Think of your last bad day of photography, a time where you just blew a whole batch of portraits, or even a couple’s wedding day images were spoiled. As photographers you can’t go back and fix that. Yes if you use RAW, you can get some info back from under or over exposed shots, and editing tools these days can be incredibly useful. But, when you spend more time behind the computer than with you camera it can be a real confidence buster. It may even be taking away from future business, if not your enjoyment of photography.
So how do you build your confidence?
Having confidence exudes confidence, but where does real confidence come from. Well it doesn’t just come from nowhere, that is often called arrogance. It comes from the awareness of your emotional state relative to your cognitive abilities.
If you use your emotions to create, you are being confident. If your emotions are overwhelming you during your shot or photo series, you are likely under-confident. By the book, you may know everything there is to know about the exposure triangle, rule of thirds, color theory, etc., but when you are actually shooting do they do more to help, or do they hinder you?
Confidence is a delicate balance between what you know, and how well you are capable of performing. So let’s look at a couple of examples and analogies to help build your confidence as a photographer.
#1 – Confidence isn’t always consistent
Real confidence is never consistent, and has its slumps. Professional sports is a great example, even superstars have an off night.
So when you have an off night, remember another night is just 12 hours away. If it is the morning, it is still 12 hours away. Even a broken clock is correct twice a day, so don’t beat yourself up. In the short run you may have really blown a photo shoot, or missed the animal of your dreams because you were not being conscious about your settings, or you were simply absent minded. But that is the short term, and as long as you get right back out there, the better off you are going to be.
The best of the best all fail, but what keeps them on top of their game is the arduous task of owning up to being human, and going out to find a solution to your goof. In the long run, they will be memories that you get to look back on with a laugh.
#2 – Learn from your mistakes
Few people are perfect photographers from birth. Generally, talent comes through sweat, tears, and sometimes even blood. If you make mistakes you can learn from them. Confidence has a conspiracy with failure. So take two steps forward, and one step back. Stay committed, and speaking of commitment and blood, I am not the only photographer who has taken a tumble, and when people ask you if you are okay, you respond with, “Yes the camera is fine”, while your knees and elbow are bleeding.
#3 – Be vulnerable
Enter a photo contest, and don’t expect to win. It is a final process of completing the photography and artistic conceptual circle. Letting your photo hang on a wall, while others look at it, even for a few minutes, is a scary prospect for some. But think of leaving your freshly baked pie on the dinner table, and just looking at it. We don’t do that with food, nor should we do that with our photography.
People will love it, like it, dislike it, or downright hate it, but that doesn’t mean you are wrong. It means you have succeeded in making the photography world just a little more interesting. You also never know who you will inspire. Your vulnerability will soon become a strength that will help build your confidence.
#4 – Learn from others BUT don’t compare yourself to them
There is a world of knowledge available, and many people who you can learn from. Use them, ask them questions, share ideas – but don’t compare yourself to them. Generally when you compare your own work to others, it may leave you with a sense of there’s more to be desired, and a sense of failure. So learn from their perspectives, their tutorials, and their stories, but don’t get caught up in who is better.
A happy photographer is the best photographer. Furthermore, over time you will begin to see the merits in some of your earlier experimental work. Perfection is not the goal, it is the journey to becoming a more enriching photographer.
This Magnolia opening in spring was taken in full sunlight. I saw a series of flowers on a photo stream, and realized I had not taken a photo of something beautiful in a long time. This helped me learn to see, and if our images were side by side, I am sure theirs was better. But I enjoyed doing something different than what I normally shoot.
#5 – Avoid gear envy
There will always be something bigger and better, wait another year and the next new version will be out. So don’t get intimidated by other photographers’ gear, and more importantly don’t let your photos depend on your gear. Think of it as a challenge.
A small trick I use when the next new thing comes out, and I get in that spiral of getting all gear-junkie about it is to look at some of the classic photographers from 100 years ago or read up on some color theory. This gets me back to the basics, try it yourself.
So if you realize that every showing will not be your best, you can get over thinking that your gear dictates the success and failure of your photos, if you can start to learn from your mistakes, and begin to hang photos on a wall – then guess what? Your confidence will begin to grow, you will have more control (and more power) over photography (situations, light, camera gear, etc.). As your confidence grows it builds and builds on itself.
The next six areas are examples of how confidence will help you in that style of photography. Part one is developing confidence, and part two is a set of examples of how confidence can help in different situations.
How confidence can help you take better photos
In portraiture, confidence helps you connect with, and calm your subject, to bring out their inner spirit. There is little worse than a nervous model and a nervous photographer. Even if you are not 100% sure what you’re doing, show confidence, take your time, and slowly adjust your settings to get things closer to your ideas. Try and keep from getting frustrated and making large adjustments wildly to your gear.
In wildlife photography, confidence lets you trust your gut, and get in the right place at the right time. Luck is important, but perseverance will ultimately lead to success. Having confidence will give you the extra optimism to keep you going, as you wait patiently.
In travel photography, confidence helps you see beyond the postcard shot. Confidence allows you to see your journey, not the one that is in the travel books. It helps you see the subtleties, and personalize your travel story, rather than trying to just take the photo that everyone else wants you to take.
In fine art photography, confidence will allow your creative side to flow. It will allow you to access what is sometimes referred to in sports as “being in the zone.” This zone, or flow is your brilliance at its best, and confidence supports your ambitions as an artist.
One of my favorite images from India, where cricket matches were being played. Using multiple exposures, then giving it a symmetrical clone, I produced something that I cherish. Maybe only you like your photo, but that is what being true to yourself is all about.
In bad weather confidence helps you see the silver lining. For all types of photography we rely on light. A great source of light is outdoors, and when that golden hour turns to wind and rain you have a choice – pack up and go, or think outside the box. Confidence helps you control your surroundings, even when they are out of control, so you can begin to work within them, and use them to your advantage.
I can’t say that the weather was bad here, but the timing was. I was just getting to a ghetto outside of San Jose, Costa Rica at night. I wanted to get in and out before I felt compromised, unsafe. So regardless of if it’s bad weather, or bad timing, confidence can help you to push through.
In tough times confidence gives you the grit to continue. Really, this is what a lot of photography comes down to – do you have the gumption to get up early for sunrise, or not? Can you give a genuine smile to your client, even when you are not having the best day? Can you be satisfied with the gear you have, and not think about the next lens you want to get? Can you be the best photographer you can be?
Confidence is hard to gain and can take years to attain. It is a process, and is easier for some than others. But if you work at it, it will build. Just as you work on other aspects of your photography, your emotions need work to. Confidence is an emotion, so practice with your feelings, and let them grow alongside the cerebral aspects of photography. Be mindful of your emotions, not fearful of them.
Do you have any other confidence building tips? If so, please share them in the comments below.