I think one of the things that makes us miserable in photography is that we often compare ourselves with others— but rarely do we look behind ourselves, and look how far we’ve come.
Imagine that you’ve hiked for 10 days straight: braving mosquitos, hot and sweaty weather, thorns that prick at your ankles, and cold freezing nights. Finally after hiking around 20 miles a day, you reach the top of the mountain. Then you look down from your view, and you feel a huge sense of gratitude and satisfaction. Then you take a look back, and you see how far you’ve come— how many treacherous obstacles you overcame, and you pat yourself on your back, reveling in your own self-satisfaction of your personal accomplishments.
Why is it that we rarely do this kind of self-reflection and self-appreciation when it comes to our own photography and our own work?
Be grateful how far you’ve come.
Remember how difficult photography was when you were a beginner? Remember when you started street photography, how timid and afraid you were? Do you remember when you first started to shoot— how you made very basic cliche juxtaposition photos in street photography, and now you are making more complex images (with depth, layers, and emotions?)
Do you remember when you started photography, the only people you showed your photos were your friends and your mom?
Now you have (not millions) but hundreds, or possibly thousands of followers. Do you remember when you started off in social media, you only had 10 followers? Now you might have 100 followers, 1,000 followers, or even more.
Why are you dissatisfied? Why are you unhappy? It is probably because you don’t remember your beginning, and where you started from.
Never compare yourself with those ahead of you
I was thinking the other day— how many other photographers and artists I am envious of. Artists and photographers who make millions of dollars, have millions of followers, and are changing the world. I am nothing but a mere photography-blogger, and I teach a few workshops here and there. My photos are certainly not horrible, but not “great” (yet). I often feel lost— not sure what direction to take my photography, my work, or my life.
But I am making the chief mistake that we all make as artists: comparing yourself to those ahead of you, rather than comparing yourself to your past self (the only person you should compare yourself to).
Rather than comparing myself to Magnum photographers or other world-class photographers, I should compare myself to my 18-year-old self. I think if my 18-year old self knew how far I came in 10 years, he would be very proud of me.
And honestly, even if I died tomorrow— would I have any regrets? I have traveled to many places that I’ve wanted to, played with lots of different cameras— and discovered that it isn’t just “street photography” that I am passionate about. Rather, my passion is making connections with people, and photography is just a tool to bridge that connection.
Not only that, but you can make personally meaningful images wherever you are. You can take photos of your partner eating breakfast together, at dinner together, at the coffee shop together. You can document your own life— your friends, your loved ones, your parents.
Be greedy with your loved ones— know that one day they will die, or perhaps you will die before them. Document what is personally meaningful to you— whether that be strangers on the street (street photography) or those who you share your heart with (personal photography).
Don’t hesitate— take those photos now. Use your iPhone, your point-and-shoot, or your heavy and bulky DSLR. Whatever tool is easiest for you to always have with you and take photos with— just use it. Document your life, your surroundings, your own city, or strangers you feel you have a connection with.
Nobody knows if these photos will exist 50, 100, 200, 2000+ years from now. But as long as you are making photos that help document your life journey, isn’t that enough for yourself? Forget legacy, fame, riches, and wealth— make photos for yourself, and forget everything else.
11:49am, Sunday, March 6, 2016
Make your photos more personal
- The “Personal Photography” Manifesto
- A Photographer’s Search For Meaning
- How to Find Your Passion in Photography
- Find out What to Photograph, Not How
- Why Do You Take Photos?
- Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself
- Do You Like Your Own Photos?
- Simple Contentment
- The Cindy Project
- The Things That Matter Most
- The Point Isn’t to Be a Good Photographer, But to Enjoy Life
- Social Media 4.0