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Welcome to Michael's blog. Michael Andrew, (aka Michael The Maven) is a freelance producer, photography instructor, tech innovator, and when needed, disaster aid specialist. Disclaimer: Michael is a participant in Bhphoto & Amazon affiliate programs that provides an advertising commission if you purchase through links on this website.


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06.07.10         michael's insights  

Beware the Ego Trap


Got a great question last night- thought I would post it and my response here:

Hey Michael,

I know your a busy guy, but if ya get a chance I could use some of your insight and experience...

Lately I am starting to feel posting images asking "what do you think?" is becoming pointless.  Not because I feel I am beyond that, but because aside from the technical proficiency of it like exposures, comps,etc... The image itself is just a personal choice of looks, feel, style, etc to the creator...  And someone else's opinion of "I would of rather shot it from x higher or processed it with y effect, etc..." don't really account for much but there own personal style.  Also getting comments like Looks good, is cool, great job, etc.. seem non helpful, and seem to serve no purpose other then to stroke my ego.

Another thing I find is more and more work I see on the net, in peoples collections, and studios and finding faults in the pictures, and thinking alot of the work is really second rate, or just random snap shots, or not well thought or planned out.

I am kinda confused why I am starting to think this way more and more.  I know you say not to look at peoples work you feel is worst then your own, but I seem to be seeing more and more of it, and it's not necessarily related to mine getting better in my opinion.

Am I just becoming a photo snob, or getting some kinda of wanna be photo elitist attitude?  I am generally a postive person and am happy for others, and like to see others do well, but I feel lately like I may be overly critical?

Have you ever felt this way?  And how do you manage it?

Thanks and sorry for the long rant.

-B


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This is a set of great questions that help illustrate the maturation of a photographer's skill sets. Much of if has to do with intent, objectivity and subjectivity, as well as confidence and artistic goals. Typically, anyone who has started noticing these observations has made a transition from an intermediate photographer to an advanced photographer, and this is when the real fun starts for many reasons.

When we first started learning about photography, there was this huge learning curve and we had no confidence in what we were doing. We didn't understand composition, exposure settings, WB and a plethora of other little skill sets. We had a general idea of what we wanted to do, but weren't exactly sure how to get there. Most of us were also seeking positive reinforcement- we wanted to feel that sense of progress, we wanted others to see how we are developing, and we also wanted to understand what technical errors we are making, and get better. These are some of the reasons beginners will post their images- they are looking for feedback. It's very important when starting.

After some time, the photographer beats the steep part of the learning curve and masters many skill sets. Exposure is something that a person will eventually nail down. Focusing correctly is something they will eventually also nail. Controlling DOF will become second nature. Composition and personal artistic touches become more dominant.

At this point, most of the useful feedback a photographer gets depends on what his intent was. Take for example the issue of "having a subject in focus".

If it was a photographer's intent to keep the subject in focus, and it isn't - well, thats a technical mistake- it is objective.

If it was a photographer's intent to leave the subject out of focus, and it is- then it is correct. Other's will look at the image and say "This isn't correct because the subject is out of focus." The photographer will respond "It is correct because that was my intention" - this becomes a subjective analysis of the image.

What I am saying is this- Once you are able to master putting your intentions into an image, when you see it in your mind's eye (as I talk about in the photoshop DVD) and you can nail it the way you see it- at that point, I would say it won't be useful for a photographer to post images for others to critique any more. Subjectivity is opinion- and opinions differ.

I also talk about this on the Advanced Photography Techniques DVD: There is a difference between being an "artist" and a "photographer for hire". A photographer for hire takes pictures that his client wants. An artist creates images that he/she wants AND most importantly, the image is correct because he/she thinks it is correct. Everyone else and their opinions can go to you know where!

So to answer your first question- yes, once you master the objective skill sets and are confident in what you are doing- it's pretty much useless to post your images and look for feedback.

On the flip side- as you mention- beware the "EGO TRAP". It is EXTREMELY important, that you yourself are able to continue to criticize your own work with respects to your own artist goals and stay humble. It is a sad day when a photographer thinks they have "arrived"- meaning they believe they have mastered everything they need to know about photography- I see it just about everyday. They have some success, get certified in some course, open a business, win an award- and suddenly- they believe they are the BOMB and everything they do photographically is award winning and "better" than everyone else. I didn't know this was a contest? Glowing example: I've learned recently there is a photographer out there, of course whom I have never met and doesn't know me personally, who pretty much hates me and also thinks he "out-ranks" me because he is a "certified master" photographer. He expresses this regularly to 2 friends who in turn tell me. lol - ok. Good for him. Who has time to even mentally process stuff like that?

It is very easy to fall into the "EGO TRAP". In fact- it is typically only a matter of time before most ambitious photographers get there. Photographers who arrive at this point essentially subconsciously believe they are better than everyone else, and sadly- will lose their drive to study, learn and improve. It's the beginning of the end of their creativity.

There are some things you can do to avoid this trap:

1. Convince yourself that no matter what you already know, you have only learned 3-5% of everything there is to know about it.
2. Always be able to find "flaws" in your own work. Very important. If you think your images are "perfect" something is wrong.
3. Always find time to help other photographers. It is hypocritical to take the very basic knowledge others have shared with you, and not be willing to share with others. (I am not talking about giving away your competitive advantages, I am talking about basic photography).
4. Yes- avoid bad photography when possible- however, when offering feedback, be sure to separate your "subjective" observations from the "objective" technical ones. While you may not like the lighting, or composition, there will probably be some positives they have achieved. Point these out. When you find weaknesses, it's better to say it in an encouraging manner, like: "Your image here could be strengthened if you set your custom WB" NOT: "Your white balance is off".
5. Find and study the good ones. It's easy to be inspired by other's work when it is really, really good. With time you will feel this less and less, but there will always be gems out there. Study their images- ask yourself how did they do it. If your inspiration is consistently "good" this alone will inspire you to become better. Try to breakdown and reverse engineer (meaning take a similar image) as part of the learning process.
6. Focus your most critical feedback and creative drive towards your own images.

When you meet these egotists, just try to avoid them. It's a useless waste of time to even give them any friction at all, my response to these types of people is easy: If there is anyone out there who thinks they are "better" than me...they are probably right. I still have a TON to learn and I hope I always believe that for the rest of my life. That is what I am focusing on- continue to learn and continue to try to help others.

Did this answer your question B? I hope it helps!


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