Raymond Depardon, a famous French photographer, was once noted as saying,
“The photographer is filled with doubt. Nothing will soothe him.”
I’ve found over my career that this is very true. There are lots of reasons to be doubtful, reasons that, if you let them, will stop your creative pursuits before you get underway.
It starts with the dive into photography itself. You may feel like you are not artistic enough to become an artist or the very thought of learning all of the things that you will one day need to know might seem overwhelming. Then, as you progress, it can be challenging to work up the courage to display your images, to ask for constructive criticism. Photos might languish in a folder on your computer simply because you don’t have the confidence to do much else with them.
Later on, confidence issues arise when you ponder sending submissions to websites, magazines or galleries. Maybe you’ve thought about starting a photography based business, but you are worried that for one reason or another, it won’t be a success. You think you are not good enough or your business skills are not where they need to be — there are many things over the course of your career that will erode your confidence. And frankly, it does take a lot of confidence, courage even, to put yourself out there, be it as a hobbyist with a passion for art, a professional artist or a commercial photographer of some kind.
So how do you overcome a lack of confidence? Fortunately, there are lots of ways to go about it. Here are some of the methods that I recommend.
Gain Confidence through Valid Opinions
The opinions of others are a dangerous thing — though they are also vital for any artist. Let’s say that you show your artwork to your friends or family. Because they love you, they gush over it, whether it is actually good work or not. Compliments like this can work against you because the temptation is there to believe that these compliments are given merely because these people are trying to avoid hurting your feelings. Without critique, you don’t know what is wrong with the images, what you need to improve, and thus, you begin to doubt yourself.
Conversely, this can also lead to overconfidence followed by a serious blow to the ego. Imagine having your work buoyed by people who simply want to make you happy. So much so that you proudly strut off to the nearest gallery, believing you’ll almost certainly make that sale, only to have your work torn apart by a completely uninterested gallery owner.
This is why valid critique — not just the things you want to hear or the things that people want to say to avoid hurt feelings but real, honest, constructive criticism and compliments — is absolutely essential. Find people that you trust, that you know will give you such critiques. Then you can work with the critiques you hear, learn from your mistakes and in the end, feel more confident in the knowledge that you are producing better artwork.
Sometimes a Lack of Confidence Stems from a Lack of Knowledge
You’d not perform lifesaving surgery on someone without years upon years of medical knowledge gained. In that same way, a lack of knowledge can lead you to doubt yourself when it comes to photography — though that lack of knowledge about art or photography is not nearly so dire as the metaphor I used. Even so, when it comes time to submit your work, you might be tempted to think that you don’t have the years of experience that are backing other submissions. If you want to start a business, you might stop yourself before it gets off the ground because you think that you don’t know enough to become successful.
This is the time to sit back and look at how far you have already come. Appreciate your progress for what it is and then stop and understand something: If you have already learned as much as you know now, then there is nothing stopping you from learning that much more. Never let a lack of knowledge be a barrier. Instead, pursue more knowledge until you gain from it the confidence you need to proceed with your goals.
Where to begin with comparisons? In this day and age of social media, perhaps you have heard of a new phenomenon that is being talked about, sometimes called “obsessive comparison disorder” or “social comparison disorder.” In a nutshell, this is a term that refers to the way people sometimes view social media. They look around and see only the bright points of other peoples’ lives, which leads them to a kind of depression concerning their own lives. They’re comparing only the good things that they see on their friends’ timelines with the entirety of their own life experience, which is made up of both good and bad things. Unsurprisingly, when people examine their own lives against the picture-perfect world of Facebook, they often feel as if their life comes up short.
Photographers do this same thing. We look at the accomplishments, awards, and accolades of others and we use those comparisons to tear ourselves down. We don’t see the hard work, the struggle, which went into those accomplishments. All we see is something that another has that we don’t. We fault ourselves for that lack of achievement instead of working to achieve the same.
Instead of comparing your accomplishments against the accomplishments of others, remember that it isn’t the gear, the accolades or even luck that makes the artist. Artists are born because they have the confidence to push onward despite obstacles in those other categories. If you find yourself looking at a photographer who has had six gallery showings where you have had none, think about this: Perhaps that photographer has been turned down by scores or even hundreds of galleries to get into those six where his or her work is featured now.
Most importantly, don’t dwell on what everyone around you is doing, thereby letting those comparisons erode at your confidence. Instead, push forward. Do what you want to do, not what you think you should be doing based on your observation of others.
There are many more things that can eat away at your confidence in this business, this art form. And for each of those things, there is a way to get past the bad, to build yourself up and push past the issue. Examine the source of your lack of confidence and then use whatever tools are at your disposal to move forward.