Why Comparing Yourself Will Suck the Joy out of Photography
Once upon a time, I bought a DSLR. This was my leap from a 2mp Kodak point & shoot fully auto digital, to the world of SLR.
I sat at the dining room table with my dad, surrounded by my new gear, itching to drive it. He switched the camera to M mode, and drew the exposure triangle on a serviette. By some freak chance that will forever remain a mystery, one of the most unscientific brains of our time understood the concept instantly, and I went out and started shooting in manual from day one (thanks Dad!).
Every photo I took over the next few months was pure happy. I don’t mean they were amazing… I was still learning so the galleries weren’t clamoring to show my work. I simply mean when the land of photography rolled around at the top of my Faraway Tree, I knew I’d come home. Every photo I took reinforced my hunger for it.
Every day for months I’d wake up, shake off the fog of sleep, and it would feel like Christmas when I remembered the fact of my camera. I’m not taking creative licence here… I loved it THAT much.
And Then Something Happened
I joined Flickr.
Through the online world I found likeminded peeps.
Then I started comparing my work to that of other photographers.
Don’t get me wrong… immersing myself in the photography world was the way I learned. I could ask questions, learn new tips and tricks, and share my own knowledge at the same time.
Creatively, it feeds the soul to be surrounded by those like minded peeps. Not to mention the fact that without them I’d be boring the pants off my non-photographer friends talking about f-stops and fast lenses and the latest camera-bag-for-laydeez.
However, comparing my work was not quite so helpful. I was not comparing apples with apples.
The Hidden Epidemic
Everybody does this. I don’t know a single photographer who doesn’t. In fact I don’t know a single artist of any genre who doesn’t do this! It’s universal and it’s an epi-freaking-demic.
What’s more, I don’t know a single photographer for whom it doesn’t get them down into funky town from time to time…
…and not the good funky town where we all disco. BAD funky town. Cameras get put away in a drawer and never see the light of day in this town, and if you listen you can hear a collective artist’s mantra “I’m a fraud! I suck!” whispering through the trees.
What I didn’t appreciate back then was that I might have been looking at the work of someone who had been shooting for ten years. And that photographer was probably taking some pretty crappy shots a decade ago. But I didn’t see those shots, I only saw the results of all that experience and learning.
Or maybe I was comparing myself to someone who had only one year’s experience to my few months, but my point is, they were further along in their learning path than I was. Apples and oranges, see?
The Shortcut to Awesome!
Haha, gotcha! There is none.
I wanted to learn it all in a heartbeat. But that process involves light bulb moments that come along as the result of making mistakes, happy accidents, reading, talking, and practicing. Lots and lots of all of that. Unfortunately there are not enough hours in just one day for all the required light bulb moments!
Find Your Own Magic
Another drawback about trying to emulate the work of photographers I admired was missing the opportunity to let my own natural style emerge organically. There’s nothing wrong with inspiration… but it’s important to shoot with instinct too and see the potential magic I could create all on my own.
With that in mind, I tried to learn to see what I was seeing, if that makes sense, and shoot it. What does that mean? Look through the frame and when you love something instinctually, don’t question if it’s “right”, just shoot it, exactly as you see it. There’s every reason to believe you possess equally as much creative flair as all the photographers whose work you’re admiring.
Lastly, it’s easy to assume when you’re looking at another photographer’s body of work that they take a stunning, award winning shot, every time. Every frame is art. Ahem… really?
When I create my portfolios on my website, or upload photos to Facebook or Instagram, I don’t upload my mistakes or my ho hum shots… they’re in the bin!
I’m trolling through thousands of photos, looking for the best of the best. Of course every shot would be great… I handpicked them!
Where Did I Come From?
And… just to prove it, I’ll now share some of my early work. Be kind, at least give me points for bravery!
Once you’ve finished laughing, please refer back to my images above and help me maintain my dignity!
I… have no words.
Good eye contact ensures an engaging portrait. Whoops.
That day I discovered the saturation slider.
Always ensuring a clutter free background. Except this time. Also: ON camera flash.
I intended to focus on the door frame. No really.
Get in close. Closer. Cloooseer.
Light is everything. Except here where it sucked big time and I didn’t see it.
Have you experienced the comparison trap and found it disheartening? Let us know in the comments below and how did you break out of it?
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