Frustrating isn’t it? No matter what you do, some days you just don’t feel like a photographer. You feel like hanging up the camera for good because you ask yourself, what’s the point of it all? In other words, you feel sorry for yourself because you feel inadequate even calling yourself a photographer. Well, the good news is that you are not alone even if it seems that way.
Go on Facebook and Twitter and all you see are people showing you how great and happy their life is. Seems like every one of these photographers has their stuff together while you, poor soul, do not. The funny thing is, from time to time all of those social media superstars post something that reveals a different picture: Sometimes they are not happy, sometimes they are downright depressed.
See, here’s what nobody tells you; feeling down about yourself, your work is an integral part of the creative process.
“I am not a painter.” Guess who wrote that in his diary? Michelangelo. No, not the Ninja Turtle, but one of the best painters that ever lived. It’s crazy to think such an able artist would have so much self-doubt, no? What do you need to DO if you feel so much self-doubt or inadequate that you just want to abandon your camera? Let’s find out.
The impostor syndrome
Ever felt like you are pulling a con on everyone by calling yourself a photographer? Afraid of one day being “found out”? Feel like a total fraud? All of these are symptoms of something called the impostor syndrome. It’s the failure to accept your achievements. And the crazy part? So many suffer from that specific syndrome:
Sometimes I wake up in the morning before going off to a shoot, and I think, I can’t do this. I’m a fraud. – Kate Winslett (Titanic actress)
I have written eleven books, but each time I think, “uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.” – Maya Angelou (Famous author)
How do you conquer those feelings of being a fraud? I personally have a written list of my accomplishments and also of nice comments people have made. When I feel down, I read them all and the impostor syndrome symptoms usually fade away. BUT, I hear you say, “I don’t have many accomplishments!”
That’s probably not true, learning things like Aperture, Shutter speed, ISO and more are achievements. Making a better picture than you did yesterday is an accomplishment. You have to cut yourself some slack and give yourself credit where it is due. Always remember that when you feel like an impostor, it’s a syndrome, that doesn’t mean it’s true.
The thing about feelings
That leads us to the “thing” about feelings. You see, feelings are not truth, but opinions. Just because you don’t FEEL like a photographer doesn’t mean you aren’t. You can’t control feelings, they come and go on a whim. But what you CAN control, is accepting or rejecting them. The Good Book says, “Guard your heart with all diligence for out of it flows all the issues of life.” Meaning, watch what you tell yourself, it’s what you accept as true that will make the difference.
You just blew something. Feelings calling you a loser start popping up. You can either accept those feelings or chose to reject them. You are either a slave or a master of your feelings. If you start feeling like you are not a photographer, chose to ignore them.
The heart of photography
One thing that might make you feel really bad about yourself is the perceived success of other photographers. Just look at them. Thousands of likes, and popularity. You? Two likes, including one from your family member. You Facebook and you Tweet to only get silence in return. So what?
When feeling down about yourself remember what truly matters in photography is not the likes, the popularity, the accolades, or the gear you own. It’s the images. They are what matters most. Nothing illustrates this more than a quote from the movie Amadeus. Salieri, when he heard a piece of Mozart said, “I was staring through the cage of those meticulous ink strokes at an absolute beauty”.
Nothing illustrates this more than a quote from the movie Amadeus. Salieri, when he heard a piece of Mozart said, “I was staring through the cage of those meticulous ink strokes at an absolute beauty”. Salieri enjoyed financial success and high status while Mozart was often in poverty and rejected…but his music, his music was prodigious! He had fame and fortune…but what he didn’t have was what really mattered the most, Mozart’s skills.
Look, I’m not saying you or I are like Mozarts of photography, but you have to decide what really matters to you in photography. If that’s success in accolades, then go seek that. But if it is a success in making great images that matter to you, then do not feel bad if you do not get the response you seek. Being a good photographer and being popular are two different beasts. One comes from knowing photography, the other how to market yourself. It’s pretty well known that Van Gogh died an unknown artist, but he was a great artist nonetheless.
Change things up
Sometimes feeling down about your work is a function of redundancy. It’s the same old same old, every day. That might be a good time to change things up a bit. If you shoot color, try black and white. If you shoot film, try digital. One tried and true way they shake things up in art school is that they give you a subject to draw. But they want you to draw it upside down so that it shakes up your brain.
Also, try to change your subject matter. If you shoot family stuff, try street photography. If you shot sports, try landscapes. This is one of those things where you cannot know where it leads until you try. You might realize that what you have been shooting up until then was not something you actually liked!
The brain goes into overdrive when you limit it in certain ways. Hence, commit yourself to certain things for a definite amount of time. Say you have a 15mm lens that’s been gathering dust. Commit to using only that lens for a month.
Or you can commit yourself in another way by simply starting a project. A project forces you to come up with patterns and links between the images. Plus it has the added effect of boosting your self-esteem because a complete project feels more substantial than one-off images. Plus if you make a project that is thematically close to you, you’ll be more connected to it, making it even more probable for you to make better images.
When Michelangelo wrote, “I am no painter.” in his diary, he had two choices – to ditch the brush or to press on. The world knows his work simply because he chose to press on. He moved beyond those feelings of inadequacy and ended up being stronger.
In everything, there are always hurdles of self-doubt. While many see them as negatives, I see them as tests. It’s like a guardian staring you in the face and asking you, “Are you SURE you want to continue? Do you REALLY want to be a photographer?”
So…let me ask you, how bad do YOU want it? Be yourself, stay focused and keep on shooting. Share your tips for getting out over your feelings of inadequacy in the comments below.