We all run into it, whether we admit it or not – that sinking feeling we get when someone tells us they don't like our photography or they don't get it. We often respond in preprogrammed ways based on our personality and our life experiences. This also will be strongly influenced by who is doing that disliking. Someone close to us or someone we look up to will change how we feel compared to someone unknown to us (though that can still affect us as anyone who has spent time on Facebook can attest).
We might get angry. Sad. Withdrawn. Disappointed. Frustrated. And so forth.
I know all of those feelings. It can be very frustrating when you work very hard on something and you get a poor response for it. We all want validation for our work in some way.
I have learned there is a big problem here. This is something that took me a very long time to learn. The problem is that none of us will ever get everyone to like our work. There will be always someone who doesn't get it, doesn't care for it, even criticizes it unfairly. This is not something unique to photography.
Minnesotans (I grew up in Minnesota) want to be "nice" and have everyone like them (the stories that Garrison Keillor tells of "Lake Wobegon" are not just funny, they also have a strong ring of truth to them about Minnesotans). In addition, a lot of work I did as a photographer/writer/video producer back in Minnesota had a certain level of insecurity based on wanting clients to always like the work. Even working on a general public publication like Outdoor Photographer had a certain element of that – I wanted to be sure readers, advertisers and my boss liked the work.
That isn't all bad. Certainly there is a benefit in trying to reach many people with your work. Also, getting criticism from colleagues and people you respect is not a bad thing, even if they don't "like" your work, because that can help you grow.
But there is a very dark side to all of this. When you are always worried about everyone liking your work, you start to change how you photograph. You begin thinking about what someone else will think rather than what you think. You start to lose you and your stories, all illustrated by your photography.
The problem with that is that you will never please everyone. Ever. So now you not only are not fully pleasing yourself, but you are also not even going to please everyone by trying to please everyone. Any creative work gets weaker when it is not true to who you are, which means even fewer people will like it.
I am not talking here about craft, i.e., how well you use your camera, what your exposure is like, your sharpness, etc. That is something we will always hone, and if someone doesn't like how we handled our craft, we can look at it and see if we can learn from that criticism (but we also have to realize that we have the choice to say no to that criticism and believe in the choices we make).
I am talking about how we photograph in terms of creative decisions. That may affect craft, but it also affects the subjects we choose, the times we shoot, the lenses we use, the compositions we capture and so forth.
We all can be sensitive about this because when our creative decisions truly are our decisions, they are personal, and so we can take likes and dislikes personally. Yet, if we allow that to change how we photograph, then we are creating someone else's photos, not ours.
It really comes down to this. If our photography is important to us, then we need to believe in it and accept that not everyone will like it. As Seth Godin says, "It's quite okay to say, 'It's not for you.'"