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.
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.
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.
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