Bad Photographers Think They're Good: Why Does It Matter so Much to Everyone?

Bad Photographers Think They're Good: Why Does It Matter so Much to Everyone?

There are many bad photographers who think they are good. The topic of why has been discussed on countless occasions. But, is it a bad thing? Is it really wrong to be bad and think you’re good? Let’s find out.

When I started out in photography, I naturally thought I had it all figured out after my first job. Illya was a professional photographer who knew everything from camera settings to, well, camera settings. Things like lighting, posing, composition, and proportion never crossed my mind. Why would they? I am a guy who’s paid to take pictures, so why should I bother about anything else? 

Why Did I Think I Was Good When I Clearly Wasn't?

What you just read is a prime example of the Dunning-Kruger effect, which describes a seemingly illogical occurrence in the human brain. When someone has just started learning a skill, their actual knowledge is considerably lower than their perceived knowledge. In fact, some say that perceived knowledge peaks at the start. The reason this happens is because of the influx of new information in the brain. It is fairly easy to learn the basics, and there is a clear difference between not knowing how to set shutter speed and knowing how to set it. Essentially, the basics make up for around 5% of the total knowledge, but they are the fastest 5% when it comes to learning. Hence, it seems like there is a lot of new information that entered the head, hence perceived knowledge skyrockets. 

Is It Useful To Be Bad and Think You're Good?

With the reason behind the Dunning-Kruger effect outlined, I want to get to the core of this article, which is an evaluation of its usefulness to beginner photographers. As far as I understand, high perceived knowledge gives a high level of confidence in yourself as a creative. Confidence is of vital importance, especially as a beginner. Had I never experienced slightly (greatly) increased perceived knowledge levels at the start, I would be stuck two years behind in my career.

There is always an opposing force when you’re starting out, be it friends or harsh reality. That opposing force has one goal: to stop you from doing whatever you are doing. Be it out of jealousy or otherwise, the opposing force is there. However, in order to move forward, your force has to only be higher than the opposing one. Using the perceived confidence of the Dunning-Kruger effect can be very helpful in this regard as it will provide a part of that force. More often than not, seeing the progress is helpful in boosting confidence as a photographer. 

Short Term Versus Long Term Effects

This isn’t without caveats. The Dunning-Kruger effect can be harvested for benefit only for a short period of time. It is important to understand that it is not a reliable long-term source of confidence. This is why you should be striving to overcome the Dunning-Kruger effect in order to achieve that long-term security in skill. 

Overcoming the Dunning-Kruger Effect

Some of the best ways I used to overcome it are: 

1. Reaching Out to Photographers You Admire and Asking for Feedback

This looks and feels scary. Why? Just because someone is further in their career doesn’t mean they’re less of a person or some unknown creature that eats anyone who's below them. We are all people with emotions, compassion, and understanding. By being afraid to reach out to a photographer you admire and ask for feedback, you are limiting yourself. They probably know exactly what you need to do to get to the next step. Reaching out is exactly how I became friends with a world-renowned photographer that has worked with iconic clients. 

One more way to get feedback on your work is to reach out to people that hire or represent photographers. When I was looking for an agent, I was invested in looking for both global and local representation. Having reached out to one local agency, I got plenty of useful and important feedback that helped me progress further in my career as a photographer. 

2. Learning

In a recent article, I discussed the importance of learning all the time as a professional photographer. There should never be a point where you feel like you know everything about one given thing. Be it how to light or how to compose, or anything else. If you think you know everything, recognize that you are a beginner. A current one for me is the history of fashion. As a fashion photographer, I must know how my subject developed over time. Just like any portrait photographer must know their subject inside out, I must know fashion inside-out.  

3. Feel Grateful (Not Hateful) for Old Work That Taught a Lesson

I strive to always have gratitude for the past, no matter good or bad. Although my old work is not up to my current standard, it is still something to be grateful for. I wouldn’t be here without what I’ve done in the past. That said, you must be able to identify clear progress and be able to break down how your new work is of a higher standard than old work. 

4. Not Forgetting to Enjoy the Journey

No matter where you are in your photography journey, it is vital to enjoy it. Even if now you may fall under the category of bad photographers that think they’re good, try to learn from it. Often, knowing the why behind your images can do a lot to propel you forward while ensuring that you are being present with your current self. Simply focusing on producing work and reflecting afterward leads to the journey being very enjoyable, and as a result, you end up overcoming the Dunning-Kruger effect. 

Closing Thoughts 

The Dunning-Kruger effect is a great boost when you’re starting out. Fast learning comes across as learning a lot, which at the start, helped me be a more confident photographer. In hindsight, I am grateful for that period, as it was part of the journey. Sure, the further I went, the more I realized how little I know, but at the same time, I knew that if I could shoot a two-day event with 500 people at 18, I could probably do the next assignment. The Dunning-Kruger effect gave boosts of confidence; overcoming it simply changed the source of confidence from perceived knowledge to past experience. Of course, that is evolving all the time, and now, confidence comes from a plethora of sources, while knowledge and past experience make up for a small part of that. 

Illya Ovchar's picture

Illya aims to tell stories with clothes and light. Illya's work can be seen in magazines such as Vogue, Marie Claire, and InStyle.

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Yes, also the AOP (for UK)

Absolutely! We're all people :-)

Illya, this is an interesting theses and it seems plausible. To me, being older now, with some life experience, I think it is simpler: If you are young you lack the experience that Socrates described 2500 years ago: I know that I know nothing. Meaning: Socrates was aware of the fact that he lacked wisdom or real knowledge beyond all doubt.
As for you: If you had grown up in an artistic environment or with acquaintances from it, you too would have approached things differently. (Please excuse, I am just guessing). It's all a matter of experience: either your own or that of others.

Thanks for reading, Jan. I didn't grow up in a family of artists. We all start at different points ;-)

All gotta say is Instagram feeds this delusion of greatness for millions of not really that great photographers just because it is designed to reward those that spew content good or bad and also those who are willing to pay now.
As for reaching out to professionals well, Ive gotta be honest and say that I personally did that once and was seriously underwhelmed by the feed back I received which amounted to “ It is perfect besides him saying the waterfall should of been more centered” that kinda just left me thinking he glanced at it with out actually really looking at it. I personally expected a good bit more information back about maybe how I could have done this or that better, but nope nothing like that at all.

Sorry to hear that. I'd suggest trying again to be honest.

At some point the time will come to ask another photographer that I admire I am sure of it. It is just since that time I haven’t felt like it and have been happy with getting feedback from a friend of mine that shoots as well plus with my friend I also get to give him feedback which helps me progress as well.

Well, The person is actually a very note worthy person in the landscape photography world which makes it worse. I mean, At this point it is water under the bridge and I guess at least I know via big time pro to place things like waterfalls more centered even tho I kinda already knew that, but in that photo I didn’t due to other factors.

I feel that Instagram can also have the opposing effect, providing negative feedback for some who are actually creating great images, but not playing the social media game of algorithms, when to post, comment on everything always, etc.

As you pointed out, the social media game is less about quality of content, and more about amount, frequency, and pandering of said content

Oh yeah, You can sometimes get negative feedback for better or worse depending on if it is actually constructive or is just out right mean with the latter I have seen many times. In general it mostly just seems to be a eco chamber of sorts that doesn’t help anyone besides feeding their narcissism.

I actually do like posting on sites like this one and it is because I know this is a legit place built for photography filled with other amazing photographers who are genuinely into it for the craft vs other reasons.

On a side note, I honestly can not imagine how brutal social media can be for young kids and teens after seeing how it is with grown ups! Before photography Instagram was never something I thought much of and nor did my friends, but with photography people are so deep into the hole now they don’t even realize it often and try to play it all off as harmless. Lol, It actually reminds me of people that do cocaine all the time, but claim they have no problem with it even tho you watch them do bumps all the time and after work & on the weekends they go ham with it.