A Plea for Help

A question we got a lot, how do you tactfully tell someone they shouldn’t go pro? Should you tell them? What if they ask?

“Help me You Are Not a Photographer, you’re my only hope.  I’ve come to
you seeking advice on how to best handle fauxtogs, especially those
who happen to be in your family.  Maybe others have advice on how best
to handle constructive criticism without causing family feuds?  My SIL
is a special breed of photographer in that she somehow has a degree
in photography and while I am a humble hobbyist, her images are worse
than what I delete off the back of my camera.  I’ve smiled and nodded
for the past 10 years, but she recently went into ‘business’ and I
either want to stab myself in the eye or break her pop-up flash off at
the very least.  I’m often called to dutifully compliment these photos
and I just can’t find it in my heart to do more than smile and nod.
Anonymous and passive aggressive is more my style, but I can’t submit
her work to your site, no matter how much she deserves it; I did make
sure to publically like you on Facebook after she posted a session,
hoping she’d get the hint.  How do you confront a person who has no
business tarnishing the name of photography as a profession?

-Sad Panda”

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  1. This is just awful

    If she is really that bad, her business will fail and she will have a slap in the face from life so you won’t have to do it. This doesn’t always hold true tho. I know some one whom I submitted work for who has been doing this for about 10 years “professionally” and still doesn’t get the hint that she sucks. I really don’t know how she gets business but I can tell you that her business doesn’t support itself. I am almost positive that she is losing money or just making enough to pay her costs as her husband’s job actually supports their family. Try to submit her work here and then show it to her and maybe that will help.

  2. Folks will vote with their wallet, and in the end, the decision to hire a fauxtog is in the hands of the consumer. If they want crap, they will find it- whether the crap is produced by your SIL or someone else.

    My advice? Soldier on. You sound like you’ve gotten it all right, no need to change.

  3. I recently had a former friend/client deceitfully start a photography business and she’s charging more than I do for sessions and I’ve been in business for 5 years. She’s also quoting for wedding photography and she’s never photographed a wedding in her life. When I sent her an e-mail expressing my disgust in her decisions

    • ShootToKill

      Oh, I want to read the rest of your story… : )

      • apparently it didn’t post the rest of the story….

        after I sent her an e-mail expressing my disgust in her attempt at turning pro just days after she bought a $600 camera from Best Buy, I got retaliation from her friends and family who harassed me and my business all over the internet. They’re TRULY classy people.

        My best advice is, leave your sister in law alone. She’ll fail eventually. Try your best to ignore her and the venture. In the meantime, get some tools including a wrench and call yourself a plumber. See if your sister in law will hire you. : )

      • me, too!

    • One thing i dont understand, is why you felt the need to email her about it. Is she stealing your clients? It sounds like you attacked her first and she is just going on defense. Did you think she would just close shop and see what her mistake was? She will fail eventually, just let it happen naturally.

      • Well if she was just doing it defensively then she would have simply told Amber off but NO she has to attack her back and she felt the need to get friends AND family in on the retaliation too. So clearly this “friend” knows Amber is right she is just too stupid and/or filled with pride to admit she’s right

  4. ShootToKill

    First off, if it doesn’t come up, leave it alone. Let the universe deal with it.

    But, if it does come up, focus on business items (not photography) — let her know that there is A LOT involved in opening a business… and it’s not easy: Licenses, insurance, accounting and taxes to start. Not to mention if she’s really that bad no marketing will solve the word-of-mouth (and the universe will have it’s way with her).

    So, smiling and nodding = easy and maintains peace.

  5. I think the business venture should eventually give her a hint. If it’s really that bad, people won’t hire her. Or perhaps you could suggest she enter an online photo contest (especially one that runs regularly, like every week). I have gone from being a total amateur to beginning to get some regular business, and I credit it to entering online contests, getting constructive feedback, and being inspired by those who win. I think one will realize what good photos really look like the more one looks at good photos!

  6. I recently had a former friend/client deceitfully start a photography business and she’s charging more than I do for sessions and I’ve been in business for 5 years. She’s also quoting for wedding photography and she’s never photographed a wedding in her life. When I sent her an e-mail expressing my disgust in her decisions to lie to me and start a business behind my back with the lack of talent, experience and equipment one must have to charge for professional photography, she then had her dad and others attack my business and myself via the internet. Really classy! I say, leave it alone. Her business will tank eventually. In the meantime, just ignore her venture as much as you can.

    • ShootToKill

      Oh, SUUUCKS! Sorry to hear that.

      For that I’d have my lawyer send a nice little note reminding the “dad” that slander is still something worth suing over…

  7. Give them a lot of tips and discuss photography with them, honest and some what harsh critiquing in small enough doses they can handle without being insulted, but large enough doses that they get the picture that they need to fix a lot of things with their pictures. This way you aren’t saying “like omg you are terrible just give up.” You are still showing them respect as a professional photographer (even if they don’t really deserve it) but you are shoving them in a better direction and they will either work and develop their skills or eventually get frustrated and quit, or possibly just get frustrated with you and not talk to you any more…

    Maybe Facebook them a link to a photo on here sometime and say they have to check out how terrible this photo is like you two are going to laugh together at it, but it happens to be a photo on par with their work. That way you can insult the picture on here and not them, but the message hits them indirectly.

  8. The problem is she will most likely still get business. I see tons of really horrible photographers on Facebook and in my city and they are busy. I don’t get it. But I think the general public just doesn’t get what bad photography is. They go cheap rather than looking for someone with talent.

    • I totally agree! My Sister in law is a HORRIBLE photographer. Like pop up flash using, spot coloring everything, no concept of lighting disaster- And yet, she stays busy with her ” Photography/cake decorating business”. All I can do is sit and scratch my head, because if I were her client, I would demand a refund. The public seriously has no idea what good photography is, and that’s what keeps these fauxtogs in business. Sad, sad, sad.

      • Photography and cake decorating business… I do hope the cakes are better than the photographs…

      • Totally, totally, TOTALLY agree! There are some absolutely atrocious photographers going around where I live, one of whom gets my friends’ business, all because he has a cheapo studio set up. His studio photos are hideous, over-exposed, one time he actually left a leg of a backdrop stand in the back of the photo – but because his photos are slightly closer to Pixi Foto / Candy Kids (kids photography stalls set up in shopping centres, manned by salespeople and not photographers) he gets a heap of business.

      • Should have said – I flat out refuse to take studio photos until I have mine set up properly. Until then, I do location shoots.

        But alas, everyone wants the unnatural photoshop effects, cheesy smiles and props so he continues to kick my ass in business.

      • Brittany

        People routinely tell me that while my pictures are great, they think that they’ll just go to the walmart portrait studio. So… Yeah.

    • Greenman

      I’d say the problem is that the cheaper end of studio/event photography can actually be much like the cheaper end of the building trade. Its possible to stay in business only dealing with each client once and many/most of those clients will not have done much checking up on your background. So a photographer who repeatly disapoints there clients can stay in business if they can get a wide enough clientbase, something facebook obviously helps with.

  9. In reality 99% of the population are now “photographers” since camera phones seem to be the norm for snapping photos. Many have commented with good ideas to keep the peace within your family. I would stick to that advice and let nature take its course as they say. She will gain some business, but the actual business of being a commercial photographer is not for the faint of heart if one actually performs effective business development and make a profit after all the associated costs of running a small business. If she has a second income, then her likelihood of covering living expenses is much better.

    Until the general public’s tolerance for poor photography diminishes, poor ‘pro’ photographers will continue to exist. It’s no different than poor mechanics, food establishments, etc. Time will weed all of this out.

  10. Photography is art . . . not everyone has the same taste. Some people look at the photos on this site and don’t see anything wrong with them. I agree to leave the situation alone. Better to keep silent than to cause family strife.

    What you and I say is not appealing 50 other people may “love”!!

  11. clysnzchik

    as someone who has PLENTY of experience dealing with delusional family members your best bet is to just smile and nod unless you want to start something, If you point out their lack of talent YOU are the one that will be seen in a bad light as immature and petty. If she is taking pictures because she loves doing it then let her be happy even if she is not successful. If she is putting her family in financial jeopardy that is the time to speak up but if the only one she is punishing is the customer who didn’t bother to check her work out then stay out of it. Honesty is not always the best policy.

    • tripichik

      Absolutely! Not trying to be snarky, but maybe you have a “saving people” thing, like Harry Potter?
      Karma will get her and her clients.

    • Going out of your way to tell your relative that you think their work sucks and they should get out of the business IS immature and petty.

      • Not always, it can also be seen as them trying to prevent the family member by finding out the hard way.

  12. Don’t wait for her to fail; she might not and you’ll have to deal with this forever; not everybody can spot bad photography so she’ll always have some client to dupe.

    Be honest, and provide constructive criticism; if shes asking for you feedback she probably respects you work enough to want some help. Start with what you like (however hard to find), then mention what she should avoid.
    “I like that you used a camera for this shot. But I see alot of spot-color now so that it’s becoming kind of cliche. What other methods could you use to draw attention to the wedding couple other than spot color on the shoes?”

    • if something said that to you would you not feel like they were treating you like a 3 yr old? seriously? As a teacher I might say something like to a 5 yr old in the classroom where it is my job to help them think of different ways to do things and ways to improve, as her sister in law it is this person’s job to be supportive or stay out of it. If they show you a photo expecting a response chances are they’re just looking for praise. Unless she asks specifically for how she can improve a photo I’d find something nice to say that has nothing to do with the technicalities – “cute kid!” “oh she’s so pretty!” “I love her shoes”. The kiss them – kick them – kiss them technique is patronising to say the least.

      • or someone rather lol bad typing but you know what I mean

  13. If you hired a bad photographer purely on price, are you going to publicly admit your mistake and call their pictures for what they are? I think this industry is heading for a new dawn where people start to realise that price isn’t everything. Or is this just wishful thinking on my part?

    • Wishful thinking at its best :-p

      To a lot price is everything, be it the rich or poor.
      To some the ability to say they spent £££ is a bragging point whether whether on the 50p brigade or the gentry level and often the quality of photography or service never comes in to it sadly except in the cases where they dont get what they expected then its all hell to pay.

      Take one enquiry I had today, wanting me to travel a long way out of my way for their wedding and I quoted £££ + album at £££ and wavering my mileage fee for what is a 500 mile round trip (circa 11 hours driving at least).

      The overall price did not go much over £1200 but I was every thing under the sun and a blatant rip off despite the fact I would be digging in my own pocket for an excessive fuel bill at least not considering my other expenses.

      And its the same in all other industry’s:
      *your only answering phones for a living*
      *how hard is it to drive for a living*
      *all you do is press a few buttons*
      *all you do is slot some pipes together*
      Feel free to insert other examples here.

  14. Daniel S.

    Tell the person about this site.

  15. There are two things you could do here. Let her fall on her face or join her and create a very profitable business. If she is coming to you for advice/critiques then she values your opinion. Don’t wish her bad luck, that’s not a good thing help her and join her.

  16. Is there an overseeing body where you are that requires you to send in work and qualify to join? An organisation that lets the clients know that the photographer they are looking to hire comes up to scratch. If there is suggest she join because it will make good business sense. Then let the organisation tell her that her portfolio sucks, by declining her membership.

  17. eeek, i wouldnt even say anything. i have several friends that have put me in that spot. I tell them to keep improving as my answer for friendly support but i know business will tell them otherwise unless people dont realize what that outcome will be. I would maybe tell them to get some portfolio experience before charging and calling it a business. photography takes time and practice.

  18. Susan Hoffman

    You could try this: chances are she does not have license, insurance etc. Casually ask her, “Where did you get your insurance?” or “Did you get a biz license. because I know the [local jurisdiction] will require one?” Sometime later ask where she got some piece of equipment or supplies, or where she sends her prints, or something professional she probably has no clue what it is, let alone what to do with it. Ask about her lenses and maybe question, how can you shoot [portraits/weddings/whatever] without an XYZ lens? The idea is to bombard her with how much she does NOT know. Maybe then she’ll get the idea and either try to learn what she’s missing, or bag it.
    OTOH, as others said, a lack of customers may tell her what you can’t. Then again, there’s no accounting for taste and there are people out there who’ll pay good money for really bad work. I am constantly amazed — despite how advanced even phone cameras and P&Ss are — the terrible terrible shots people take. So I assume lots of people don’t really know what to expect in a good photo.

    • tripichik

      Susan, you are very sensible! Your advice is the very best. It’s exactly what I was about to say.
      At one horrible time in my family’s life, when we were living in a homeless shelter, I was unable to do my work as a home-based medical transcriptionist, so I rented office space in a converted Victorian house, the type Eugene is famous for.
      The rent was quite reasonable, and because I responded to the ad on the Sunday it was published, rather than waiting for Monday morning, like any normal person would, I was given the lease over the several hundred callers who responded.
      I was shocked to find the leasing agent required me to obtain premises liability insurance that cost half as much per month more than the rent! But probably well worth every cent goven the rickety outdoor stairs my visitors and I had to climb to reach my little bit of stuffy, overheated space.
      Then there was the garbage assessment. And the ISP I needed to do my work online charged me business prices three times higher than the fee for home service.
      The last straw for me was when one of the other businesswomen in the building complained about the odor when I sprayed the common bathroom with natural lemon air freshener after a visitor left too much of her/himself behind in the toilet.
      My family had been placed in transitional housing, so I packed up and joined them. Years later, I am happy to spray the bathroom any scent I want. I’m also disabled by a stroke from doing transcription again.

  19. I’d say nothing. The most unwelcome criticism is uninvited. It’s clear they are deluding themselves and have been doing so for years and I don’t think anything you say will help and will only result in grudges.

    Only if a person’s well being is seriously threatened (i.e. they quit their job to pursue photography) or professional reputation is on the line (i.e. an actual pro who needs to improve in some aspect) should you say anything.

  20. I’m not a photographer, but I’m about to graduate with a studio art degree and an art history minor. My husband and I support ourselves by making art… surprising as hell!? huh!? but any way. Recently, my nurse practitioner sister in law wanted to ‘work at home’ so she could be with her new baby. Admirable, yes, we work at home and spend 24/7 with our baby. But I work my BUTT OFF. This life is a HUSSLE life, I have to know whats going on in the art/festival/event world sometimes a year in advance. So my sister in law wants to buy a camera “like mine” (its fancy, but I never claim to be pro) and become a photographer. Am I crazy, or is that crazy? There is no possible way she will be able to make the kind of money she does right now! Its pretty hard to make a Lexus car payment on an artist’s salary… Oh yeah, well lets also consider she’s never even picked up a camera!!!! My mom in law was encouraging her, and I flat out said, “Look, that will not work. We are TWO people who bust our BUTTS to work from home, its not play time, its not all fun and games. We live very meager lives…” and that was the end of the convo. I seriously dare any of them to bad mouth me.

  21. The way i see it, you have 2 choices, depending on how much you like this person. If you like her, teach her the proper way to do it, help her develop her business. If she gets it, great! if not she’ll move on. Who knows, she could be a great second shooter for large events, and you’ll have a closer relationship with a fellow family member.

    If you want to crush this new ‘business’ i have an easy way, it happened to a friend of mine. She got a new camera, and decided she was a pro. (familiar story?) so she submitted a bunch of her photos to a stock photo website. OMFG they tore her stuff to pieces. They weren’t mean, but they told her very clinically exactly why they didn’t accept her work. Perhaps you could recommend some sites for her to submit to?

  22. Wsroadrunner

    Give us the link… we will tell her. LOL

  23. You could just be honest with her and give some constructive criticism. Show what’s wrong with the photos when asked, and how it can be improved, but also find something which offers encouragement.The problem with fauxtogs and the like, is they get a false sense of encouragement when people take the easy way out and say how awesome their photos are when in fact they’re not. If a person can’t accept constructive criticism from their peers, they will never improve or be good at what they do. As for her “degree” I would question it and ask where she obtained it from. She may call it a degree, but probably isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. You would be surprised where you can obtain these certificates from. They offer them online and in community classes. I just can’t imagine someone getting a degree if their work sucks so much as you say. Finally, most family members make the worst critics, and more or less just encourage the fauxtogs ego so try and do her a favor and speak up.

  24. oh boy oh boy. I had this recently when a friend who took pictures at her cousin’s wedding because her aunt didn’t want to pay for the professional to stay the whole time (mind you the camera was not hers nor had she ever touched an slr) decided that she wants to pursue wedding photography and is asking for a $600 slr for christmas. Luckily for me, I am a very blunt person and she has accepted that about me, so to expect anything but blunt criticism from me would be a mistake- that’s absolutely what she got. I told her for having never touched a camera before, she did alright but if we were comparing it to anything pro or even semi pro there were a lot of issues and I picked a lot of them out. Unfortunately she still wants to do it.

    And on my other hand I have a SIL who thinks she is a photographer. Fortunately she’s rude to me and because of that we don’t get along so I don’t have to fake anything. She thinks she’s so great she laughed when she took a photography 101 course because she thought it would teach her nothing (yet she shoots on auto, she actually learned quite a bit, though I think her camera stays on auto.) I don’t think she’s ever had one client that wasn’t someone she knew (no word of mouth referrals or anything nor do I think she markets at all) and while some of her stuff isn’t terrible, the majority of it is. She ruined her sisters wedding because she forgot to charge her camera battery, did not bring her flash diffuser (since she got a flash she thinks she needs to shoot everything with it), and had been using her flash for about 4 months thinking it was charged by her camera battery, in the middle of the ceremony her flash batteries died and her camera wouldn’t work.. she missed the first kiss, ring exchange, and a bunch of other stuff. And on top of it this weekend she was supposed to shoot a vow renewal down here (where her family is from she lives out of state). She got in a fight with her sister who was driving with her and could not come, out of my surprise she actually called me and asked me to do it. It was the most un stressful wedding I’ve ever done because my SIL took pictures of their family before… they were green, out of focus, had eyes closed(yes she posted all of these on her FB page) and just plain sickening… so it was easy for me because I knew their standards were extremely low. I am fortunate I don’t have to lie and try to tell her she’s good… she should know I’m better than her, and I already avoid her at all costs =]

  25. I had some tool bag in my area announce he was a “professional” in all aspects. He has tried to go after several of my clients, including leagues I have in contract as well as the majority of the HS teams in my town; that didn’t work out so well for him. The majority of his stuff is OOF or extremely grainy. Folks, I know you think it’s all about the money, but it’s really not. Quality always wins in the long run, that’s all there is to it. One thing most of these “professionals” never learn how to use light correctly, which is what I feel separates a true professional photographer, from a fauxtographer.
    I did not go to school to become a photographer, but I never once charged until I felt I would actually pay for something I produced. I do about 90% of my business in sports, whether it be in leagues (T&I) or action, with a little bit in seniors and families. It took me about two full years to master light in gyms and on the football field, and it was far from easy. Countless hours and money go into becoming a true pro, not some BS $600 camera from Wal-Mart or Best Buy.

    Word to the wise, don’t worry about the local fauxtographer, they will eventually piddle out of move on to something else. Remember the one I had problems with, he apparently now thinks he’s a baker, wanting to start a bakery.

  26. I am dealing with this with my brother in laws girlfriend she’s trying to charge more than I do and try to go places and find people that I have used and have had success with and trying to but in and people are diluted and tell her her work is amazing … It’s difficult since I have been doing it longer and my work shows I am worthmy price

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