How Self Doubt Can Drive You Forward as a Photographer


It's true that doubt can be so bad it’ll make you want to stop creating or showing your work to the world. But if you flip it on its head, it can actually help you become a better photographer.

It is natural and common for creative minds to experience doubt. It is no different in photography, and one should always embrace it. I’m sure you too have been through it, probably more than you care to admit.

You hit the streets on a mission to capture some great street shots, spend hours walking and observing, but somehow, nothing really comes out of it. You get back home deflated, questioning if you have any talent at all. It is especially true with street photography or other photographic genres where you have little to no control of what happens; nothing can be staged.

 Doubt is often perceived as a negative, but it is a feeling anyone can turn into a positive. Think, for example, of others who would come back from the exact same day out and publish way too many photos they consider great. Maybe it is preferable to be harsher on yourself and more selective in what you consider a fruitful photography day. Consider it a more thorough culling process on your part.

Ever since I started shooting, I have felt like a fraud. Actually, the feeling is increasing as years go by and more people follow my work and others pay me to shoot and bring their ideas to life. Of course, if you look at my Twitter or Instagram profiles or my website bio, you wouldn’t think so. It’s quite the contrary: a list of achievements and so on. That’s simply because it is important to project confidence in what you do, in who you are. But we can all write a convincing and embellished bio; it doesn’t always mean it reflects how we feel.

When combined with passion, doubt can be extremely powerful. It is what keeps me wanting to always learn more, achieve more, and experiment more. It also makes me discard average photos instead of considering them good enough to show the world. The self-satisfied are the ones who sit down and admire their own achievements. Doubters are the ones who are constantly pushing themselves to achieve more, be better, and keep learning.

I realized how fortunate I am to doubt and the importance of humility on one particular day. That day, it was a photographer called James (not his real name) who helped me realize it, although at the time, all I felt was: “Please never let me become this guy.”

The particular event was a photography talk we took part in with a room full of people. As I presented my work, I went for what I still hope was a humble approach, letting the audience decide as I presented my work and discussed each shot a little whether they liked it or not. 

In contrast, one photo after the other, James could not find enough words of praise for his own portfolio. Expressing how much he loved that shot, how well composed was that other one, and that shot was once described by some photography authority as one of the best photos they’d ever seen. Not wanting to be too harsh, I thought the shot was average at best.

I’m not sure how the audience felt, but I was embarrassed for him, and I couldn’t comprehend how someone could be so smug. How can you retain the drive to better yourself and develop as a photographer if you feel so self-satisfied?

It was one of those key moments in my life. If you have to tell people how great your work is, it’s probably not that great.

Just be humble about your work; let people decide how much they like it, and don’t worry about self-doubt. Embrace it, and use its energy to drive you and your photography forward.

Log in or register to post comments
Benedict Eric Kwasi Baah's picture

You have sincerely expressed all that i ever feel about myself and my work. Thank you!
"Keep pushing and never be satisfied about yourself/work"

Nicholas Goodden's picture

Thanks for stopping by Akwesi!

Ralph Hightower's picture

I consider myself my own worst critic, but I shoot for myself. It's how can I do it better. Yea, there are photos that I like.

Jason Reed's picture

Totally agree with the need for humility. But I'm not sure how compatible that is with the phenomenon of social media and the like/fave culture. Social media success is a humility killer and lack of self promotion is a killer full stop. Catch 22. The balance is almost impossible.

Nicholas Goodden's picture

Hey Jason! I guess social media can be a humility killer. It's all down to how each individual handles it like most things in life. I personally, although I have a large following, know likes and follows in the grand scheme of things do not matter one bit and mean nothing. My own perception of my work is filled with doubt, hence why I wrote this and why it keeps pushing me.

Jason Reed's picture

Absolutely agree Nico. I think it's important to acknowledge the importance of doubting yourself. And you have expressed that very well. Some people have not improved one jot over the years and I attribute that to like and fave fests from acolytes. It's a very fine balance.

the former lacky's picture

i constantly go out and then think i had a shit day of shooting, then when going over the images i find that one image that made it worth to go out the whole day, then i have days i cant pick what i like best, fuck it man just go shoot and enjoy it

Nicholas Goodden's picture

Hi Steve! Yep that's the way forward!

the former lacky's picture

Now if i can find away to make money from it life would be golden HAHAHAHAHHAHAHA

Courtney K.'s picture

Self-doubt drives me to want to try new things and improve, or at least challenge myself. If you're completely satisfied with your work, it's too easy to settle in and not stretch your abilities.