Recently when looking through a photography forum, I came across the following post:
I’m in school for photography and it’s been my passion for awhile now, but I’ve been feeling a bit discouraged lately when I look at professionals’ work. If you’ve ever been in this position, how long did it take you to not feel this way anymore and is it just a phase that I might be going through? What are the things I can do to help me not feel this way?
Well, honestly, I have this experience all the time, in spite of photographing for most of my life. I look at what I shot years ago, and can’t believe a photo editor actually picked it out of all the submissions they received and actually published it. I look at the work of photographers that I admire, and think I am never going to be able to do that. The entire process can leave one feeling pretty discouraged, whether you are still in school, or a seasoned pro.
I think as photographers who are first starting out, everything is new and exciting. We see the possibility for an image in everything, but the longer we photograph, the more we fall in to patterns that let boredom, repetitiveness, and worst, cynicism creep in. We start to look at a scene and think to ourselves, “I already have an image like that,” or “That’s never going to sell.” While waiting only for the perfect synergy of light, subject, and weather to produce the next masterpiece, we can forget to just have fun with the camera. However, it does not have to be this way.
The cure for the photo blues isn’t that complicated, and it doesn’t involve booking a flight to some far off destination in order to get a new perspective. The solution is reached by changing our perspectives from within. For example, one autumn I was driving home in a rainstorm from Aspen, Colorado. The trees were at the peak of their color change, but I was convinced that I couldn’t get the type of landscape image I had wanted in my mind. Defeated, I began to drive home.
Something, however, compelled me to stop and try to make an image. The result was the image on the left. A top seller that would not have be possible if I stuck with my first idea that I couldn’t make a decent image in the rain.
Falling into the trap of “knowing” what will and what will not make a good image is only one of the ways photographers get discouraged. Another big one is deciding that there is nothing interesting to photograph. I live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, and when you wake up to a gorgeous Colorado sunrise every morning, it can start to feel mundane. Again, the problem here is not lack of a subject, it is lack of motivation on my part to see the subject differently. And, again, the solution is to change one’s own perspective on the matter. For me, the key is finding a way to see things differently.
One of the techniques I use is to imagine I have a magazine assignment to photograph the area around my home. What would people who don’t wake up to this vista every day want to see? I start to realize that what may seem mundane to me can seem extraordinary to somebody else. By forcing myself to look at things with fresh eyes, I end up creating images that surpass anything I imagined.
While these are a couple of ideas that work for me, they may not work for you. The key when you are feeling discouraged is to find a way to change the way you are thinking about photography. Do not be afraid to experiment, create an assignment for yourself, take a workshop, join a photography club, or try entering a photo contest. Then, let me know what works for you.