Following a recent post about over-valuing social media responses, this post looks at other reasons why you might choose not to care what other people think of your photographs. It explores ways of creating a necessary distance and becoming a more confident photographer.
Caring what others think about your photography can be difficult. You can think broadly and try to distance yourself from it in order to take charge. Being a confident photographer means you need to develop personal conviction concerning your work and how you think about it.
It’s always worth remembering that however worthy you believe your images are, today the medium of photography is boringly liberated. Taking photos is easy and free and rarely afforded great value. We swipe away with our forefingers in the same mindless way we eat popcorn: next one, next one, next one. We do this with high quality professional photographs and sketchy smartphone photos of pets. People don’t look closely at photos or carefully consider each individual element. It’s totally confectionary and we all consume hundreds a day without even thinking about it.
This abundance, as well as the abundance of photographers, supports the proliferation of commercial models where extremely low rates of payment per image publications are offered. But that’s not for this post.
Like most consumers of photography, a confident photographer will quickly move on to their next subject, and not linger too long.
Few other professions are as easily exposed to the public gaze. Hardly any other trades translate immediately and globally to virtually every human being with reasonable eyesight.
Everyone can instantly form an opinion about a photograph. Not everyone can have an opinion about a spreadsheet representing a financial forecast for the next quarter, a detailed medical diagram of cancerous cells, an economic evaluation of the European Union.
Everyone can react to an image – even if that reaction is one of total indifference (possibly most painful). Most social media users are attracted to and comforted by the idea of positive responses to their photographs. But always consider how much you should care about every single expression of approval.
If you have to worry about what someone thinks of your work, make sure it’s your clients and prospects. These are the important people you have a duty to satisfy because they pay you money.
It’s possible you will work extremely hard, be pleased with the results, and they will remain indifferent. You’re a professional confident photographer hired to do a job and you did a job and you will (hopefully) be paid and maybe even hired again. Don’t go seeking anything more.
Remember it’s YOUR choice whose opinion you value and respect. Photography is like most creative pursuits, and even like football, a game of opinion.
Even when faced with an experienced and seemingly successful photographer whose work and career you respect, you can reserve the right to disagree. You’re entitled to think what you think, just as much as they are. Whether you do this privately or openly can be risky. Photographers are complicated beasts bearing hefty egos.
Everyone sees things in a slightly different way, approaches a subject uniquely, communicates in a particular style, holds certain views on composition or lighting. There are many ways of taking a photograph. It’s fine to uphold your own beliefs and state your case. Much about photography is extremely subjective, an inconsequential argument of greys, a game of opinion.
If you care too much you’ll probably feel less able to play and to experiment with your work. This is a bad thing. Photographers should always feel able to mess around and play with ideas, perspectives and angles.
If you care too much about what other people think, whether that’s while you’re in the process of capturing images or when it comes to sharing them, you might easily find yourself stunted and unable to generate new ideas. You can also kill the fun and beauty of taking photographs.
[Read the Composed post: photographing small things]
As an independent photographer, the onus is on you to consistently promote your services. Unless you’re in the privileged position of being a full time staff photographer, you’ll need to regularly advertise your business and services. It’s a sensible and necessary thing, constantly reminding people you exist.
If you’re an independent businessperson of any sort, you have to put yourself out there. This can be uncomfortable because it all reflects directly on you as an individual. There’s nowhere to hide. You might envy those who can cosy away from such exposure and be blanketed in the snug protective warmth of an employer, but you need to be brave.
These days that mostly means using the internet. Consider separating photography services from any personal online identities you have, sharing work simply out of business duty and treating it without emotion.
Most photographers are more than capable of beating themselves up about work. Most of us will look back at older work and squirm a little, whatever our field. Developing experience should always go hand in hand with improving our skills and abilities. Life is one big learning curve.
But we are often more effective at criticising ourselves and analysing our own flaws and weaknesses than other people. This is probably because we care more about our own work than anybody else, so we study it more.
Not caring what everyone thinks is tough. Sticking at it and persevering teaches us that we need to develop a thick skin, an independence of mind and a philosophical approach. It’s a long old journey. Skills, equipment, technology, confidence: they should all develop on an upward curve with dedication and a necessary distance from what other people think.
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