guest post: written by Keith
Everyone seems to compare themselves to something or someone.
That’s human nature and it’s not completely bad. The take away from that sentence is not completely bad. It is mostly bad though.
Using comparisons to measure progress is fine on occasion but let’s not do it all the time. It’s like trying to lose weight and stepping on the scale EVERY day. It seems like you are never going to loose weight because of how slow it goes. God forbid you see a gain on a given day.
How does this relate to photography and creative businesses? Well, I’m glad you asked (or was that just me talking to myself?)?
You are you and you enjoy (or at least want to enjoy) your creative business.
You are not Annie Leibowitz, Ansel Adams, me or any other photographer or creative you may admire (see what I did there?).
I am not any of those people either except for me.
Create what you want for whatever reason you want and enjoy it just for what it is.
Don’t look at other people create and compare it to yours. It will only make you feel bad.
I am not saying don’t look at other peoples work, quite the opposite. Look at as many as you can stand to look at. Appreciate them for what they are.
Maybe look at them and think about how they got the shot or the compositional elements they used. Appreciate the lighting. Just don’t look at them and say that they are better than you and you will never get that good. It takes away the best part of photography and that is the enjoyment of just doing it.
I have fallen in the comparison hole on more than one occasion over the years.
I started to look around for inspiration from my contemporaries and came away deflated instead of inspired. I kept thinking that I have fallen behind and that I am not creating good and relevant work.
Mini professional depression slips in and POW! I’m unhappy and unmotivated (depression does that shit).
Luckily, I decided to go back and look at my work again to see how much I suck in comparison and guess what? I like what I see! I feel good about my work.
It reflects my personal vision. I don’t shoot like a bunch of people whose work I appreciate but thats perfectly fine. I am not them. They in turn don’t shoot like me or many others and that’s because they are being true to themselves.
Once I realized that I can appreciate great work by other people and realize I just don’t see the world that way I had another rush of happiness and productivity.
Looking at a broad cross section of photography, not just the genre that you want to shoot will bring in new ideas and expand your vision without you being aware of it. You don’t have to try to copy, it will just sink in.
Having said that of course. Definitely try to copy something if you want to. It becomes a good exercise and you will likely add your own special sauce to it that will change it to yours.
Here’s my best analogy using a very personal example.
When I was a teenager I wanted to be a rockstar guitarist (not unique in any way). I was tall, thin and had long hair. I looked like a rockstar. I hung out with a number of friends that were good to great musicians/guitarists.
I figured I could be too and I wanted to get there quickly of course. I saved up for a really nice guitar (based on my teenage earnings selling hot pretzels and hot dogs on the streets of Manhattan) and locked myself in my room for a year.
I got pointers and lessons from friends. I read magazines and bought the Mel Bay beginner guitar book (which I hated but was the only book for beginner guitarists back then).
I was determined.
Unfortunately it didn’t come as easy as I had wanted.
I kept looking ahead and not down. I got frustrated and kept wanting to play more complicated things without ever getting good at the fundamental things and the result was I was never happy.
I gave up in frustration a year later.
I was never going to be in a band and get all the dates and swag I assumed would just be heaped on me for being a rockstar.
Fast forward to a few years ago. I watched my daughter pick up the guitar (my old one) and take lessons. It looked like so much fun to me that I felt inspired to do it all again.
She dropped it in about two months for lack of interest. I kept going. I have no timeline.
I don’t want to get more dates, I don’t want to be a rockstar, I just really enjoy holding and playing (an even just looking at) my favorite instrument.
I am never going to be Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Steve Vai or any other incredible guitarists. I may never even be particularly good.
What I will be though is happy. I do it for me and no one else.
If anyone enjoys it then that’s cool (my youngest daughter is usually my only audience and number one fan).
It’s cathartic. I have no way to fail. I do it when I want and when I can.
Photography started for me that way too. I just liked cameras and photographs. Creating photos made me happy and people started liking what I was showing them.
It derailed me becoming a doctor (to the dismay of much of my family btw) because it became such a passion.
For the record, there are a lot of doctors that play guitar and or love photography. I know some personally. It helps unwind them from a stressful career.
You can’t lose if you do something you love just because you love it.
Wherever it takes you is a personal journey.
I ended up as a professional photographer and have never once regretted not becoming a doctor.
I still love photography and look for more ways to enjoy it.
If you love the feel of a camera in your hand and want to enjoy looking photos you have created whether you share them or not (you will of course) then just keep shooting.
Pay attention to the basics and you will get better which will make you happier. Thanks for reading.
I enjoy any part I can play in making you better and happier with your creative career choice (and life).