Previously I wrote some tips for doing better photos with your phone and it brought up a few really interesting discussions. One of those was about getting inspired again and not worrying about what others think or being judged. So I want to expand on that subject a bit in this article.
Photograph for yourself first
Regardless of whether you do photography as an amateur, are a beginner or even a pro – always remember to photograph for yourself first.
When I was a working portrait and wedding photographer I got burned out and almost quit doing photography altogether. It was then I realized that I needed to get back to the reason I was doing it in the first place – because I enjoy it!
It took me almost 30 years to come to a place where I finally am comfortable taking a photo “just because I want to”. If I never do anything with that image, and it sits on my computer or memory card for months or years with nobody ever seeing it, no prints are made of it, it's not shared on social media and even I don't look at it ever again – I'm totally fine with that!
But it wasn't always this way.
Can you relate to this?
You go on a trip or vacation and you come home with hundreds or maybe even thousands of images. You download them and diligently back them up (you DO have a good backup system right?). Then they sit there for weeks or months because you simply can't seem to find the time to sort through them and process the best ones.
Then perhaps your friends ask to see some images from your tip and you start to beat yourself up for not getting to it yet. Maybe you go away again and take another hefty set of images, the cycle continues and the job gets even bigger and weightier.
I was certainly stuck in this loop and started feeling bad about myself for not getting to all those images. I kept feeling like I HAD to do something with them. I took the images, after all, so I have to process and share them to get validation, right?
Take photos just because
Think about this for a moment. When you are out with your camera, what is it that compels you to take a photo of something? You likely see a moment, some beautiful light, or an interesting subject. Something catches your attention and you take the shot.
So why then, as photographers, do we feel such a big need to DO something with that image? It's like it was a waste of time taking it in the first place if we don't process it and share it, make a print for the wall, get it critiqued, or do something, anything with it. Why is that, do you think?
Why can't we just take the photo and be perfectly at peace with never looking at it, or thinking about it ever again? I can now – but it honestly took me 30 years to get here! I remember the day and the moment it happened it was so profound.
My AHA moment
I was leading a street photography class and we all headed out to shoot in a popular and busy area here in my city. As I was the instructor I wasn't really there to shoot for myself, I was there to support my students. But I always take my camera along and sometimes shoot things as an example for them, to show what I see and how I'd photograph a particular subject.
But I never really use those images for anything or do anything with them. Sometimes they even sit on my memory card until my next class or the next time I use that camera. As we were walking some flowers caught my eye and I took a photo. I remember having this inner dialog with myself about why I just took that photo knowing full well it will likely never see the light of day.
Then it hit me like a ton of bricks.
I took the image purely because I wanted to in that moment!
There is no other reason and I felt like I had come full circle (a BIG one that took 30 years mind you) and was back to doing photography just for the sake of it. Hooray!
Shoot for yourself
So what can you take from this and apply to your own photography? If you get anything from this, I hope it's that you should shoot for yourself first and foremost and not to try and please others. Let me clarify that.
There is an appropriate time to ask for and get feedback on your images. If there is some element of your image you aren't happy with and want to know how to improve upon it, by all means, ask for feedback and advice. But if you are really happy with an image and you like it – just take it with no expectations.
That means you may also need to develop some thick skin. Often when sharing images online, regardless of whether you ask for feedback or not – you will get it. You'll get the good, the bad and the ugly. So take it all with a grain of salt. Consider who is giving the feedback and try and look at it objectively. Can their suggestion make your image even better? If so, take it on board and apply it. That's how you learn and grow.
But if it is just their personal opinion or preference, and you disagree with it – you get to completely ignore it if you so choose. Let them have their opinion, acknowledge it and thank them for offering their insight, then do nothing with it. Don't let it upset you or make you feel bad about yourself or your image.
Finally, it's about finding balance. That elusive balance that we all seem to be seeking in life.
In the case of your photography, you need to find a balance or a happy medium. It lies somewhere in the middle between only shooting inside your own bubble and never getting feedback or improving, and taking every critical comment and feedback to heart and getting discouraged.
What gives you joy?
So let's get to the heart of it. Which part(s) of the photographic process give you joy?
- Simply taking the photo in the first place.
- Sorting through your images to find the best of the bunch, the 5-stars.
- Processing your images to make them sing.
- Sharing images on your portfolio, social media, on a website or blog.
- Making actual prints or books of your images just for your own enjoyment.
- Selling your images or prints to others for them to enjoy.
- Doing commissioned work like portraits for friends or even paying clients.
- Teaching and mentoring others less experienced than yourself.
Which of those things do you enjoy the most? You may like all of those things but if you had to choose just one, which would it be?
For me, I like the shooting part, the processing (time to be experimental and creative), sharing images, printing, and finally using my images for teaching! A few years ago, I realized I wasn't enjoying the sales process or doing work for clients as much as I once did. Then I stumbled into teaching photography almost by accident and it was a huge fit!
So now if I see something that catches my eye, I will take a shot, even if all I have with me is my phone. Then, depending on my mood, what I'm doing at the time and if the image is really speaking to me – I may or may not process it and share it for others to see.
But if I choose not to do anything with it – my job is still done. I scratched the photography itch, I created something that was screaming to be created. And . . . I'm at peace with that. Can you say the same?
So which part of photography gives you the most enjoyment? Which parts do you dislike to the point of avoidance (like I do with laundry, filing papers, and doing bookkeeping)? Why do you think that is so? Tell us in the comments below.
Can you just shoot something for the sake of snapping the photo and let it go? Or do you feel compelled and have your own internal pressure to do something with each photo you take?
How can I help you get to a place of photography bliss? Let's discuss below.