Advice, Unsolicited Advice and the Unwritten Rule

The Rule

It seems to be the unwritten rule in photography that you don’t give unsolicited advice.

Of course I don’t know all the rules  nor did I make them. In fact many photography rules I tend to break. However, this one I try to stay far away from.

I’ve only heard complaining stories of photographers not too well pleased with another photographer critizing and giving unsolicited advice. I don’t think it’s so much the advice part… but that they don’t have a strong enough relationship with the person giving the commentary, they don’t know the real motives. I bet had they respected that individual and of course had they asked they would have been more than happy.

In giving advice

So if you care about somebody and want to help them… a few words of advice… and you came to the blog so well I guess it’s kind of solicted. haha

  • Establish a relationship where both sides are respected and trusted.
  • Care about the person. Show it in action and in word.
  • Don’t try to turn it into an opportunity where you make money or otherwise profit from them.
  • If being harsh remember to show care and love at the end. Read this
  • Know what you’re talking about.
  • Give them an opportunity to explain their situations before you assume what you think you know is right.

NOTE: As with many of my blogs this is a work in progress a theory I feel good about but am open to kind and honest and educated dialog. The hope is to improve us all. It takes work to understand my way of thinking but I am confident that there is benefit. I hope to always be open to the best way of thinking. I hope to continue to understand and grow more… but for the moment what follows is what I feel tonight and I hope it’s inspired for this moment.

Know what you’re talking about

Let me speak for a moment on the “Know what you’re talking about” point. Photographers usually look up for help in progressing, it doesn’t always have to be that way since good ideas can come from anywhere. But if they want to hear the praise they can often go anywhere (and enjoy it) and the critisism usually they often only take from those they respect. You don’t take batting lessons from the pitcher, major leaguers don’t take batting lessons from a retired high school coach. Heck pop singers would prefer not to get advice from someone who sang country 20yrs ago. On certain things yes, of course… the business, and all sorts of things. But not on so much of what they’re doing, not on the pop stuff.

Be thou humble

So while photographers should be open to help and try to always improve, i think it’s alright if we see their qualifications, specially when they haven’t done the other things like establish a close bond and trust. Like for instance seeing pictures or something like that could help.

I’m always very wary of photographers who show only a small handful of pictures. To me it shows they have had good days (when I don’t know) but show me consistency show me a whole bunch of pictures performing again and again.

Advice isn’t always news, sometimes it’s a second opinion

Thing about photography is that sometimes we love the imperfect pictures, sometimes we ourselves know there are problems and yet we love them anyway because the good qualities far far outweigh the bad.

So many times unsolicited critisism is already known… it’s like “duh I know that.”


I recently had such an experience where they told me something I don’t know how many times I’ve taught to other students. Like they read my blog and sent me a message stating what they read. Or they mistook my zeal and excitement for a picture as an exclamation that I believed my picture was perfect and the best ever in this world. When it was obvious from the blog that I was asking a question. “Am I just excited about this shoot or is this picture good”

Perhaps this is a form to some for advice and isn’t so unsolicited, and really I’m not so distraught. I write passionatley. It’s my prefered method. Passionate but understanding that the other side of the coin and what’s in another’s head and their reasons are unknown but worth trying to understand.

To those wondering I wrote a kind email back to the individual and left the computer and when I came back it was gone. I thought about it and decided there was no pressing reason to respond. If they care about me like they said they’ll work on developing a better relationship and in the mean time I’ll take their words to heart for what it’s worth.

Work for it

Still… you work for the right to give advice. If someone doesn’t ask for it and you have wonderful advice to give, it’s their loss. Heck I keep shut most of the time because I know advice can be dangerous. Even when I’m asked I’ll judge the waters before I determine how far to wade in. Often I’ll give just a little bit to see how it’s recieved.

To often people give what they call advice and it’s nothing but kind and caring… it’s more ridicule or jealousy that they clothe in the guise of a few words. “May I offer some advice” or one of the best ones “I mean no offense”

“Your actions speak so loud that I can not hear what you say”

Why are you doing it?

It’s a dangerous road and for heavens sake don’t pry on someone’s emotions or weaknesses to get gain or to even be percieved that way. I think this is a reason some people are sick of free presentations that do nothing but pimp their own workshops. It’s a tricky line to walk, because so often that is also one of the best thing about what’s going on these days the free intro courses so that aspiring photographers can test to see if they would like to learn from that person. Wether the trust and respect is there.

Photographer = Teacher??

While we’re at it a good teacher doesn’t always make a good photographer and a good photographer doesn’t always make a good teacher, both things are learned skills. But it’s certainly the best of both worlds if your good teacher also takes good pictures, there’s just something about that, that gives you that extra bit of confidence.

I’ve got lots to learn in both worlds and I hope and strive to be humble and teachable. But I myself won’t stand for un-solicited advice from those whose intentions and care for me are still under question.

When the student is ready the teacher appears.

So to you out there looking for advice and want to get it. This is what I say: when the student is ready the teacher appears.

I tell anyone wanting help that I’ll help them, but what really happens is I don’t show up at their doorstep the next day with textbook in hand. I say yes and I wait for them to make it happen. I say come to the office and see if they show up. I wait for them to put a time and a date to that desire. I weed out the passer bys with the real thing by seeing who sticks with it. Sometimes they’ll find another avenue to learn and that’s fine. This doesn’t Just apply to me, but anytime you’re looking for help don’t shout meekly into the darkness hoping someone is out there. Go out there and own it, knock the doors until you find it.

Those that have achieved at anything difficult haven’t simply stumbled upon it, they 99.9% of the time worked hard for it and stuck with it. I think anyone that loves photography can make it happen and be successful IF they work hard enough to make it happen. I suppose they should also be directed to know which areas to work hard in.

To the giver of advice.

You get the picture… if you want to give advice think about why you want to… and then earn that right. Then do it right. Or we’ll be hearing stories about what a prick you’re being tomorrow. Hopefully they’ll be nice like me and hope I understood your intentions, hope they’ll refrain from saying who to the world. Hope that the receiver will put theirselves in your shoes and look past the method in which it was given and say maybe it wasn’t the finest moment. Maybe these people have some care and concern for me that the past hasn’t made us aware of.

Ask for more advice

I guess it would be helpful if more of us asked for more advice, but it takes work to develope those bonds and work to develop the tact to give it properly and receive it likewise. I myself am frustrated when even my students assume learning is all a matter of observation and don’t fight for their knowledge. If it means a lot to get better fight for it. Don’t be scared, a true teacher will respect your passion and your hunger. A babysitter (teacher) will probably be frustrated but what are you doing there anyway.

If you’re going to learn from someone respect their ways of teaching and the method they choose. I say this because I just said to fight to learn. However you’ve often given trust in their advice or in their teaching methods. Stick with it… just be proactive about it. Be creative, be involved. Don’t just do the public school method of “whatever get’s you by” you’re aiming to be great.


  1. Tara says

    Thank you for this. I try to keep things to myself for fear of the other person not wanting to hear it. This post was very well written, and something that I think everyone can learn something from.
    Too often, advice is given with the term “no offense” but then they don’t think to try and make it non-offensive in anyway.
    Anyway, thank you. And thank you for being the wonderful teacher/photographer that you are. :-)

  2. Samantha Jane says

    I think too often people give advice in an effort to validate themselves. So many photographers look at other peoples work to try to make themselves feel better about their own. Picking apart things that are not there. Emotion is what truly makes a photo great if you ask me.

  3. […] Advice, Unsolicited Advice and The Unwritten Rule – One thing that I think is important to learn in any industry, are the unwritten rules of that industry. In an industry full of ‘creative types’ (like photography, design, fine arts, etc.), one of the biggest unwritten rules has to do with giving and taking advice or criticism. It’s definitely something I’ve come up against (especially as a student) and while I’ve yet to really make up my mind about all this stuff, I did like this post because it kind of put some of my thoughts into words as well as inserting a little perspective into things. I highly recommend giving it a read! […]

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