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Chances Are, You Suck

Worse yet, nobody is going to tell you.

In the past, before the internet made us equal, your friends, the ones you had actually met in person, would let you know when your pictures didn't quite cut it. Most of the time they wouldn't even have to say anything.

You'd know it yourself as soon as you showed them.

Of course, plenty of other times they'd publically bust your chops, but that was a different time. Before we all became so polite. Back when respect was something earned and not a right of birth.

Do you know that feeling? The one when you're showing images to someone (perhaps an editor that you were hoping to work with) and you get to that picture, the one that looked perfectly acceptable moments before, but as soon as you show it, you're filled with regret.

Yeah, I hate that feeling.

There are plenty of things photography wise that I'm not very good at. I'm not great at creating images, but I'm pretty good at finding them. I'm terrible at selfpromoting, marketing, and the business stuff makes me squirm. Yet I'm a decent journalist, travel well, and strangers often accept me into their lives (maybe I've got one of those faces).

There's nothing really exceptional or surprising about that evaluation. It's fairly common among photojournalists.

So that's me, those are my strengths and weaknesses. I also publish too many pictures on my websites. I'd look better if I kept the numbers down, but this post isn't about me. It's about you and why you suck.

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.

They're afraid of the internet mob. Nobody wants to get on the wrong side of a mob, so it's easier to play nice. Go along to get along seems to be the secret to a happy online life.

The first night before a shoot, I never sleep. It could be something easy, a situation that I know will produce a good image, but that doesn't help. Fear of failure is a great motivator. The trick is to use it to get as well prepared as you can possibly be, and then ignore it once the shooting starts.

You shouldn't be afraid of risk, just failure. I suppose that's another trick.

So how do you become a better photographer when you're reinforced with so much unearned praise from your interent buddies? What's your motivation, to get a hundred likes instead of just ten? There's an easy recipe for that. Start making pictures of cats. Better yet, kittens... kittens and children. You'll soon be more awesome then you could possibly imagine.

I only bring this up, because I stumble upon (as do you) so many Facebook groups (or other social networking sites) which are just filled with hideous images underscored with meaningless praise. I find it depressing. If nothing is bad, can anything be good?

More depressing, google "great photography", better yet don't. Some things, once seen cannot be unseen (either me or Gandalf said that first).

There are some sites that are doing an amazing job at publishing great photography. If you want to become a better photographer, look at these sites. When looking at the work, ask yourself, "How would I have approached this situation?" and/or "Would I have done better or worse than this photographer?" and also simple technical things, like what shutter speed or aperture was used.

Right off the top of my head, here are three sites that are doing a consistantly excellent job of publishing great photography...

Time's LightBox

The New York Time's Lens Blog

The New Yorker's Photo Booth

For commentary on the editorial world of photography...

A Photo Editor

And two amazing apps...

Once Magazine

The British Journal of Photography

Not sucking is worth the effort. Seek out great photography. Devour it, and be suspicious of any undue praise.

"Just Another War" by Exene Cervenka and Kenneth Jarecke is now available for the iPad.