At several points in our lives, we encounter people who believe they are absolutely great at what they do despite overwhelming evidence that their output is terrible. It manifests in many areas of our lives but it’s especially prominent in anything that involves work. And yes, that includes photography, whether you’re doing it professionally or as a hobby. In an insightful and introspective video, London-based photographer Jamie Windsor explores why some bad photographers think they’re good, and what we can do to avoid falling into that trap.
For those who don’t know it yet, Jamie reveals that there’s actually a term for this phenomenon: the Dunning-Kruger Effect. In this cognitive bias, people who have poor abilities do not recognize their incompetence, and worse, they’re also likely to be confident that they’re actually doing great work.
Before we go further, let’s watch Jamie explain it in his video below.
We can say that there are many factors behind people’s inflated self-assessment. For example, there’s the misconception that the better you sell yourself as competent and impressive, the better chances you’ll have to land legit, good-paying work. Then, there’s the dangerous “fake it ’til you make it” manifesto that leads people to think that if they simply believe they are amazing at what they do, it will eventually become true.
Interestingly, David Dunning, one of the psychologists behind the eponymous Dunning-Kruger Effect, said in a Forbes feature that the problem lies in people who are under-performing simply because they are unaware of what they could be doing better or what great performance actually looks like. Translated in the context of photography, we can conclude that bad photographers are doing terrible work because they are not aware of what really great work is like.
Enter Jamie again, who says hope is not lost; we can all avoid falling into the trap of the Dunning-Kruger Effect with these tips:
Beware of feeling comfortable.
“As soon as you start feeling comfortable, challenge yourself. Change something. Try something new,” said Jamie. Because when you feel comfortable, you begin to get overconfident, and it’s all downhill from there.
Learn to let go of old work.
There’s no problem about feeling proud about what we consider to be our best work. The more important thing is to always strive to better them. “If you keep coming back to old work, it means you’re not progressing,” Jamie cautions. “Push yourself forward. Build on what you’ve already done.”
Ask for feedback and critique regularly from good photographers.
It can be difficult to hear someone crush your work to bits. But, as Jamie said, take the temporary pain for the long-term benefit. However, don’t rely on Instagram for it. Look for someone whose work you truly admire or someone who has already built a solid, credible body of work in the genre you want to get into.
Always keep learning.
Photography is always changing, so you cannot possibly know everything there is to know about it. Treat learning as a life-long process, and keep in mind that there’s always room for you to improve and grow as a photographer. Don’t be too distracted by fashionable trends; there’s always more to photography than that. Instead, try to learn more about the language of photography.
Understand that feeling bad about your old work is a sign that you’re moving forward.
Once you begin to see what was wrong about your old work and what doesn’t work about how you were doing photography, you are actually progressing. You already have a better understanding of photography and its language, and perhaps even have already started molding your own creative style and vision.
Jamie summed everything up pretty nicely by saying, “Just try not to be too precious, because preciousness will hold you back.”
Screenshot image from the video by Jamie Windsor