some distance between you

Later on, I meet a photographer at a Professional Photographers of Rhode Island seminar.

He was a photographer from Massachusetts with a studio about an hour and a half away from mine. He invited me to see his studio, and he genuinely meant it.

When I arrived to visit his studio, he kindly showed me around and gave me tips about setting up my own. Over time, we became friends. He encouraged me to give him a call him with a question whenver I got stuck on something.

He obviously was a more giving person then some, but I also think the fact that would had studios 75 miles apart also helped. There was no fear of competition due to the miles between us.

My Two Cents- If you going to approach a professional photographer (especially for advice about improving your photography,) choose someone with some distance between you so that they don’t have to worry about training their “competition.”

Less than kind words

I would hope that anyone in any field that considers themselves a professional at their job would at least be humane when critiquing someone.

Asking for constructive criticism is scary enough – it requires you to put yourself out there and it can sometimes be painful to hear.

However, it criticism should be constructive– not destructive. The person receiving the advice should not be made to feel worthless or stupid. Some people will of course be better at being instructive and offering hope, while others may be blunter and less polished.

But you must always remember, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Luckily for our reader, even though she was knocked off course for a few days, she believed in herself enough to keep going. This type of mindset is essential if you are going to make it anywhere in life… both in business and in your personal life.

Sometimes you may not even have support from your closest family and friends, so you have to believe in yourself enough to prove them wrong.

You also need to find people who are on a similar path to you that you can have as a support system (like the wonderful photographers over in our Backstage Pass group – click here to join for free!)

Don’t let other define your path

Many new photographers feel like they need to learn every technical nuance in order to become a professional themselves.

I’ve met many photographers that like to discuss the technical side of photography, from cameras to computers to software and more.

But keep in mind, just because someone has a seemingly infinite technical and almost mathematic knowledge at their fingers tips doesn’t mean they’re an artist.

Yes, photography can be very technical with lighting ratios, apertures, pixel size, so on and so forth. It is great to know as much as possible. But do you need to know everything all at once to take great pictures or to get paid for your work? I don’t think so.

You just have to be willing to continue to grow, learn and improve. It’s more important to know how to control your camera and “see” the light around you then to memorize every technical nomenclature of your camera.

The person that thinks they know everything seldom does. As soon as we think we know everything we shut ourselves off to discovering something new. Technology today is ever evolving it’s all most impossible to keep up ever mind know everything.

With the internet and the endless amounts of information you have at your fingertips, there is nothing wrong with being self taught and learning as you go.

For example, some of my favorite guitarist are self-taught and have not ever had any formal training. They just have soul and a gift for playing.

What do I care if they went to Juilliard and can spout music theory until my eyes roll up into my head? Their music either moves you or it doesn’t… case closed.

There are a lot of bands that I wouldn’t pay a dime to see but that didn’t stop them from selling millions of records and having a loyal following.

It’s the same with photography…someone’s style either speaks to you or it doesn’t. Your style may attract Client A, but Client B will never call you, and that’s ok! Figure out how to get in front of all the Client A’s that you can. Let the other guy work with Client B.

Keeping it real

Be honest with yourself. Try to use constructive criticism that you receive to better your work.

Perhaps someone will tell you that you need to improve upon your portfolio for it to be ready to sell to clients.

It is tough to hear, but what does your heart tell you? When you compare your work to other photographers’ websites that you admire, does your work look similar in quality? Are you able to consistently produce acceptable images from each session?

If you can honestly answer yes, then you may very well be ready to call yourself a professional photographer and proudly sell your work to the public…even if another “pro” tries to tell you differently.

I want to hear from you!

Have you had an experience where a pro has put you down? What did you do to overcome the negativity and continue to pursue your passion? Let us know your story in the comments!

  • Mary Moore

    I am a professional photographer in Kentucky and i am happy to share what I lnow and give advice. I don’t see why other photographers are like that. If i get overbooked then I can send my clients to another photographer who I know and trust. It’s not about competition to me. It’s about the joy of making my clients happy. I also love teaching photography to others. My philosophy is that if your clients like your work then they will come back to you. And that rings to be true. Photographers who shy away from mentoring others in the field lack self confidence. They are afraid of competition. The reason is that they are afraid to lose clients. In my world it doesn’t hurt clients to have more than one photographer. Every photographer has a different technique that is set aside from what any other photographer does. People usually have more than one photographer because of this. Not mentoring others is wrong. Everyone has to start somewhere and we need to help the new generations that are interested in the field.

  • Hi Mary, thank you for sharing your experience. I agree that the issue is a lack of self confidence. I’m happy to hear you are willing to mentor other photographers and be a positive source of inspiration.

  • Krysten Simmons

    I’m a photographer in PA, completing my second full year of having a session photography business. I’m pleased with how my business has increased. However, the local snubbing I’ve run into has been very off-putting. I’m of the mind that we’re all in this together, and as Mary mentioned, it would be nice to be more familiar with others and their work. I’m mentoring a high school student who is just learning, and I would enjoy working with other beginners. I started out by selling prints as greeting cards, and would set up a table at the annual holiday gift market in our small town. At last year’s event, a local photographer who also works as a photo journalist for our local newspaper, attended the market with his camera, a note pad, and an assistant. They went from vendor to vendor, taking pictures, laughing, and asking questions. As they moved down my row, I freshened my lipstick and took a quick peek in a mirror to make sure my hair was good. As I stood there smiling upon their approach, you can imagine my dismay as they breezed right past as if I wasn’t even there, and moved to the jewelry vendor beside me. Looking back, it’s amusing, but at the time I was very hurt. I was looking forward to a bit of local publicity, but instead I took a blow to my self esteem. I overcame it by using my frustration to say “O.k., no one is going to do this for me – what can I do to improve my local and online presence?” I improved my really bad website (still have work to do in that area but it’s at least presentable now), worked harder to spread the word, and brainstormed of ways to connect with potential clients. Two things happened this year that gave me a boost – I bought a new horse that resides in a stable with other horses owned by people who just LOVE photo shoots of themselves and their horses, and some of my work was accepted into a juried exhibit at our state museum. I’ve gotten quite a few opportunities due to my fellow equestrians, and the museum exhibit has offered opportunities for networking with local photographers and artists via a special museum form and social media page. I wasn’t going to set up as a vendor at the market this year, but I’ve changed my mind – I’m offering products that are more fine art than greeting cards, and you can bet your bottom dollar I’ll have a flyer to distribute encouraging people to attend the exhibit at the museum. Oh how I hope that reporter returns this year. And, I’m more confident and assertive now – I will make sure he doesn’t miss me. Nicely, of course. . .


    I’m an amatuer photographer and always encounter pros who are very excited to help me. I do remember however one semi pro putting me down because I carry a Sony a77 and not a Nikon like his. Thought it was rather amusing myself.

  • DSL

    Ran into one who immediately sneered at my non-Nikon DSLR. (He had two Nikons around his neck.) When I didn’t immediately stammer out an apology for my Pentax, he backed down a bit but I’d already lost interest in what he had to say. Equipment snobs bore me.

  • Kirsty R

    I was so upset when a training course I attended involved me being belittled constantly and even ended up with me being taken aside by the teacher/tutor who obviously missed my nervousness to tell me not to go pro to soon and to rethink my photography journey.

    She made me feel so small and I honestly wanted to quit there and then. I know i have a long journey ahead and I’m looking forward to it and whilst I’ll accept constructive criticism any time she clearly had it out for me as soon as she saw I had a website and my own small brand before I attended. Other people on the course even picked up on it and mentioned it too me. I don’t know what made me stand out but I sure did feel worthless after.

    Now I’m in a different group entirely and loving learning new things and getting constructive feedback. I just hope I’m strong enough to keep going because lack of confidence is an issue for me.

  • Rusty Shackleford

    There was a time when I dreamed of owning the a77. Hell, it’s still not a bad choice against what I have now.

  • Katy Evans

    I just want to add the some need to learn how to give as well as take criticism! I’m not a “pro” and I hate using that word when talking about photography because most refer to a paid photographer as a pro. Yet, there are many non paid photographers out there who can blow you away with their work!

    Anyways, in one of the many groups I’m apart of I tried to nicely correct someone’s use of the word Bokah as they were referring to their shallow D.o.F. Then, what I through was being mean and not wanting to hear the information I was sharing with them, they replied back. I went on to tell them how the two aren’t the same and told them they did a good job and something they might want to try next time. Once again I felt they were nasty back. I left the comment as “I’m only trying to help, no need for that! Good luck with your photography”. After which the Op was like I didn’t mean it this or that way.

    I had already switched off the thread so I didn’t see this till and Admit had got involved to tell me my comment was unwarranted and something else about my replies. I left the group as I’m sorry I was being nice or I thought I was. I even told the OP that they did a good job. I mean it wasn’t like I was trying to turn them off photography.

    The photo is not the said photo I’m taking about. It is a photo I took with a non dSLR but tricked my camera to giving me a shallow D.o.F

  • Katy great points. There’s definitely a happy medium – to be successful I think we need to be very open to constructive criticism like you were offering. Becoming better as an artist definitely requires a thick skin to not let others put you down, but also the sense to know that there is always room for improvements and that other photographers are a great source for helping with that.

  • Hi Kristy, thank you for sharing. It’s hard to believe when people who setup training / coaching belittle students. I’m glad you were able to find a group that is constructive and supportive.

  • The camera is just the tool; the skill behind the camera is what really counts.

  • Yes, some people like to get up in equipment. Equipment is nice but it’s not what makes the photographer. Glad to hear you’ve had mostly positive experiences with other pros.

  • Hi Krysten, it’s so sad to hear that there are photographers out there who enjoy putting others down. I’m glad to hear you’ve been able to become confident enough to put yourself out there and continue to grow and improve. Best wishes!

  • Vickie Earls

    Oh sweet Lady! I think he says it very well above to compare your work with someone YOU FEEL is amazing! IF they look similar…then you are doing a mighty fine job! Even if they don’t and you feel you are doing a wonderful job…you just keep that beautiful head of yours way up and be proud of where you came from and what you stand for! Omg, you have a brand AND a website??? I am just now getting mine together. I am very proud of you! Think of criticism as 😉 your stepping stools to reaching the clouds! Where are your dreams – in clouds right? Yeah…I think you connected that – right? Don’t you ever let anyone ever make you feel that low again! I have found that people who do that, I want you to hear this…are really not confident in themselves. They see you as a threat because they see you as better than they are! That is why they had to cut you down! Do not allow them to have that kind of power over you! Sure you can improve – can’t we all – even them???? You just keep on shinin!!!! I am so proud that you didn’t quit, even if you were my competition! I think, even in competition, we should help each other!

  • Vickie Earls

    This, to me, is like me loving Chevy’s and you loving Ford’s! I can’t drive a Ford if my life depended on me too. As soon as I sit in the driver’s seat and touch the steering wheel – that vehicle will find a way to break down on me and leave me stranded. However, I can drive a Chevy until the cab is rusting off, but the motor is still humming like it was made two seconds ago! I think it’s a matter of preference. Just because a Nikon is good for him, doesn’t mean it’s best for you! I can use a Canon better than any other because I’ve studied it more! Is it the best model, hmmm for me…yes, it is! So, who am I to judge what you use! It isn’t the cost of the equipment, it’s value; it’s a matter of how you use it to produce the best quality photos for your clients! I find that judging someone over their equipment is again, like I told Kathy above, a matter of someone feeling inadequate themselves. Maybe, they can’t use the kind you have mastered? That doesn’t make them bad either or better than you. I think we focus too much on comparing each other – not cool. We should be uplifting each other and getting tips off of each other…”what is it that you do with your camera that makes your photos pop????” “I just can’t get it down yet – any tips????” Instead of acting better than the next. Even if you are…not cool to treat someone less than you. Oh not you, but the one degrading you. We all have areas to improve, might as well learn from each other. I wish we could all have that mindset…

  • Vickie Earls

    I have had constructive criticism, but I took it as a stepping stone to my dreams. I could have been very hurt by it. I knew I needed improvement with the camera I had (Canon). I studied harder. I took photos of our own family reunions, posted them, and got no comments – from my own family!!!! I still didn’t give up. I thought well, they don’t like that I am confident in what I do. I have continued to take photos of people with pets, landscape, flowers, and portraits. I have yet to get paid though. Lol. I am still working on my portfolio. I don’t think it’s fair that most of my photos are family – so I posted on facebook that I needed help. I offered to do a session with pets AND give them a free package IF I could use the photos as advertisement – they could be my models with pets…it shocked me. I got 16 leads – 3 outta state. Wouldn’t you know it, my luck…I ran out of ink! LOL. So, I will schedule the sessions and let them know when I can get their packages delivered. I am excited!

    Constructive criticism, use that to sore higher and don’t ever let anyone tell you aren’t good enough. I think someone said we should be helping each other. If I can’t schedule you, then I know someone who can and I recommend them because I trust them. You help each other – you get more business. You downgrade each other, business flies away on feathers! We BOTH lose!

    If I have something you can use then it’s wonderful. I rub your back and when the time comes, you can rub mine. It’s just hard to find folks that think the same as I do. Too many greedy folks out there just taking what they can because they feel entitled to it. I want to see you succeed as much as I want you to see me succeed. Why not help each other do it?? It makes me smile and warms my heart even if I’m not at the same level or doing as good as you…it will motivate me to do better! Or at least, it should!