One recurring theme I’ve noticed with a lot of photographers is the tendency to doubt ourselves. In photography there are many different ways to do any particular thing and it’s easy to look at how others do it – their style, their use of light, the way they engage the subject, their post processing – and to second guess ourselves out of doing anything because we perceive that we aren’t doing it ‘the right’ way. This can undermine our confidence, erode our enthusiasm and ultimately result in us giving up on photography all together.
So what do we do to counter this? I’ve identified 4 steps that have helped me to persevere over the years and continue to grow on my own photography journey.
1. KNOW ITS A JOURNEY
Gaining confidence takes time and a few successes. First of all, especially if you’re near the beginning of your photography journey then please take the pressure off of yourself. Learning any new skill takes time, perseverance and a few ups and downs. You will have failures along the way. Learning to get up when you fall this will be one of the most useful skills you will have as a photographer.
2. IDENTIFY INFLUENCES
Inspiration can come in many forms but, of course, the first thing you might look at is photography. Identify the types of photography you like, find a few photographers who’s work resonates with you and study them. Look at the work, ask why it speaks to you. Try to see if there are particular techniques they are using to give their work the look or feel that you like. And look on the Internet to see if you can find out more about these photographers – for example, do they have any YouTube videos or books. I can name David Bailey, Howard Schatz, Joe McNally, Gregory Heisler, Nigel Parry, Platon, Julian Calverley and Charlie Waite as a few influences off the top of my head but all you need to do is explore Instagram for a few minutes and you’ll find so many amazing photographers you probably haven’t heard of before.
3. GET BUSY
It’s going to sound obvious but have to go and make some pictures! It’s great to study other people’s work but at some point you need to have a go yourself. By all means be inspired but as I said in the introduction, it’s possible to lose confidence if you start to feel you can never live up to a standard. It’s ok if your photos aren’t on the level of your heroes but you’ll only get there with practice. You have to take a lot of photos and your hit rate will increase over time if you’re purposeful in your approach. Set yourself a project – it doesn’t have to be something big but it just means that when you go out with the camera you’ve got some goals and some boundaries to push agains. It’s easy to look at a great photographer’s website and think that everything they do must be amazing. I can assure you, it won’t be. They only show you the good ones and so should you!
4. DEVELOP YOURSELF AS A PERSON
“The camera looks both ways. A photograph is usually as good a description of who’s behind the lens as who or what is in front of it. The photographer as a person. Nobody can ever hide behind a camera.” – Freeman Patterson
I’ve found this to be true. Each of our photographs is, in some way, a reflection of who we are as people. Someone once asked me which was my favourite photograph of my own. There are a few that come to mind but in general I tend to prefer the most recent ones. I can also see so much room for improvement and the next time I lift the camera I’d like to move things on a little either by different framing, using a different lighting setup, a different lens, moving the subject in one way or another and so on. It’s a real source of frustration when I look at my work and find that it’s not moving on and that I’m repeating myself. I have to find the balance of being content and discontent at the same time. Happy with where I’m at because this is my journey and this is where I’ve reached at this moment. But not so content that I wish to stay in that place and continue to take the same photo again and again. I have to continue to allow new things to influence me, whether that’s photography, movies, art, music, nature, food, travel, conversations or seeing the world afresh through my the eyes of my daughter – anything. All of these influences help me to evolve as a person and, if the camera really does look both ways, then as I evolve then my photography wil evolve too. I hope, anyway!
5. KNOW ITS A JOURNEY!
I know I said 4 steps but remind yourself again that this is a journey! Always remember this. It takes time. It takes falling. It takes getting up. Again and again. I’m at least 15 years into my photography journey and I feel like I’m only just getting started. My primary 2 teacher once told I have 2 speeds: dead slow and stop. She may have had a point but there’s so much to learn, so much to try, so much to try again and I’m loving this journey because I own the fact that I’ll never ‘arrive’! Try to keep your head up and remember there is no destination. There’s no ‘there’ to get to. You just have to keep moving…
I’d love to hear what you think – questions and comments below!