Self-Doubt

January 11, 2024  •  Leave a Comment

Self-doubt: the photographer's companion.

I don't know anyone who, if they're being honest, doesn't struggle with it from time to time. Self-doubt can prompt you to begin playing the "second-guessing game." Worse, it can leave you feeling discouraged, or frustrated, or defeated.

As 2024 begins to unfold maybe this is a good time to think about managing self-doubt in the year ahead. A few suggestions:

Avoid Comparisons

Is my work good enough?

There are a lot of talented artists out there who create stunning photos. Maybe you aren't as experienced as they are, or you haven't yet established yourself. That doesn't mean your work lacks merit, or that you're inadequate. You have something to offer, too.

Try not to think of photography as a competition. Don't be intimidated by other photographers. If you like their work, let it inspire and motivate you to build on your skills and knowledge.

Ansel Adams' first photograph was published in 1921, but it took another ten years or so for him to develop his style. He created some good images early on, kept at it, and continued to improve.

Are you a better photographer now than you were five or ten years ago? I'll bet the answer is yes. Your earlier body of work no doubt included some good images, but over time you've upped your game. That should give you confidence.

Debbie Reynolds was 18-years-old when she landed the female lead in Singin' in the Rain. A kid with no formal dance training opposite Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor: two extraordinarily talented and established stars. You either approach a situation like that thinking you've got what it takes and can hold your own, or you talk yourself out of it.

She was more than good enough. There's no reason you can't be, too. SLOW DANCINGSLOW DANCINGUnderwater grasses gently sway in the Firehole River

Upper Geyser Basin
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Social Media Isn't the End-All Be-All

The number of positive responses generated from images posted on social media - or lack thereof - isn't a measure of your worth as an artist. Don't let this tool consume you. It can destroy your self-confidence if you let it.

Art is Subjective   

Subjectivity: a beauty and a curse for the artist. You already know all about this, of course. Personal preference is why you shoot some things and not others. It's why certain scenes speak to you while others don't.

The people looking at your photographs are no different. One likes black and white while the other prefers color. He likes seascapes, she's into abstracts. Logically, then, you'll be hard-pressed to find somebody who's equally enthusiastic about everything you produce. That's the way it goes. It doesn't mean there's anything wrong with your work, or that you're shooting the wrong things. 

Rules or Suggestions?

When you first learned about composition, you probably learned any number of rules: the rule of thirds, rules about foreground elements, symmetry versus asymmetry, and so forth. 

Now you're composing a shot and you want to break one of those rules because it seems like the photo will be stronger if you arrange it differently. Maybe you want to place your subject smack dab in the center of the frame. 

Rules of composition aren't laws, they're guidelines. Make that photo however you see fit; don't second-guess yourself.

Trust Yourself 

Shoot what interests you. Develop your own style. 

Avoid the impulse to follow the crowd. What "everyone" is shooting isn't necessarily the only interesting subject matter. Often, the better photograph is hiding in plain sight - but the crowd has blinders on. 

Likewise, if you're with a group and "everyone" is shooting using the same settings, that doesn't mean you're wrong if yours are completely different. 

Whatever and wherever you're shooting, the way you choose to visually interpret what you're experiencing is unique to you. You're the conductor. Take the baton with confidence.

Get the Reps

The better you know your gear and the more you've developed your eye, the more self-assured you'll be. Shoot often!

Finally, a little bit of self-doubt can be healthy. Without it we wouldn't grow as artists. Every image that comes out of the camera isn't a winner. Some of the things we try don't work. If the photograph contains flaws we need to be able to recognize them. When confronted with a challenging shooting situation, doubting whether or not we're approaching it correctly might be just the ticket: it can push us to find a better solution. Exceptional work produced by others can inspire us to work harder and achieve more.

Not all self-doubt is bad. Just try to keep it in check.

About the Image

I made this photograph of underwater grasses in the Firehole River late last summer in Yellowstone National Park. Not a geyser and not a bison - there's nothing about the subject matter that identifies the location and certainly it depicts none of the signature sights associated with that park. It's an abstract. As a standalone image, it doesn't tell a story. Taking those factors into consideration, I can just about guarantee that if I were to post this on social media it wouldn't generate much interest. 

Still, it's near the top of the list of my favorite images from YNP last year. You either like abstracts or you don't. I happen to love them.

You say tomato, I say tomahto...

Have the courage of your convictions. If you know you've got a good composition and the subject matter speaks to you, make the picture.

 


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