Almost gave up on Photography

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Hello, it took a lot to muster the will to write the fallowing because I'm not the kind of person who feels comfortable "spilling out guts" in public (though the community here has always felt more of a close friends family type) so here it goes:

I have been struggling with the photography dream for a few years now and it was hit hard the most last month. I even gave up on it for a whole month because I was so stressed and depressed of pushing myself so much.
I started getting into photography more then 10 years ago after discovering the joys of making pictures with a pretty crappy phone back in 2008 and when I quickly reached the limit of what I can do got my first DSLR in 2009 after which I got struck with some difficulties where I had to sell it and after a year of pause I got my first Micro Four Thirds camera in 2010.
Most of my inspiration came from National Geographic magazines and books and I fell in love with landscape and macro. I wanted to do wildlife but I couldn't afford it for the better part of 8 years.... But I always dreamed of becoming a National Geographic photographer. Or at least a professional photographer too some degree.
I could never invest enough into photography because life and family problems kept getting in the way so best I could do is learn learn learn and practice practice practice until I could. So when I could afford it when I reached close to the limit of what I can learn on my gear I would try to get something better to make room for more experimentation and learning.
And finally I started to have the possibility of investing in photography: my first telephoto lens, my first actually good wildlife lens, a faster camera to keep up with the wildlife movements. And when the pandemic hit I knew its going to get bad, that the world was going to close down back in March so I took a gamble, since I work in care I will have to work through this period and since there's travel restrictions might as well focus on earning money.
So I did, I worked for 7 months between 200 and 250 hours each month and got the E-M1 III and the Oly 7-14/2.8, 12-40/2.8, the workhorse of most landscape photographers. But I worked my mental and physical health off a cliff and I ended UK crashing and burning, with 3 months needing to recover and changed my job (from care for dementia to care for adults with learning difficulties).
But I quickly realised that sacrifice was needed once again: low wage pay means working a lot more to earn, meaning less time to make pictures and my health declining again. I had to face a few facts by now:
*I don't have high education, I will be working close to minimum wage most of my employed time,
*The interests I have in photography do not come cheap, wildlife for example (compare to other ones like portraiture or macro),
*As much as I try to put the hard work and time to earning more its shaving off my health (constant lega and back pain, heartburns from stress)
*No doing some photography has serious mental issues on me (severe depression, lack of motivation, make me antisocial).

Taking the time off where I left the camera at home, did not make any pictures, did not think of gear at all has force me to see how much stress it gave me but also how much empty my life was. I've always been a creative person, I love to make, to do, to try, to express and it's something that if I even try to shut off it becomes painful to live without. But its so difficult to focus on it when there's bills to deal with, high rent, necessities that revolve around photography but also daily life, debt and family problems, low wage and health problems limits my income possibilities.
There are things I can do on the side, which is I would love to sell prints, calendars and zines. I got a printer for that last year and I'm learning how to make prints and I've been trying to work on 2 zine projects but my health, especially mental health,

The plan (wish) was a slow ramp-up from being employed to self-employed over the years. I've been living in the UK for 4 years and a half and currently the minimum work time to qualify for state pension is 10 years. Once I have 10 years paid tax and pension into the system I have the net that I can retire in UK (at some point) and it gives me time to get citizenship, a driver's licence and the skill to drive a car and to get the tools (mostly lenses) to start a photography business.
Another skill I want to get is tattooing as a 2nd aditionalk income as well as keeping my drawing and creative interests alive.

It's so hard to find a balance of work time, photography time, learning and rest, it's a constant struggle to stay above the water. And the Covid19 situation has made everything so much more difficult and complicated where I end up postponing things month after month.
 
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PS. Another symptom added was when I participated in the local camera club picture competition I always get comments that the pi ture is good but if I spend more time or gotten closer it would have made the picture more then highly commended. With how much I've been working and the sacrifice of either financial (of not working) or health wise (less sleep) to be after work in the field to make the pictures has always been so painful. I can see and understand why but it hasn't made the feelings any less painful, like it's never enough.
Same with gear, last time I tried I was told that if I have been closer to the deer it would have been a better picture, while the reason the deer was only 25% of the frame is that I had limited time in the field, I was exhausted physically and the longest focal length I had was 400mm Equiv. I was happy with the picture because it had a more environmental composition to it but that didn't seem to matter.
For the last 14 months it has been the main story around my life: (anything) is not enough.
So I keep pushing myself more, harder, faster... And it's still not enough.
 

BPCS

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Thanks for sharing.
My experience, is that commercial success in photography is all about marketing yourself... not whether you are the greatest photographer. Selling yourself needs to be an all consuming affair... long hours including after hours social interaction with potential clients... very hard if not impossible to do when you have a full time other job. You also need to enjoy marketing yourself... you cannot force yourself to do it. Then it also takes years to bear fruit.
I hope you keep your interest up and maybe when you can get your pension, go full time into marketing yourself and be patient. Still no guarantees but if you really love it, it should produce some rewards... maybe not fame and ritches but at least pay some bills.
Good luck! And be careful not to burn yourself out. Life is a marathon... not a sprint.
 

ex machina

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Keep at it, try to cultivate the ability to accept constructive criticism but not take it personally -- if you are happy with a given picture then that is what's most important! Easier said than done, I know, but this, like most things, will improve with practice. YMMV, but I think it's ok to take a break now and then to recharge, it might even be essential. During your break indulge your other interests, like your ink and drawing, and see if that helps. Good luck!
 
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RichardC

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OP, I don't know you or your full circumstances, but I think sometimes it's helpful, perhaps even therapeutic to do what you have done here, so you can revisit and start to unpick it.

I certainly would not get hung up on the opinions of camera club judges. They are useful for feedback but I presume that like most people, you are your own worst critic, and judging by your photographs, you seem to know what you want to create and how to create it.

Lack of higher education does not make you minimum wage material! You just need a job that fits and one which you are passionate about. Some people get lucky and their first job is their job for life. Other people have multiple careers before they find the job which they should have done in the first place.
 

agentlossing

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Look, I'll be real... I know photographers whose work I wouldn't call very good, but who are increasingly able to pay the bills with it. It really IS all about marketing yourself, once you've found a niche that people want. Personally I would never want to be a professional photographer as I think it would kill my motivation altogether, but I understand the desire to make it a profession, especially on days when I call my whole boring client-frontline office job into question (days like today for one or two reasons). But the point is, chasing perfection or the accolades of other people is pointless. You kind of have to be satisfied with product, with shipping, and be okay with it if people criticize your work, or the omnipresent self-criticism gets in the way. If you can get paid work, even if your critical side tells you it is lousy, then pursue that, and look for personal fulfillment independently of what people say. I know more about the professional writing world than the professional photography world, but I know that, at least in writing, that attitude is the one it seems a large number of people need in order to push forward.

The internet and photo club crit circles are sharks circling drowning swimmers. You can get some good pointers but you rarely get truly good advice, most of the time the feedback you receive is dealing a lot more with the issues of the speaker than the issues with the subject. I say full speed ahead, damn the torpedoes, and self-care is more about realizing yourself as a human being and owning the responsibilities of life than it is looking for meaning from societal constructs. And you work in a brutal industry. I'm in customer service of a sort, but it's not even healthcare and it's already enough to dispirit me sometimes. I can't imagine how much harder it is in your line of work, but, just understand that our system is rather broken, it always has been, and some functions of society have the capacity to drain the last drops of lifeblood from a person. It can be a pretty ridiculous balancing act making it work.
 
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I have to agree with others, people from camera clubs ARE NOT going to be your client base remember that.They are also right about marketing mcdonalds really doesn't make a great hamburger but they sure sell a lot of them.
 

Mike Wingate

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Camera clubs, this is the wrong name for some photographic groups. Not that I am still bitter, but...an external judge gave me second place for my shot of a flower, as he preferred steam trains. Do it for yourself. Please yourself, do not enter arguments with others. Enjoy your equipment, get satisfaction when using it. Take more than one shot. Change your position, sometimes get closer.
 

RichardC

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Keep at it, try to cultivate the ability to take constitutive criticism but not take it personally -- if you are happy with a given picture then that is what's most important! Easier said than done, I know, but this, like most things, will improve with practice. YMMV, but I think it's ok to take a break now and then to recharge, it might even be essential. During your break indulge your other interests, like your ink and drawing, and see if that helps. Good luck!

I had to google YMMV lol
 

JDS

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This year under Covid sucks for everyone, and for those on the edge of financial security / family connections / health issues etc. it is horrific. Given that, maybe be more gentle on yourself? You're still taking photos, that's already something. You're getting feedback on your photos- that's fine. Are the people giving you feedback world-class photographers? If not, then their opinion is just that- an opinion. Listen if you benefit from the critique, ignore it if you don't- they're not paying you. Also, could you experiment with photography genres that are less physically demanding and gear-intensive? Lastly, creative people are often harsh critics of their own work, or perfectionists who drive themselves relentlessly. That contributes to personal pain, but often results in excellence as well. If you're this exhausted & depressed in trying to move forward, well- you're probably the type of person who helps move the world forward. Nothing great is easy...
 

Bob in Pittsburgh

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I am a member of a camera club and I enjoy it (all of our meetings for the past year have been virtual).

That said, I agree very much with this:

Do it for yourself. Please yourself, do not enter arguments with others. Enjoy your equipment, get satisfaction when using it. Take more than one shot. Change your position, sometimes get closer.
 

ex machina

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Here's something This American Life's Ira Glass said that really resonated with me, he's talking about writing but it applies to any creative endeavor:

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through. —Ira Glass
 

retiredfromlife

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Thanks for sharing @[U]L0n3Gr3yW0lf[/U]
It is hard / brave to share experiences like you are feeling, going through

Especially during these Covid times I think a lot of us are suffering from stress, myself included and find it hard to get motivated.
My work is especially hard as a result of covid.
I use photography as a release from the stress of daily work life [and I suppose life in general]
To me the enjoyment is in taking the photos and watching / being part of the environment, like caving and climbing was when I was young enough.

If I get a few good shots it is a bonus, but the process is enjoyable and that is the main thing.

Since joining the forum my digital photography has gradually improved and I am sure yours has as well, regardless of the gear you use.

I also joined a photographic club, one that does not get involved with competitions at all as competitions in clubs seem to be won by the same people al the time. They probably deserve it as well, but leaves the rest of the people sort of knowing they will never be good enough to win. Sort of defeats the purpose of photography to me.

Life is a slow progress, with unfortunately no prize at the end.

Like they say it is the journey that counts, it is all we have.

All the best
 

John King

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@L0n3Gr3yW0lf Ovidiu, take no notice whatsoever of 99% of camera/photo club judges. I've been a steward at a major competition and seen photos that scored 15/15 in previous competitions score 7/15, and vice versa. Speaks for itself.

Feedback you get here will almost always be more honest and valid!

Take care of yourself, my friend. Life is generally tough, and tougher for some than for others. Accept help when it is offered, and give it when you can.

Do not be too hard on yourself in any part of your life. Take joy from the happy parts, and try not to let the unhappy bits get to you.

As far as your photography goes, Ronnie (@Phocal) has demonstrated with his fox photo comparison shots that the humble 75-300 MkII is almost as good as his f/4 300 Pro. Look at the pictures at different ends of the house, and no one could reliably identify which was which.

Technique is mostly more important than having the very best of gear, and a helluva lot cheaper ...
 

agentlossing

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I realize what I said about making the best of it in a broken system could come across as fatalistic and passive, and I don't mean to project that idea at all. None of us should allow ourselves to get trapped in a career rut that we can't clamber out of, and I also don't believe that level of schooling should dictate how people value us - for sure, in the United States at least, student debt is a millstone around the necks of many people who aren't getting the careers they were all but promised by the higher education industry (for such it truly is), they are not better off than those of us who don't have degrees to backup our resumes. Where there's a will, there's a way, especially if we're willing to eat humble pie and give up creature comforts for a while. In a society which is little more than thinly veiled consumerism telling you that stuff will make you feel better, there's an edge to be gained in being Spartan.

What I meant more regarding the broken system is that most industries and even healthcare isn't set up to benefit the guy in the trenches, and there aren't many safeguards to make sure we stay sane and have a level of fulfillment in public-facing and people-serving roles. Even though these roles rarely command the higher salaries, they're the backbone of many parts of the economy. It's very important, I believe, to have a drive toward individual goals and things that make you come alive, and to jealously guard those so the hopeless feeling can't take over. I have a big library, almost 600 books, and one of the things I know the frustrations of my job can't touch is reading, delving into classics and becoming knowledgeable about topics like Greek and Roman poetry and literature, Renaissance history, Reformation church history and the like, to name some recent stuff, and I consider being well-rounded in my knowledge of history to be a characteristic that is lacking in a lot of people and one I want to foster. I don't let the corporate world dictate what makes me respectable. I'm rambling now. Anyway, I hope something there made sense.
 

Bushboy

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I like your shit. Stick around. Stop buying expensive stuff. I was going to be a marine biologist. But I’m a van driver...
Nat Geo still haven’t called me either... very weird.
 
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Hi Ovidiu, I know this is easy for me to say, but the one thing I think you need to do is "slow down".
I've been following your posts on this forum for the last year and can see that you are a highly ambitious young man trying to make your way in life here in the UK, but in difficult circumstances.
I totally, totally admire you for doing the work you do, caring for the less fortunate in society.
I don't know if your circumstances have changed, but a couple of months ago you seemed to be in a new relationship and appeared to be chilling out a little. Aside from the dog photos, you'd got into street photography and were exploring new avenues.
You certainly have high aspirations and a great work ethic but I know it can't be easy chasing your dreams. And being knocked back by some photographic "judges" won't have helped at all. :rolleyes:
You are obviously a highly intelligent bloke with great language and IT skills and I think maybe you could explore some possible sidelines to generate a bit of extra income although your current work may limit this. This is no way meant to be a criticism, but try and be realistic.
Finally, I thank you for doing what you do and (from your other posts) I hope that you get a lot of satisfaction from helping out the client you mention, who you are trying to encourage with his photo skills. Keep us informed of how it all goes and know there's a gang of us on here cheering you on. :bravo-009:
 
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Here's something This American Life's Ira Glass said that really resonated with me, he's talking about writing but it applies to any creative endeavor:

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through. —Ira Glass
Thanks for sharing this quote. Very helpful for me also.
 
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Thank you so much for the kind words and heart-warming replies, from all of you. It's really helpful all of the advices.
I was never one for financial or material gains in life. Most of my interest in life is experience, learning, creating and helping. And the last one was what I've focused a lot as a job in the last 3 years. I love helping people, making people happy, why I went for a carer, and now support carer. It has been a bit confusing because I'm an introvert and I don't do strangers and people I don't know well very well, social anxiety being a huge factor in my ability to function in society. Took me enormous amount sof mental effort to join a photography club but I'm happy I did because I made a few friends. Back to the job, I can and accept the low wage of the job because its something I love doing and it gives me a sense of epide and giving back to society. And it's more kind to my health physically and mentally (to my previous jobs). But it will be a significant limitations financially, even if I go spartan.
GAS can still be manageable, if only the burning curiosity of trying new/other things/mediums/formats/sizable projects/etc wasn't so intense.

Most of my "professional" photographic interest is less about profitability and more of sustainability to make pictures and prints. To share with the world my perspective and story. The 2nd zine I wanted to do is on the local lockdown life with all the proceeds to the local food banks, I wanted to give the community a way to help those in need so badly. In last years summer it became very pressing issue of food for families that were unable to provide but because the food banks were closed and could not get a response from any of them I could not do the project in the way and speed that would have made most sense and be of most help. After which I got hit by depression so hard I just gave up on everything for months.

I do tend to push myself hard, be my worst critique, I echo to myself the constant message of society: its never enough. After 12 hours of night shift I spent the few hours of free time, often reducing my sleep to 4 to 6 hours, staying out in the field to make pictures. I tried to take advantage of the lockdown for wildlife, as the animals flourished like never before I got the chance to see more often then not foxes and squirrels. The picture that the judge said "It's not close enough" was made during lockdown, I was going home from my 5th (of 7) 12 hours night shift, I was exhausted but I used all my energy to get the pictures, I tried getting closer but the stag ran off before I could get within 50 meters before he darted off into the tree line. Even if the judge would have gotten the context of the picture they would still judge it by content, which would be fair but no less painful, try as you might there's still room for more/better.

In terms or gear most that I will add (or more like change to) is the Olympus 100-400/5-6.3. Get the reach and deal with the noise in post. Upgrading to E-M1 III and 2 Pro lenses have taken a toll on me as it is, I will have to way some time before I could look forwards to gear improvement and give myself some time to focus on technique and wildlife behaviour study.
I was planning on doing some Macro work this winter, wanted to try UV and rock formation Macro work but things didn't go as planned and had to leave it for another time since Spring is here already.
As much as I would like to learn portrait work my social anxiety is a limiting factor... As well as lockdown measures.

I've been wanting to look for counciling and therapy, solve some of my health problems but it's nigh-impossible to get appointments or help. The only option right now is keep hoping and keep waiting, 12 months ongoing.

Thank you all from the bottom of my heart, once again, for all the support you have shown and given me.
 

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