Self doubt in photography can cripple a photographer’s progress, but there are ways to accept, manage, and overcome it.
In a recent Reddit post, one user wrote about dealing with self-doubt in photography. The author of the post said they had had success in many fields, including music, but was struggling to match the same success in photography. They wrote, “…seeing my work getting nowhere while I had achieved success with much greater ease in other fields is demoralizing and makes me doubt my abilities…” They added, ” (I) wonder if my time is better spent elsewhere.” The post reminded me of my own self-doubt through my time in photography, and the journey I went on to overcome it.
Speak to any photographer, and they’re sure to tell you they’ve experienced some form of self-doubt during their career. It’s part of caring about the work you produce. Wanting to do well comes with pressure, and it’s super easy for our brain to try to convince us we’re not good enough.
There are many reasons why self-doubt exists in a photographer. I want to explore some of the main instigators and identify ways to overcome them.
A Lack of Self Belief
Some people go into anything they do with the mindset that they’re going to fail. Whether it’s a lack of encouragement when they’re a child, or their experience throughout school, some people end up in a mind-frame of thinking they’re not good enough. As soon as they pick up a camera, they carry this mindset with them. They embark on a creative journey of self-loathing and feeling inadequate compared to other photographers.
This type of photographer has a lot of work to do when it comes to overcoming self-doubt. They have to redesign their way of thinking so that they can have more confidence in themselves and their abilities. Some people choose to go to therapy. Techniques like CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) have been known to help some people redefine how they think about themselves. Others go the more holistic route, mixing meditations and daily positive affirmations to create a sense of belief in their psyche.
For anyone experiencing a lack of self-esteem, the way forward is personal; there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. But what about the confident person who doesn’t believe in their photography?
Sometimes It’s Okay to Suck at Photography
Before we get deeper into this, let me point one thing out: when you first pick up a camera, you’re totally right to think your photography sucks — because it does. When learning anything, the beginning is the time you should actually enjoy being a bad photographer. The process of learning enriches your life and provides the focus and hunger to succeed. Enjoy every second of it, because that time won’t last forever.
“…you may not be the most social media savvy, but that does not equate to being a bad photographer.”
For the new shooter (one to five years of shooting), there’s only one healer of self-doubt: time. It takes time to get good at the craft. You have to keep at it and keep going even through challenging periods. Passion should be enough to see you through the insecurities of being a newbie. Beyond that, you need a lot of discipline and perseverance.
It took me roughly six years before I started believing in my abilities. I never thought I was a bad photographer; I always felt my skill level was in line with my experience. But to really become assured in my skillset and tell myself, “I’m good at this,” took time. The way I measured it was how I felt personally about the work I was creating. For example, prior to having the confidence in my abilities, I measured my skill by how other photographers perceived me. I was reliant on positive feedback to feel good about the work I was producing. However, after time, other peoples’ opinions began to matter much less. I got to a point where I could sit with my work and feel proud of its standard, regardless of what others thought.
On the topic of what others think, let’s look at another area where self-doubt stems from: social media.
The Myth of Social Media
Photographers determine how good they are based on how much love they receive via likes on Facebook and Instagram. “If I’m getting lots of likes, then I must be a good photographer. And if nobody likes my photographs, then I must be a bad photographer,” tends to be logic in today’s photographic community.
“Self-doubt can often be a subconscious message to ourselves that we want to improve in a certain area of photography.”
But we know this not be true. As when posting to sites like Instagram, you’re not always going up against other photographers, but rather the algorithm. You may have the best photographs on the planet, but if you’re not acting in line with the law of Facebook and Instagram, there’s a good chance most people won’t see them. So, you may not be the most social media savvy, but that does not equate to being a bad photographer.
That’s why I tend to publish my best work on my website. Algrothmisths do not restrict me, and that’s the platform most people tend to reach me on. I get much more positive feedback through my direct site than I do on my Instagram feed. And that’s why I urge photographers to set up a website as soon as possible, rather than be dependent on the big sites.
Tips for Overcoming Self-Doubt in Photography
Aside from positive affirmations and ignoring the court of public opinion, there are some steps you can take to help you overcome self-doubt.
Focus on one genre: Rather than jump around experimenting in different genres (which is a good thing at a certain stage), focus on one genre of photography and become really good at it. That could be portrait photography, for example. Shoot only portraits for 12 months, and you’ll soon see your confidence grow during that time.
Learn the history of your niche: Becoming an expert in a subject matter helps you become an authority in your field. Become a human encyclopedia in your photography niche, and you will feel more assured. The more you know, the more you can do, and this is a true killer of self-doubt.
Take a break: When self-doubt overtakes your ability to create, it’s a good idea to put your camera down and take a step back. When we live in the moment, it can be difficult to gain an accurate perspective of where we’re at in terms of ability. I often look back at old work and think, “I actually wasn’t as bad I thought I was at the time.” Stepping away and reflecting can give you the confidence boost you need.
I know self-doubt can be an awful thing to live with. Although I seem to have moved past it, it will likely return at some point in my career: it’s all part of being a creative who cares about the craft. But as it comes in waves, I believe we become more accepting of it and learn to use it our advantage. Self-doubt can often be a subconscious message to ourselves that we want to improve in a certain area of photography. We want to become experts in the subject matter and the best we can be.
That’s why I say we should all embrace self-doubt. See it as a stepping stone to the next level of our skillset and career progression. Because self-doubt isn’t going to go anywhere, we may as well see it as a positive rather than allow it to consume us to the point we no longer do what we love the most: making photographs.
All images in the piece are from a more assured phase in my photographic journey.