Why Are Online Photography and Video Communities Toxic?

A little bit of crab mentality. A little bit of know-it-all-ness. A lot of anger.

“What is this?”

I’m looking at a video from my home town’s tourism board. Compared to other videos, this particular one has a lack of quality to it.

“What intern shot this? There’s no stabilizer. The shots don’t match consistently. And half the video is out of focus!”

I calm down because I’ve seen stroke symptoms before and I don’t want to be that lady with the droopy smile over an out-of-focus shot. Strokes are serious. Remember to act F.A.S.T.

But should I even care about this video? What is my end goal here? As long as the client is happy, who cares, right?

Photography, film, and video communities tend to get toxic because nearly everyone involved in the communities is passionate about what they do. It’s when those who are equally passionate disagree on a technique, a workflow, or a camera, tempers and egos can fly. But it’s not heart surgery. It doesn’t fucking matter in the grand scheme of things.

How does toxic behavior occur so quickly? Why did a conversation about filters turn into a pissing contest about credentials?

Insecurity

A good portion of it has to do with insecurity about one’s known skills and career. I would like to think most individuals in these online forums or clubs don’t troll on purpose. They just appear to troll because they think they are being helpful. And for many of us that teach in addition to shooting, we can fall into that trap often. The problem occurs when we become rigid in our thinking and someone decides to challenge what we are saying.

Facebook.com

You’ll see this a lot in YouTube comments, Facebook groups, F-Stoppers, NoFilmSchool, and Reddit forums of instructors or influencers. Between the thank yous, you may see someone correcting the instructor or just dissing the instructor’s work. Some trolls even will call the instructor names for no apparent reason. For example, some instructor may state that relying on presets is lazy and you should build out all your assets from scratch. Someone who uses presets may dismiss the instructor as someone without clients and affirms that they use presets to meet client deadlines. Someone else may state that you should only use presets you’ve made yourself. A third commenter may call the first commenter a “fucking moron” for “buying overpriced-as-shit, crappy presets.” Now we have a toxic situation. And in reality, no answer is incorrect regarding presets unless you stole them from another creator.

Some people, usually women and minorities, face more toxic behavior online and in-person. Mansplaining is a real phenomenon, especially in the photo and video worlds. But on the individual level, you may be witnessing the Dunning-Kruger effect in action. We all want to come off as experts and feel challenged when someone suggests we are not because we fear they are right. You’re not gonna know all the answers. And that’s okay.

Identity insecurities

You are a shooter of color, a queer filmmaker, or a female photographer, so you make that known and niche your work to that identity. Eventually, you are going to get vitriol for identifying as such. Never mind that all these communities need representation.

Those who think identity politics have gone too far are worried about their own identity. If they are white, they know that it’s problematic to say so given white is the default race in the US. So if you identify as a black, Asian, Native, or Latinx creative and market yourself as such, you are going to have some insecure whites claiming that you are being racist even though you are putting your own identity out there. They don’t know what to make of their own whiteness, so they assume it’s better for you not to label yourself either.

Of course, the truth is that we all play identity politics. Race, gender, and ethnicity are just part of the equation. I’ve gotten jobs before based on the fact I was from Alabama. Or because I am Catholic. Or because I attended the same school as my client. Or because I love to play tennis. That’s all part of my identity and it’s my prerogative whether or not I want to embrace it.

As a black woman, I get a good daily dose of toxicity, especially when I state the obvious about photography, video, and film: that the industry caters to white males. This shouldn’t be news to anyone, but declaring this aloud brings with it a certain insecurity in some white males. They want to tell you that no one is hindered in the industry. That anyone can succeed. That’s true in theory but there are a lot of white males out there compared to everyone else.

If you’ve been a female shooter long enough, you know that sexism is rampant. Men think you can’t carry your own equipment. They think you are taking selfies. They think you have a chip on your shoulder if you talk about a time a client assumed you to be male. Despite one of the most famous shooters today being female, you will be dismissed as a non-serious shooter. Then the toxic behavior starts.

Gatekeeping

Some individuals just want to gatekeep because the barriers of entry are low and it’s a way to feel superior. They want to maintain that photo and video work is hard. They want others to struggle as they did. Therefore, they come up with these rules about “real photographers” or “real filmmakers.” Real filmmakers only use anamorphic lenses. Real photographers only shoot in manual mode. Other nonsense like that.

I only care if you shooting in “M” mode if you are in my credit course and I’m grading you. Otherwise, I shouldn’t care that you are shooting in aperture-priority mode. But yet, you will have photographers who insist real photographers only shoot in “M.”

I’m guilty of sharing “P for professional” memes as well, but at the end of the day, I cannot force all photographers to shoot manually.

mememaker.net

We don’t agree on what toxic behavior is

I’ve been black long enough to know when someone is trying to gaslight or bully me. And I’ve been online since 1996. So I’ve started to call out those who I feel are being antagonistic and if I’m feeling sassy, I might troll back. Black Twitter calls this “the clapback.” An example of which would be if someone challenges my statement that manufacturing a black model via computer may be racist and calls me the racist (classic “not racist” playbook-maker) for not appreciating the “compliment” of a white man creating “black girl magic” out of pixels, I may in turn poke fun of the challenger’s white fragility to make them feel real uncomfortable with their uninformed foolishness.

While it may be clear to many folks I’m just trolling back as a power protest, my actions may appear to be toxic to an observer. You’ll see tone-policing and calls for civility. You’ll see people picking a side. You’ll see folks attacking me for choosing to confront the person who called me a “fat nigger bitch.”

A sense of belonging to a particular camp

I shoot Canon. I mean, I guess. In reality, I’ve shot Canon, Nikon, Sony, Panasonic, and ARRI. I own Canon stuff. I’m in the market for a Blackmagic. I usually rent what I need in my day-to-day. But some shooters are so wrapped up in camera wars that they don’t realize how silly brand loyalty is. Most photographers and filmmakers stick to one system because it’s expensive to switch. And yet you’ll have some shooters insisting that one camera is better than the others. Canon color science and all that shit? Yeah, whatever. I shoot Canon because that’s what digital camera I learned to use while in art school. I post-process everything anyway.

To post-process or not is another hot debate. I post-process because I have a fine art background and I like to be in control. I’m not a purist and I am not above photoshopping out that pissing dog in the background of my street shot. But Steve McCurry didn’t get dragged through the mud for nothing. Some shooters care about something like that. Other common shooter hotbed topics are how long your hours or days are, whether or not you should buy that prime lens, and novice shooters who refuse to do their own research while charging their friends. “Can you tell me what settings you used for this photo again?”

Some shooters feel like the way they market themselves is the only way to be. So they diss shooters who don’t do the things they do, own the equipment they have, or shoot the same subjects. We all form groups, nearly all of them arbitrary.

But RED shooters can fuck right off.

We all pretend to be civil in person

On occasion, I’ve met someone I’ve argued with in-person. During those times, I’ve recognized the person and I’m not sure if they have recognized me, but it’s a completely different conversation in-person. While I still receive some toxicity in-person — usually from men already known to be assholes — most folks are on their best behavior.

We know it’s because you subconsciously caricature the other person into the villain to your hero, but when you see their face you know the disconnect is false. But minorities and women are polite in-person for a different reason. I’m so comfortable laughing at white tears online, but I’m still careful in-person because my personal safety will still be an issue. At best I could be blacklisted or economically punished for speaking out. At worst, I could be murdered.

But usually in-person interactions aren’t that tense. I’m fluent in Southern side-eye genteel so odds are I’ll just say hi and interact with you as little as possible. “Bless his heart. I’ll pray for him…”

The hidden toxic behavior: the limp fish

The limp fish is someone who pretends to not have an opinion. They avoid all conflict at all costs. “Can’t we all just get along and be happy to be working in a fun field?” they lament. They glowingly praise bad work, even when the poster is looking for constructive feedback. They are just there to make sure everyone has a good time. No boat-rocking here. Kumbaya.

The problem with the limp fish is compliance and avoidance. Conflict in the photo and video fields shouldn’t be avoided. It’s good to challenge a convention or to try new approaches. The limp fish can be toxic when they start to tone police or play moderator in a conversation where there is clearly a bully or troll. They are enabling the troll by punishing any opposition to the troll. Their calls for civility are hollow if they don’t acknowledge the toxic behavior. Sometimes, the limp fish is just a hidden concern troll.

I don’t consider myself exempt from toxic behavior because like most black women online, I love to put someone in their place in order to gain some of my humanity back. So we all must be a little mindful and step away from the virtual world for a while. For our own mental health.

is a filmmaker, photographer, and digital media artist living a stereotypical artist life. She could have been a doctor or a scientist, but here we are.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store