I’ve come to find that the best lessons are those hidden in everyday life.
Those small instances of insight that trigger a mental response.
Those that dramatically affect your view of something.
And those that leave a permanent imprint in your memory.
They might come about through speech or action but aren’t necessarily tied to a traditional form of teaching.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have had many of these lessons, specifically related to photography, over the last few months. And they’ve all come from my wife.
Now, my wife isn’t a photographer. Sure, she loves a good iPhone selfie or a shake of the polaroid from her beloved Instax Mini, but that’s as far as it goes. Even so, she’s taught me more about photography than anyone else, even those with years of experience behind a camera. However, I’m not talking about technical skills, compositional skills, history, general theory or, really, anything about cameras and the process of taking a photograph.
No, what I’m referring to is the psychological side of photography. In other words, the way in which I perceive photography, my attitude towards my own output from it and how I define success and failure. I think this side of things is far more important, at least on a personal and non-professional level, than technical skills and knowledge.
These inadvertent lessons she’s given have heavily shaped my own direction in and improved my view on this creative medium. They are something that I feel can of benefit to anyone who may find themselves in the same situations as I had.
It’s About You, Not Others
“Who cares what they think! You’re not doing it for them.” She said.
I didn’t realize at first, but she was right.
I’d let doubt creep into my mind due to the opinions and prior comments of others. I’d completely forgotten why I was creating photographs in the first place, and I hadn’t even realized it. Instead of going out and taking a shot because it provided ME with enjoyment and a break from reality, I’d started doing it with the intention of satisfying others. That meant shooting specific subjects or employing certain post-processing styles that I didn’t enjoy or that I wasn’t necessarily good at.
I almost started to hate what I was doing!
Don’t get me wrong, it feels amazing to create something that generates positive feedback from other people, but what is that really worth if you can’t provide yourself with that same feedback?
And so here I am now, back to basics, doing it for ME and shooting what I enjoy.
My wife taught me to love my work, regardless of what anyone else thought. It might seem silly, but it’s one of the best things I’ve ever learnt.
Comparisons Can Be A Motivation Killer
“That’s their style, not yours.” She said.
Again, she was right.
It takes no more than a few seconds to unlock your phone and open a social media app. That means it only takes a few seconds to access a plethora of work created by others. When you think about it, that’s amazing! Equally, it’s terrifying.
It’s amazing in that you’ve got an unlimited amount of inspiration at your fingertips.
It’s terrifying for that exact same reason.
Very quickly can it lead to the personal comparison of your work against the work of others. That’s normal for anything in life and, for some, it can be the driving force behind improvement while, for others, it can be an absolute killer of motivation.
The latter applied to me.
I began comparing what I was creating against that of others who’d been doing it for a lot longer than I had. I’d become fixated on specific styles that I couldn’t quite replicate and endured frustration from looking down on my own work over and over. It was mentally unhealthy and it didn’t take long until my motivation levels began to drop.
But once again my wife taught me a simple lesson.
Everyone has their own style and interests. There was no need to be comparing my work against anyone else’s, especially when there are too many variables involved. Experience levels, location and access to specific places, personal aesthetic tastes and, to an extent, the gear being used.
At the end of the day, the only comparisons worthwhile are those of your own old photographs to your new photographs. This allows you to identify areas for improvement and see a visual representation of your progress over time without diluting the opinion you have of your own work based on what others are doing.
Don’t Forget Why You Do It
Because it’s fun.
It offers a break from everything else.
My view on photography is rapidly different to what it was just a few months ago thanks to these two tiny but impactful things my wife has taught me. It’s awesome, and so is she.
I no longer worry about whether the image I’m taking is going to visually appeal to others, as long as it appeals to me. I no longer compare what I’ve taken with what others have taken, because I don’t need to be the same as them.
It’s evident from the number of discussions I see across online photographic communities that there are many others who have fallen into the same trap as I had. So, if they’re applicable to you, I wanted to share these two small lessons in the hope they’ll do the same for you as they have for me.