Celebrating Your Achievements in Photography

Celebrating Your Achievements in Photography

We are our own worst enemies. As photographers and artists, we can be unfairly hard on ourselves and on our work. While it is healthy to be critical of one’s creations, it can be very difficult to stay motivated if you do not receive the right kind of encouragement from others, as well as from yourself. Slumps and dry spells of inspiration are par for the course in art, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. By initiating a few simple practices, you can give back to yourself, and recognize the many accomplishments you've made in your journey as a photographer.

Left: Shot in 2011 | Right: Shot in 2013

Create an Achievement Board

For those that are just starting out in photography, or even those that have turned professional, you owe it to yourself to keep tabs on all of your achievements. Before this, you must think about what motivated you. Did you receive positive feedback from peers on a recent photograph? Was one of your images featured on a website? Did a company reach out to you to work with them after discovering your work online? Every photographer will have a unique definition for what they label as an achievement. No matter how big or how small it is, take a screenshot, or make a note in a document about it.

I have a folder on my computer where I store these pick-me-ups. Like many other photographers, I am not immune to creative slumps, or to the woes of a buckling ego. It is easy to get caught up in the challenges that you face without looking back on all of the strides you’ve taken to get there. Taking a moment to review your past achievements, no matter how small, helps to rebuild confidence in yourself and in your work.

Left: Shot in 2013 | Right: Shot in 2015

Compare Your Work to Yourself, Not Others

One of the quickest ways to dash your confidence on the rocks is to compare your work to others that are at a much different stage in their career. Looking at other photographer’s work for inspiration or knowing your competition is perfectly reasonable, but not when you compare your work to their own. I found myself struggling with this in my earlier days of photography, in awe of some of the incredible photographs that my photography idols were producing. It quickly deflated my spirits, inspiring a sense of frustration and helplessness at not being able to produce work at a similar level.

But that isn’t fair. Instead of comparing your work to the greats in your industry, you should instead be comparing your work to your previous photographs. Look at images that you shot under similar conditions year over year, and note the differences. Has your composition improved? Has your knowledge of lighting helped you to bring the images you picture in your head to life through your camera? Has your post-processing or retouching skills improved noticeably from your earlier photographs?

Nothing should make you more proud than realizing how far you have come, and the large strides you have taken in improving your photography. Take solace in knowing that so long as you press onward, this will be a continuing trend, and that one day your work will be the level of quality you strive for.

Left: Shot in 2010 | Right: Shot in 2012

Surround Yourself with Positive Influences

Words have varying impact on each one of us, ranging from easily swept aside to being horribly dispiriting. Is there a consistent theme in the feedback you receive from your friends and peers? Are they encouraging and proud of your work, or are they scathing and unfairly critical? Like often attracts like, and surrounding yourself with fellow artists who belittle your work rather than try to support you to raise it up can be poisonous influences.

Seek out those whose opinions you respect, that can offer constructive feedback based on technique and skill rather than subjectively stylistic critiques. Even the aspirations of those around you can have a contagious effect. If you interact with ambitious artists who reach for success, it’s difficult not to get swept up in that sort of drive, and feed off of that energy.

It takes a lot of courage to pursue a career in the creative world, a road that is paved with twists and turns. Look back on your journey and celebrate your success along the way.

What are some of the ways you keep yourself inspired? Please feel free to discuss the methods that work for you in the comments below.

Team Credits - Photographer: Kendra Paige | Model: Megan Coffey | MUA: Miki Sarroca & Angelina Vargas | Hair: Fiorella Castro & Mondo of Pyure Aveda Lifestyle Salon | Cosmetics: Darling Girl Cosmetics | Rescue Horse: Freedom Riders Academy | Retoucher: Svetlana Pasechnik | Assistant: Chris Brodsky

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23 Comments

I like how you compared the house cat to the big cat! :)

Kendra Paige's picture

Haha, I confess that I wished I had a previous photo of a lion to be more on-point, but my fluffy cat had to do!

Did you know that in many US states its actually perfectly legal to buy and own a real tiger to keep as a pet? Yes, the zoo variety! And they only cost about a thousand dollars, no permit required (in most states).

The last time I checked, 8 states allow it with no permit requirements and an additional 13 require permits. I used to do a LOT of exotic animal rescue and the rescue groups I worked with have been lobbying hard for years to implement bans and strict permits.

Do these tigers make docile pets if raised from birth? Do they experience a lot of loneliness when they do not grow up with their kind? Here in europe we can't own these big kitties.

Kendra Paige's picture

Domesticating big cats is a sad thing, as even those that are raised from birth can never be truly domesticated. The picture above of the lion was taken at an animal sanctuary, where they take in exotic animals that are "domesticated," only for the animals to be mistreated or to attack their owners. That lion in particular was owned by a magician, who just abandoned him before the sanctuary took him in.

I'm all for passing legislation that makes it illegal to own these exotic animals, they're just not meant for a family home by uneducated owners who can't provide the proper facilities or resources for such a creature.

No, they do not make good pets. One of my friends and a rescue owner did have a cougar as an rehabbed education animal that lived in his house, and she was ok but they are generally more docile than a lion or tiger.

In most situations, people want exotic animals without knowing what they are getting in to. In the US anything but cats and dogs are considered exotic. People think they are cool and want one without realizing they require special diets, housing, they can be very loud, they can be aggressive, etc. We have a large problem in Florida with Burmese pythons largely in part because individuals in normal homes cannot house them when they get so big, so they let them loose (which is illegal but impossible to prove) where they live on neighborhood pets and have been known to swallow alligators. Typically the pets who aren't let loose, and to be fair it's primarily snakes, are often closed away with little interaction because people don't know how to handle them. Parrots in particular are often closed in dark rooms because they are loud. Big cats are put in enclosures they can't escape with meat thrown in daily. The general public is often misled by breeders who need to make a profit, because these animals are expensive to properly care for, and aren't forthcoming about what it takes to keep an exotic pet. It's so different from keeping a dog that when I got my dog I realized "oh shit, I have no idea how to train him" because I'd worked with parrots for so long, and parrots are more like people.

I compared my old (film) Australia/New Zealand travel photos to my recent Alaska photos. There are more "winners" in my current images, yet I still shoot sparingly, as though I only had a fixed amount of film, rather than a half terabyte of memory. So my success rate on images where I have less control (nature/landscape/wildlife) than my portrait work, is improving.

Coworkers have already expressed interest in a self-published photo book of my Alaskan brown bear images, which sort of validates that.

Kendra Paige's picture

That is awesome! I think that there are a lot of great practices that photographers who use film have been able to convert to their digital workflows. Avoiding the "spray and pray" approach to photography is definitely one of those finer traits.

Thank you for the comment!

I got my son a 7D for this trip, and noticed that when he took a single image, it was often well-composed and sharp, but when he shot a high speed series, they were soft and pretty ordinary. Film or digital, it pays to take your time.

It's also terribly frustrating that he doesn't have much interest in owning a real camera, but has a great eye for composition. Example attached.

Sean Shimmel's picture

Excellent zip zag movement from top to bottom

I haven't compared winners in my film vs. digital output. But I approach shooting digital as if I'm shooting film (for the most part). I turned image review off on my DSLR since I don't use it. But with shooting sports, DSLR rocks! I'll use high speed shooting.

Image review is a distraction. I try to save that for when I get home, unless I really need to check something critical.

I agree. I'll review images later, but never immediately afterwards.

Kendra Paige's picture

Quality over quantity! I definitely believe putting in the right concentration to frame a shot properly the first time is much better than shooting a lot and hoping for the best. In action / sports photography, however, shooting plenty is sort of a requirement. There are only so many factors that you, as the photographer, can control when dealing with fast-moving objects.

Thank you for your comment!

I agree. At a NCAA Women's Basketball regional tournament, I brought one of my film cameras since I have a 80-205mm zoom lens and I shot conservatively. However, noticing that I rarely went beyond 130mm, I brought my DSLR the next day with the 24-105mm and shot for action.

For a practice round at The Masters 2015 golf tournament, I brought my DLSR with a rented 100-400mm zoom lens for the action shots and shot slide film in my SLR with a 28mm lens.

For me, photography is a creative release. It's something that I've done since 1980.

My vocation is programming computers, which I consider to be a creative art. It involves creating solutions.

Just imagine where you would be if it were not for the creative programming wizards at Adobe adding features to Photoshop and Lightroom. No, I don't work for Adobe and no, I won't fix your computer.

Sean Shimmel's picture

Such a timeless topic.

Way to go Kendra! Simple reflections, endlessly open-ended. In my case, I see both grow AND early possibilities

1. Waaay back (although I still like it! Reportage... encountering the dead deer). Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F717?

2. Now: www.lifeascinema.blogspot.com (over the later years... D80, D300 and now D800 and film)

Connor Moriarty's picture

What a fantastic article. It is way too easy to fall into a slump as a photographer. More people need to read this.

Kendra Paige's picture

Thank you, Connor! I appreciate that!

Connor Moriarty's picture

No problem, you deserve it! I just finished an article titled "10 things to expect if you are dating a photographer." Would you like to take a look at it? I would love your opinion.

Kendra Paige's picture

Feel free to drop me a message with a link to it!

Jeff Colburn's picture

Many years ago I was taking a photography class, and the instructor, Al Belson, pulled out The Black Book. He gave it to one of the students, told him to take a look inside, then pass it on to the next student. When everyone had seen the book he said, "If you looked at the book and said 'I can do that.' or 'I want to learn how to do that.' you have a good chance at being a professional photographer. But if you said, 'Gawd, I'll never be that good.' then you will never make it.

Comparing your work with other creative's work is fine, as long as you realize what your skill level is and what their skill level is.

Don't beat yourself up because they are better than you, but use their work as a learning tool and a goal for you to achieve. It takes time and effort to master any creative field. Cut yourself some slack and enjoy the creative experience.

Have Fun,
Jeff