Dear Hope: I feel like I don't measure up

In an industry as saturated as photography, there is going to be some competition.  Some seriously fierce competition.  This industry certainly has some people who, in an effort to stay ahead of the crowd, feel they need to resort to name-calling, accusations, trolling and even outright bullying.  Hearing horror stories like this is bad enough, but when you are your own worst enemy and harshest critic, how can you overcome it?  Looking at yourself against a huge backdrop of talented (or not so talented) newbs, crusty veterans, the sibling or BFF who suddenly wants to be a photographer like you, the rockstars who seem to be having way more fun than you are, and the masters who seem to take amazing pictures in their sleep, it can be really disheartening feeling like you don't quite measure up.  The bad news is, it isn't just you who feels this way from time to time.  But the good news is, it isn't just you who feels this way from time to time.

I don't have any magic solutions to make insecurity go away, but I can offer up a few tidbits to help you put things back into perspective when you start feeling like you just want to curl up in the foetal position and cry yourself to sleep.  That being said, while this post applies to virtually any genre of photography (wedding, senior, family, fashion, pet) I'm going to use newborn photography as a paradigm.

1) You probably aren't doing anything first.  While we may develop a distinctive style, it is usually one that resulted from a long process of mimicking, copying, and practicing other people's techniques, shooting style, and subject matter whether we knew it or not.  I mean come on, haven't you ever thought of an amazing million dollar idea only to discover someone else already thought of it?  Every time I hear someone call out another photographer for copying their work, I can google several people who experimented 10, 25, 100 years ago with whatever it is they are claiming is their brainchild and accuse them of the same.  To wit, Anne Geddes wasn't the first person to make images of kiddies in washtubs.  Someone actually thought it was a cute idea before "child photography" even existed as a genre.  And parents did it without it being a genre.  So anytime you get your knickers in a knot because think you are doing it first, relax - you probably aren't.  Neither is anyone else.  We are all just copying bits and pieces of stuff other people have done first.  See the evolution of "babies in tubs" below:

2) You're one in a million.  One in 22,000,000, actually.  If you google "newborn photography" that's how many hits you get after .20 seconds.  With virtually any genre of photography, you are going to find not fives, not tens, not even hundreds but TENS OF THOUSANDS of other people doing what you are.  Google "Edmonton Newborn Photography" and it brings back 260,000 hits.  And if you hit "view images" you will note that most of the pictures are remarkably similar: softly lit baby wearing (or in) a knitted thingy and sleeping in a ball on an endless backdrop or in a kitschy container of some sort.  Variations include subtle differences like batman angles, textured blankets, and fancy backdrops, but it's mostly the same stuff.  If you google whatever genre you shoot, you will get the same results.  Promise.  Guess what?  Your competition?  They are one in a millions, too.  Just like everyone else.

3) Some people pay to be number 1.  But only for a little while and only if no one else thinks of it at the same time.  Being on the 75th page of the search results does not mean you are worse than 75 pages of other photographers.  Getting to the front page is about paid advertising, well-designed SEO, and other internet-y type things.  Running out to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to get your name on the first page of the search results is a temporary measure and frankly, if all 260,000 newborn photographers did the exact same thing, you might still be on page 75.  Don't use your placement on search engine results as a measuring stick.  PS. Instances of things that organically go viral are far and few between, and there are companies you can pay to make your shit go viral and get you to Page 1…  and there ain't nothing viral about it.  Just sayin'.

4) You're seeing what they want you to see.  When you go look on colleagues' blogs or Facebook pages or read their tweets, the assumption is that every session they brag about is paid and paid well.  We have no idea how much they actually charged, if it was a model call or mini or freebie of some sort.  In a day and age where stealing images is rampant, we don't even know if every picture was shot by them.  Likewise, when their latest tweet is all about sunshine and roses and how busy they are and what a great day shooting they just had and how many bookings they are getting, unless we are a close personal friend, we have NO way of verifying it.  The fact is that person may have had a shitty day with horrible clients and they are so busy they haven't gone to bed with their husband in months because they are post-processing hundreds of clients from a Groupon gone wild and they are teetering on the brink of alcoholism because it's the only way they can wind down from the massive amounts of stress they are suffering with.  And all you will ever see is, "Wow - working on a client's beautiful pics - can hardly wait to open the next file!" The only negative posts will be things like, "Sure hope this cold doesn't stop me from keeping up with my amazing clients!"and "Gosh, I'm so sad I only had enough money to buy one new lens."  While it might be true, it might also be a cover up or an outright lie.  Nobody's life is that perfect all day, every day.  Developing a positive, chipper online persona is likely a good business decision as it keeps people in a happy buying mood, but an online persona is not actually legitimate measure of how much more wonderful and perfect everyone else's life is, so take it with a grain of salt.

5) Getting rich and famous takes work unless you're born into it, and even then you need to work at it or you'll fall into obscurity and be worthless as a product endorsement.  Contrary to what you might want to think about people being "discovered" I promise you that most people who appear to skyrocket to the top have gotten there by a) being connected with the right people and b) intense and relentless self-promotion.  Before you stop to marvel at how your work must be crap compared to so-and-so's because they got "discovered" and you didn't, I would hazard a guess it wouldn't take long to find out how much time and money they have spent attending the right events, rubbing elbows with the right people, and schmoozing their way up.  The difference between poor and un-famous you and rich and famous them is they were born into the right crowd or have played the game right.  Being rich and famous ins't all it's cracked up to be either - the bigger they are the harder they fall, right?  PS Serial killers are famous and con artists are rich…  and some people are rich and famous but do you really have any reason to pay attention to them besides the fact they are rich and famous?

6) Even more contrary to popular belief, being successful doesn't necessarily mean being rich and famous.  Remember I said you need to use your own yardstick and not someone else's?  Maybe you aren't being featured as a guest lecturer at WPPI and maybe you haven't been charging enough to buy that yacht or a second home in the Hamptons, but if you're getting consistent work, glowing referrals, and making enough that you at least break even at the end of the year doing what you love doing, what do you really have to complain about?  So what if the competition appears to be living the high life?  We are taught by a consumer society that success means being rich and famous and we don't know what "enough" is anymore.  If you can ditch the desire for excess, you might start seeing your own success.  And maybe less is the new more.

So.  Maybe you can't change your competition or magically eliminate all your insecurity, but you can change your perspective.  All it takes is using a slightly different yardstick.

“There are thousands and thousands of people out there leading lives of quiet, screaming desperation, where they work long, hard hours at jobs they hate to enable them to buy things they don't need to impress people they don't like.”

― Nigel Marsh

Hopefully, I have said something in this article that helps you reframe your feelings of insecurity, put things into context, and feel (oddly) connected to your fellow photographer who probably looks at YOUR blog and says, "Man, I just don't stack up…"  Now, go have a nice day.





Unless otherwise noted, writing and watermarked images on this blog are copyrighted to Hope Walls.