As photographers, we all should be seeking to improve. Part of this process is to look for and address flaws in our work. Often we feel that by identifying the mistakes in our photos, we can learn from them and do better next time. Sometimes, though, it can go too far.
I have a very low opinion of my abilities as a photographer. I feel like everything I produce is crap. Eventually I became comfortable with feeling this way, I accepted it to be a part of the process. That is until photographer Esther Reyes asked me, what do I like about my photos?
No one has ever asked me that before. No one. It’s as if confidence and assuredness in one’s work is assumed. For years now, I spent my time looking at and obsessing over my mistakes. Then I’d invite other photographers to come in and tell me what they don’t like (via portfolio reviews). Though it all helps move my work towards improvement, it is no surprise that my perception of my photography’s worth has gotten so low. I couldn’t even answer the question. I had no idea what I liked about my photography. I have never even bothered to think about it, never mind actually go looking.
The question has flipped the script on my inner dialogue. Of all my talk about shooting for yourself, I never factored in quality. I only shot for myself with regard to content, and quality hinged on external opinion. Now I am looking at all my photos in a new light, searching for what I enjoy about them. What good do they hold? It’s like I have been slowly asphyxiating on negativity, as if the oxygen level of the room has been subtly reducing over time. The question was an invigorating breath of air. Though I still cannot answer Esther’s question, I am working on it.
I would like to encourage all of you to ask yourself the same question, what do you like about your work? It is important for us to address our flaws. However, focusing on eliminating mistakes is subtractive. Keep subtracting, and you’ll eventually be left with nothing. Paying equal attention to our success is additive, it allows us to grow the parts we like. It’s a delicate balancing act. Self-awareness trumps self-confidence in my books, but we cannot let our inner critic become the sole voice in our heads. There is good to be found in stepping back and asking ourselves, what did we do right?