If you are being honest with yourself would you say you are completely happy with how your photography is going? A few small changes could be all that you need to take things to a more fulfilling and successful level.
There are many photographers out there making amazing work that still feel unfulfilled and unhappy in life. Some of these people will eventually decide to put the camera down and never pick it up again. The great shame in those instances is that it may not have been the photography that was to blame for the negative feelings and more to do with where their sights were set. If we don't look inside ourselves and ask the right questions, it should come as no surprise to learn we are navigating the choppy waters of life blindfolded.
Which Questions Should I Be Asking?
Being very specific in your questions asking can help you to realize what is important to you. I think for many of us, the action of articulating these values and needs can be revolutionary and something many of us have never done before.
To help make some of these thoughts more "real" I find writing them down on a piece of paper is a good idea. Start with a list of the main things that you like doing in life including everything non-photography-related. Don't be afraid of writing about areas of your life that you think are not worthwhile or a bit silly. The more information we have here the better the picture of ourselves we can make.
For my list, I have obvious things like photography and writing, but I have also included areas like DIY, walking, art, and helping others.
Next, we are going to drill down on some of those areas and ask ourselves what values and feelings we like getting from doing them. An example of this would be a landscape photographer talking about the feelings of getting outdoors, the fun of traveling, and the ability to be alone. The idea here is to strip away the activity itself and distill down as best you can how it makes you feel and what you actually value about it.
Once your list is formed, you should start to see a catalog of factors that are important to you. Hopefully, you'll see some repetition in those lists. This will mean you're starting to better understand what it actually is about certain activities that make you enjoy doing them. For me, being creative in whatever capacity is always high on my list even if it's not photography-related.
The Penny Drops
I hope it's at this point that you look at your lists and realize that it's not the vehicle (for example photography) that is the most important element but the values and feelings you get from the actions themselves. For those who have creative outputs other than photography, please don't feel guilty if that other activity actually ticks more boxes for you.
I know when I used to be a filmmaker I ignored the fact that I enjoyed photography more as I thought I was destined to make films my whole life. In reality, photography gave me so much more in terms of the values and feelings important to me than filmmaking ever did. Once I made peace with this notion and decided to concentrate on photography, I was so much happier and fulfilled and found I didn't miss the process of moving images one bit.
In a similar vein to that, I have also worked with others where the label of "fashion photographer" or "commercial photographer" was so important to that individual that they would endure a less fulfilling area of the industry just so they could keep saying they were a particular kind of photographer. These approaches in my opinion are never going to be a good breeding ground for a happy, healthy, and successful photographer.
Weighing Up Alternative Options
So now you have hopefully worked out a collection of qualities that you deem most important to you. If you repeat the exercise you just completed with activities you may want to get into in the future, you may just be surprised to find areas that are a good match for you that you had previously never considered. This can be especially useful for photographers weighing up other areas of the industry to work in or trying to decide which facets of their current practice should be given the most time and energy. By looking at the qualities and feelings experienced in other areas you don't currently work in, you may find something that ticks more boxes for you.
Sometimes, the shifting of focus to another field ever so slightly can change everything. I know when I stopped focusing so intently on the commercial world in favor of fine art, I never felt better. The crazy thing is that both areas were similar in nature but one had many more of the qualities that were important to me. It took me sitting down with a sheet of paper to be able to put my finger on exactly why this was the case.
Such a Simple Exercise
So there you have it, how one sheet of A4 paper could potentially make you a happier and more successful photographer. I know a simple task such as list-making may seem rather trivial to some of you, but I do implore you to give it a go. I think it's incredibly easy to get too close to what we do day-to-day that it can sometimes be difficult to untangle the particular areas we love and hate about something. Creating a list is a useful way to help us to take a step back and evaluate the situation we find ourselves in. By having a better understanding of what is at the core of what we value, we put ourselves in a much stronger position to make decisions and navigate our future. It stands to reason that the happier and more fulfilled we are, the more likely we will excel in what we do, which in turn, will hopefully bring more opportunities and success.
While I appreciate this exercise will not map out how to become the next big thing in photography, it should help you to measure and compare various elements and work out what could be a better fit for you. The main takeaway I hope people take from this article is that our focus should be more weighted towards our particular values and feelings rather than labels or what other people think.
Have you ever created lists like this to help evaluate your life? Did it help you to make better decisions going forward? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.