How Not to Get Stuck in a Self Loathing Cycle: A Typical Routine of an Artist

How Not to Get Stuck in a Self Loathing Cycle: A Typical Routine of an Artist

As a photographer or a videographer, do you routinely get stuck in the same cycle when working on a project, which may or may not include Imposter Syndrome, exasperation, and more? What's your unique "cycle"?

First of all, let me point out that us, photographers and videographers, are extremely lucky to be doing something for a living that fulfills us. We often get to work with a large variety of people from all walks of life, and some of us tend to travel around the country, or in fact, all around the world to document stories and to create visual content for companies and individuals. The jobs may dry up during certain periods, but all in all, if this is something that's close to our hearts, we should be grateful for being able to pay our bills with it.

Gratification aside, I have noticed that between taking on a job and finishing it, I tend to go through the same cycle of emotions, whatever the job might be. A typical cycle for me, would look something like this:

Before the Shoot

I am always excited when a job is confirmed. The feeling of satisfaction and pride only arrives once all contracts have been signed, and a deposit payment has been made. Until then, a slight nervousness is present which may include constant monitoring of e-mails, waiting for the green signal to drop.

A few days before the shoot is due, slight angst and apprehension appears. I may also suddenly start wondering why did my client choose me, and what if I can't deliver what has been promised. Imposter syndrome, you might say. Completely irrational feeling of incompetence, when there are plenty of jobs under my belt and there is no reason why I should not deliver work to the same standard that I always do. At this point, I have already committed to the job so there is no way back. 

During the Shoot

On the day of the shoot, I actually enjoy myself. Usually, I hype myself up for the job, and use big bursts of energy and creativity by throwing myself into work, engaging with my clients, and enjoying the whole shooting process to the fullest. I could only compare this to the high that you might feel during a workout. You may sweat, ache, and get tired, but equally you also feel the thrill.

A wedding photographer photographing bride and groom

I would also get excited by reviewing my images on the back of the camera, imagining how I'll post-process certain favorites. Generally, I don't mind showing few chosen ones to my client, if it's appropriate, which in return may result in me sharing the buzz with my clients. Even more so, if I can tell from my clients body language and words, that they have enjoyed the process and are looking forward to the final result.

After the Shoot

When I arrive home, I will either import all images into Lightroom, while doing something else, or I might use Photo Mechanic to immediately start sorting out the potential picks for editing. Soon as I see all images on my screen, I generally feel like they are mediocre and I could have potentially done better. This is generally a few hours after the shoot has concluded, so by this time the feeling of excitement has slowly depleted. 

Soon as I am able to start editing, my immediate thoughts are that everything I try doesn't look right. I might use my go-to tools or ways of editing to start with, and often I'll feel like nothing is working how I'd like it to. To get through my editing sessions and help me focus better, I might require finding the right music, podcast, or TV series to listen to in background. 

A wedding photographer photographing bride and groom

It can help having the right environment to work in.

After I have finished editing and exporting, I'd review my full gallery. It's very likely that at first I might feel a slight sense of self-loathing and worry about my clients disliking my work. At this point, unfortunately there's no return and the only option is to send off the gallery, go for a walk or distract myself with something else, and keep fingers crossed that my clients don't send me a lengthy e-mail of everything they are dissatisfied with. Ideally, I could simply send off my gallery and never hear back, but that's not an option. Also, I need to pay the bills so returning customers are appreciated.

Whether I hear back from the client or not in the next few days, I would revisit the gallery and the feeling of pride and satisfaction would slowly begin to return. Only we ourselves know how much time, effort, and love we put into the fully polished final result, be it a gallery, movie, or something else, which is why taking it all into account would slowly bring back the feeling of satisfaction.

After the full cycle, I would quickly get thrilled at seeing any future potential clients' e-mails or website enquiries landing in my inbox. It might sound like an emotional roller-coaster, but because our art is a large piece of us, it's inevitable that we will become very connected to what we're doing, and I certainly wouldn't want to change it. In a slightly sadistic way, I don't mind going through parts of this cycle or even all of it, because I know I rather be kept on my toes and try my hardest, and learn something new along the way, instead of being blasé and potentially missing crucial details. My advice would be not to allow something like this affect you so deeply that you end up putting your camera down, and instead treat it as a challenge that's forcing you to improve every step of the way.

Additional Thoughts

After discussing this cycle of emotions, one of our writers also added a potential few extra steps after having delivered the final product. They suggested that the client were satisfied with the result, which consequently would give us a boost of confidence. This was followed with revisiting our work in a years time, and realizing there are certain flaws in it. This shame could also be brought up by Facebook featuring our posts from one or two years ago, but luckily, the said option isn't automatic and only we can see it unless we choose to share it. Finally, after swallowing our pride, we would go over our mistakes and write an article on Fstoppers titled "How Not to..."

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Leigh Horwood's picture

Great article! I relate to this so much it hurts.

Jeremiah Palmerston's picture

I very much relate to this cycle. Whenever I set out to do a photoshoot, I feel like I'm going through a roller coaster of emotions. I have been working to become more aware of these feelings and their effects so that I can take steps to reduce the lows and increase the highs. Thank you for sharing your thoughts/feelings here. Are there any strategies that you employ to mitigate the effects of your negative emotions?

Anete Lusina's picture

I think the thing that helps me all the way through it is thinking and knowing that every time I do get through it and most of the time it's a self imposed doubt / fear / anxiousness. Even simple things like collecting all your positive comments from clients (e.g even if they just email you as opposed to leaving a review or Facebook or elsewhere), and re-reading them when it feels a bit tough can be quite uplifting. :)