I often remind myself of a quote I heard many years ago during a CreativeLIVE workshop I participated in...I believe it was from the wonderful Jules Bianchi! She said "the only photographer you should compare yourself to is the one you used to be." At the time, I was still in a very exploratory phase of my career, really digging deep to figure out what I was passionate about shooting. It was hard for me to hear that.
I remember moments of pure anguish when I'd look at what other photographers were doing and the work they were producing and I would constantly grapple with self-doubt. The little voice inside my head would tell me I wasn't good enough. It would tell me things like "You'll never become a better artist. You're not a real photographer." I remember an email conversation I had with my friend and fellow photographer, Shelby Brakken, whose work was so good out of the gate that I said to her "I don't know how you do it. You're just so good." She told me that "we're all on our own path". Again, hard to hear. But so very true.
There is a huge difference between allowing the "mean girl or boy" inside of you dictate who you are as an artist and the constructive critic who takes time to try to develop an objective opinion on work. The skill of being able to look at your own work and not tear it down but simply see flaws in composition, light, color, cropping, etc. takes a lot of work. Here are some tips to help you take emotion out of it.
1. Don't rush home from sessions and immediately upload your images.
It took me years to realize that I should allow myself some time to recover from a session. I would come home, exhausted physically (I am a very active photographer...I move a lot!) and emotionally from engaging for 2 hours straight. And lest we forget, creatively exhausted, too! It takes a lot of work and brainpower to continually be directing, posing and molding your clients to create captivating images. If, the moment you arrive home, go straight for that card reader, you are not taking necessary time to rest up before you begin the next phase of work. Not to mention the fact that the whole point of photography is to capture time so clients can look back on those moments fondly. Same goes for looking at your own work! Allow some time to pass so that special moments are more apparent to you when you begin the culling process. Factor this time into the final delivery commitment you have made to your clients.
2. Zoom out to see the bigger picture.
What I mean by this is don't go through every single individual image one-by-one. If you're using Lightroom, which most of us are, take the time to learn about viewing your images in batches. Looking at your images in groups will allow you to identify duplicates and allows you to see the ones that stand out from the group. It also cuts out noise for your clients if you don't overwhelm them with 57 pictures of the same pose. Think quality. Not quantity. Lightroom is a powerful tool. Not only for post-production but also for organization of images. My workflow has evolved over the years and my culling and stacking process now looks very similar to a game of Blackjack. The features I use most that you should take time to learn are image stacking, star rating, and color coding. When I do my initial culling, I always make sure I'm viewing my images in the Library Grid in Survey View. Once you've narrowed it down to 2-3 of each pose, you can start looking up close to determine best sharpness and expression.
3. If it makes you feel crappy, move on.
There are still, to this day, photographers I cannot follow because it makes me feel horrible about my own work. Don't waste valuable emotional energy that you could be using creatively to destroy your confidence. It's pretty simple. If it doesn't make you feel good to look at it, don't look at it. The same goes when you're approaching projects. Now more than ever, photography is becoming a hot commodity. If you're asked to do a project that might not be a good fit for you, listen to your gut and walk away.
4. When all else fails, do what you love to do.
At the end of the day, we all have a story about how we ended up with cameras in our hands. Don't let hangups stop you from creating. Use them to fuel creation and improvement in your craft. If that isn't enough, never hesitate to seek out support! CreativeLIVE is one of the most invaluable resources available to photographers. Take advantage of all they have to offer!
Need more Lightroom help or interested in a portfolio critique? I offer over-the-phone training sessions on a variety of different subjects! Email me for more information.