Are you trying everything and still failing to feel genuinely proud of your photographic work? Do others around you influence what you shoot and why? Let's take a look at if you have fallen into this self-destructing trap without realizing it!
I get it. It is a nice feeling when you receive recognition and positive feedback from your peers or even award bodies. But, I've seen far too many photographers fall into the trap of shooting what they consider is expected of them, and their genuine love for pursuing photography is bound to diminish if they keep following this path. So, how do we recognize this pattern? Should we even do anything about it?
Review Highs and Lows of Your Photography
Before you look at the outside world, take a look at yourself first. Evaluate which moments in your photography journey have been most emotionally rewarding and which moments have made you question whether you still feel that genuine passion and interest for what you do. If you're a purely professional photographer and do not pursue any personal work, it's likely that your skills and the market will dictate what you do in photography, and your highs will be linked more to your business success more so than rewarding emotional experiences.
If you're the only driver for your photography and not a paying client, you have the luxury of changing your course of action anytime and anywhere. So, take a moment to think back about when you felt most proud of your own work and successes. What kind of photography did you do? Did you feel proud of the body of work you put together and the message you delivered with your photographs? Or maybe you achieved something technical that you didn't know before? Look back at the positive experiences you've had and ask yourself whether you are still staying true to yourself in your photography. Or have you gone down a route of pleasing others? If it's the latter, it's good to recognize it as soon as possible so you can go back to producing work that resonates with you and thus will grow in meaning for you over the course of your life.
Where Do Your Interests Lie?
It may seem fairly obvious to do photography that is connected to what you are genuinely interested in or passionate about. But, you'd be surprised how easy it is to fall into the trap of following trends for the sake of pleasing certain social media algorithms to acquire followers, comments, and likes, but end up feeling like photography is a chore. It might seem trivial to be interested in obscure or random aspects of life, but whatever your interests are, your photography should follow. If you are more interested in documenting stories of people, why keep pushing yourself to do architecture? If you feel like nature is your oasis, why keep shooting styled still life shots of things that don't interest you? Forget how others may perceive your work or how it looks on your Instagram feed. End of the day, when everyone is gone, you will be left all alone with your camera.
Look critically at what you do and ask whether it is what your heart wants. Think of it as dating someone you know you don't have a future with, but they look good on your arm when you go out to restaurants. It won't last, and you will waste the time that you could have spent exploring your own style and vision. It may initially feel that you will catch "fear of missing out" (FOMO) by doing this, but your priority should be you, not other people or their subjective opinion of your photography.
Even the simple task of noting down bullet points of themes or ideas you want to try in your photography will give you some understanding of which direction to go. I enjoy both taking my camera with me for an impromptu walk or trip, as well as creating more structured projects, because each one of them satisfy my creativity in different ways. The former gives me an opportunity to create something on the spot without planning for it, which can be gratifying, whereas the latter makes me feel like I have a clear idea of where I am taking my photography.
Prepare to Face Criticism
We all like to discuss what other people do, because that's in our nature. We are nosey, and we like to compare ourselves to what others are doing. It's inevitable that you may face criticism if you go back to shooting what you are truly passionate about instead of following a certain trend or a certain criteria, such as you would in camera clubs. Communities that focus on bringing people together in photography can also be the ones subtly destroying your confidence. For example, you may feel uncomfortable sharing work that goes against the grain of what others are doing within that one particular community. This can result in you reining in your unique style and voice in photography without you even noticing. Be aware of how you socialize in photography so that it doesn't impede on your work and your confidence.
It's natural to feel slight anguish about dropping all expectations from the outside and only following your own individualistic path. But, consider what would be a worse scenario: if you were to realize you have spent years doing something that you never really felt a genuine connection with or becoming vulnerable and open enough to create work that speaks to you but may receive criticism? I'd take the latter any day, because I want photography to be a positive and rewarding experience in my life. This is very similar to generic life decisions that your uncle or aunt may bring up at a family gathering. They may question you and make you feel uncomfortable, but you just need to learn to believe in yourself strongly enough to be able to stand up for yourself, or in this case, for your photography. You don't need to become defensive, but you can't let others dictate what you should or shouldn't do.
I strongly believe in showing your individuality within photography no matter what others may think of it, but I also do understand that it is not always an easy course of action for some. Have you ever felt like your photography or passion for pursuing has stagnated due to outside influences? How do you deal with this?