Compare and Despair: A Photographer's Guide to Positive Thinking

Compare and Despair: A Photographer's Guide to Positive Thinking

You’ve just wrapped up a shoot and excitement begins to swell in you as you prepare to review your pictures. You hope that just this once, you can walk away with deep satisfaction at the end result. However, to your dismay, just as you are preparing to review the pictures, you catch wind of a notification to view someone’s new Instagram post. That of which due to how polished it is, makes you look at your own work with despair. The spark you once felt for it is now gone.

Sound Familiar?

This toxic scenario which has plagued us all at some point and time was given a name by Fashion Photographer Melissa Rodwell. “Compare and despair” is a coined phrase that depicts exactly how we feel at that moment. On a daily basis we consume hundreds of thousands of images, so when we do finally settle our thoughtful gaze on our own work, we see it as inferior. It's something that I dealt with for quite sometime without even realizing what was going on until hearing about it via her JointheBreed podcast. It was almost as if everything just seemed to click in place. I could pinpoint the behavior for what it was and see about overcoming this debilitating obstacle. The most important question I had to ask myself was how could I move forward and love my work and the process of learning if I was constantly beating myself up with comparisons to outside sources?

So How Do We Move Forward?

For me personally, things began to change when I finally realized that the only person I am in competition with is myself. To ensure that I can acknowledge the flaws of my previous work and also take the time to pat myself on the back for what growth I do notice. This is an important mindset moving forward because slowly but surely you’ll notice when regarding others' work, you simply take it as is rather then immediately comparing it to your own. It also helps in realizing that just like you, there was many moments of frustration for them; many scrapped photos that never made it past the first culling period, or the hours and hours invested to get to where they are today. Whomever the photographer may be, they too started with humble beginnings in photography; a simple dream with many trials and tribulations to overcome. 

Compare and Despair Is a Thing of the Past

I implore you to look back upon some of your very first images. Once you get past the initial cringe I am more than certain it'll be replaced with a smile. All of the long hours culling and editing, searching for the answers to those troubling problems that proved elusive, and challenging yourself with new gear and setups will show fruition in your present work. 

So to you I say celebrate your victories. Note your shortcomings, therefore ensuring that your following shoots will be yet another step closer to your goal as a photographer. I do recognize that what may work for me may not work for others, but overall, a positive outlook on one's work helps keep you from being burnt out or discouraged to continue on your path.

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Ken Flanagan's picture

Love it. I totally agree. For me, it has become all about the journey, and not the outcome. I have never taken a photograph I like, and its not because I look at others and compare, but it is because I compare it to what I would consider to be perfect, and know that it is unattainable, but I don't care and keep moving forward. I absolutely love looking at other peoples work. It inspires me, and keeps me moving. One of my favorite photographers in the world was Rodney Smith. His work always inspires me, and I am still sad he's gone.

Thomas Starlit's picture

I believe another creativity killer is hunting for likes on social media. Posting pictures you feel great about, hoping that it will yield massive amounts of likes, which rarely happens. And even when it does they are likes from other photographers - not potential clients.

Brandon Laurent's picture

I agree! This is very true, something I suffer from as well but have decided to put to rest. I feel that sometimes by searching for these likes and recognition, we skew our work in favor of what others may like. Opposed to creating work that brings us joy and fulfillment which is what matters most in the end. Thank you for your thoughts as well.

Anonymous's picture

Interesting article, always exciting to hear other people's thoughts about creativity

Rob Swackhamer's picture

Wow, I was talking about this same exact subject last night with a friend of mine about how they need to stop comparing themselves to others.

Stefano Catalani's picture

Thanks, I really needed to read this :)