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“Man, I suck.”
There. I said it. I’ve said something that’s entered my mind hundreds or even thousands of times since I first picked up a camera. “I suck. I’m not as good as <insert other photographer>. I’ll never be as popular as <another photographer>. I bet <yet another photographer> is way happier than I am because he/she has made it.”
As photographers in the digital age, we’re able to jump online and check out potentially thousands of other photographers in just a few clicks. Sites like Flickr, 500px and G+ offer a wealth of photographic inspiration, not to mention amazing chances to connect to and share with fellow shutterbugs. But with that comes the fact that we’re constantly inundated with really good photos. And then the questions start to creep in; “Am I as good as that person? Should I try shooting more of this person’s style of photography? Does that person make as many mistakes and bad images as I seem to?”
These questions and many more like them have pestered me many times over the last 3 years. At times they’ve driven me mad. But through those moments of self-doubt, I’ve had the chance to ask myself some of the hard questions, like “Where do I want to take my photography? What do I want for my future?” More importantly: “Who am I as a photographer? And who am I as a person?“
It’s something I’ve posted about a few times over the last few months, most notably on a photo I did titled “Self-Immolation”. I posted it on a few different social media sites and over the next few days had a few different chats on those sites, as well as some twitter/email conversations. What I learned was everybody goes through self-doubt and often compares themselves to others. Even big-name photographers, celebrities, people who appear to have “made it”. They all compare themselves to others, and they all have moments where they wonder if they’re good enough. The well-known and much-loved Brooke Shaden wrote a blog post a few weeks ago about exactly this.
As my friend Robin Spalding says, when we look at other photographers on the internet, all we’re seeing is their “highlight reel” – the very best stuff they’ve put on the internet after curating and deleting all the rest. So it’s not valid to compare ourselves to them because while we’re acutely aware of all of our shortcomings and mistakes, we don’t have that same insight about other photographers.
If you looked at my own portfolio, you’d see a very-carefully curated selection of my photos. I put a lot of time and thought into selecting only (what I think is) my best stuff. And in those moments where I compare myself to others, I have to remind myself that they’ve done the same with their own portfolios.
But let’s have some fun. Here’s some of my photos which have never seen the light of day, and which I’d never in a million years be comfortable putting up on the internet. Oh wait…
2011, when I first started photography:
2012 wasn’t much better:
2013 was full of bad photos:
And this year has had its fair share of crud too:
And those are only the bad photos I’m choosing to show you – there’s far worse on my hard drive! If you browse my online portfolio, you won’t see any of these images in there – yet I created them and they exist. Every photographer has a huge number of bad photos they’d never in a million years put up on the net.
Everybody has their own story, their own journey. And we don’t know their journey – we can’t possibly know. Even if they took the time to tell us every little minutia of their life story, it still wouldn’t be the same thing as experiencing it. We don’t know how they got to where they are now. We don’t know the problems they ran into, the self-doubt they experienced, the worry and the fear they went through. We don’t know how many times they sat there comparing THEMSELVES to other people, just as we’re comparing ourselves to them. It’s the human condition that we compare ourselves to others and worry that we’ll never be good enough.
Everybody goes through self-doubt. The only thing that sets successful people apart is they never gave up; they weren’t afraid to push through those moments of self-doubt and fear and carve out their own story, their own journey.
Don’t ever stop shooting.
PS: While writing this article, I compared myself to other photographers 3 times. Luckily, I’m learning to catch myself and stop the behaviour as soon as I realise I’m doing it!