Friendly Help or Pompous Arrogance: Unrequested Advice from Self-Proclaimed Experts

August 23, 2015  •  6 Comments

Warning: UPDATED contentious blog post alert! I've a feeling I may be opening a can of worms here, all I ask is that if you are bored enough to read it, please read it in context of receiving unrequested, unsolicited advice from random people.

Photography advice!  We've all experienced it at some point: that surprising message or unexpected comment containing unrequested or unsolicited advice from someone we hardly know, very often someone we don't know at all.  That self-proclaimed expert and know-it-all, keen to inform us how wrong we were with our shot, how awful it really is, and the correct way (according to them) it should have been done.  Sometimes we are also blessed with a gift when accompanying this advice is an example - in typical Blue Peter style - pointing us in the direction of one 'they did earlier' as an illustration of their sheer brilliance and uncompromising talent.

OK, that may sound a little sarcastic, but it illustrates what many of us have experienced!

Transporter BridgeNewport Transporter BridgeThis image is nothing to do with the blog, just wanted to show our wonderful Transporter Bridge!

Photography is extremely subjective! A statement I am sure that many would agree with.  Yes of course there are general guidelines, pointers, rules of thumb etc. that in many instances help us produce more aesthetically pleasing images, yet despite this, photography still remains largely subjective.  Why then do a tiny minority of photographers (or non-photographers) deign themselves worthy to offer their unrequested or unsolicited alleged expertise?

I've seen and received comments from fellow photographer hobbyists who have experienced similar.  Why do people do it?  I like to imagine the vast majority of us appreciate clear constructive feedback (and I'd wager those who don't are the same people who are quite happy to offer it!) - we all want to improve, we all want to learn - and when this is received in a welcoming and positive manner, we do learn and subsequently improve!  I've often received critical comments on images I've posted and have always appreciated what was suggested, positive or negative - but these comments are usually from people I know: amateur or pro photographers who have earned my respect and admiration, or friends from whom I will always appreciate feedback.  Notably, the difference here is that these comments are based on their opinions of my images, and are not informing me how poorly I executed the shot whilst advising me how I should have taken it.

I am not necessarily only talking about comments made in public, even though these can still be unwelcome and offensive, because it is entirely reasonable to expect comments when posting images on social media etc. and as we all know, we can't please everybody all of the time.  Does this then mean that private unrequested expert advice is acceptable?  Though clearly this somewhat depends on the circumstances, no I generally don't believe it is.

Why...? because it assumes the following:

  • the expert thinks they know more than you
  • the expert thinks they know what you were trying to accomplish in your shot
  • that you indeed wanted, and appreciate, their alleged expertise
  • is very big headed and pushy

Never mind those know-it-alls, the show-off types preferring to post images on social media of all their gear rather than images taken with it - thus demonstrating how superior they are - yet who quite obviously lack the skills and expertise on know how to use it to produce decent images. yep, never mind those, the best camera is the one you have in your hand!  We all take photographs with our smartphones, our compacts or DSLR's because we like what we see, and want to capture that moment in time, for whatever reason - it's entirely personal.  Unless one can see that the photographer is proactively seeking advice on how their image could be improved, or wants to develop their skill, then there's no need to take time out to offer your expertise.

A friend of mine recently told me how a poor chap was ripped to shreds by an 'expert' simply for using a paid-for hide where creatures are regularly fed for the purpose of photography! It matters not how the photos was taken - if it appeals to ones eye, then it has worked and nobody has the right to tell you otherwise.

It's perfectly fine to offer/receive help and encouragement, but in the words of another friend of mine, if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing!

What do you think? I'd be delighted to hear your opinion either in the comments section below, or via my Twitter page.  If you got this far, many thanks for reading!


As someone who is an occasional 'togger I can empathise with some of the points you make here John. I'm lucky enough to have escaped the "you should have done it like that" brigade but have happened upon people who have made a comment about my DX Nikon DSLR... i.e. it isn't full frame so takes inferior shots. As someone who has dabbled for a short while I have enjoyed good advice from close friends who are far more accomplished than I. As with many things in life, beauty is in the eye of beholder and what might work for some (e.g. abstract art) may not work for others...... keep up the posts and maybe I will get that FX body! :0)
5.a photographer(non-registered)
very interesting read john.
and you are of course 100% right in what your saying recently had a very similar issue with a pro who was going out of there way to destroy the advice offered to others. thinking his own advice was the best there was but clearly wasnt for the subject in hand
4.Steve Williams(non-registered)
I don't think I'd ever be big headed enough to offer advice that wasn't requested.
I'm lucky enough to have a fair few photographer friends I can call on for advice for certain situations, but I don't think any of them have ever told me what I should have done differently (ie after the pics have been taken, edited etc)
How could anyone other than the photographer (and possibly the paying customer) know what the objective was, what the end product should look like, whether it be bright and breezy, black and white, high key, low key or dark and grungy.
To me, photography is an art, and so is the final processing of an image.
Only the creator of that work knows for sure how they want it to look.
3.Matthew Bright(non-registered)
I am one of those people who has given "advice" to another person about their photography. I am also a very amateur photographer but I enjoy helping others. I guess it may have come across as being big headed or arrogant to this person but it wasn't intended to be. I wonder how many people have given advice in good nature and not realised it may cause offence?
2.David Goodier Photography(non-registered)
It happens to us all, I get questions all the time asking why I did it this way or that and with comments of how they'd have done it differently. My fav type of comment is along the lines of... I'd have taken it from further to the left or right - they don't know I was on a cliff edge and that was impossible lol
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