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Photographers can be sensitive souls. It seems being emotionally tender is par for the course when you’re a creative. Why that is, I’ll leave for science to explain. But as someone who has struggled to let go of the validation of others, I can share my journey. And I can share how I let go of allowing the opinion of others to determine my photographic self-worth.
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I’m far from alone in seeking out the opinion of others to validate my skills. We’re taught in the art world that it’s how others perceive your talents that will make or break your photography. In many ways, that’s true. If people don’t connect to your wedding photography, you’re not going to get bookings. And if galleries don’t dig your style, you won’t have exhibitions. None of that, however, means you’re a lousy photographer. And nor does it mean you should take the thoughts of others too seriously. Let’s take a look at some key points.
You Understand Your Photography Style Better Than Others
Only you can see the world through your eyes. How you interpret it will reflect through the photographs you make. While we would love for everyone to understand our photographic language, it’s not always possible. Again, that doesn’t mean you’re a bad photographer. If you look at your images and connect to the story you want to portray, that is enough. Anything after that is a bonus.
Seeking Validation for Your Photography in the Wrong Places
Many photographers estimate how good they are based on the accolades they receive. The most common example of this is entering photography competitions. If you constantly submit your photos to competitions and never receive recognition, you may think your photos are not as good as you assumed. That’s nonsense. Photography competitions are like lotteries. You likely won’t win, and you’re lucky if you do. The opinions of a small group of judges shouldn’t be reflective of how good your work is.
Photography Has to Be Enjoyable
For most of us, photography is escapism. Most of our readers come to us to forget about the doom and gloom of mainstream life. If you’re basing your enjoyment on the opinion of others, photography will seldom be fun. So, if you genuinely love your images – awesome. Hold onto that feeling and run with it as fast as you can. You will have a much more positive experience this way.
“If you base your photographic worth on what others think, you’ll likely create to please them. Seeking validation is the biggest strain on photography. It’s why you see so many photographers making the same style of photos: they know it will get them likes and awards.“
You May Lose Your Photographic Voice
This one is likely the most important point, so read carefully. If you base your photographic worth on what others think, you’ll likely create to please them. Seeking validation is the biggest strain on photography. It’s why you see so many photographers sticking with the same style of photos: they know it will get them likes and awards.
But in the long run, shooting for others is soul-destroying. Think about this. You’re on your death bed, and you have the realization that you spent most of your photographic life making images to please others. When instead, you should have made photos to satisfy yourself. Never sell your soul for the acceptance of others.
What Helps Move Past It?
It took me a long time to get to a point where people’s opinions no longer dictated how I felt about my work. That’s not to say those opinions don’t matter. Feedback is important, especially from the right people. But feedback should never outweigh how you feel about your imagery. Below are some key factors that made me feel more comfortable with what I’m able to produce.
First off, time. Often, time is all you need to get to a place where you become more comfortable in your photographic skin. After a certain length of time, the appreciation you have for your photography grows, and the impact of what others think minimizes.
Then, you build resilience. While people give me compliments for my photographs, I’ve also had people slam them. That’s going to happen when you put your images in front of millions of eyeballs. At first, I took it to heart. In time, however, I began to build resilience to the negativity. I became almost numb to it. This trickled down to me understanding I can’t please everyone.
Lastly, I love how I see the world, and so should you love how you see the world too. The images you make are a reflection of your connection to life. Who is anyone to tell you those images are not good enough, when it’s likely they see the world differently?
“It took me a long time to get to a point where people’s opinions no longer dictated how I felt about my work. That’s not to say they don’t matter. Feedback is important, especially from the right people. But feedback should never outweigh how you feel about your imagery.”
The bottom line is that photography is mainly about opinions. And giving more importance to other opinions makes no sense. Are some photographers more talented than others? Sure. But for the most part, if you put the time and work in, you’ll reach a standard where you can create technically sound images. And if you like the way you do it, then that’s more than enough.
Do you struggle to love your work? Are the opinions of others more important than your own? I’d love to know your thoughts. Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading.