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Let’s all agree that photography is one of the most frustrating yet creatively satisfying art forms out there. We all remember the passion we felt when we first started out on our photography journey. The thrill of clicking the shutter and excitedly looking at the back of the camera (if you started with digital photography) and that feeling like opening gifts on Christmas morning when you got your prints back from the developing lab (if you started with film). You know you couldn’t get enough of capturing life through a lens. Nothing quite beats the rush of knowing that you have created something cool! Right?
Why is it, then, that most of us eventually fall into the comparison trap and start to lose confidence in our skills? Our creativity, authenticity, and confidence get shaded in our own eyes by self-manifested doubts and shortcomings. It leaves us dejected, uninspired, and sometimes even angry. We all seem to judge ourselves against someone else’s successes – be it money, opportunities or even social media fame (yes, that seems to be quite the rage these days).
So how does one overcome those self-doubts? Here are some tips I’ve found helpful when the ugly head of self-doubt cripples my creativity.
Stop obsessing about photography and go do something else you really enjoy. It could be something big like taking a trip without your camera to something small and simple like going to the movies, cooking your favorite meal, meeting up with friends, or even dancing with your kids.
No matter what you choose, find something that you really enjoy and do it just for the sake of enjoyment. It will help clear your head and allow happiness based endorphins to flow through your body leading to more positive thoughts and feelings. Personally, I pack away my gear and read a book – old romance novels from the 1970s always manages to help me bounce back and feel happy. Other times, we load up the car and head out to the mountains. So my books and hiking shoes are two of my most prized possessions.
When I used to work in Corporate America, we were encouraged to create yearly goals based on our strengths and weaknesses. Try and apply similar principles when you think about what you want to accomplish from a photographic perspective. Think about what multiple people or clients have complimented you on. Focusing on strengths will help you set realistic goals with achievable results and give you that boost of confidence you need.
I have been told that I am good at natural posing. Helping my clients get comfortable in front of the camera is one of my skills. I am good at making the photographic experience easy, comfortable, and convenient for my clients. These are some of my personal strengths. I know that I don’t do high fashion and in-studio sessions well. I am much happier and progress faster when I focus on what I am good at rather than trying to be someone or something I’m not.
This goes in line with working on your strengths. Now that you have documented both – strengths as well as weaknesses – pick one weakness and really focus on that one area to prevent getting overwhelmed and discouraged.
Do you lack any technical photography skills? There are numerous workshops, articles, and YouTube videos that you can watch to try and get up to speed. Digital Photography School is also a great learning resource.
Do you struggle when interacting with clients? Stand in front of a mirror and practice your introduction pitch. Round up your friends and ask them to help you practice your interaction skills. Do you struggle with building your portfolio? Volunteer your services to organizations that need help.
Apply and practice the things you learn even if it is just with your family, kids, or the family pet. Remember, also, to be patient with yourself. As you improve, take time to appreciate your growth and celebrate your accomplishments. The best morale booster is your own internal vote of confidence. Remember accomplished photographers have all been where you are at some point in their lives. Success takes a lot of hard work and time.
A little bit of competition is healthy. As humans, it is what keeps us going at times. But be careful not to confuse competition with jealousy. And never try to compete with other industry peers on price. That is a battle that can quickly go south. You have to just understand that there will always be someone who is willing to work longer hours, for cheaper rates. That’s just the reality of life in any field.
Understand what you bring to the table is unique and there are clients who want to work with you because of the experience and end product that you (and you alone) provide. Focus all your energy on finding those clients and not the ones that pick price over quality.
Nothing is worth sacrificing your health – both mental and physical. I have learned that lesson the hard way. Now I don’t overwork myself to the point of exhaustion nor do I sacrifice my sanity over difficult clients.
I always take a day off after photographing a wedding because it is physically exhausting and mentally draining. I avoid scheduling photography gigs one after the other because I know I get mentally exhausted and cannot produce my best creative work. We have to all acknowledge that sometimes self-doubt arises due to our poor health (either mental or physical) and the only way to overcome it is to get our mind, body, and soul in a much better space.
Why do you love photography? What is it about this art form that has you up at night trying to make it work? What’s your story? Is it the money? Is it the glory? Take the time to figure out your why and write it down.
Then when you start doubting yourself, go read your story. It will help you get things in perspective and ground you. I learned photography so I could:
Hence my mission as a photographer is to provide my clients with creative images that are a true and authentic reflection of their own individual personalities while running a profitable business.
Remember that your why will be specific and unique to you and it is what will push you to overcome your setbacks and mental roadblocks as you continue on your photography journey.
I hope some of these tactics help you navigate the choppy photography waters. Remember there is nothing like a free lunch! Success in any shape or form takes time and hard work – lots of it. Roll up your sleeves, work your hardest, and you will get there. I look forward to hearing your successes and cheering you on.