This subject was on my mind today, so I thought I would run a re-post of an article I posted for Beyond Megapixels back in December. This can be applied to any circumstance in which you find yourself feeling “less than”. I hope you find it to be comforting, or even inspiring.
In my recent article “Six Tips for Finding a Photography Mentor,” reader Tropicartist56 posted the following comment:
My experience has been that having a Mentor without being able to afford “high end” equipment is frustrating… and also being able to tweak your pics in Photoshop. There are no “natural” photos anymore… if it’s not put thru photoshop, HDR’d or Infrared’d it’s NOT worthy or valuable. The competition out there is FIERCE, Photography has become a “dog eat dog” world.
I completely understand Tropicartist’s sentiment. It CAN seem like the overwhelming complexities rampant in the world of photography today are all but shutting out the “little guys” – those of us who may not be savvy with the software, or who don’t posses the latest and greatest (and most expensive!) equipment.
We are lead by our hearts and our enthusiasm in the creation of photographs, we see with our own unique eyes, and we strive for our own definition of perfection. I, personally, want to give up on photography, oh, about once a week – usually after seeing such a stunning photograph that I just know I’ll never measure up to some of the Gods of Photography. I get disheartened, and rather than appreciate the photograph for what it is, I dwell on how poorly my own photography must look in comparison.
I could say, of course, that the way to beat that feeling is to simply not compare ourselves to these industry giants (they are, after all, “giants” for a reason), but that’s a hopeless expectation. Of COURSE we’re going to compare ourselves to them, simply because we appreciate their skills and artistry, and wish to achieve that level of expertise ourselves. The trick of it is to use that comparison as inspiration, as motivation, rather than as a source of discouragement.
Then, too, there is the apparent expectation that if the photo isn’t sharpened to within an inch of its life, post-processed in x-version of Photoshop or Lightroom, taken with a $3,000 dollar camera, and turned into a museum-quality canvas-wrapped piece (or displayed on a flashy website), the photo will get passed over as amateurish, or worse, uninteresting. To that I respond with, hang in there. Not that those types of photographs aren’t quality work and welcome in their own right, but I truly and honestly believe that simplicity is making a comeback. I know for a fact that a small but growing segment of the photography population is turning back to its roots, shooting with their hard-won skills rather than relying on post-processing techniques to “fix” things; shooting for SOOC (straight out of the camera) and spending more time OUT THERE DOING, rather than sitting in front of a computer editing. They’re heading back to film, or making due with “old school” equipment, and they’re turning out truly extraordinary work.
Yes, the world of professional photography today is extremely “dog eat dog”. It’s highly competitive, and has always been so. To that point, it may also seem that non-professional photographers – hobbyists, enthusiasts, amateurs, folks that don’t get paid for their work – bring an element of competition, as well. The insurgence of photographers of every skill level, brought on by those easy-to-use high-end cameras and fancy post-processing software programs, turned a whole bunch of folks into believers. It has always been a fact that anyone can learn how to take pictures well – in this age of instant gratification we can see the result of not only our work, but the work of hundreds and thousands and millions of other people striving for their own brand of perfection. Some folks have a natural talent, and some folks have to work harder to achieve similar results. The photographers that continue to learn, continue to grow, and figure out now NOT to rely on all the accoutrements, are the ones to follow.
If you’re feeling insignificant (and we all do, sometimes), ask yourself this question: “To whom do you wish to be significant?” To photography peers, to friends and family? To the prolific nameless, faceless judges on the Internet? How about being significant to yourself? Do it because YOU love it, and reward YOURSELF with the results. Amass a body of work that you are truly proud of, regardless of who knows about it, who has seen it, or who “likes” or “dislikes” it.
So, where do you fit in with all of this? What is your position in the world of photography? Anywhere you want it to be! I’m a big believer that your successes and failures are a direct result of your own attitude. Don’t let the intimidation factor shadow the way you express yourself in your photography. Every photographer EVERYWHERE started out with the exact same level of knowledge and the same level of skill – NONE. It’s kind of the equivalent of a nervous speaker picturing his or her audience in their underwear, isn’t it? Don’t compare your skills as “better” or “worse” than anyone else’s – just see things in degrees of experience, opportunity, and even luck. In that way you can begin to put things into perspective, and leave your mind open to the possibilities available to you.
Happy shooting, and Happy New Year!
Photo credits (all): Tiffany Joyce, who realizes that they have nothing to do with the subject matter – they were just chosen because they make her happy.