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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.







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Chip Oglesby


Thanks for taking the time to write this. I remember when I was first getting started in photojournalism and went to the Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar back in 2003. I thought I was going to take the world by storm! Instead my portfolio got torn apart and I was taken down a few pegs. It was just what I needed to hear.

The critics were harsh and honest, not because they're asses, but because they want everyone to do better. Sometimes I feel like that's what's wrong with the world today. People just don't care about pushing their colleagues and friends forward. Instead we say "that's cool." We hit the like or plus one button without thinking about what we're really saying.

Take a look at what people are saying on Flickr and Instagram. "AMAZING!" "ZOMG SO BEAUTIFUL!" Really? Really folks? Just because you tilted your phone and slapped on a filter doesn't mean that you're actually saying anything.

I'll step off my soapbox now, but again, thanks for taking the time to write this.

Greg Washington

Wholly shit, this is the most realest thing I've read in a long time. I completely agree whole heartedly. Too much ass patting online. Constructive criticism is almost non-existent.

John H. Maw

I like this a lot. I think that an answer, at least to some extent, is to cultivate a circle of people who will take pride in being honest with you, and will feel that they can and should be honest out of respect. Anything else would waste everyone's time. Oh, and make sure they are not photographers. They are too easy to please. We have to be able to communicate with real people (non-photographers).


Good article. Your key point of not fearing failure and avoiding looking for the easy acceptance is spot on. We could always benefit from a more critical assessment of our work.

Jose Mojica

Great article. I think part of the problem is that we're not honest with ourselves. Your friends let you know you suck all the time, not by what they do, but by what they do not do. When your work sucks, your friends may give you a thumbs up, but they will not tell anyone else about your work. And so all you get are a few thumbs up from a few friends. When you see positive comments from people you don't know, and an increase in hits, that's when you know you've done something good. Because that means that your friends thought your work was so good that they had to show someone else. The problem is that we lie to ourselves and take the few thumbs up and continue living our lives without noticing that our friends did not think our work was great enough to tell their friends about it.


I'm glad that I'm not the only one that thinks this way, I thought I was going crazy, so I started limiting my interaction with other photographers on FB.

I really do have a long way to grow as a photographer but I think the social platform/ world we live in today is really hindering photography. I've been called a dick on FB because I was honest with someone about how their image sucked and it was not worth the time to fix it in photoshop.

I love constructive criticism and I think it is one of the things that has helped me progressed as a photographer but that's even hard to come-by now or to give.

Meg Moss

Hard to know whether to press the 'Like' button or not - even though I really like it!

You suck, they suck, I suck, it's so crazy, the whole crowd of mankind sucks.
But hell, we're having loads of fun sucking around that much.
At least we've got much in common, here. ;-)

I hope I suck a little different in the future.

And it's good that there's room for the big suckers on g+ and room for the mass-suckers on flkr and for the writing-sux, ...

kindest suck,
Sucker Jobs ;-)

Jackie Baisa

I think I both agree and disagree here. I ALWAYS think I suck, when people are consistently purchasing my photos and hiring me for shoots, and I get honest praise from other high-end photographers. And I have a LOT of photographer friends who feel the same way. They feel like frauds. And yet their work is quite extraordinary. So, to be honest, while I understand what you're trying to say, and we should go light on the "like" buttons, I really don't need yet another voice in my head telling me I suck.

Chromatic Dramatic

There is another view.... sometimes, those photography critique forums can go too far, as they focus on so called "rules" of photography. They shouldn't be called "rules" but guides. It's about knowing when to break them that counts.

Similarly, pixel peepers look to the detail, they don't see the forest through the trees.

But that is the other side of the coin.

I've started a 365 project to improve my photography. Naturally these get posted to Flickr. Some photos are down right ordinary, they were taken just to get the days pic done. Some of the comments that flow are then totally bizarre (ie the false praise).

Self awareness is an important trait.


Great article for you photographers out there...


Social networking sites were made to profit their owners so, they have been developed to succeed.
How they succeed? Keeping people attached. How do people get attached to it? Being happy with it. How social networking sites keep people happy? Keeping people polite and agree with everything.
The most obvious example about this is that facebook have only a "like" button and not have a "dislike" button. If facebook had a "dislike" button, people would start to be unhappy and ran away.
So, social networking is the worst place to improve your skills and be a better photographer.

great post!


just discovered this blog via aphotoeditor, interesting topic,
in conclusion, i would say it is important to have good friends, real friends, the ones that can tell you: you suck!

Teresa Hernandez

Moment of truth is very seldom realized.

george weir

Thank you Kenneth.
When I came to the realization that all those "likes" on FB were not only depressing but were also terribly distracting I deleted my account, what a relief.


This is a great post for sure, followed over from You should also point out JPGmag, a site that does rely on user content but the ways that they choose which photos to highlight is not just a "like." There is truly great amateur photography on there with a serious taste of the willpower to advance one's self.

A Facebook User

Thank you. I still suck, but I suck as part of a collective. That's better than sucking alone.

But in all seriousness, you have put to (beautiful) words so many feelings that I believe many "creatives" feel almost every day. I once heard a legendary Creative Director say that his favorite employees were the insecure ones who believed they were always on the verge of getting fired.


Great article! As a serious hobbyist/amateur, I truly hunger for some constructive criticsm - for a way to improve, to learn. Collecting "likes" or Flickr "great shot!" comments don't help me grow. Oh sure - they give me a tiny jolt of satisfaction but are ultimately meaningless.

"If nothing is bad, can anything be good?" - how can I develop my judgement, of both my work and the work of others, when we are all treated the same? The "like" button takes no effort, no thought - just click and move on. Thank you for putting into words what I have been feeling for quite a while.


great points, well made.

I find one of the benefits of the social & digital world is I can now surround myself, immerse myself in truly great imagery. no matter how good I think *I* am I can find photographers that outclass me by scary amounts. That is a powerful motivator (and demotivator at times) and drives me to improve and learn every day, and practice my craft and extend my creativity.

But, here's the thing - in order to do this, you need to learn to spot the difference between good and bad and great. Then you need to be supercritical and apply those rules to yourself. Step out of yourself and look at your work with the eyes through which you look at others.

Developing that has been a real journey for me..

The New Diplomats Wife

good points but i would argue it depends on the forum. If you're just getting started and you're part of a facebook group of peer "getting started" peeps or other hobbyist photographers - that's the place for positive reinforcement. If you're however interacting in professional fora, speaking to an editor, etc or having an honest interaction with a close friend, that's the time for honesty. Reminds a bit of Alexandre Buisse's article in the Craft and Vision book - there are stages to this, and different stages are appropriate in terms of where you are with your own development as a photographer, professional or not. If you're getting too much love, you need to change your forum, if you're not getting enough, consider that too.

Jacob Vorpahl

Bravo. I'm glad someone else was willing to say it. Plus, I'm glad someone else verbalized their regret at photos they thought were awesome the moment before they showed them to someone. I recently was trying to cull together some of my best images for a project, and I honestly couldn't find a handful. It was extremely demoralizing, but it also meant that's because I want to do better, and standing still and loving my current work isn't going to do that.



Troy Paiva

I agree 100% with everything you said. It's hard to rise above the noise.

At the same time, I hope you do another "cheerily amazed" post about how the internet gives you the platform for your opinions and photography to go viral and reach a potential audience of millions.

As with everything in life, there are two sides to this story.


While I agree with most of what you say, I'm not so sure Facebook / Flickr or any of the social media site are in it "doing a consistantly excellent job of publishing great photography..." -- at least that's not my impression. Photographs in those realms are simply catalysts for - well - social jibber jabber -- not really worth much at all - certainly no real weight should be placed on what's shown.

I will admit it drives me a bit batty to see hundreds of people gushing over bad HDR and kitten photos -- but, hey - it's a social site - not If someone with a camera wants to think they're the next Bresson because people love their crapcam portraits, then let let them be...

By the way -- fantastic portfolio --

James Campbell

So true. What is most interesting is that some platforms are more conducive to lazy faux praisers and lazy likes than others. I wonder if there will be a platform that will force critique instead of more unhelpful likes. If only the # of likes was in direct correlation to $$$, we pro photogs would at least have a new business model to shoot for.


I know I suck, because I am a photographer, that does not make or present photographs in the traditional sense. Those sharply defined razor sharp, clearly focused, full blazing color shots.

I get very polarized reactions, either disdain, confusion, or absolute gushing comments.

What matters is that I am happy with what I make, as it is, and extension of who I am.

Bill Payment

I am so enjoying these interesting to read these blog and provide some tips and strategy for improving the business and provide new way for thinking ideas.It can causes the traffic at your website.


couldn't agree more... too many nice and inane comments. in case you have not already encountered it, there was once a movement called "deleteme" on a flickr group, a place to trash ppl's photos, and once in a while, give true praise if it so deserved. in case of interest...

(copied the description here below)

On flickr we are all nice and sweet... always with a tender word for a flickrbuddy...


It's time to be nasty, mean, selfish and arrogant, time to dare to say what we think .. and nobody can complain because all DeleteMe! members accept the rules of this GAME.

Tommy Mac

Photography reflects other professions and hobbies.....
I suck
you suck
he, she, it sucks
we suck
you suck
they suck

yes, we all started when as a child we all were given a trophy for playing a game; being on a team, where EVERYONE got a damn trophy....little Johnny, you suck, but here is a trophy. now let's get ice cream. Ice cream doesn't suck.

Jason Thompson

Agreed. The [like] button is one of the worst things ever invented. I'd love if people took the time and tore into my work. How the hell am I going to get better if no one tells me what I'm doing wrong?

Noel B Hurlburt

My Goal is to "take" a photograph, not "make" one in a digital software world. OBJECTIVE critque is mandatory to learn the ART of Photography.


This article sucks.


Great article. If there was a like button I would use it.

the bitter sweet irony


One of the great powers of the internet community is its ability to criticize the idea of the objective opinion, to shame the unquestioning critics insistence that this or that is a work that everyone must like or dislike. Who see themselves as custodians of high art frequently stumble in recognising significantly innovative or original work. Anyone claiming to be a photo critic expert is selling something.

If clichés are so bad, why do they win popularity contests of photo sites?
When we see images that are similar to the images that we think are great, there’s an association, a connection that is positive. These are derivative images. But instead of being a negative aspect, these images get elevated, often to the highest awards and often without realizing we’re just awarding what worked in the past.

"Never ask anyone for their opinion. Ask them what they have in their portfolios"
-Nassim Taleb

Daniel Bayer

Kenneth, as you well know, It's not just Facebook, its most of where people post photos on the internet, Flickr, dpreview, etc. I call the phenomenon FMAS or "False Mutual Admiration Societies". It it more than sad, it is scary for it is really changing how people perceive what actually makes a good photograph.

Many pursuits have morphed over the years when technology has entered the equation, but my is taking a beating. It's one the main reasons I have gone back to shooting black and white film and printing it in an actual darkroom...I just don't want to be a part of the junk show anymore...


wondering if I should start a commenting trend "this sucks" under bad photographs... See, you can't b/c then you are the cup half full sarcastic mean girl. But seriously, a lot sucks out there and they don't know it. Facebook sucks for this very reason. Maybe someday those photographers will do what others did before them. GET A MENTOR.

Edward Row

yo tell em.. mofucka

Martin Lehmann

Sorry for my bad english: Having in mind the content of the article above, it seems a bit ironic to post a praising comment below it and/or to just press the "like"-Button ; )

But anyway, i am editor of a german print magazine for high quality black and white photography. Almost every day people send me images and ask for being published. It is really amazing what people regard as being worth to get published in a magazine. I really think that one of the reasons for the inabillity to evaluate your own pictures is what Kenneth describes in his article. Maybe i should put a copy of it to the next rejections i will have to give.

It is just so true, so honest and unfortunately still so necessary. Thank you!

(BTW: If you find any pictures on my private website which you dislike, fell free to tell me "this sucks". I know that i am a better editor than a photographer ; ) )


450 "likes" for this article right now...
Nevertheless: good posting. Honestly


Thank you for writing and sharing this thoughtful and soulful post. I've just done a photoshoot of my Hoop-la Scarves that I make and sell, and used the photos to launch my website - I'm proud as punch but still got a lot to learn! I'm hoping that friends will give me constructive criticism, instead of gushing empty loveliness to massage my ego - I want it to look GOOD! If there's things I should change, I really want to know about it!

Thank you for the helpful tips and links. Great blog - I just discovered it through Diana at Our City Lights :)

Keep up the great work! Katie. xxx

Brilliant! I feel your pain. Brownnosing on Flickr is unbearable


well said, Kenneth.


thanks for sharing, i am glad you posted what everyone was thinking. i hope i have cool friends too, that will tell me that i suck, not just my photos, but in my life generally, i guess honestly is the best policy, sometimes........

thanks for the insight aloha!

PS: your photos really don't suck. there awesome!

You know who

Yeah, I agree, this is a good starting point in letting people know that they can do better. Glad you posted it. But to truly transcend "not sucking" an individual should probably not even show his/her images to anyone and to just "feel" them. If you're trying to make a living the "noise" in your head from so called editors or important people can also be an issue. It's really that individuals need to stay in their individual state and to defend that position as something that makes them unique that counts. Photography is really the visual reflection of the person, their senses, and the situation in front of them. It's a bit corny, but all of those things that Zen Buddhism and Obi Wan Kenobi/Yoda talk about regarding listening to your inner voice may not be nearly as apparent in any other profession as photography itself. Listening to that internal voice, then believing in it, and finally, executing that is really the great journey.

Oh, and I might add, being #1 on some list, in some contest, or being motivated toward making a ton of money in photography is really the antithesis to success, which is very similar to what you're talking about here, I believe.

You know who

Also, here's another one:

I personally never like Robert Maplethorp's work. Especially the very salacious images of S&M stuff, little girls peeing, etc. However, I respect his ability to stay true to his voice. To put his ideas, opinions, and emotions (as well as possibly his mental health issues) out there for all of us to see. He had courage. That I salute. But IMHO his worked really sucked on so many other levels, that I wish it would have never seen the light of day.

But as Shakespeare said, "All the world is a stage..." Each person is their own independent "agent" and keeping that notion and ability alive is very important. So, sucking has a purpose too. It helps us become informed about what is great and good as you've said. So, even something that is considered great, might also truly suck from various other viewpoints. We should all remember that too.

Account Deleted

This text is fantastic. Thank you!

My father used to tell me about this. He was the first to make me reflect about the meaning of my photography - if I was doing this to get approval from my online 'friends' or if I was doing it because I really like photography. Then I started to suspect any superficial compliment.

Can I translate your text and put it on my blog (with the appropriate credits to you, of course)?

Rob Oresteen

Kenneth - great post. I'm glad I found it. Well, well said. Thanks for the links.

Victoria - Washington Boudoir Photographer

Loved your article, sometimes I wish I had more criticism, when everyone is nice its easy to doubt their sincerity.


Thank you so much for this article.

People always tell me how great my photos are and I KNOW I'm not that good. I have some good initial skills that I can grow with, but I haven't reached the point where I, myself, feel I have even begun to grow in my skills and knowledge.

With that being said, I do not hold back when it comes to people I know thinking they are pro's. I go over their images with them. Things they could improve on and things they got right. Unfortunately, most have stopped talked to me because they only like the "like" button on FB to be clicked. I always asked them in advance if they would like to hear what I thought of their images. I never forced my input on them.

I had an instructor who would view my images and ask me if I want wimpy, mild, spicy or full on HOT review. I always went for full on HOT review. Tell me everything he saw in my image. I knew that was the only way I was going to grow.

I sooooo dislike the world today where everyone has to pass and be made to feel they are great. Greatness comes with hard work!!!

Kenneth Jarecke

This post has certainly hit a nerve. Thank you all for your kind comments. To quote KLH, "Greatness comes with hard work!" The key is to never stop pushing. We must continue to move towards being the best we can be, and not just with photography!

Thanks again,


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