I am currently reading “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron— an interesting book that links creativity, spirituality, and overcoming your artistic self-censor.
I know a lot of photographers who are perfectionists or have a lot of self-doubt. This causes them to not pursue their dreams of becoming a photographer. Not becoming a full-time photographer, but to be someone who makes photography a part of his or her everyday life, soul, and existence.
I even know some artists who refuse to call themselves “photographers”, because they don’t have confidence in themselves. They will say things like, “Oh, I can’t call myself a ‘photographer’ yet, because I’m not good enough yet, my work sucks, or I am just an amateur.”
When people say stuff like that, I try to encourage them to proclaim at the top of their voices that they are indeed artists and photographers. In-fact, being an “amateur” doesn’t mean that you have no skills or are simply a dilettante. It means that you do something because you love it (apparently the root word for “amateur” derives from love). This is what Wikipedia defines “amateur“:
An amateur (French amateur “lover of“, from Old French and ultimately from Latin amatorem nom. amator, “lover”) is generally considered a person attached to a particular pursuit, study, or science in a non-professional or unpaid manner. Amateurs often have little or no formal training in their pursuits, and many are autodidacts (self-taught).
A “professional” is someone who does something for a living or money (and being a “professional” doesn’t necessarily mean you’re good at it, nor is it your passion). You can shoot photos of babies in a mall on a tripod and be a “professional photographer”. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you are a “better” photographer, nor does it mean you’re passionate about it.
In “The Artist’s Way”, Julia Cameron talks about the inner-censor or the inner-critic that many of us have.
The inner-critic is the little voice in the back of your head that is the more analytical and “rational” side of you. The voice comes out when you’re out making photos and you’re about to take a photo and that little inner-critic says: “Oh, no, don’t take that photograph. It is a boring scene. It is cliché.” Then you end up not taking the photograph.
I think it is good to have some sort of an inner-critic, which helps you during your editing phase (when you’re sitting at home in front of your computer, and deciding which photos to keep and ditch).
But I would say when it comes to shooting on the streets, tell your inner-critic to shut the fuck up.
I think one of the first steps to overcoming your inner-critic is knowing that every photograph doesn’t need to be a work of art. Not only that, but it is giving yourself the permission to take shitty photographs.
My experiences fighting my inner-critic
For me, I work hard to take photographs everyday, as I do believe that regularly clicking the shutter on your camera is akin to doing pushups everyday, to staying physically fit. Every time you do a creative act (like making a photograph), it is like feeding your creative body. Can you imagine not eating everyday? Then how can you live without eating creative nourishment everyday? You would die if you went too long without eating. Similarly, your creativity as a photographer would die if you went too long without photographing.
For me, my inner-critic is still quite loud in my brain. But I have learned: Whenever I see a scene that for some reason I find interesting, I just shoot it. There are a lot of times that I almost don’t shoot a scene because my inner-critic tells me, “Oh no Eric, that is a boring scene. Don’t shoot that”. But funny enough, some of the photographs I’ve shot when my inner-critic told me that it might be a good shot ended up being some of my best images.
Not only that, but it is very rare that I make a good photograph that I am personally pleased with. I make about one photograph a month (12 photos a year) that I am truly proud of.
But every time I click the shutter it is like I am swinging my bat. In baseball, the more opportunities you have to swing the bat, the more likely you are to hit a home run. If you never swing the bat (like never click the shutter), you will never hit a home run (or make a photograph you are proud of).
The 1 shitty photograph a day challenge
If you are an artist or photographer who has a hard time overcoming your inner-critic, taking photos everyday, or being creative everyday, I give you a challenge: try to take at least one shitty photograph a day.
The reason why I say try to take at least one shitty photograph isn’t to encourage you to take bad photos. Rather, it is about giving yourself the freedom to make mistakes and to make bad photographs.
I have found that the more shitty photographs I take, the more likely I am to take a few decent photographs.
When I’m out shooting street photography, I actually need to shoot at least 10–20 photographs before I start really getting comfortable to click my shutter. It is almost like warming up your car. If you have an exotic sports car, you need to let your car warm up before you slam your pedal to the metal.
And also I have found that if I set the barrier to entry very low (just one photograph a day), I inevitably end up shooting more than 1 photograph. I can start with just taking one photograph a day in mind— then that will force me to take my camera out of my bag, then that ends up to me shooting half a roll of film.
The point of this exercise isn’t to become the best photographer in the world. It is simply to overcome your inner-road blocks, and to unlock the creative genius that lives within you.
So don’t self-judge. Don’t self-critique yourself. Take baby steps. Have faith in yourself.
You don’t criticize a baby when it is taking its first steps. You are loving, patient, and encouraging.
Take the same attitude to your own creative self. No matter how experienced you are as a photographer, always treat your creative mind like a child. To drive this point home, I always think of this quote by Picasso:
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” – Pablo Picasso
So if you are facing “photographer’s block”, I can guarantee you that this “1 shitty photograph a day challenge” will help you overcome that boundary. So why not try it out for a month, and see how it goes?
And of course, I eat my own cooking — and I have taken at least one shitty photograph a year (even if they are on my smartphone). Even though I took thousands of really shitty photos, I’ve made a few photos that I’m proud of that have made the whole process worth it.
Overcome photographer’s block
I plan on writing more about how to overcome “photographer’s block” and other inner creative roadblocks, so stay tuned in the loop.
In the meanwhile, I recommend everyone to pick up a copy of “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron (thanks to my buddy Rodrigo for recommending the book). Another excellent book I recommend is “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield, who talks about overcoming “the resistance” (inner-critic) when it comes to creating art.
Also if you want to overcome your inner-critic in your photography and push yourself out your comfort zone, join me at one of my upcoming street photography workshops in Vancouver, Paris, Amsterdam, Prague, Vienna, Berlin, London, Istanbul, Stockholm, and New Orleans.