As artists, photographers are bound to face a little criticism and–gasp!–rejection every now and then. While our egos may suffer a bit from negative feedback, there's no reason you can't turn it around and use it to improve your photography. We all want our photos to be well received, but it's not realistic to expect every single person to like or understand them. Let's get that out of the way early on: At some point, every photographer has or will face rejection. We just need to learn how to handle it gracefully and use it to become a stronger photographer.
rejected by Vic, on Flickr
Don't Jump To Conclusions
Rejection can come from many different sources–contest judges, galleries, publications, even your peers. It's easy to jump to conclusions and assume your work was rejected because it wasn't good enough. We let our emotions run wild and in the process we fail to look at the rejection from both sides.
If a gallery has turned down your work, it might not have been a right fit. Maybe your style of photography doesn't match the style the gallery represents. It doesn't make it bad, just different.The same with publications; if you submit your photos to a magazine who fails to show interest, that doesn't mean they think you're a bad photographer. It could be they're just not interested in those specific kinds of photos at that specific time.
Leica Gallery… by Thomas Leuthard, on Flickr
When you're submitting your images to a gallery or publication, do a little research in advance to see what kinds of work they typically feature. If you don't feel your style or technique fits their style, you may want to reconsider before submitting your work to them. This can save you a lot of heartbreak–and time–in the future. Focus, instead, on submitting to galleries and the like which regularly feature and use work from photographers similar to yourself.
When In Doubt, Ask
Sometimes you'll be fortunate enough to receive an explanation of the rejection, but, a lot of the time you won't. However, that doesn't mean you can't ask for one. Rather than immediately assuming your work wasn't good enough, when possible, ask whoever it is who rejected your work for a quick explanation. Be kind and open minded to the situation. You may not get the answer you're looking for–the truth can be painful–but, the feedback they give you can be a key to your success.
Worst case scenario, you get a response back explaining your work just didn't make the grade. But, even that is not such a terrible thing. It can give you direction and also serve as a tool to strengthen your weak areas if you process the feedback constructively and not personally. Say, for example, one of your image submissions was turned down because the photo editor or contest judge felt the composition or framing wasn't as strong as some of the other entries. Use that bit of information to focus your practice and study sessions on putting together stronger compositions. This advice applies to just about any situation, whether your image was turned down due to it's composition, lighting, etc…
In some instances, you may not get a response–photo editors are busy people and they may not have the time to respond to each request. If you don't hear back, let it go and carry on about your business. Any time you've spent on simply trying to move past being rejected, is time which wasn't spent practicing with your camera.
Photographer by M.Kemal, on Flickr
Have you ever heard the saying ‘Life Is Like Negatives, We Develop From The Negatives'? It's one of my favorite sayings–partly because of the film reference, but also because it's true. We do develop from the negatives. They make us grow and they make us stronger. Use your rejection letters to pinpoint and improve your weaknesses and channel your energy into leveling up.