Being a photographer can be a bit of a slog in between the tedium of day-to-day work and dealing with the various issues that often arise. Here are four things you should try doing to become a happier and more satisfied photographer.
1. Seek Less Validation
The internet has made it easier than ever to seek external validation, often in the form of quantitative totals such as likes. We crave those tiny dopamine hits as our like counts slowly rise. However, it is no secret that there is an inverse proportionality between the addictive use of social media and self-esteem. It can be a bit of a vicious circle: we feel down about our work or ourselves, so we post on social media for validation, which is only a temporary fix, so we post again, etc. However, that sort of thing never leads to long-term, stable satisfaction.
Sure, social media is a necessary thing for most professionals. We have to keep a presence on a variety of platforms, as they are often where potential clients will stumble upon our work and even inquire about our services. Reframing social media more as a professional promotional tool and less as a place to get validation for your work (especially the sort that is derived from watching like counts) can help you find a healthier balance with these platforms and help you find deeper, truer contentment with your work in other places.
2. Compete With Yourself
Another consequence of the internet is that we are constantly inundated with a ton of spectacular imagery. I can hop on Instagram or the like and see numerous brilliant images from top photographers in an instant. And sometimes, that can be a bit demoralizing.
It is important to remember that we are all at different points in our journeys, and you do not know how much time and effort the photographer behind that amazing photo has put in to get to that point. Furthermore, we only put our best work online, and it is important to remember that for every finished portfolio image put out into the world, there are likely hundreds of throwaways that never made the cut. It is easy to forget that when we only have knowledge of a stranger's 50 or so best images, but we are aware of the 40,000 photos in our own library.
That is not to say there is nothing useful to be learned from comparing your work to that of others. Undoubtedly, studying the work of others and seeing what techniques they use, how they compose their images, etc. and using those to learn how to improve your own images can be a very valuable exercise. In fact, putting your images side by side with someone's work you admire can bring issues you have overlooked in your own work into relief. Just make sure you approach this sort of exercise as one in objective evaluation rather than one of comparison for derivation of self-worth.
3. Pick a Trusted Mentor or Friend
I am sure you have had the experience of posting your images in online groups and experiencing scathing (and often unsolicited) critiques. You should not just take advice or criticism from anyone. First of all, in general, any feedback that is overly negative or positive probably is not very useful. Second of all, not every person on the internet is qualified to give you helpful feedback on your photos. It is important not to just take every random comment to heart or to let just any person ruin your day.
I have found that rather than just throwing my images out there for critique by strangers when I need a second opinion or some advice, I prefer to go to a trusted friend and get their opinion. I know they have the knowledge to give a useful, informed opinion and that they will do so respectfully but honestly, which is how all critique should be delivered. I have gained much more valuable insights this way without having to ever wade through all the unsolicited rudeness and unqualified opinions that run rampant on the internet.
4. Demand Respect for Yourself
Unfortunately, photography is a field in which you constantly have to assert your right to be respected for the choices you have made and what you do. Not standing up for yourself in day-to-day interactions can really start to wear you down over time. The need for this can arise is a wide variety of situations. It could be a potential client who does not value your work and services at the level they should and is trying to negotiate a significant discount. It could be from family members or friends who think photography is not a legitimate career compared to a more traditional 9-5. Or it could be from fellow photographers, who can certainly be a vitriolic bunch. You do not have to get sucked into online shouting matches or the like, but simply knowing the sort of respect you deserve and acting accordingly can make a big difference.
5. Take Time for Yourself
Being a professional photographer is a lot of work — work that often goes unappreciated. In-between running a business and all that goes into that, working with clients, answering emails, and of course, shooting and editing images, it can be a lot to swallow. A lot of my photography friends go through phases of feeling burnt out and disillusioned with the entire thing, and I certainly do not blame them for feeling that way. It is really important to remember that you deserve downtime and to be careful to build that into your schedule or to listen to your body and mind and take it when you need it. It can be anything — watching a movie, going for a walk, taking the weekend off, etc.
Don't get me wrong. Photography is a great thing, and it is awesome that we can make careers out of it. However, just like any other pursuit, it is not a fairy tale, and there are certainly pitfalls and downsides that we should be prepared to deal with.
What do you do to make yourself a happier photographer? Let me know in the comments.