Photography forums can take up a massive chunk of our lives, and I have first-hand experience of this. Fortunately, I have seen the light and have cancelled membership of all photography forums I used to be active on because they are a total waste of time and you don’t get anything from them.
The photography forums get a lot from their members, i.e. revenue generated through displaying ads and attracting affiliate clicks, but photography readers and contributors gain very little, if anything at all, from the photography forums. So why do people still use them? Photography forums are addictive, I agree, and many people seem to think photography forums have many uses – this is where I have to disagree as explored in this post……………
Using photography forums for critique
Many people use photography forums for critiquing their photos, and whilst this may seem like a good thing I beg to differ. Photos, like all forms of art, are subjective and individual thoughts and feelings about the same photo will be considerably different. Photos divide opinion and if you put up a photo and ask “how can I improve this?” you will get a multitude of responses.
Many photographers strive for perfect exposure, perfect composition, perfect lighting etc. but there is no such thing, and there is no such thing as correct exposure/composition/lighting etc. either. I guarantee that a photo I think is nicely exposed will be under exposed to some photographers and over exposed to others. A photo I think is nicely lit will be too dark for some photographers and too bright for others. A photo I think has good composition won’t to other photographers.
When I first started out I used photography forums to critique my photos so I could improve and it didn’t help me one iota. I got so many conflicting views and opinions on what I should do it made my head spin and was counterproductive. And then there were those forum members that sat on the fence and simply made the “great shot”/“I like the lighting” type of comments, or worse still responded with nothing but the thumbs up emoji. If I am putting my photos out there and asking for critique I am asking where I can improve. I am not asking for praise so why do people seem to think it is appropriate to give it?
If you want your photos critiqued you need to let the person/people critiquing what you saw in your mind’s eye before pressing the shutter button. You need to let people know how you wanted to light the photo, how you wanted to compose the photo and the story you were trying to tell through the photo. Only when people understand what you set out to achieve can they critique your photo and offer some (useful) tips and advice on how you can improve your shot. This requires two way communication and photography forums don’t allow for this. Simply putting up a photo with a “How can I improve this?” caption isn’t sufficient for useful critique or feedback as it is too broad brush.
If you are thinking of posting your photos to a photography forum for critique my advice would be don’t bother as you won’t get anything useful from it. If, however, you are looking for some praise, a pat on the back or some reassurance then by all means, knock yourself out and post a photo or two because those “fence sitters” will be only too happy to give you a “great shot” comment regardless of how good (or bad) your photos are.
If you really want to improve your photos using the critique route there is only one way to do this, and that is to join a local camera club – which is what I ended up doing. Lurking around in a photography forum is not going to cut it, and you are going to have to get out there and actually interact with other photographers.
Discussing photos, photo techniques and photography goals sat around in a local pub with a real ale is a far better way to get photos critiqued, and you’ll get more out of it over the first pint than you will spending hours on end in any photography forum. Trust me – face to face human interaction is the only way to get your photos critiqued and actually learn and improve.
Using photography forums to solve photography problems
I have heard the argument several times before that photography forums are a “one-stop-shop” for all your specific photography questions and that tapping up members for answers to specific photography related questions is the best way to get a solution, but I am not so sure.
Post a question on a photography forum and you will get a multitude of different answers. There is more than one way of achieving the same result and different photographers will have their own opinions and best practices to get the same overall effect.
You’d think that many solutions would make life easier, but it doesn’t. The different methods will contradict each other and choosing the most suitable is often a real headache as there can be an information overload. In scenarios like this it is all too easy to “mix and match” different methods, which will definitely not solve any photography issues.
Whilst it may seem like it a photography forum is not the best place to find solutions to photography problems, and there are better resources out there, such as Youtube to name but one.
Using photography forums to share your photography skills
You may be the sort of person who likes to share your knowledge, photography skills and techniques and are actually prepared to divulge your tips, tricks and secrets in helping other photographers improve. If you are this sort of person – good on you, however photography forums are not the best places to share your photography skills.
Read down the posting timeline of any photography forum and you’ll see an abundance of “What camera should I buy?”, “Canon or Nikon?”, “I need a new lens” sort of postings. These questions are dull, mundane and if the OP actually bothered to do any research in the first instance they would find the answer they are looking for very quickly, and it would probably be the first hit in Google’s results list! When I first started out in the forums I used to answer these questions but I soon got bored. There is a certain kudos among prolific posters and I wanted to be one of them, so I spent hours and hours answering these boring questions and what did I get from it? Nothing. Nada. Zip. Despite the amount of time I spent and the hard work I put in the other members didn’t care one bit. I soon learned to stop wasting my time with these questions.
I have to admit that you will come across an interesting question, and one where you can add some value, every now and again but you have to trawl through loads of crappy questions to find them. The question is, do you really want to trawl through the endless rubbish to find those few “gold” questions? Have you really got that much time to waste? Wouldn’t the time be better spent doing something more productive?
If you want to share your photography knowledge you are better off setting up your own website and doing your own thing. Having your own website allows you to post the tutorials and articles you want to post, it allows you the freedom to really show off what you can do and it is more productive than answering questions in a photography forum. When you have your own photography website you have the option of monetising it and earning a bit of income too giving you the opportunity to let your photography equipment pay for itself. Rather than letting the forum owners get loads of money (through advertising and affiliate sales) for doing nothing more than maintaining a website you can cash in on these yourself! Providing meaningful, useful and informative photography solutions in a forum is like working for free and who wants to do that. Long story short – the forum owners are taking the p**s out of their members who contribute thoughtful and accurate responses to questions.
Setting up a website isn’t expensive and it isn’t difficult either. There are plenty of free blogging platforms you can use, such as Blogger to name just one, and these sites allow you to monetise your content. Okay, you don’t have total control over the free sites but so long as you don’t break any of the rules you can still earn from them. For the ultimate in website control you need to pay a webhosting company for your photography website, but even this route doesn’t cost a lot.
Monetising a website is easy and there are various ways of doing it. Adsense is a popular method, although there are other ad type programs out there. Photography websites are ideal for affiliate marketing and using affiliate marketing schemes such as Amazon or one of the other camera retailers can be very lucrative and good earners, and it’s always a good feeling to buy a new piece of photography equipment with earnings generated from a photography blog, and effectively getting it for free. Setting up affiliate marketing schemes can take a while and can be a bit of a headache but if you use Skimlinks the whole process is very easy and you instantly get access to hundreds of different retailers you can use to earn some commission.
One key thing you need to remember when monetising a photography blog is not to overdo it. It doesn’t matter how good your content is, or how useful your tutorial is if your webpage is full of ads and affiliate links a reader is going to take a cursory look and immediately click off your website. When monetising your photography blog or website it really is a case of “less is more” so make sure you use those ads and links sparingly/wisely.
You may want to try and sell some of your photos through your photography blog, but if your photography blog is one that provides tips, tricks and tutorials to other photographers you aren’t going to make money from selling your photos. You may strike it lucky and get the odd sale, but you won’t make many.
The point I am trying to make here is that whilst it can be fun to answer queries on photography forums:-
You may read this, disagree with me and still prefer to use photography forums to share your skills and knowledge, and that is entirely your look out. On the other hand, I may have just given you a bit of food for thought…………..
One of my biggest pet hates with photography forums
One of the biggest problems with photography forums is the members on them. On the whole I found members to be kind, polite and courteous as well as helpful, knowledgeable and willing to share their experiences. The thing is, there is always a minority of nasty, spiteful, rude and “know it all” members who will victimise and shoot down other members. These members claim they are keeping it real and “controversial” however they are nothing but spineless cyber bullies without the “kahunas” to actually front up face to face with a physical person. At the end of the day anyone can sit in front of a monitor and pick a fight.
I used to be an active member on TalkPhotography.co.uk, a UK based photography forum and there were a group of exceptionally nasty and spiteful members who used to all rally around together hi-jacking threads and ripping the OP apart, as well as any other member (outside their little group) who dared offer a response.
I am not going to “name and shame” the members (that’s not my style) but for the sake of this post I thought I would go over and have a quick look at Talkphotography.co.uk and the main culprit is still there spouting off. It really is pathetic.
The bottom line
The point I am trying to make in this article is that photography forums can easily consume time that could have been put to better use. If you like spending hours on photography forums asking questions, answering questions, arguing/disputing with other members over the “best way” to achieve the end result, critiquing photos etc. then go ahead and knock yourself out. I am all for live and live/each to their own and all that. If you are serious about improving your photography skills and techniques and are only visiting the photography forums to seek tips and advice, you may want to think again as it is all too easy to get suckered in.
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.