It's time to be honest with yourself. It's time to ask some hard questions about your work and answer them straightforwardly, even if you hurt your own feelings. Grab a pen and paper, drop your ego, and tackle these questions.
If you're feeling like I have a gargantuan ego and you're cueing up to tear me to shreds in the comments, don't worry, if you read my own answers you wouldn't be rushing to your keyboard. I am constantly having these conversations with myself and I'm nowhere near a 10. And anyways, this article is about you, not me.
How is your work? Honestly though. Are you surprising yourself by the pieces which you are deliberately crafting? Or are you continuing, somewhat uninspired, with the passable shots you rotely share on the gram?
Let's tackle these questions.
1) On a Scale of 1 to 10, With 10 Being the Most Inspiring Photography You’ve Ever Seen, How Do You Rate Your Own Images?
If you kept reading without stopping and answering the question, I challenge you to stop and answer it. What is your number? Are you producing at your maximum potential? Are you creating work which you're very proud of, yet you know you have even more if you push yourself? Are you having to be honest and admit that your imagery is a little lackluster? Do you know your work is mediocre but you're too busy or too tired to do anything about it?
2) What Are My Strengths as a Photographer?
The heat's off on this one. What are you great at? What is it about your images that's really working? What do you love about your images? What's the genius in your work that comes only from your unique mind? In the business world, entrepreneurs are encouraged to spend the majority of their work hours executing tasks that are in their "zone of genius". What is your "vision of genius"? What's a "very you" shot?
3) What Are the Areas That My Work Is Weak?
(Flips furnace back on)
American physicist Richard Feynman said, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool."
In what area do you need most growth? Is it off-camera lighting, editing, concept creation, or creativity? Maybe it's that your images are all over the place and you lack a trademark style. Maybe it's just that your shots are boring and you need to spice them up. Maybe it's knowing trade secrets (like getting those perfectly spherical water-i.e. glycerin-droplets) or techniques (like panning for sports imagery). Jot down 2 of 3 areas where your work needs growth.
4) Is My Work Significantly Better This Year Than It Was Last Year?
The key word here is significantly. If it is, bravo! Keep growing. Many of the photographers we admire have been perfecting their craft for decades. It's not helpful to compare your work to theirs. Be inspired by their work; but only compare your recent images to your previous images: those from one, three and five years ago. If your work is not significantly better, why isn't it? Dig into that a little.
5) What Skill Do I Need To Learn That I Haven’t Invested the Time to Master?
Here are some ideas:
Flash (including handheld flash)
In-camera double exposure
Post-processing (Photoshop, Lightroom, Capture One)
Posing for portraiture
Business classes on marketing
Using reflectors or VFlats
Digital Compositing or photo stacking
There are tremendous amounts of resources out there. YouTube has given us access to the biggest names in the industry at no cost. In addition to YouTube videos, I routinely take intensive classes to really dig into a topic from platforms such as Fstoppers, PhLearn, Creative Live, etc. I've taken classes from all three of these platforms: everything from splash photography, to retouching hair, advanced cloning, product photography, retouching skin, portrait photography and more. The investment pays off tenfold. You can also attend a workshop or seek mentoring opportunities. There are seemingly limitless ways to improve in your craft.
(Furnace is off; sigh of relief.)
Although some of the questions required some hard honesty, I hope you took the time to answer them. The great adventure of being an artist is discovering what else you have within you. I'll leave you with a quote from one of my favorite books, "Art & Fear" by David Bayles
“Making art means working in the face of uncertainty; it means living with doubt and contradiction, doing something no one much cares whether you do, and for which there may be neither audience nor reward. Making the work you want to make means setting aside these doubts so that you may see clearly what you have done, and thereby see where to go next. Making the work you want to make means finding nourishment within the work itself.”
If you're feeling brave share some of your answers in the comments below. I would love to hear what you're crushing, what you want to improve on, and what your social media handle is so I can check out your journey.