No one is more critical of my work than me and I know a lot of photographers share the same sentiment. I took some time this week to reflect on this ongoing frustration and negativity, and really think about what’s behind it and why we do this to ourselves.
Us photographers have no doubt got to be the most fickle bunch out there. We go from high to low faster than a yoyo. I can’t even count how many times I’ve shoot an editorial, been filled with sheer excitement about it, and a few days later look back at it and think about all the things I should have done differently. So what drives this sort of thinking and is it detrimental or beneficial in the end?
We’re all Confused
Let’s face it, there’s no other professional out there that has more competition shoved in their face than photographers. All day, every day we are flooded with images that leave us feeling bitter, jealous and worse about ourselves. We wonder why our images don’t look the same and try to dissect the formula behind them. No matter how happy we are with our most recent creation, we always seem to find something better out there. The question we have to ask ourselves is, “is it better or just different and fresh”? If you’re like me and you retouch your own photos, you’ve likely spent hours staring at your images which no doubt contributes to the image feeling stale and unoriginal. When this happens, think back to when you first looked at the image and chose it as a select, did you feel that sense of excitement towards it? The answer in most cases is "yes", so the problem isn’t one of quality but rather emotion and reaction. Good images move us, but even the best image viewed for hours is likely to grow tiresome. Whenever you start to get down on your images by comparing to others, remember that there are others out there comparing their work to yours and having the same reactions. Inspiration from others is good but striving for sameness is a endless journey and one of perpetual dissatisfaction. We can’t be all things; we can only be ourselves and produce the work that our eyes see. This leads me to my next point.
Our Vision Changes
The biggest cause for our constant dissatisfaction is that of changing vision. A good photographer not only develops their technical abilities but also their vision. While technical skills are learned, vision develops. Vision isn’t a checklist of tools or techniques and can’t be defined. While the ultimate goal in the development of vision is style, that style still gets refined and changed throughout our lives. We’re influenced by our experiences and the way we absorb the things around us. A changing vision therefore indicates that we’re experiencing new things and evolving; both good things. Next time you look back at your work and you cringe in distaste, just smile and know that what you created isn’t wrong, it’s simply created with a different set of eyes. It’s a representation of your vision at that time and the fact that that vision has changed is a cause for celebration.
Imagine a situation where you look back at all your past work and love everything you see and you look at the work of others and always see yours as superior. In this seemingly ideal situation you’ve mastered your craft, perfected your style and stopped developing a new view on things. Is this a good place to be? I hardly think so. As frustrating as these feelings may be, they push us forward and give us a reason to keep shooting. They get us out of bed in the morning and make us demand more of ourselves. So next time you look at your image and begin nitpicking at it, give yourself a pat on the back and smile.