“It’s no use!”: 10 tips to overcome photographic discouragement

Ever so often it happens. You don't call it, it comes to you. You feel like it's no use, you think your photography sucks and you feel discouraged. I've been there and still get there many times myself, here's 10 tips to overcome photographic discouragement

1) You are not alone

 

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Here's the first thing: Everybody gets discouraged. Everybody has their moments of doubt, depression and or burnout. That includes me, that includes you, that includes whoever you are looking up to. It happens when I look at some shots of other photographers and I'm like “I wish I took that!!!” and immediately feel bad for myself.

 

It has always helped me to realize that that person too feels the same way about another's work, and so on and so on….. Everybody feels like they are inferior to someone else and them to somebody else. So if you feel discouraged, well join the club….you are not the only one, it happens to the very people you think are immune to it.

 

The world we live in….is very much about appearances, it's where every one makes it look like they have their lives together while in the background nothing is further from the truth. Why do they try to show a façade of all-is-well? Because it's terribly attractive and somewhere in our hearts we all want that. but think Britney Spears, she seemed to have everything, every teen wanted to be her, but inside, she was a mess.

 

Every one you look up to…..they don't have it all together, because they, just like you and I are human. And if you want a REAL secret, they also fart like everyone else. Some people are just more keen to share their insecurities like Madonna, she says it comes every 5 minutes. Guess I am much better than her in that respect!

 

2) Discouragement is good

 

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Whhhattt? Actually, no it's bad. But it's also good. It's badly good? Seriously tough, I believe the universe is designed a certain way, and that it has a built in reward system. For starters it only rewards the hard workers: nothing great has been achieved without hard work, it's just the way the universe is built. Discouragement is bad because it can eat you alive if you let it, but it can be good because it's a sign in a road that says “Are you SURE you want to go there?”.

 

I believe anybody can be great, but not everybody will be great because things like discouragement and burnout are thrown at you in order to filter the great from the rest. You see, I believe discouragement is a built in filter to automatically segment those who will do something great to the would-have-beens.

 

Discouragement, burnout is good, it simply tests your character. It slaps you and spits in your face in order to test if you will take it in, or if you are going to fight back. I don't know about you but I fight back. I asked so many times for a regular photography job but could not get one. It's weird. I event went so far as to design a custom PDF on how much I would be an asset to a photography company. It happened multiple times, always got turn down, with a smile mind you!, I felt discouraged.

 

So often was I turned down that my wife told me to stop, if I didn't feel bad about myself she felt bad for me. Ouch. But look at me now, on my two feet because every time discouragement came my way I said : Yes sir, I want it!!! And picked myself up and tried again. All that I am, I'm a product of never giving up to discouragement. When it comes your way, embrace it, it's nothing personal, it's just there to determine if you are going to achieve anything or not. Think of discouragement think of it as either a tonic or a deterrent to the path of a huge treasure. No one said being a photographer was easy.

 

3) Comparing apples and oranges

 

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Nothing is easier than to get discouraged by photography. Why? Because of it's selective nature. Selection is a frightening tool, depending on how you sequence and select frames you can tell a completely different story. Selection is there to make you see something specific. Most of what you see online and in books is a selection of photography, geared towards making the photographer look good.

 

Pick up any book by any famous photographer, they only have a few jaw dropping images, that you've most likely seen more than once, the other stuff is quite frankly average at best. The point is this: When you look at a photographer's work and you are amazed, it's always helpful to realize that what you are seeing is a selection of frames, not the complete picture.

 

Every photographer, even the masters did not fart good pictures 24-7. It's easy to feel bad for yourself when you see a concentrate (the selection or portfolio) of the photographer's best work because….it's their best work!!!! Talk about comparing apples and oranges! Now span these photographs in the context of a lifetime and you have a more complete picture.

 

When you never see photographers in their weakest (their whole catalog), how can you not feel bad when they show you their best? I'm not saying people who are good photographers are that way because they are highly selective on what they show, all that I know is that an amateur can look like a pro if he or she selects what to show. So….don't compare your whole life against a tightly selected group of photos that are purposefully selected to because they are the BEST work.

 

4) Don't look at the mountain but the road

 

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How would you tackle Mount Everest? If you look at the top of the mountain, you'll despair without having climbed one inch. “It's too high”, “I'll never make it”, “I can't possibly do it”. Humans are complacent as is, and looking at the masters of photography or someone that's already well off is a good excuse to give up without even getting the feet wet photographically speaking. It's like going to the gym, barely able to make one push-up only to see a guy doing 50 push-ups with one hand.

 

I personally only needed to see the work of Eugene Smith or others like James Natchwey, to go dig a whole in the ground to stick my head in. Dang these guys are good. One thing that has helped me is to stop focusing on where I need to, be an start focusing on the road to get there. At night, the only thing you need to make it to a destination are the mile markers, no need to focus on the road ahead. Focusing on doing a little photography everyday (shooting, editing, studying and reading Inspired Eye 🙂 ) will eventually get you wherever you want to be, one step at a time. Time flies fast when all you focus on is doing a little bit everyday. Take a cue from water, it can eat whole coastlines by scraping iotas of land everyday.

 

5) Focus on what you are doing

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If there's one thing I can guarantee that will transform your photography it is this. I got so much better, and feel so much better about myself once I stopped focusing at what others are doing and started looking at my own work. I'm not saying I stopped looking at other's work, Inspiration is good and I think everyone needs it, but there was time where I was simply absorbed. The weird part is, once you start focusing on your own work it will give you a better appreciation for other's photography. I used to lament on how good other's work was, while not paying attention to my work.

 

It's a lesson I learned as a gear addict: Instead of focusing on photography, I focused on gear. Whether the focus is on other's work or gear, it keeps us from our own work. It's like looking up to some wealthy dude for example….oh how much it would great to have his car, his boat or whatever…..while our own home is not being taken care of. Focusing on how well others are doing photography does not help your own. I realized this a bit late, I could have been way better. Focus on what you are doing, your work will get better. Pinky Swear.

 

6) Look back at the previous work

 

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One of the nasty self talk I found myself saying is “Hey Olivier you're worthless”. Ok it happens a lot I admit. That's pretty disarming and makes it appear that I never did anything photographically. I always find it a good exercise to look at past work to breathe in, it shows your track record in an objective way. It helps me focus on what I already did to focus on where I am going. It tells me that I've done stuff, and if I continue a certain way, I'll be even better.

 

If you don't have anything like a portfolio or something, still look back at your work, and look for your improvements, how better you are now than before. Discouragement is a feeling, and sometimes to fight it you need some objective proof (past work) that shows that you have a good photographic track record and you are not just fooling yourself.

7) Create something with your work

 

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Do something with your work. Create a website, a blog or even better, get some nice frames, print your work (test prints above!) and showcase them at your place. I did all of these. Nothing helps appreciating your own stuff than having it printed or laid out nicely on a website you made. Basically you have to treat your work right, you have to show it some respect by doing something with it. My work was rotting on a hard drive for a while until I decided to do something with it, I got a newfound appreciation for it, I must say. You don't see it the same way once you start doing things with it, print it, or create a website, you will see.

 

Printing your own stuff is quite complicated I admit, and you need to know ICC Profiling, Color Spaces and all….but printing doesn't have to be fancy!!! At the very least you can go to Walgreens or similar to get your pictures printed, more than enough for most people. If you want higher quality and nice Matte Paper, that's Mpix.com. For frames I LOVE Ikea frames, nice black, simple wood, or you can buy it from Mpix already mounted and all. Websites and blogs can be done for free. Popular options are wordpress.com and blogger.com.

 

8) A quick, instant remedy

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One no fail remedy I know when I start feeling down about my photography is to simply go out and shoot. The unspoken words when I start feeling bad when looking at other's work is that these people are doing something with their photography, and  I'm not…….Going out and shoot will:

 

– Make you feel like you are actually doing something with your photography (you are!!!)
– Makes you one step closer to your photographic goals
– Forces you to focus on your work

 

It's simple, when you see others working hard on their photography, work on your own and you will feel better about yourself. You have a nasty side to yourself that always want to nag you “Loooook. This person is taking great pictures, what are YOU doing, huh? huh? huh?” Going out to shoot will remove this nag because you will be working on your own stuff, and you will improve. My partner Don goes out to shoot at least 3-4 times per week. Imagine the benefits.

 

9) Simply ride the wave

 

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Sometimes, you are so discouraged you just don't want to do anything. I would recommend you stick it to discouragement and go out and shoot, but sometimes you just need to rest. Ride the wave, know it's not forever but for a short season. It might be that you just need to let the match burn to pick up another one…simply let it pass like a cold. There's a danger that discouragement can start sucking your life out and being stuck there. I wouldn't let the day pass without doing something to fight it.

 

Nothing beats a good movie, or a good game. Enjoy yourself in something else, renew your batteries. Read, write, play, whatever. But make sure you go back to photography recharged and not emptied. I was a good deal discouraged Yesterday (Not about photography but point is still the same) and I watched Elysium. Dang good movie. Now I'm back on track and ready to fight once more. You can also indulge yourself, not because you feel sorry for yourself but because you just want to please yourself. For me that usually means Skinny Mocha at Starbucks.

10) Diligence trumps talent

 

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Do you think I'm a good photographer? If not, join my wife who doesn't like it much. If you do, thanks! I'll tell you that it's nothing more than being diligent at it. Keep on shooting and learning, you'll get good at it. My Graphic Design teacher….she used to come back from Art class in tears….her classmate never worked at her art and she was just SO good at drawing it made my teacher cry because she felt sorry for herself. Everyday. But my teacher worked diligently, she drew everyday, she got better everyday until…..she was better than that classmate.

 

That happened to me in Design too. There was this guy, had lots of design skills, I did feel sorry for myself because he was 3 years younger than me. I kept at it, and now me, along with other friends who worked hard, have a better design sense than him. Few people are born talented, for the rest of us it's hard work. Hard work with the compounded effect of everyday of every year is a force to be reckoned with. By the way, today is called the present because it's a gift….use it wisely, the present is the most powerful tool to shape our destinies.

 

11) Bonus: We are born originals

 

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There's no two like you, there is no two like me. Yes! That means I can't take pictures like you and you can't take pictures like me. I find great comfort in knowing that no one can do what I do the way I do it. It means it's priceless because it's unique. So while another photographer might be super skilled, they can't have what I have. Reminding myself that usually ends discouragement and replaces it with a wave of gratefulness.

 

Only I can shoot the way I do. Priceless. No need to be discouraged because no one can replace you or me when it comes to photography. I think this is a deep longing as photographers to know that what we do matters. It does because it's unique and irreplaceable, because we are.

 

Conclusion

It's 5 times as easy for me to get discouraged because I can get attacked from many angles. I can get discouraged as a family man, entrepreneur, photographer, freelancer, etc. Sometimes I get 2-3 areas of discouragement at the same time. The key is to take it one step at a time, one day at a time..and go trough the steps above…slowly but surely. Even better is relying on your Faith. If you are a discouraged as a photographer, I've been there, and I still get hit very often….just focus on the thing that you can do today that will get you closer to your goal, Forget others work, forget tomorrow, just today……. Be yourself, stay focused and keep on shooting.

 

Article originally published in August 12, 2013, now revised and updated

 

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17 thoughts on ““It’s no use!”: 10 tips to overcome photographic discouragement”

  1. Truly inspiring words and fine pictures. Been having a few days of not so good shooting, or not so good seeing. But after a few days off work, nice weather and a couple of sci-fi-movies – E l y s i u m: yes! – I could suddenly see and connect again, and I did at least a couple of really descent pictures. When I have difficulties seeing and connecting, I read, watch movies and look and study other people´s pictures, a n d my own. For me, it´s very seldom a lack of interrest or ambition. It´s always there, even though for some reason you just can´t shoot straight some days.

  2. Words of wisdom as always from you Olivier. I like your photography and I love your philosophy even more, because it talks of us as individuals with our right to personal tasts, styles, strengths, and even weaknesses. As a pro you have so much more pressure on your shoulders than we do as hobbyists, yet weirdly enough amateurs go through phases of discouragement just the same. Personally I think it’s great to have photographic heroes (Richard Avedon is mine) but yet be completely comfortable with your own work. I’ll never shoot like Richard Avedon, so be it ! I just shoot like ME, with my tastes, style, and things that make me tick, press the shutter and be happy. When others love my stuff, great, it’s a fine ego boost and warm moment. When they don’t ? Fine ! I re-assess my stuff and still be happy about it if *I* truly like it. There’s not one big golden recipe about photography, it’s all about making one fullfilled and content.
    Yes when you look at someone else’s work remember they probably have culled 50 bad pictures for a good one, just like you. Yes look back on your previous work and see how you have improved. What you already like in your past stuff is just your personal style showing, the sign of what’s yours and nobody else’s, the proof that you have some valuable photographic contribution to make. Cherish it, and try to improve on it yet. Yes, know when to walk away and not pick the camera for a couple of days and stay away from photo boards for a while. And most of all, have fun. For all of us who are not professionnals, there are no strings attached, it’s all about happiness and contentment, so never forget you do this for pleasure and just enjoy it. I do.

  3. “today is called the present because it’s a gift”

    OMG, this is the best quote I’ve seen in years !!! I’m totally stealing it from you (with due credit, of course) !

  4. Thanks for the inspiring post. Specially about the tunnel vision thing and the “we are unique”. I am still frustrated by my lack of basic skills in certain conditions, and by the fact that I can’t seem to match the colors I like in some of my friends work (wait, I should not do that…”we are unique” after all), but if I look back at the result of my previous years of photography, which I just did after reading your blog, there is certainly a significant improvement from the crap I was taking 2 years ago. So there is hope…..Thanks to Claire for pointing out your blog to me.

  5. Thank you. I just spent the past two days on the verge of tears, feeling as though it’s time to stop trying because of a few fellow photographers who informed me that they thought my work was “awful.” It seems that anyone who steps outside of the sterile, technically proficient box that most photographers seem to strive to fit into is seen as being insufficient. For example, I purposely underexpose and desaturate my images to create a depressive, moody atmosphere. These photographers I’m speaking of basically told me I suck, but I’ve been trying to remind myself that they are looking at my work from a technical perspective rather than an artistic one. I don’t know, this field is hard. It’s so hard to sit there and hold it together while someone tears your work apart (and when your work is all that keeps you going in life, that’s a big deal). It makes you want to just give up and stop photography altogether, or change your style altogether to fit whatever box they’re using as a standard of judgment…But this article reminded me to focus on my work and stop letting the opinions of a few photographers hold me back. I like my work, and a few others do as well, so isn’t that all that matters? It’s an acquired taste, sure…But it’s what fits me. It’s my style. It’s not for everyone, but it’s certainly for me, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing my processing the way I’ve been doing it. Photography is an art, and we have to remember that. It’s completely subjective, just like any other medium. People will hate it and people will love it, but I suppose that’s the beauty of it. Anyway, thanks for the uplifting article. I’ve been in desperation and I really needed something to keep me from throwing the camera away and taking up knitting or something, and this was it.

    1. I’m honored Inga! You said it yourself, forget everyone, do what you love to do the way you like to do it. And also, when someone brings you down, it’s usually to bring themselves up, ironic, no???

    2. Inga,

      If other photographers are tearing your work apart, don’t share it with them!! I know when an image I have made is the way I wanted it. It doesn’t matter what someone else thinks. Yes, I discard many of my images, and keep way too many mediocre ones.
      Do what you like and enjoy, and continue to enjoy it. Splat on the others.

  6. Pingback: “It’s no use!”: 10 tips to overcome photographic discouragement | photoHANGOUT

  7. Great article, great philosophy.Applies to everything you want to achieve in life. I am a biologist. now retired. I received my first camera at the age of 14. I was regularly shooting pictures and studying the ones of the professionals, trying to find out why I liked a certain picture and finding out how it was made. The scientific approach. I am a scientist.My equipment as well as my photographs improved in quality. Now I can spend more time on shooting and working with my photographs. I started making books on special themes like stones or lost places. Some of my friends like them, some not. However, it gives me great satisfaction, when the books turn out to be the way it was my intention. http://www.blurb.de/my/book/detail/7015270-tarabin-blues?utm_medium=email&utm_source=application-ebook&utm_campaign=order_delivery-pdf-book&utm_content=0240am-04_12_16-body

  8. Thank you for the encouragement I so desperately needed! I started taking up photography after retiring from teaching. I took classes at a local university, but feel like I have taken 10 steps back from when I first started. I, too, get so discouraged when friends and family don’t seem to like my favorite photos. They always pick the photos that I think are “so-so.” I actually did not even pick up my camera for several months even though I continued to faithfully read your emails. This article has inspired me – yes, I need to subscribe – to hang in there and to practice every day. As a teacher I always told my students to practice, practice, practice. Guess I need to take my own advice. Thank you agin for this article. Just maybe ” an old dog can learn new tricks” and get better!!

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