Criticism and Praise

Why does one critical comment have more impact than a dozen complimentary ones?

I’m going to share three stories of recent negative comments. Some details have been omitted because I want to share examples, not publicly shame people.


I share my photos on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram. I use to schedule posts so it’s not a lot of extra work to share to four networks instead of just one.

One feature of Instagram is hashtags, where you can mark your post with one or more #hashtags and people can find your post by searching for those. I typically use hashtags like #railfan and #railwayphotography.

You can also share specific tags to try to be featured by Instagram accounts (“hubs”) that share exceptional photographs. I wrote about Instagram hubs here. Being featured is a nice “attaboy” that indicates that the moderators thought your photograph was interesting enough to share with their followers.

Ex CSX 445 near Meadows, MB
Ex CSX 445 near Meadows, MB

My photo of ex CSX 445 was shared by the TRB_Express hub. There were a number of positive comments, and one negative one. For some dumb reason, the negative comment hit me and totally eclipsed the several positive comments.

I wanted to comment back with some snide remark, maybe noting that the commenter hasn’t posted any photos of their own at all, but I remembered that I am a mature adult who is above such things. Usually.

I just left the comment alone and moved on. Obviously it still bothers me a bit, since I am writing this post. More below on how to move on.


Recently the model train manufacturer ScaleTrains announced a new release – the Union Pacific standard turbine in N scale. This release was met with a burst of criticism from a vocal minority of modelers. “A huge let down” “Who asked for this?” “Crap”

It was shocking, really.

Fortunately, it was followed by an avalanche of support for ScaleTrains and a rebuke toward those who complained.

To me, this goes to show what kind of golden age of train modeling we live in when people can be vocally disappointed when a quality manufacturer releases a new model. These days there are many manufacturers, all doing very good work, and we have a cornucopia of great models to choose from.

Of course, no one manufacturer is ever going to make exactly the right group of models that any one modeler wants. The manufacturers have to make money, so they do their research to see what models they can make a profit on. The truth is that there are a few models that will never be made because there isn’t enough commercial demand.

The great thing is that these days, you can make your own! With 3D printing and the older techniques of resin casting, kit bashing and straight up scratch building, people who are determined enough can make any model. It might be expensive, it certainly will be time consuming, but it can be done.

Of course, if you want a ready-to-run locomotive or freight car… you may not get what you want. Ever. Get over it. It’s just a hobby.

Raining On Their Parade

Recently a small content company (think photographer or videographer) announced a new product that they were quite proud of. One of the first comments pointed out a very subtle flaw in the product.

Can you imagine how the owners of the company felt? They spent a lot of time and effort to make this product, only to have someone nitpick it?

In this case I messaged the commenter, and suggested that perhaps they could raise their concerns privately instead. This was done and the commenter removed their comment.

The Complaint Culture

I think social networks have enabled a “complaint culture” where people think it’s OK to complain about whatever they want, whenever they want, and to whomever they want.

It’s really come to a head in the past little while with the references to “Karens” and “I want to speak to your manager” type of memes. People think they are entitled to whatever they want, and get offended when they don’t get it. Maybe it’s always been this way, but it’s more visible now.

I’ve always told my kids that words matter and that they should be careful of what they say in person or online, especially anything said in a negative way.

So when you’re going to leave some kind of negative feedback on someone’s photo, some company’s new product, or anything that someone made and is probably proud of, think twice. Is the comment constructive? Or is it reflecting your own disappointment and has nothing to do with the quality of the work itself? What good will leaving negative feedback do?

I’m all for leaving negative feedback when it matters. For example, I’ve left poor reviews of hotels. I make sure that the review is factual and is based on something substantial – like, say, bugs in my room – rather than something like “they didnt’ have bagels for breakfast one morning, 1 star”

Complain when it will make a positive change.

Handling Negative Feedback

I did some reading on handling negative feedback and I recommend this Huffington Post article and this Fast Company article.

The consensus is to focus on the positive feedback you have received – which generally far outweighs the negative – and try to ignore the crap comments.

In more detail:

  • Keep a list of positive comments you’ve received to look back on, and for motivation
  • Examine the negative comment to see if there is any truth or actual feedback you can use to improve your product / photography / whatever was being commented on
  • Write about how you feel about the comment, privately, or publicly like I am!
  • Turn the negative comment around and “hit it back out there” – if someone craps on your photo, post another one! And another!

Positive Feedback

I want to finish on a positive note by acknowledging and thanking the many people who A) leave comments here, and B) email me privately to thank me for the photography and posts I share. I read them all and try to respond to them all. I really appreciate them.

When I first started blogging way back in July 2005, I didn’t get any feedback – good or bad – and it was hard to keep going. It felt like I was talking into a void and I wondered if people were actually reading what I wrote. Looking at my early blog stats, I’d say not many were reading! However, people started reading and commenting, which encouraged me to put more work and care into it in a virtuous circle.

Please, leave a comment on your favourite blog, Facebook group, or wherever you frequent and let people know that you appreciate what they do. Let’s drown out the negative comments.

21 thoughts on “Criticism and Praise”

  1. Years ago you would read something in a magazine, write a letter, three or four months later you might see the letter published with a reply. There is the immediacy these days where everyone thinks their comment or opinion matters. Everyone believes they need to be heard. Civility is lacking. I am on a number of forums where people post photos. A lot of people are new at it. I usually leave a positive comment because I want to encourage people to get out and do things and I want people to succeed.

    • I think you nailed it, BW, “everyone believes they need to be heard.”

      I like to leave positive comments on photos, especially for new photographers. If I have nothing positive to say then I just move on.

  2. There is a saying in product, if you spend your time focusing only the negative voices, your product will stray towards the negative. The difficulty hear is that the negative voices tend to be the loudest, drowning out the constructive voices who will help create product people want.


    • That’s a good saying, Dave. I think it goes well with all facets of life – in order to move in a positive direction, surround yourself with positive people and positive ideas.

  3. Steve, I’ll leave you with a couple of quotes from artist/philosopher Elbert Hubbard.

    “To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.”

    “God will not look you over for medals, diplomas or degrees – but for scars.”

  4. For the record Steve, I looked at the TRB_Express IG page at your featured post and specifically at the one person who made the negative comment. Looking at that person’s page (0 posts and 1 follower) led me to believe that he was just trolling for attention. An easy thing to ignore.

    I can understand the critiscm aspect – I have posted photos/articles (similar to yourself) online, and most times get praise or “likes”, but there are times the nitpicker comments seem to overpower the rest of the other comments, and we then tend to worry about 1 person’s view instead of the overall picture. I have been guilty of overworrying over other’s comments, but I have slowly gotten better to re-look things over and concentrate on the good points.

    Some people just don’t think and post or comment foolishly and in most times it comes back to bite them. It frustrates me how some take things so seriously and act “like a Karen”. Sometimes it takes the fun out of things… Like our mother’s say “If you have nothing nice to say then don’t say anything at all”. There is times I have to bite my tongue and scroll on.. 🙂 Keep up the great posts and photos, l’ll still cheer you on.

    • Thanks, Jason. I had the same impression about that negative commenter.

      I appreciate your support, and I always enjoy seeing your photos and reading your articles!

  5. Hi Steve,
    Just keep plugging buddy! Just ignore the negatives. Your blog is so
    great and adds so much to the hobby that we as readers would really really
    miss out if you quit. As the old saying goes: “You can’t please everybody”.

  6. Brene Brown had a Ted Talk where she discussed this. She talked about being open to feedback, but being selective about which feedback you listen to. You do amazing work Steve and we love your photography. ScaleTrains is an amazing company, and I reached out and gave them a positive note when their announcement happened. I think the best thing we can do to combat the culture of negativity is to drowned it with a louder culture of positivity and good intentions.

    • Hi Karl, I will have to listen to that TED talk! I definitely want to be open to feedback but being selective sounds like a good idea.

  7. Hi Steve, I think I said this before on your FB traingeek page. I do think that some manufacturers in the UK of model railway items deserve criticism, as they seem unwilling to go after markets that they would do really well in such as models of EMUs. (In addition, model rail manufacturers were at least 10 to 15 years late to the game at including DCC and sound as standard in models too…). However the north American manufacturers, as far as making modern(ish) Canadian prototypes I think are fabulous. I got into Canadian raroading about 6 years ago, and even in that time the amount of uniquely Canadian locos that have been released by Rapido, Bowser, Intermountain etc and now Athearn with their up and coming C44-9WL, is just amazing.

    • Hi Rory, I didn’t know that about the UK market. It’s surprising that an up and comer hasn’t emerged to take that low hanging fruit that the existing manufacturers haven’t taken.

      We have it pretty good in the Canadian market, provided you’re willing to spend the money.

  8. Oh and in addition i always enjoy reading your railway blogs when I remember to! Keep up the good work Steve

  9. All good comments above Steve. These days one must develop a thick skin to not let the nattering nabobs of negativity get to them. That said, I prefer to just stick with the email postings to those who really want the content, than to have it in a social media forum where those type of people reside. Thus I’m not on any social media platforms. Old school perhaps, but that’s okay by me.

    Keep up the good work!

    • Hi Andy, “nattering nabobs” indeed. I’m afraid I’m fully committed to social networks by this time. Thanks for commenting!

  10. Steve – Very interesting post – Positive out weighs the negatives and for this I am most thankful. Keep up the excellent work that you do for the benefit of all of us! Just an Atlantic Canada opinion!

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