Beware of Empty Praise

Maybe it’s a generational thing but I really have a distaste for empty praise. I really cringe at the thought of getting praise for work that I know is subpar. Maybe I’m too hard on myself but I truly believe one can not advance when one is constantly told how good they are if they internally know that they can do better. Sure it takes an outside opinion to give one perspective but we are constantly surrounded by biased opinions from family, friends and people desperate to be your, or anyone’s friend or wanting to help boost your ego.

Kids these days are raised in environments of constant praise. If their baseball teams loses every single game, they still receive a trophy. If they receive an F on a test they are praised for trying or given an excuse that the teacher plays favorites whether or not they actually studied for the test and truly gave it their best effort. This is the generation who has 1,000s of friends on Facebook without doing the work of actually creating friendships. This is the environment in which people reward themselves with a $5 fancy coffee drink for writing that difficult email.

There is a book about this generation called the Praise Generation that describes today's work environment where employers are having to adjust the way they manage this new wave of employees who expect to be praised for simply showing up for work each day.

Dreamstime gives one the opportunity to achieve real praise. When the rubber hits the road it doesn’t matter how many people like your photographs on Flickr or give you a high five on the Dreamstime blogs. When you actually make a sale you achieve real praise. A sale on Dreamstime or anywhere else means that you have produced a piece of artwork that has real value to someone. Your image is valuable enough for someone to spend real money to be able to use it. That sale means that someone believes that your image will add value to their article, blog or even is good enough that they will be able to make money off of it through the sale of printed materials. This is real praise and real feedback that you are on the right track.

Empty praise is dangerous. It can actually prevent you from getting better and improving. Rather than looking at fellow artists work that sells and figuring out how to achieve that level of skill and vision, empty praise can leave one to the dangerous conclusion that other just don’t understand your work or somehow those reviewers or buyers just don’t like you personally. How could they not accept my work or buy it when all of my Facebook friends love my images?

I know a few photographers who tried uploading a few images ot DT and when they were not accepted they were done with microstock. They retreated to their Facebook accounts where the 1,000 of “friends” they barely know heap on the praise for their out of focus, untweaked, bland, boring photos. They pat themselves on the back and beam with pride as they feel the love from pseudo-friends craving empty praise so badly they’ll say anything hoping to get some praise in return.

Or they concentrate on putting their images in places where the images are given away for free. How desperate can we be where we are willing to give away our work for free? How much is the knowledge that someone downloaded our image for free worth to one’s ego? Out of the zillions of free images available on the Internet, they picked mine! Oh boy! Let’s go out and celebrate! I must be a great photographer now.

Although microstock sites are open to amateur photographers it doesn’t mean that it's a place to find amateur images. The competition built in to agencies like Dreamstime means that to sell one must constantly produce high quality and unique images. Amateurs have the opportunity to learn, develop and achieve high level results and to toe to toe with professional photographers and compete for sales. Opportunity should not be mistaken for shortcut. You need to bring a professional level of vision and technical skill to the party. A bit of self confidence and ego is healthy if its used to drive oneself to improve and achieve a skill set that is professionally minded. Self confidence and ego is not helpful if it’s supported by empty praise and the idea that you’ll just breeze in and succeed from day one. More time looking at other people’s photographs and being humbled by the quality of the images is far better being buoyed by empty praise. Its your peers on DT that are your role models and guides to success and its the buyers who validate your work.

Photo credits: Peanutroaster.

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Excellent blog and I couldn't agree more!!!


My first attempts at assignments were disappointing but I kept at it. You can have a great stock image but they want something with a bit more ump. Its a subjective thing.


good point! I am new here and was recently frustrated that some images for a recent assignment were accepted on the site but not for the contest. I was finally given a great explanation by the powers that be on here and it made sense!!! This is a great site for learning and I am doing that in spades. so close to my first 100 accepted images (at 97(: )and so far 3 sales. still learning!


Thanks for this excellent blog. Your observations are so true. Accept rejections, and keep on improving!


good advice


Thanks for this blog....


Kids need to be raised in an environment where its safe to take risks and make mistakes. They just need to learn to make mistakes early so there is time to learn from them. Which is different than procrastination and then putting in a last minute minimal effort.


What an interesting blog and comments below! Just today I exploded on the students who failed an economics test and had the nerve to ask for a raise!!! It's a society of getting things undeservingly - how I hate it and how ulnlike real life it is.


Wordplanet - thanks for taking the time for adding your story to the conversation. We also know that sometimes we need to toss aside criticism. For example when friends or family fail to see why a photo is so great -- for stock that is. Why would anyone buy a photo like that? - they say when the photo is of something unpleasant like a pile of junked TV (3 sales!) or a sad person.


My husband and I were just talking about this phenomena earlier tonight. I think that sometimes a friend, or a child needs a little "false praise" to help them get started when facing a daunting challenge, but that praise or assistance needs to be tempered with some constructive criticism and the expectation that they will make a effort to earn that praise in the future.

I remember when my husband was coaching my daughter's softball team. Everyone on the team got up to bat, then the next team was up. There were no "outs" and no one was supposed to keep score. The kids were 6 and 7 years old so of course they could count, and they knew that my daughter's team was winning. They were okay with it, but some of the parents were grumbling that our team (aptly named the "Yankees") won every game. My daughter tossed out her trophies other than those she really won - it's meaningless when you get a trophy merely for showing up and I think her generation recognizes that now that they are older, at least, those I know do.

I'm wondering if these 20-30 year olds (my daughter's generation - she's 19) are really as needy as we think, or if it's our generation's need to make life so easy for our kids that is leading some of us to coddle the younger folks working for them?

I must admit, it's nice when another photographer compliments one of my photos (and I'm reluctant to say this - but I really like your spa photo with the bucket), though I'm realistic enough to know that I have a long way to go before the caliber of my work will be what I'm aiming for. Selling work is certainly a better gauge of its value commercially, though we all sometimes scratch our heads when a photo taken early on in our stock photo experiments, one we're no longer happy with, continues to sell. So IMHO sales are "true compliments" up to a point.

But I do agree with the basic idea of your article. Much as I hate rejections, there is something good about constantly having your work evaluated here at DT. I think it has helped to make me a much better photographer.


Great blog! ;)


Finally someone stepped up and said it so well! The members of the "Mutual Admiration Society" that too often clog these blogs should take special note.


Great Blog...don't let it get to your head though ;-) I agree completely.


Thanks for sharing, great blog.


Who has never tasted bitter, knows not what is sweet, and that's not a rocket science to understand properly if you have a basic creativity and truthful to those who you relate towards your work.


Great! I could not agree more! And i keep telling my wife this..LOL. I do not ask her opinion any longer on my pictures.


Well written and so true. The next generation of kids is in for a major reality check. The 20-30 year olds are having problems finding jobs now but it is nothing compared to finding jobs in 10 years from now. Our Senators and Congressmen tell us how we are a country of "exceptionalism". No longer so. Too much world competition. We lasted for less than 100 years. The Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and British had much longer periods of "exceptionalism". We had better buckle up and do the best we can at no longer being #1. Being number two isn't so bad!
Same with your photographs Peanutroaster. They're so-so ( I'm just a hair above you ) and at least you know where you stand. No undeserved praise from me. When I see the truly great photographers on Dreamstime, I eat alot of humble pie!


This is true.


You are correct. When I started here I thought I was just a little better photographer than I actually am. Oh boy, It made me rethink and try really hard to improve, and to aknowledge de road is soooo long and check if I still want to go there.
And yes, one sale, even if it is a subscription, worth piles of praises.


Just dont let it go to your head.

Was it addressed to me? What did you mean anyway? 8-)


well said! As an amateur photographer, I feel completely silly trying to compete, BUT, it really makes me realize I need to put on my big girl panties, get out there, and learn and grow and find a way to become as amazing as everyone else out there!


Just don't let it go to your head - is the general moral of the tale.


Mind empty praise! ;) What do you expect now - the empty praise or fistful of critique? :)
Even though I do agree about your main point and, logically, would invite you to participate in this game, which is presumably just about avoiding "the empty praises". Yet, I might add a slight deviation to your blog by saying that you are actually talking about the extremes of "empty praise". The great Russian writer Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy (or Leo Tolstoy) put this saying in one of his famous books (my humble translation by memory): "Friendship is like an old carriage. It needs some [empty] praise like the carriage needs oil to move forward"... That said, one should measure the amount of praise/oil carefully, otherwise it might go "off the wheels". :) There is also the opposite extreme: when you are in a deep downfall, any slightest amount of critical vision would not help you much (if not making things worse). The friendly "empty praise" is the only way for you to go ahead... But yes, I do see a lot of what you are talking about. I have actually a trouble sometimes when convincing my son to go over the natural "barriers" of learning, without much of a help from school, because almost any level of "achievement" is said "well-done" by them. My recent example would be his preparation for his first music exam. His tutor would suggest to have it in Autumn, even though admitting that my son is practically ready (just for his comfort). I am glad I insisted on June, and by now he learned already two pieces out of three needed. I am sure I will be proud of him in June! :)


Gmargittai - I understand people want to convey that one's efforts have been read.


So, just watch the praises piling up for this article... "Very interesting blog", but I agree with you nevertheless. I wrote a blog sometime ago, and mentioned how DT helps to separate the true praise vs the false ones by making people put some money behind the praise. Article "Now there is a numerical equivalence of one’s art and skill. One can measure it by the amount of downloads".

I don't know if people do or don't deserve praise from friends for "nice tries" in the world of art. But it certainly gives one a good feeling when on the receiving end of such a praise.


Thanks for sharing .


Well pointed!


A very interesting blog. The points you make are so true.


Very interesting blog .... I really think so!

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