Ups, downs and confidence in photography
Coming back into photography has been extraordinary. A bit like having children, I can’t really remember what life was like before it came along. What on earth did I think about on my way to/from work. What did I used to read/look at online if not photography (insert joke here). How did I look at the world around me if not framing shots in my mind?
Recently however, I’m starting to discover this rekindled passion does come with unexpected downsides. Being so immersed in something becomes addictive. I really mean that, and like any addiction it starts to crave the adrenaline rush, and when it doesn’t receive it, un-fulfillment creeps in.
It’s a strange parallel that I’ve never felt more energised and inspired, yet at the same time have a palpable sense of mortality. Think Ebeneezer Scrooge, waking up on Christmas morning, suddenly filled with a passion and desire to make the most of his days, yet unsure of what time he actually has left to do it in. Whilst this might come across as reasonably intellectual citing Charles Dickens in my blog, you’ll be put at ease that my exact reference is Michael Caine in the Muppets Christmas Carol… What a performance.
Firstly it’s definitely worth pointing out that I do not have an addictive personality so it’s somewhat new to me to deal with these new feelings. My general mood pretty much flat lines just below sociable and my pulse rate is rarely sent racing in anger or excitement. Whilst I am capable of spontaneous moments of unreserved lunacy (mainly alcohol induced), day to day I generally have to point out to my wife when I’m feeling happy as the sensation doesn’t seem to make it to my face!
I digress, back to this downside. There have been so many photography related ‘highs’ over the last couple of years that I’m finding post-photography euphoria can feel feel like an almighty come-down. You want to keep that elation, and this in turn fuels the appetite for more excitement
It doesn’t have to be an actual shoot where I get my kicks. It can be social media interaction too. And this I believe is the route of the issues I’ve been having. Since picking up the camera again I’ve had some great critique and encouragement from people I respect in the industry and I keep that in mind, especially when I begin to overthink and convince myself that I’m not actually very good at photography (anyone else have those days?). However peer encouragement, as you might expect is not an every day occurrence, which then leads me further down the food chain of stimulation. The instagram like.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not besmirching instagram, far from it. I browse and like stuff pretty much daily. I’m grateful for each follower I’ve built up, but the strangely dizzying buzz of watching the number of ‘likes’ light up my phone after an upload has started to become reason in itself to shoot and this is where the trapdoor lurks in my humble opinion. Instagram appreciation was initially a byproduct of the shots I was taking, not a crutch on which to base my own ability and confidence.
Try this yourself in your head. You upload an image and though you average around 50 likes, for whatever reason you get 500+ with a rash of thumbs up and heart emojis gracing your timeline. How would that make you feel? Pretty chuffed I’d imagine, which is perfect natural and part of the fun, but what about the next time you upload? What happens if the next image doesn’t have the same impact, or less so than usual? I’ll tell you what happens, in my case the confidence goblins smell doubt and start to crawl all over my consciousness and from this dark cave also reside the end of level baddies, self doubt and uncertainty.
So what’s the solution to these issues? Learning how to rationalize and manage these highs and lows in a more controlled manner would seem like a good starting point.
Training my brain not to judge my images or ability on the number of likes an instagram image gets seems obvious, but nevertheless has become a ‘thing’ that needs constant reminding.
Finally I shouldn’t be going out to shoot specifically for the buzz of seeing my phone light up. That’s not the reason I started taking photographs again.
So there it is, for what it’s worth… If you ever find yourself facing similar issues, my advice would be that if you shoot with your heart, have confidence in the images you choose to show people, because like it or not, this is your style and a continuation of your personal journey. It’s this emotional connection that drew you to the image in the first place and should therefore be it’s ultimate strength.
After all, it’s already got a real life thumbs up from the fiercest critic of your work. You.