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Photographers and the Danger of Comparison

When talking with photographers about the photography industry, our conversation often turns to social media and the inevitable feeling of how comparison to others affects our work. Comparison is a problem in the industry. Here are a few ways to combat it.

The act of comparing ourselves to others is instinctual. Comparison helps us to self-evaluate and understand what we need to change about ourselves. However, when we depend on comparison as a means of how to value our self-worth and the worth of our photography work, that’s when we’re in danger. Author and psychologist Mitch Prinstein said, "When we're reliant on others for our sense of self, only feeling good if we get positive feedback or markers of status, we're at risk for depression." 

Not only does constant negative comparison affect our self-worth, but it also causes us to be ambivalent toward our photography skills. One moment we feel confident with our photography, then we take a look at social media and feel our skills are inferior to others. 

This is because social media often gives a skewed view of life. People curate what they post, so it is the best of the best of their moments and photography, and as a result, we end up comparing ourselves and our work to the limited perception we have of others. We don’t often see the failures of others on social media, while still being aware of our failures. 

Luckily, there are a few ways to combat comparison. Knowing that constant comparison can adversely affect our mental health, it’s essential to practice methods of improving how we view ourselves and the value of our photography skills.

Instead of Checking Social Media, Try Setting Aside Time for Self-Reflection

Apps like Moment help us to monitor the amount of time we spend on social media, and on our phone in general. An excellent exercise to practice when we find ourselves comparing our photo work to other photographers is to check how much time we’ve spent on social media, and in turn, learn to put our phones down. A great way to practice self-discipline is to train ourselves to take time each day to self-reflect on our past accomplishments and areas of improvement. This way we are comparing ourselves to our past selves and photography, instead of the unrealistic comparison of other’s curated photography.

Comparing yourself to other photographers can not only steal your self-worth, but it can also stifle your creativity. Image by Nathan Cowley via Pexels, used under Creative Commons.

When Checking Social Media, Seek Connection With Others Instead of Comparison

If you’re running a professional photography business, it’s inevitable that you’ll find yourself on social media on a daily basis. When you are browsing social media, make it a point to seek connection with others. When we purposely decide to interact with other photographers on social media, we force ourselves to invest in other people, taking the focus off of ourselves and our shortcomings, and instead we are able to celebrate the accomplishments of others.

Compare Up, But Positively

When we compare ourselves to others whom we perceive as being more successful than us, it can be a discouraging experience. Instead of saying to yourself, “That person has accomplished more than me,” try finding what you have in common with someone whom you feel is ahead of you in the photography game. Comparing yourself to photographers whom you think are more successful than you can be a positive experience, so long as you’re looking for similarities instead of differences. 

Comparison is something all photographers deal with. In a creative industry like photography, it’s hard not to look at other’s work and wonder how to improve. Remember that your mental health is important and that comparison doesn’t always have to be negative. If you’re feeling discouraged by social media, try the above exercises and remember that social media only shows a portion of the truth. We’re all in the same boat, learning and growing as photographers. You and your work have value and matter. Don’t forget that. 

Lead Image by via Pexels, used under Creative Commons.

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Kyle Medina's picture

"Comparison Is the Thief of Joy"

Danette Chappell's picture

Absolutely. Great quote!

Joshua Milligan's picture

Man, I cannot even begin to say how much I agree with this article. It's so easy to fall into the comparison trap and doing so can make you feel like you are not good, talented or successful. That's not a road you need to go down.

Robert Nurse's picture

My problem really lies with not shooting enough. I know this going in. So, when I see jaw-dropping images, I know work like that (and better) is in reach. But, I have to get out more. So, I just enjoy the SM images with no guilt/pressure.

S M's picture

I found myself comparing my work to others quite a bit in the real estate/architectural world. It was dragging me down for a while, but I took your "Compare Up, But Positively" reflection one step further. Now when I look to others in my field I reach out to them through their personal websites and comment on photos they have, ask them how they achieved such a look and even go so far as to ask if I can join them on a shoot. I explain it's not as a tactic to steal their business, because it is not. But more so I can learn from peers in my industry whom I see doing so well, all the while building up my understanding of the craft and achieving my goals. The biggest hurdle is the business side, and slowly I am learning the only way to be seen is to be present.

Timothy Gasper's picture

I understand and agree. Don't worry though. If you're a professional, then you know that the most important tool you have is in your head and heart. The camera is second nature to you.

S M's picture

Thank you for that, Timothy!

Timothy Gasper's picture

Very good write-up and I agree whole-heartedly. "Competition breeds contention". Can't remember who made this quote. As a professional I never compare myself to anyone else. Instead, I admire and stand in awe at the works of so many photographers out there. When I see such beautiful work I only wish that I could go to some of the locations to perhaps capture its beauty as well. I've been to many countries, but, as we all know, there so many more out there which capture our interest. Thank for the nice write.