This letter of encouragement and empowerment is for you.
1. Shoot like a child
First of all, dodge all of the haters and the detractors.
You have a special and unique vision. Why let anyone water that down?
Do you remember when you were a kid, and you made art for fun? Photography is the same. Imagine yourself, running in the streets, excited to explore, with your camera in hand. The whole world is your canvas. Your camera is just a tool which crops away the parts you don’t like from reality. You shape your own reality through photography.
2. Ignore your haters
Whoever criticizes or hates on you, are just envious folks. They hate to see your passion and your love for photography. They hate to see that you have the guts to pursue your own inner artistic vision. They hate that you don’t shoot like them.
3. Ignore your lovers
Also, perhaps more dangerous than people who hate you and your work…are people who REALLY LIKE or love your work. Why? Your fans and followers will fall in love with a version of yourself, or your work. And when you change, evolve, or move onto different types of art, they will hate you for it. For example, Bob Dylan when he went electric…his fans used to only love him for acoustic guitar.
4. Don’t censor yourself
The worst person to hate on you…is you.
The problem as artists, we often censor ourselves.
My encouragement：never censor yourself as a visual artist. Whatever images you have in your mind… let these visual demons out of your mind. Let your photographic dragons take flight.
In practical terms, when you’re shooting the streets or wherever, never compromise your artistic vision.
Listen to the suggestions of those you love, trust, and admire. But… you ultimately make the decision how you make your art. That means, how you shoot pictures (your technique), the camera or tools or lenses you decide to use, how you process your pictures, which pictures you choose to share, and what order you present your work in.
With your art, never betray your gut.
5. JUST SHOOT IT!
Also, when you see something interesting you want to shoot, JUST SHOOT IT. Shoot whatever you want, and shoot as many pictures of it you want. Then later, you can decide whether to “keep” or “ditch” the picture. You don’t need to make the decision whether to keep or ditch your pictures while you’re in the process of clicking the camera.
A child, if he or she sees something interesting, will just take a picture of it. As adults, we want to shoot something but we don’t, because we are worried that it “won’t be a good picture”. We are constantly looking over our shoulders, seeking the approval of our peers.
6. Ignore social media
Also as a photographer, I encourage you to spend LESS time on social media. Why? Social media, with all the numbers, the numbers of likes, followers, comments, etc… turns photography into a spectator sport.
Stay focused on yourself and your own photography. You need to be like a laser. Don’t let your focus shift (pun intended). Don’t care about the pictures others are shooting. They are pursuing their own vision of truth and beauty. You need to be faithful to yourself, and focus on your own perspective as an artist. And yes, if you like to take pictures, you ARE ALREADY a photographer and artist. And all photographers are artists. Whoever says otherwise is a pretentious, or self-conscious failed artist or asshole; ignore them.
Better rule：ignore all critics. They hate you that you have the guts to actually venture to make your own art. Anyone can be a critic, sit down and “comment” or “critique” the works of others. It takes no risk, or “skin in the game” (Nassim Taleb) to comment or critique the works of others. It takes a LOT of guts to be a visual explorer, and shoot pictures … especially if you shoot street photography (the most difficult, and scary genre of photography).
7. How do I know if my pictures are any good?
The only way to know if your pictures are any good or not：
Look at your own pictures, and ask yourself, “If someone else took this picture, would I be interested in it?”
Or on a purely instinctual level… does your picture punch you on the gut? Does your picture evoke a strong emotion— of fear, disgust, anxiety, joy, elation, hope, or something else?
Best question of all,
Does your own picture excite you?
Ultimately make pictures to please yourself. Let your audience find you. Your audience might never find you, and that’s okay. The most important thing is that you stay faithful to your own art and vision until the very end.