Should, Could or Would? How to Accept Photo Advice

Some people are open to information, others spend time looking for it, there are some who feel that information, particularly challenging information is not for them. Information can come in many forms, but in photography, information most often comes in the form of suggestions or feedback. Outside of the camera manual few solid facts are relevant.

Information is important, it’s part of our learning loop, it’s what helps us grow intellectually, spiritually and emotionally and yet some information seems to provoke some photographers towards defensiveness and occasionally to attack the giver of the information. This is a short article looking at why.

Please be clear that I have used the word ‘information’ here and not ‘facts’. Information can be useful, it can be unreliable, but it invariably comes from a good place.

The broader the experience that informs the information hopefully the more informed the information is. A willingness to share that information will hopefully evidence a desire for others to learn from mistakes made or situations encountered preventing others from wasting time, money or effort in travelling the wrong road. Nothing to disagree with there I would suggest.

Some information comes in the form of advice. This can be even more useful even though it may come with an additional ‘should’, rather than a ‘could’. ‘Should’ suggests that the information/advice if acted upon will bring a positive outcome. A ‘could’ gives the option to consider, but may also lead to a positive outcome. Again I can see little to dislike.

Despite this, there are photographers who seem to have a problem with the sharing of information that suggests it should be undertaken or at least seriously considered. Maybe this is because they have been taught in a rule based atmosphere which they feel the need to rebel against. Maybe they have had a bad experience of photo education and can’t let it go or perhaps they feel that others are not in a position, whatever their experience to suggest anything to anyone. I don’t know, but what I do know is to rage against the kindness of others who share information for free makes no sense.

Information does not have to be listened to, but if the source is good I think it makes sense to take notice of it. When I teach photography I often speak of the importance of reflection and analysis, not unquestionable agreement with what is seen, heard or read, but taking time to consider why and who the information has been created or shared by.

Rejecting the opinions of others can often be an indication of insecurity, a feeling that many photographers recognise as being part of their relationship with photography. I get that. Photographic situations can produce a sense of fight or flight that needs to be conquered, which in certain situations could be excused or explained, but responding this way to some information shared to help you, demonstrates an insensitivity, that is beyond reasonable. It can also be seen as misplaced arrogance.

And that is where I think I rest my case. It is reasonable to want to help people, to share information and to pass on experience. Sometimes that information should be adopted, but it should always be considered. It does not matter if you don’t agree with the information. You can challenge it and question it, but do so politely and with respect and always remember that information may not be what you want to hear, however it may be what you need to hear.

Dr. Grant Scott is the founder/curator of United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer and Subject Co-ordinator: Photography at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, a working photographer, documentary filmmaker, BBC Radio contributor and the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Routledge 2014), The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Routledge 2015), New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography (Routledge 2019). His film Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay was first screened in 2018 He is the presenter of the A Photographic Life and In Search of Bill Jay podcasts.

© Grant Scott 2022

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