The Internet is a pretty brutal place for newcomers to photography. Like many of you, I am a member of multiple Facebook photography groups. Some are really well moderated and have great members, others…
A few weeks ago, in one of my groups, a 16-year-old boy had the audacity to call himself a professional. I and many others realized that what he meant was that he was taking a professional attitude to his photography. A certain subsection, however, used the opportunity to launch, frankly vitriolic attacks on the young man. Whilst many, including myself, leaped to his defense, the abusers simply turned their attacks on us as well as him.
The thing is, this kind of bullying is not new, it’s not restricted to photography and sadly it’s not going to go away. Today we are going to look at how to ignore the hate and learn from the many people that are happy to be mentors online.
It’s Not You, It’s Them
Bullying is nothing new to photographers, it didn’t start with the Internet. I got my first camera on my 16th birthday and like most newcomers, devoured photography. I was lucky enough to have a highly experienced mentor in the form of my uncle, an excellent and creative Hasselblad user.
He introduced me to the world of the camera club, a place where I learned a huge range of techniques and creative ideas. It’s also where I first learned about bullying.
After around 4 months at the camera club, I entered one of the year’s biggest competitions. The winner's photograph would go into an exhibition that would tour the country. Somehow, I won. A 16-year-old with a $50 Soviet camera got a 10+ out of 10 for one of his first-ever shots. It did not go down well with a certain demographic. They accused the judges of bias and effectively shunned me, locking me out of conversations and pretty much denying me any access to their experience.
It was that same demographic that was bullying the 16-year-old lad on Facebook. Sadly I am a member of that demographic, early to late middle-aged men.
The thing is, if you go take a look at the profiles of these bullies, these haters, you will find two things. Either their profiles are locked down, or if they are open, they have very little to show in the way of photographic ability. Profiles that are locked down are invariably trolls, keyboard warriors that get off on hurting others. The other profiles are compensating for their own lack of ability. Sure, they own the gear, they wear the badges but they are utterly clueless when it comes to actually using it. They are wearing cameras, not using them.
If you do come across bullying or hate online, just remember, it really is them, not you. Ignore them, don’t try to engage them, and instead embrace what the genuine photographers have to tell you.
The Silent Majority Are Not That Silent
Whilst it easy very easy to be disheartened by the haters and maybe even to give up, it’s important not to. You are doing photography because you enjoy it. The fact that you enjoy it usurps anyone who wants to project their own negativity onto you.
Haters by their very nature are vocal. Their own inadequacies lead them to want to be heard over everyone else. That’s why it might seem that there are so many of them around. The fact is though, they are a very small minority. Vocal, yes but still a small minority.
Spend some time in your chosen groups and you will soon see that far from being full of bullies, they are actually full of experienced, helpful, and engaging photographers that are only too willing to help people, especially those that are new to photography.
The Unwritten Rules Of Social Media
There are some unwritten social ground rules when engaging with groups on Facebook et al. Failure to adhere to them is often the trigger for haters use to bully you. The aforementioned 16-year-old lad’s faux pas was to call himself a professional photographer and that was a red rag to a bull for the trolls.
If you want to get the best out of a group or forum, especially as a newcomer, the golden rule is to go in softly. Be respectful and be modest. You might have an amazing image to post but if you put that up and pronounce how amazing it is, you will soon be brought back to earth.
You might think that you have discovered some new technique or photographic skill, but the chances are it’s been seen and done before. When you post on social media, especially as a beginner, write something that engages the membership. Ask them their opinion on your photos. In many groups, there is a rule that if your want people to comment you need to ask for constructive criticism, often abbreviated to cc.
If you slowly build your presence in a group by posting good photos, being modest yet engaging, you will find that there is a huge fount of knowledge that you can harvest to improve your photographic ability and creativity. You will also find members whose work will inspire you. You will find yourself analyzing what they did and try to replicate it. In most cases, you will find photographers you are inspired by will often be very open to sharing their techniques with you.
Personally, I am continually astounded by the knowledge and helpfulness of groups. Some 37 years after I won that camera club competition, I still have questions about photography. No matter how obscure or complicated my question is, there is always someone that will answer it fully and comprehensively
The Internet and social media have a reputation for hate and trolling, one that belies its power as a learning tool. The fact is though, the Internet is really just a microcosm of the real world. In it, those that shout loudest are often the trolls and haters yet the majority of people are more than happy to share their own wealth of knowledge with those just starting out. If I were starting photography right now, I would certainly be happy to embrace to the power of social media to improve my understanding.