Am I Good Enough? 4 Ways Photographers Can Overcome Self-Doubt with Curtiss Bryant
Am I good enough to charge these prices? Will people like my images enough to book me? XYZ photographer is so much better than me, why will people want to hire me? No way will anyone pay these prices for pictures.
Does any of this sound familiar? Self-doubt is common for any artist. Every one of us has asked ourselves at some point if we are good enough to continue to do what we love. Why is that? Where does this self-doubt come from and how do we push through it?
We are always watching the competition and looking at countless images every day on social media and everywhere else our gaze takes us. We’re constantly seeing amazing images that we feel blow ours away. It is easy to get discouraged. We also see stories of failure by photographers who we feel are better than we are. Our thoughts automatically go to, “If they can’t make it, how can I? They are much better than I am.” Trust me, I have gone through the same exact struggles as everyone else. It wasn’t too long ago that I was doubting my own work. How do we push through and overcome this self-doubt?
Get Off Social Media
As difficult as this seems, maybe it’s time to take a break from social media. Nothing fuels self-doubt more than viewing images from photographers we look up to. It is easy to browse a photography group on social media and spend hours looking at the amazing images photographers are putting out. If you aren’t confident in your own images, how will looking at other photographers’ images help you become more confident in what you produce? It won’t. It will just show you the flaws you feel your work has compared to that of other photographers.
I have been there. Taking a break from social media and photography groups helped me focus on my own work. That isn’t to say that we just ignore our Facebook or Instagram pages. We still need to do our regular posts for our clients, our advertising and normal day-to-day business on social media, but we don’t need to go to the groups or spend time browsing the images. Focus on your business and how you can make it better. Comparing your work to the work of other photographers does little to help you. The only person you should be comparing yourself to is the photographer you were in the past. Are you better today than you were a year ago? That is who we should be comparing ourselves to, not a photographer 1,000 miles away. Social media can be a breeding ground for self-doubt. Don’t allow it to consume your mind.
Shoot for You
We all got into this industry because we love photography. Don’t lose that love. Self-doubt can destroy it. It’s no longer fun. If photography is something you are dreading, then your work will suffer. You need to keep it fun. You need to keep that passion.
When I go through a lull in photography, I find a way to make it fun. I create a shoot for myself. Client work is obviously important, but many times we get burnt out, or we get discouraged because we aren’t creating images we love. So get out there and create images you love. Ask a friend, family member or past client to model for you. You may not even need a model to photograph. Maybe it’s a cityscape, landscape, architecture, etc. Just shoot for yourself and no one else.
This is also a great time to experiment with new things. Is there a lighting setup you have always wanted to try? Is there a lens you have wanted to play with, but weren’t sure it was for you? Maybe it’s light painting. Maybe it’s long exposures. Maybe it’s ultrawide angles. This is a great time to be creative. You don’t want to do these things for paying clients, but when you are shooting for yourself, you can just have fun and experiment.
Focus On Making Your Business Better
Self-doubt can destroy a business. If you are not confident in your work, how can you expect your clients to be confident enough to spend their hard-earned money on your work? Here is the reality that most of us tend to forget. While we see the big-name photographers and the work they create, our clients have no idea who those people are. They will never see their images and see how much “better” they are than us. They will never see any of that. They will only see what photographers in our area put out. Even then, many areas have thousands of photographers, so the chances of someone seeing work from every single one is very small.
Keep in mind that these people have come to you. They have asked you for information about your services. They obviously like what they see, or they wouldn’t have contacted you in the first place. They are interested in you being their photographer. They are interested in the work that you create and want to know how they can get you to create for them. That is the most important thing to remember. They want you, or, at the very least, they want to hear what you offer. It is important to be confident. If you are not confident, then it will show in your presentation to the potential client. There is no reason to not be confident—they came to you because they like what you produce.
Contrary to popular opinion, this industry is driven by business skills rather than photography skills. Yes, it is certainly important to know how to shoot, but you don’t need to be the best photographer in the world to run a successful business. I always tell photographers just getting into the industry that if they want to run a successful business, they need to focus more on the business than the shooting.
You can be the best photographer in the world, but if you cannot run a business, then you will fail. You can be an average photographer and make six figures in this industry if you know how to build and run a business. Yes, we should strive to become better at our craft, but we need to focus on the business side of things. Our images will not sell themselves.
When we learn to separate the perceived value of our work from the perceived value of other photographers’ work, then we can focus on the part that actually makes us money: the business side. As mentioned above, our clients do not know who the photographers are that we look up to and compare ourselves to. We know them because we are in the industry. We need to focus on building a business that sells our images and makes us successful. By focusing on the business side, we separate our emotions from our work. Now we are focused on running a business and making money, not on where we lack in our images. Successful photographers focus on their business first and images second.
Now, you might be thinking, “I am already self-doubting my skills as a photographer. Why would I enter a competition just to see how much I suck compared to others?” You are missing a key component. Competitions aren’t about comparing your images to those of other photographers. Yes, there are “winners” (merits) and “losers” (no merit), but that shouldn’t be the goal of entering an image competition.
I enter competitions to see what I can do better. I’m often blind to my own images. I know they are not perfect, but I can’t quite put a finger on it. It takes someone else to point it out to me. Once that happens, guess what? I am more aware of that issue in the future. Maybe it’s hand placement, maybe it’s lighting, maybe it’s the overall pose—the judges always find something that would make for a better image.
These professional critiques make us better photographers. It isn’t about how your images compare to others, it’s about how you can improve to make them better. Much of our self-doubt comes from the unknown. It’s often hard to put your finger on why one image is better than another. Image competitions point that out to you. It should be looked at as a learning opportunity. We learn by having flaws pointed out, not by someone telling us how good an image is.
View image competition as a learning tool. Don’t take it personally. It is meant to help you become better, not destroy you. Don’t let a critique get you down. Implement what you’ve learned. Learn to correct the things the judges pointed out. You’ll become a better photographer and your confidence will grow as a result.