Why Polite Internet “Criticism” Makes Your Photography Suck

Photographer Kenneth Jarecke has written up an interesting article on how Internet culture is hindering the development of people who want to get better at photography:

There’s nothing wrong with not being any good at photography. Everybody started out bad and none of us does all aspects of it well. But it’s a crying shame to want to be good at it, to spend time and money trying to be good at it, and not getting any better.

This isn’t like teaching a child to read. Positive reinforcement is your enemy. Your Facebook friends, your Twitter followers… hate you. Instead of taking ten seconds to say. “This doesn’t work. You need to do better”. They readily push that “like” button, because it’s easy and they hope to get the same from you, but also because they’re cowards.

His advice? “Seek out great photography. Devour it, and be suspicious of any undue praise.”

Chances Are, You Suck (via A Photo Editor)

Image credit: 310/365: Photo-tastic Sunday… by Derek E-Jay

  • Rod Thorne

    if you want honest photography criticism try or other photography forums, they can be brutally honest at times

  • Dennis Marciniak

    You beat me to it.

    I also wanted to add that this is a big failing of flickr. I don’t know how many “5 SUPERSTAR PHOTOGRAPHIC SUPER AWARD!!!!!” I had on my page. Once that started happening, I decided to bail. It’s the biggest problem in amateur photography IMO.

  • Anne H

    I think the assumptions in the article are wrong, such that the opposite is true about internet “culture”. if I post my pics on fb, I’m not expecting criticism or praise–it would actually be annoying if one friend consistently wrote “the white balance is off in this photo, you need to crop this off, what about the rule of thirds??”

    going to a photography-specific place amateurs and professionals can easily exchange feedback is where I would expect feedback. and their feedback is more often than not helpful when you ask for advice.

    as for websites like 500px (exposure discluded) people generally “favorite” photos they appreciate. if one of your photos has significantly more “favorites” or “likes” whatever, that’s relatively useful feedback.

  • Ranhoff

    Its a sad day when photographers rely on social media to improve their skill. Even photography dedicated sites like flickr just boost your ego with shallow comments and pointless ‘views’. If you’re looking to improve, get with a professional.  Have that professional cut you down, point out your flaws, and give you tangible things to work on. 

  • Stevo is a site where you don’t get burped like we do on flickr. However, if you ask for constructive criticism about your photos on fbook, then that’s when people should be open to comment. Otherwise, commenting about a photo’s lack of composition, use of color, too light or too dark, etc., on someone’s wedding photo album or a photographer’s profile page is not the place for that. Maybe creating a folder like, “Comment on my Photos”, “Good or Bad: What do you think?”, etc., and leaving it open would work. But Broad-brushing people as “cowards” or wanting them to “Like” them back just because they’re afraid to is absurd. This not only happens in photography but other creative areas as well. I mean look at the sucky ads on the right of this page? Oh… wait, no one asked me my opinion about those ads did they? ;)

  • Thomas Valenzuela

    That’s the thing with art…it’s subjective. You have to seek praise and criticism from the right sources. This is why I take all praise and criticism that I receive with a grain of salt, and never get excited about praise unless I value the persons opinions or perspective as an artist. 

    My mom can like and comment on all my pictures on facebook, but that doesn’t mean much too me.

  • Anonymous

    There is a big difference between posting on flickr and seeking professional critique, as a famous portrait photographer once posted on one of his posts “my flickr feed isn’t a portfolio I’m just sharing my stream of consciousness”. I think that’s what most pro-am photographers use social photo sites for.

    Personally, even before the advent of social networking and crowd sourcing I never asked a random or lay person their opinion of my work. I ask fellow professionals, artists and art directors for their critical opinion; people who can articulate what is wrong or right with my work.

    At the end of the day, everyone has an opinion, the popular opinion doesn’t make it good or interesting either.


    this is a good article. I don’t think facebook is the main culprit thought. I think sites like modelmayhem are.

  • Kkevster

    Digital Camera + internet + Picasa = Artist
    If you want to see some bad photography, loved by many, Facebook, and the  “Pages” that allow photos to post is the place.  I think, they just want to share, and aren’t looking for “critics.”

  • Daniel Fealko

    You’ve got to learn to be your own worst critic.  Study images by professionals you like and then ask yourself why theirs look better than yours.  If you don’t know, read a couple of good photography books to find out why.  (By “good” I mean those that stretch you. Don’t waste your time reading about stuff you already know.)  And then go out and put into practice what you’ve learned.

    One problem with relying on others for input is the fact that art is subjective.  It’s better to find your own vision slowly over time than to be molded to the collective vision of any photography site or forum.

  • lezko

    such a strange feeling.. wondering if i should “like” this post, or how to appreciate it

  • Anonymous

    I agree with this 100%…. I was one of those people that knew nothing about photography and taught myself everything and the people around me were very supportive but I now realize my photos all suck. People telling me my pictures are great when in reality they suck has set me back the year I’ve wasted taking bad photos. So here I am starting all over after discovering the truth from pros who don’t hold back. I wish I didn’t spend the money on a website and nice gear but maybe in the next six months or so I’ll have something worthwhile to place on there. Oh well, live and learn.

  • ABenson

    When I started sharing photos on G+, I asked for any criticism or comments. I’ve got a thick skin and can take constructive criticism. I spent my college years in countless critique sessions don’t get my feelings hurt easily. If someone wants to tell me my WB is off that’s fine, if the processing was deliberate I may explain the reasons behind it. While my ego definitely appreciates the praise that can be found on the various web sites. I’d much rather have a discussion of the work, on both the technical and artistic merits.

    Yes, art is subjective. Whether or not someone likes a particular piece is not relevant. An appreciation of art is all that’s needed.

  • Anonymous

    When I post a photo and a lot of people hit “like” I know it’s crap because my FB friends have consistently “liked” sentimental, soft, facile, cutesy photos (except for my crow photos- which people like because there’s a crow in them)

  • Richard

    Everyone is different and will grow as a photographer and artist in different ways. For some people critiques work, for others they don’t. One thing’s for sure, using social networking metrics (popularity contests that are easily gamed) as a measure of anything except popularity is a delusion.

    I wrote a piece on the effects of flickr explore a number of years ago and it still has some relevancy and supports part of Kenneth’s notion about decoupling social networking from real feedback.
    My guess is the best place to put energy is in doing more work and as Kenneth says, looking at lots of other people’s work.

  • 9inchnail

    It’s only natural that your friends like your photos, they propably know the people and the places in them. They don’t rate the artistic value of the photo, they just think “Hey, that’s Karl, haven’t seen him in a while”… LIKE.
    FB is just not meant to be a platform to craft your skill.

  • 8fps

    This article doesn’t work. You need to dig deeper. It’s the economy, stupid!

  • SmartiPants

    Well….you could just get smart and stop logging onto macebook?

  • mythbuster

    Amen! And frequently you can find so brutal response to educated criticism (i.e. in this web) that inmediatly can realize they are not photographers but friends of the author…

  • Marvin

    Gee i,m new to photograhy I look thru many photo blogs daily.I have to commend alot of people just for there creativety.I just hope that ideas come to mind for me like they have for you.

  • Rtokarz

    Duh, want to know if your pictures are any good? Put a price on them. If someone is willing to part with his/her money then it’s a good picture.

  • Anonymous

    Free internet criticism is worth exactly what you paid for it. 
    For commercial photography, the good/bad dividing line is exactly what’s said above, if someone will pay for it, and feels like they got value for their money, it’s good enough. For art, why do you care what someone else thinks?

  • James

    I agree, but a lot of people enjoy their pictures and aren’t particularly bothered about criticism or ‘improving’. I’ve been snobbish about instagram but I can’t ignore that people have a lot of fun with it; there isn’t any particular motivation to improve their core photography skills. In this sense I’m not sure how welcome robust feedback is, as they’re not in school.

    As an aside, it’s not just photography, either. It’s an observable trend on the ‘net generally, in anything creative. 

  • Joel

    Reminds me of watching American Idol… the second the judges give constructive criticism to the singers who are good, but not great, it’s nothing but “BOO” from the audience!  As someone with a background in music I find the judges comments are often similar to my own during the songs.

  • London wedding photographer

    A great read, the internet is a very funny world to post your photographs! 

  • Mantis

    Art is subjective.
    One person may say your photo sucks, while that same photo is off winning contests.  

    It’s pointless to take much online criticism seriously.

  • Aaron Barlow

    Every now and then I get a few of those comments about something being off. I LOVE those comments. 

  • Anonymous

    When you realize your photography sucks then you are growing as a photographer.

  • Subject Matters

    People like photos on Facebook and Flickr because they like the subject matter, the action/story, or because they are in the photo. They could not care less about how good you are with your technical skills. Composition is your concern as the photographer, not the viewer’s concern. If they like the photo, then you captured a great moment. If they don’t like or give positive feedback on the photo, they either didn’t see it or you failed to capture anything interesting in the photo.

  • deirdre

    You only get those silly awards on flickr if you join and add your photos to flickr groups that give out those awards. Please don’t use this as a way to criticize flickr itself. I do agree that there is a lot of faving and “nice pic!”-ing going on. 

    I am active on flickr and have realized it is a better place for inspiration and support than for critique and growing from mistakes. I like the inspiration and support and am currently looking elsewhere the rest.

  • Edward EJ Row


  • Boba Not my photography but wow this person is a joke and they went to art school what a waste of 100k. 

  • Faron kee

    Not really. For me, if an image is bad I get little thumbs up! Most of my friends are professional photographers and they seem to know what they like. They do not support bad work. I have an idea of what is great from the feedback I get over 3 or 4 networks.

  • Rosemary

     but the problem is many on FB use the comments to fuel their self worth as a photographer and those comments can be very misleading.

  • Paul Cretini

    I respectfully agree and disagree with the original article writer. I do think it’s a good article.

    There is one flickr photographer I do really like. Looking through his 4 year old photostream, the first 1/3 of it stinks. However, despite the unhelpful “positive” comments he has continued to grow and mature and his newer stuff is amazingly better than what he started off with 4 years ago. It all depends on the person. Those with a real passion will grow no matter what, as long as they are able to recognize good from bad and as long as they practice.

  • Guest

    brutal honesty isn’t the way to help someone learn. You let them know what they have done right, give encouragement, and give them pointers on what they need to do to improve as in better subject, more compelling compositions etc. Nothing like giving criticism with the words “this totally doesn’t work, does nothing for me” That does not help anyone become better. I have seen harsh words like that turn someone away from photography

  • Guest

    not totally true. People buy bad photography all the time. Just because someone wants to buy what you put out there doesn’t make it a fantastic photo.