All creative people suffer peaks and troughs with their confidence. It’s just part of the deal. How, then, do you pull yourself out of a dip in confidence and into a place of awesome, creative inspiration?
I have been a photographer for twenty-odd years and I still have times when I wonder, “Will I ever take another good photograph?” Our creativity can be a very delicate, vulnerable energy – so it’s good to tend to it and treat it kindly.
In this article, I will give you some simple ideas that can help boost your confidence when you are struggling with being creative in your photography.
1. Stop focusing on what you can’t do
While it is super important to know where you have weakness so that you can improve, don’t focus on it.
Our minds can quickly fall into soul-crushing, creativity-crushing tirades about all that we can’t and don’t do. So we have to walk the careful line of improving ourselves, without destroying our confidence in the process. If you are super self-critical (as I am) then I urge you to stop, at least for a little while because intense self-criticism won’t help you develop.
Now start looking at your photos and think of all of the things you do well, all the things people might have said they like about them, things you like about them. Build from there.
When you are feeling good about your creativity, you’ll be so much more open when you go out and shoot. You’ll be less focused on yourself and a lot more focused on the world. That’s the right way to be, not thinking about you, but engaged and connected with the world around you. That’s when you’ll discover awesome shots.
2. We all have a story to share
I know so many people who think they don’t have anything new or interesting to add to the world because it’s already been said and done. That is just plain wrong. Every single person has a unique story, a unique way of looking at things – regardless of how it is expressed – through writing, photography, science, music etc.
If you aren’t getting good photos, then my first question for you would always be, are you photographing subjects that you are deeply in awe of? Are you standing in front of your subject and thinking WOW?
Or are you just shooting whatever catches your eye, with a mood of vague interest?
“If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff.” – Jim Richardson
What interests you may not interest me. Within the groups of photographers I teach, they each have totally different interests – and that is awesome!
The more you hone in what makes your inspiration explode, the more your ideas, your stories, your photos will be unique and interesting to others.
What I encourage is to pick one subject that you are passionate about and really work on developing that until you start getting photos you really love. It could be abstract shapes in black and white, environmental portraits, sunrises, plants, etc.
When you pick something and go deep you become really familiar with your subject. By working different ways of shooting that subject, you are definitely in with an opportunity to develop something unique.
Dig deep into whatever makes you feel excited to jump out the bed and go photograph. Get really familiar with it, work on different angles, formats, processing techniques, etc.
I know you might say, “But I have 10 different subjects I love to photograph.” I get it! The world is an exciting place. But if you want to seriously improve your photography start with one subject. You can always move on later.
Most famous photographers are known for photographing one or two subjects right? They know what they are doing! Pick something and become totally awesome at capturing it.
3. Kill perfectionism
One of the main ways to deflate your confidence is to get wrapped up in trying to be perfect; trying to have the perfect kit, waiting for the perfect subject, trying to be perfect in your execution. You may think that perfectionism is striving for the best of yourself but in fact:
“Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough – that we should try again.” – Julia Cameron
When you are locked into the perfectionist mindset you stop doing and start analyzing too much. You wait for perfect conditions rather than just get on with what you have in front of you.
Getting started, getting out there, trying your best but not expecting perfectionism is the best way to move your energy and start taking better photos.
4. Photography is a journey
My photography 10 years ago was quite different to now. Although my subjects are similar, the complexity of my images has deepened intensely as I have gotten older, experienced more, and have obviously taken thousands of more images.
We are all on a journey with our creativity, we are developing at different rates and we all doing it in different ways. The most important thing for me is to enjoy where I am at right now, and enjoy what I am photographing – otherwise what is the point?
Trying to race through into getting better defeats the objective for me of being creative. Taking photos is my time away from all the rushing and deadlines and emails. It’s my time to be totally present in the world and to enjoy being creative.
Don’t rush the process, enjoy it!
5. Create for the sake of creating
Create just for the sheer pleasure of doing it. It’s not a means to an end, it’s a beautiful end in itself. Create for no-one, create only for yourself! That’s when you start to hit really magical work – when it’s all about your own pleasure.
Look at Van Gogh. He sold one painting in his lifetime, but thankfully he never stopped painting.
6. Keep going
“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” – Pablo Picasso
There are so many times I’ve felt like I would never get any good shots but I have gone out regardless, often because I was compelled to. There was one very dreary winter morning in London when I had to go to get final shots for one of my books. I trudged over to East London in the depths of night, only to be greeted by a flat gray sky when the sun finally rose.
I was convinced that the photos I got that morning were dreadful, and came back to my office, disheartened. But I showed them to my editor and she said there were a couple she liked a lot. In fact, after the book was published I’ve had several people point out shots from that morning as their favorites.
So you seem it doesn’t always matter what you believe is going on, go out and take photos regardless. Something could lift your mood; a great subject appearing, seeing some beautiful light, etc. Or you could take a collection of photos, believe they aren’t that great but find, on reflection, that they are pretty good after all.
Or nothing could work. But:
“Chance is the one thing you can’t buy. You have to pay for it and you have to pay for it with your life, spending a lot of time, you pay for it with time, not the wasting of time but the spending of time.” – Robert Doisneau
Keep going, you never know what will appear around the next corner.
7. Do it now – often, later becomes never
It’s so easy to get lost in our minds and our ways of not believing in ourselves. I think the root of procrastination is usually a lack of belief in our skills, a lack of belief in ourselves.
Let’s look at it this way – this is your one life, it’s your one and only experience of this very day. Don’t waste it on ideas of your lack and inability. You can do extraordinary things – we all can. We are creators, makers, forging new ideas out of nothing all of the time.
Push through the discomfort, ignore that stupid voice in your head that says in your mind that you can’t do this, and go out and create something that is uniquely yours.
“You’re never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” – CS Lewis
Most importantly – have fun!
I hope these ideas help you get a little more voom into your thinking about photography. I would love to hear what you think – please let me know by commenting below.
“Trust that still, small voice that says, ‘This might work and I’ll try it.’ ” – Diane Mariechild