One totally crap picture…
It must be something in the air. Or the water maybe. Or p’raps its just the time of year. Whatever. Cos for the past few weeks I seem to have been surrounded by various brands of photochum who appear to be afflicted with massive loss of confidence and doubts about self-worth in pic-taking terms. Or loss of inspiration. Or direction.
Either in the middle of it, or just beginning to plumb the depths, or dragging themselves out of it.
Not just one or two either, but a veritable bevy of them.
Its really weird, and in a sense a bit depressing. Cos in almost every case these are folk that have produced pics that have left me cringing with envy. Envy of their undoubted skill and talent.
And the depressing bit comes in for it means that if these folk who each in their own way are clearly very competent are despondent, then what hope is there for a bumbling bungling idiot like me?
Fortunately such thoughts don’t stay in my head for very long. Prob’ly on account of the absent-mindedness which in this particular case seems to be working in my favour. Like I sort of forget that I should be feeling all depressed and down.
Which is not to say that I can’t identify with these poor folk to some extent. I can. Indeed, only too well unfortunately.
I too have had my periods of self-doubt, my crises of confidence, and all the rest of it. And I can identify at least three principal causes…
1. Spending far too much time looking at what other photographers produce. Who all seem so much better than I, and leave me with the feeling “Bloody hell, I’ll never be able to do stuff as good as that.”
2. Boredom. Too much of taking the same types of pics, in the same locations. Boredom with the way they look. Boredom with my own inability to “see” things in different ways, from truly different perspectives.
3. A total sense of disenchantment when, in my perception, there is little visible improvement in the pics I’m taking now over those taken when I first embraced this whole digital photography lark.
A disenchantment reinforced by my seeming total inability to achieve the standard of technical competence that I consider a necessary requirement.
There may well be other “causes of despair” as well, but these are they that spring most readily to mind at the moment.
The most recent manifestation of one of these “down periods” was back in early December last year when I penned that “Self-appraisal“. (And that was a bloody stupid thing to do too!)
But it didn’t last long. Fortunately they never do!
Whence comes this rubber ball-like ability to bounce back on top of things and plough on seemingly without a care in the world; the knack of finding the silver lining in the darkest of clouds; the trick of turning negatives into positives?
I really haven’t a clue, but it seems to be a curious quirk that I’ve always possessed… and mighty glad I am too!
I suspect a huge part of it is my apparent inability to take anything too seriously for too long… myself mainly! And fun as well. I’m a great believer in doing things for the sheer fun of it. Hell, the necessary routines of Life can be a right drudge most of the time… why should we add to it doing stuff we don’t enjoy, or for reasons that become far too serious?
And if we truly want serious then there’s loads of real shit going on in the world we can try tackling instead of turning this photo-taking nonsense into one of them.
So that’s all hunky-dory for me, but what about all these other poor souls who’re still struggling? I sympathise, and would like to offer some words of encouragement. In fact, I tried to do precisely that on one of those photochums’ blogs, but in reality that achieves bugger all.
Responding to my paltry effort host jestingly remarked that I should get meself a blog and post the stuff there. Stupidly I thought about it. Then thought about it some more. And realised that was actually quite a good idea. So here it is!
Well, what’s to say? Toss out a few random thoughts maybe? Speculate a bit on what may be really driving such depressed states? And what better place to start than taking a closer look at those three “causes” I mentioned just now.
1. Looking at other folks pics. I guess if you get even moderately into this photography caper there’s a desire and maybe even a need to do this. In my own case I enjoy looking at what other folk are doing. However, there’s a hidden snag to it all. Which is that I’ll not spend much time on pics that I don’t “rate”.
Let’s take Flickr as an example. Quite appropriate too, given that this is supposedly the “companion blog” to my own Flickr account, and that Flickr is the place where I tend to do most of my pic-browsing.
So if I stumble across a photostream on Flickr that’s full of what I call “happy snaps”, or in a style to which I simply don’t relate, I’ll rapidly skip over it. Finding myself gravitating toward ‘streams containing pics I enjoy looking at, or that inspire me. Um. Yeah. That’s the thing y’see. If I’m constantly looking at such “inspirational” works, or admiring superb technique, or compelling visual impact then it practically goes without saying that I’m looking at stuff which, in my mind, is better than mine. And if I spend too much time doing this then its almost inevitable I’m going to become a bit downhearted, especially if I try, and fail, to emulate that which inspires me.
Yet, perversely, looking at such stuff educates me in a sense in that it helps me to see where my own pics fall short… and also helps me develop a more refined appreciation of imagery.
Tricky, isn’t it? So perhaps what we should be doing is dedicating at least an equivalent amount of time to looking at pics that are, by anyone’s estimate, total crap. And there are certainly enough of those on Flickr too.
And make no mistake about it… they too can teach us things. Like what to avoid in our own pic-taking!
In other words, trying to attain some sort of balanced view rather than constantly, though unwittingly, belittling ourselves.
Throughout all the foregoing what we’re essentially doing is comparing ourselves to others (or our work to the work of others if we’re gonna be a bit pedantic). And, ultimately, that’s never a good thing to do.
Learn from others by all means. But surely what we should really be doing is seeking to be ourselves. To “do our own thing”.
I suspect a large part of photography (certainly in the early days) consists entirely in discovering what “our own thing” actually is. And, as far as I can see, there’s only one way of achieving that… try everything!
Which brings me very neatly onto the next “cause”…
2. Boredom. Too easy to get sucked into the habit of photographing the same things, in the same locations, in the same way. Sometimes that’s all opportunity allows. But there’s nothing to prevent us from trying to create other opportunities. Going to different places. Photographing different things. Trying different techniques. Setting ourselves little challenges even.
Example… taking a totally boring everyday object and seeing what can be done with it pic-wise. Different angles, different modes (macro, close-up, distant, whatever), different environments and settings, different lighting… and so on. Loadsa pics. All of the one totally boring object. And out of these loadsa pics finding the ones that “work”.
(I’ve been doing this a little bit myself recently, and, bizarrely, I’ve noticed its affecting the way I approach taking other pics. Strange!)
But there are loads of little challenges we can set ourselves, covering all sorts of variables. All grist to the mill basically.
All very basic, elementary stuff… but how useful. And different.
3. Lack of progress. What’s the old saying… “Rome wasn’t built in a day”? Why should we think we can pick up a camera and instantly become super photographers?
Why should we think that even a year or two messing around will make us super photographers?
After a lifetime of taking pics maybe we’ll have come somewhere close… if we’re lucky!
Yeah, some people seem to have the knack instantly… but then we’re back to the old “comparing ourselves to others” stunt, and that’s just wrong. Forget what others can or can’t do.
I’m not them. I can’t live their life or have their experiences. I can’t see things with their eyes. And would I really want to? I’m me, and I have my own unique life to live, in my way. And that’s just how I like it.
So back to the lack of progress thing. Me for example. Frustration that I don’t seem to be any further forward then when I first started.
Well, what a load of old cobblers that notion is!
Cos when I first started (even before I started in fact) I was utterly convinced I wouldn’t be able to take pics at all. And that’s wrong… cos clearly I can. Moreover, pics that occasionally (admittedly only some of them) some folk quite like… and are even prepared to put their money where their mouth is so to speak.
Well, bugger me!
And although in my off-days I can see no tangible improvement between early and current stuff, in reality that’s also a load of old cobblers.
For there is an improvement, quite a significant one in fact, though not always in obvious ways. I can even begin to see a sort of “trend” developing (dare I say “style”?). Not in every single one, obviously, but over batches. First hints possibly of what may be ahead sorta thing.
Plus I know, or at least understand, a helluva lot more than when I started, and the whole of photography as a concept has changed dramatically in my mind.
So yes, progess is made, even though most of the time we may not consciously be aware of it. And though it may not always come through in outer form, i.e., in the pics we actually produce.
I suppose really we’re our own worst critics. Cos we have expectations of ourselves that far exceed what we’re capable of doing.
But isn’t this exactly as it should be? In reality is this not the goad that drives us onward, that compels us to try to improve, that makes us frustrated with our failures and dissatisfied with our so-called “successes”. For is it not true that no matter what we produce it always falls somewhat short of what we’d like to produce, or intended to produce, or visualised producing?
Of course this is exactly as it should be. Else we stagnate; stop learning; stop growing.
The trick then is not to be disheartened by this process, but encouraged by it. Indeed, even welcome it.
And, I suspect, the biggest hurdle we have to overcome is the urge to chuck it all in. Perseverance, practice, and more perseverance. And always having our sights just a little bit beyond what we can do. Not too much mind you, cos then its overwhelming and self-defeating. Just a little bit. Just sufficient to keep us striving.
And of course, every time we reach that target whaddya know? Some bugger comes along and moves it just a little bit further ahead. Some bugger… hopefully ourselves.
On the other hand, p’raps this is all just another load of old cobblers. Cos what the hell would I know? After all, I’m just a bumbling bungling idiot. And relish every minute of it. Cos that’s “my thing”.
Another totally crap picture…
Real good, ain’t they?