Digital photography can be an intimidating hobby because once you get excited about it, you join photo-sharing sites and follow photography forums, and suddenly you’re inundated with lots of other photographer’s work, and *gulp*, a lot of it is better than yours!
It’s very easy to start to feel frustrated and that you’re not good enough, so in this article Jennifer Jacobs from iffles.com has put together a few tips on how to get inspired by other photographers instead of intimidated by them:
Concentrate on one thing to improve
It’s really easy to look through photo after photo from different people and get overwhelmed with all the things you wish you could do better – “I wish I was better at flash photography”, “I wish I could take a good shot of my baby”, “I wish I could get a good high key portrait”, etc.
If you start trying to work on all of those things at once, not only will you remain overwhelmed (and stressed! Goodness, I’m stressed just thinking about all those topics), but you won’t be able to give your full attention to any of them, so it will be hard to get really good at any of them.
For instance, after I first got my DSLR I really wanted to get a photo of me by candlelight. For the life of me, I can’t remember why I focused on this, but I must have read an article about it that made me want to try, so one night, I set up some candles and went for it. I can’t tell you how many photos I took, but I gave up.
A few days later, I tried again, and I finally took the photo that you see above. Is it perfect? No… but my complaints aren’t about the lighting – I don’t like the focus, the expression on my face and the composition could be a bit better… but the lighting? I actually achieved what I wanted. Plus, it’s a lot better than my first attempt.
Listen to others… but not too much
I don’t only get discouraged by other photos, I often get discouraged by things people say: “I would have cropped this differently”, “I don’t like the shallow depth of field”, “too much contrast!”. I think it’s really important to take in everything that everyone says, but to also take it with a grain of salt.
I think critique is important and that people often point out things that I didn’t notice in my own photos – I might be concentrating so much on getting the lighting correct that I didn’t notice the tilting horizon, or I’m struggling with how to edit a particular photo, so I go in one direction, but someone will suggest a different direction that I ultimately like better.
For instance, after an urban photowalk once, I posted some photos and asked for people’s opinions and someone pointed out one of my photos of a local theater might look better with a different crop and converted to black and white. I hadn’t considered this at all, but I tried his suggestion, and I ended up liking it:
That being said, you can’t listen to everything that everyone says. For one thing, you need to have your own style, and you won’t get that if you keep doing what other people tell you to. Also, photography is an art, not a science. Someone else might hate something you love, and that’s ok! Because it’s their opinion and unless that person hired you specifically to take a certain photo – what YOU like matters more than what they like.
On a side note, even if they did hire you, I think it’s really important to stay true to yourself – I would never want to put my name behind a photo that I don’t like, but I suppose that’s a completely different discussion.
Use others’ ideas to come up with your ideas
It often seems to me that other photographers are much more creative than I am and come with all sorts of new ideas and things to take photos of that I never would have thought of. The thing is, they’ve all been inspired by others, too!
Instead of lamenting about “why didn’t I think of that first??”, instead, take their idea, and make it your own. I’m not advocating full-on copycats, just get inspired by certain bits and pieces from other people.
For instance, I have long admired a user on flickr named dCapFoto, and I couldn’t help but be amazed by his photography, especially his use of negative space, like in this photo, and his innovative use of props like in this photo. Inspired, I decided to take those two concepts and turn them into the following photo:
Watch your own progress
It’s really easy to think about all the things you haven’t learned yet. I, for instance, still don’t have an external flash, and I haven’t been happy with many of my photos of other people, and I often get down on myself for these things. It’s easy to forget about all the things I have improved upon. And that’s why I think it’s really important to take some time now and then to look back on where you’ve come from. Remember when you first got your camera and everything was just a bit out of focus? And you never edited a single photo? Think of how much more you know now!
If you use flickr, a great tool for looking back to see how much you improved is photojojo.com’s Time Capsule. You sign up with your flickr account and twice a month, they’ll email you a selection of your photos posted on flickr a year ago.
Remember, everyone has their off days
Feeling really overwhelmed by some of the photos you see on the internet? And think that they’re all so much better than yours? Remember, no matter who is took that photograph and where you see it – that’s not the only photo they took. You’re only seeing their best of the best. No one posts their crappy out-takes!
Now, I’m not saying I’m an amazing photographer, but even I only upload a very small percentage of the photos I take. Remember how I said that candlelight photo above was better than my first attempt? Well, here’s proof that we only ever upload our best photos, check out one of my never-before-seen first attempts at the candlelight shot:
It’s OK. You can laugh.
So. How do you avoid getting intimidated? Let us know in the comments!