Facing Criticism: Don't be Thin-Skinned, Be Positive and Develop Relationships

Austin Zentmyer of the Indianapolis based Wonder Wheels BMX Stunt Team flies skyward off of a ramp during their performance at the first Two Rivers Art and Music Festival in Logansport. Photo by J. Kyle Keener / Pharos-Tribune

By Katelyn Umholtz

Octavian Cantilli recently made a Facebook post recounting a conversation he had with his wife.

"My wife Chelsea often jokes around that she could never do what I do because of the constant rejection independent photographers experience bidding for advertising jobs,” Cantilli said. “After being an independent photographer since Jan 2011, and definitely being passed over for more jobs than I won, somehow I've developed a tough skin. This wasn't always the case.”

When Cantilli got into the photography business, it was tough at first and he could not handle criticism as well as he thought he could. What made it tougher were the layoffs at newspapers happening all around the country just as he was entering the market, fresh out of college

“At the age of 25, I was not able to take criticism well,” Cantilli said. “It wasn't like I was 18 or 20. No, I was 25, which is supposed to be a more mature age.”

Not all photojournalists come into the job with a tough skin. It took Cantilli a few years before he became adjusted to a job that comes with rejection. Part of getting used to it, Cantilli said, comes with what you think of yourself.

“I'm super hard-headed,” Cantilli said. “I don't care if I'm horrible. I want to be whatever it is I want to be. You have to have that "whatever it takes" mentality and stick with it.”

Catching Hell crew for The Weather Channel. Photo by Octavian Cantilli

J. Kyle Keener, a photo editor and photographer on staff at The Pharos-Tribune in Logansport, Indiana, said it wasn’t until five years after he became a photojournalist that he could take the criticism that came from his editors.

In the beginning, he said he doubted himself too many times.

“In the first five years of my career, I was very hard on myself, and it was actually a mental toll after thinking nothing was ever good enough,” Keener said.

So he knew he had to make a change. What worked for him was to just want to be more positive.

This new attitude began after his first job out of college. He worked in Kansas City, and he had a photo editor who would argue with Keener often over which of his photographs to use.

Keener said all of the bickering just made him angry, so he decided to go a different route.

“I would hope someone else would convince him that the picture I liked was the better picture, but that was really just splitting hairs,” Keener said. “Rather than focus on that, it's much better to stay positive and look ahead.”

But other than mentally preparing yourself for this industry, Cantilli said there are other ways to better handle criticism.

As it is said in the journalism world, it helps to know people. The same is true for Cantilli in advertising photography, where he said networking has helped him not only get jobs, but to connect with people on a more personal level. Then, the chances of being rejected or criticized aren’t as high.

“Networking is important,” Cantilli said. “That's how I got the jobs I got. Literally every single job I got was from meeting people in person and having conversations with them.”

From the view of both an editor and photographer, Keener said instead of arguing with the editor, try to develop a great working relationship with this person.

He said when he was able to have a better rapport with his editors, the criticism didn’t really sound like criticism anymore. It just sounded like great professional advice on ways to do better the next shoot. “It's always good to develop a relationship between photographer and editor where it's give and take discussion and know exactly what makes a picture good and why,” Keener said.

Take it from the professionals. Though this may be an industry where a tough skin is required, it isn’t always necessary to have it from the start. Like Keener and Cantilli, sometimes it just takes time.