Photo by Scott Bourne – Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs Creative Commons

This is going to be another of my controversial posts (what else is new?) I am posting something I usually only share with the photographers I personally mentor – but I’m starting to get enough email about this subject that I think it deserves to be posted in the open.

As an old warhorse who’s been around this game for a while, I have perspective and experience that newbies don’t and can’t have. I’ve seen it all and done it all. I have found some things that have really helped me grow as a photographer (and a person) and shared many of them here. But nothing helped as much as what I am about to share with you.

First off, it doesn’t require you to buy any gear, attend any class, read a book, watch a webinar, purchase a video tutorial, sign up for a workshop or visit a photo conference.

All this takes is courage and common sense, but many of you are struggling with it.

Are you ready? This is the secret…

To the highest degree possible, eliminate, remove, separate, and utterly cut yourself off from any person, place or thing that is bringing you down, attacking you, putting a negative aura around you or in general being snarky, unhelpful, disruptive, unsupportive, or harmful. Yep, literally kick out of your life the bitter, sad, lonely, unhappy trolls, jerks and jackasses that seek to crash your party because theirs isn’t working. These energy vampires (as I like to call them) mean you no good. They thrive on harming you and stealing your energy. It’s all they have left. You have to stop them from destroying you. Period.

It gets worse. You have to face the fact that some of them might be very close to you. (This is the hard part.) I don’t care if it’s your parents, siblings, spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, neighbor, boss, Twitter follower, Facebook friend, etc. No matter WHO it is – block them. Get rid of them. Say goodbye. Leave them. Ignore them. Separate yourself from their influence as fast as you can. You can’t stop them from being jerks or being negative, but you can stop their negativity from encroaching on your life. To quote Bob Marley – “You just can’t live that negative way. You know what I mean. Make way for the positive day. Cause it’s a new day…” (That is officially the first time I’ve quoted Bob Marley on Photofocus. I’ve been waiting a long time to do that!)

Negative people will always steal your lifeblood. In order to stop that you have to cut them out entirely. The people around you are either supportive or they are not. They are either helping you reach your goals or they are not. They are either rooting for you or they are not. There is no halfway point. The same goes for places or things. If you visit a place you know you shouldn’t or have a habit that’s bad for you – stop it. Don’t involve yourself with anything, anyone or anyplace that could harm your spirit.

Here’s why…

The negative people, places and things – particularly the people – the jackasses, trolls, jerks and punks who spend their days attacking you and those around you (or in our community) will crush your very soul if you let them. They will wear you out. They will use you up. They will leave you empty. Dealing with them steals valuable creative energy that you cannot replace. Once it’s gone it’s gone. You can’t come back from this fast enough to do yourself any good if it goes too far…so stop it and do it now. If you don’t your self-esteem will be gone and with it, the positive, creative side of you that’s needed to be courageously creative.

Once you are free of negative influences in your life, it’s like being free of disease. Think about how you feel when you have the flu. How much creative energy do you have then? Probably not very much. But once you’re back to normal, think about how that frees you up to go out and make pictures again. If you follow my advice here you will find the same sort of freedom.

Let me give you a few concrete examples of the kind of people you DO want in your life…

1) I used to have a personal assistant named Kathy. She was older than any of my other employees by 20 years. She was new at the job and barely met the minimum requirements to get the job. But I happily hired her because she was relentlessly positive. My mood, attitude, ability to produce all went up when she was around. Not only that, she put up a wall between me and the energy vamps. She’d see someone coming at me with a bad attitude and all 4’4′ of her would stand up and ask loudly, “Can I help you?” She wouldn’t let them near me. She brought fresh flowers to the office every day. She hummed a happy song every morning. She brought everyone in the office treats every day. She made sure to speak to every person who works with us every morning. She greeted every visitor (mailman, client, vendor) with a smile. When her husband of 30 years died, she called asked for a week off. I gave it to her with pay. She returned the following Monday with the same positive attitude. It made me realize that she was 100 times stronger than me and a way better person than me. That made me better at my job. That gave me freedom to spend time on creative things.

2) I’m working on a big commercial shoot for a car company. It’s going to involve two or three staff, a model, hair, makeup, car detailers, and a behind the scenes video crew, etc. I’ve been test shooting with some models trying to find the right one for this job. Recently I photographed a 20 year old girl who showed up to test. She brought Krispy Kreme doughnuts for everyone! She arrived with a huge smile and a bounce in her step that I hadn’t seen in any of the other girls I worked with. She’s young and generally inexperienced at this sort of modeling, but she does have six years of general modeling experience. I’ve been working with her and she’s going to get the job. She’s not the prettiest girl we’ve seen or the most experienced, but she is the most positive and every time she’s around everyone perks up a bit. The creative energy gets flowing and good stuff happens. (And if you’re working with a fat photographer Krispy Kremes never hurt!)

These are the kind of people I want around me.  These are the kind of people you want around you.

Being positive is hard for some people. I admit t’s hard for me. I have a hard, demanding job. Lots of people depend on me. It puts me under a great deal of pressure. I’m getting older and my health isn’t as good as I wish it was. It would be easy for me to fall into any negative trap. That’s why this is extra important for me to follow my own advice. I don’t suffer fools gladly. I don’t let idiots anywhere near me. I don’t read comments in the camera forums (and neither should you – or on YouTube or anyplace else the trolls tend to congregate) and my staff blocks the fools, trolls, jerks and jackasses on Twitter. That way I don’t have to deal with them. Heck, I don’t even usually know when it happens. When the staff see a snarky, rude, unhelpful follower – they just block that person. It doesn’t stop that person from operating the way they do but it does stop that crap from entering my stream. They take care of it for me and I’m free to use that energy to create photos, write books, post here at Photofocus, record podcasts, appear at trade shows and teach at photo conferences, help new photographers and live the life I want instead of dealing with the fools. Remember, you can’t stop negative people from being negative, from attacking you or being trolls. Here’s what you absolutely can do. You can stop them from being able to get in your face. You can stop them from destroying your creative energy or negatively influence you or your surroundings. They can have a grand old time saying anything they want about anybody. But if you do as I have done, you will never hear it. It won’t impact you. It won’t steal your creative energy. That is the secret that has made my photography much, much better than it used to be. It’s also allowed me to up the amount of material I produce and live a happier life. It also takes away all the power from the trolls. They only win if you let them.

I know that for some of you it’s going to be hard to do this. I cut my own parents and siblings out of my life decades ago because they were always negative. I’ve cut loose a girlfriend or two or three over this same issue. I’ve let go two or three of my best staff because they were always negative. I didn’t like doing any of that but I realized my very creative soul was at stake. It hurt. It was terrible in some cases. I gave all of them a chance. I explained to all of them what was at stake. Unfortunately their own self-esteem was gone and they couldn’t change. Despite the fact that it hurt at that moment, in the end I grew as a person, improved as a photographer, became happier and conquered my own personal demons. I am better off for making this decision. Much better off. I think you’ll find the same thing happens to you too if you can find the courage to do this.

Haters gonna hate as they say – but you don’t have to let them hate around you. YOU have the power. YOU have the ability. YOU can change your life. It starts by rejecting these people completely. If you can do that, here’s what I predict will happen. That gaping hole that was filled by all those negative people, places and things will all of a sudden have a chance to fill up with good, positive, creative, uplifting influences. It’s like removing a dead shrub from your yard and replacing it with a new, living, vibrant plant. It changes everything.

It’s easy to hope that a new camera or a new workshop will make you a photography legend, but the truth is that none of those things is as powerful as cutting the negative influences out of your life. Do that first – THEN get a new camera. I bet you go far. Oh and by the way, I’m rooting for you.


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