I lost my creativity and what to do about bad self confidence in photography

Susanne

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Hello all. I haven't been around much lately because I haven't been taking photos much lately. I just recently realised why and it worried me a little.

During the lockdown, my local camera club has been meeting on Zoom every second week. We've also had photo competitions, to keep people going with their cameras. I participated in two of them, my first ever competitions. I actually managed to come second in the first one! I didn't do as good in the second competition, but that isn't the problem.

During the meetings, a judge (former member of the club) took us through every photo (about 20 both times) and commented on them. I learned a lot during these sessions, especially about composition, how to crop more/better etc. There were also many things I didn't agree with myself, and many things the judge himself said "well if I allow myself to be VERY picky you could have... (insert comments here)".
While I really enjoyed these session, I noticed something troubling afterwards when I was out with my camera. I've found myself thinking "what would a judge think about this" instead of thinking "is this a nice shot" or "do I like this photo".

I've always been extremely self-critical because my self-confidence is quite low and especially in creative areas for some reason. I like many of my photos but hesitate to share them here and there (depending on the audience of course) because I think like "people will think this photo sucks". I tend to always add a disclaimer "this probably isn't a great shot, but.."
I had an experience on Twitter some time ago where Olympus had a macro challenge and I posted a photo I had recently taken in the garden of an insect (it's somewhere on this forum too I think), and added exactly that disclaimer. I received some overwhelmingly uplifting feedback on the photo from Olympus themselves, and some other guys commented to especially regarding "If you like the photo yourself, then it is a good photo!"
After this event, I was so upset with myself and wondered "why am I doing this to myself?". I then stopped adding disclaimers and decided to be proud of my photos although I'm not a pro. I've been doing ok with that.

But this thing with what would the judge think... has made me lose all creativity and joy in photography. I don't blame him because he's a great person, it's all about my own way of thinking. I think more about "rules" than about creating something nice, and I hate that! I was never like that earlier.

What are your suggestions to get off this way of thinking and get back to my love and creativity with the camera?
 

John King

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Susanne, there is a terrific little book by Freeman Patterson titled "Photography and the Art of Seeing". It particularly deals with what you are facing.

Personally, I have always found composition to be the hardest part of photography.
Many years ago, about 2005, I decided that I would not crop my images, except in extremely rare circumstances. One such was this morning, where I was taking historical photographs documenting the alterations to a railway level crossing and station in our neighbourhood. There was an object in the foreground that I had to include, so I will have to crop it out. I could not get the photograph properly without getting part of this machine in it. My point being that there are ALWAYS exceptions to every rule!

By application of this "rule", I have improved my photography a lot (according to all my wife's artist friends, and my wife ... ).

I have never competed, as I find that extremely destructive - whether "winning" or "losing". However, I compete with myself to try to take a photo of what I have seen, not of what I'm looking at ... I have done the latter for most of the 60+ years I have been taking photographs. Most were crappy.

You are beating yourself up for no good reason, mate. It's like some stupid song that you cannot get out of your head. Had quite a few of those experiences in my longish life (I'm nearly 73 y.o.). After a while, the song goes away ...

Just go out and take photos of anything and everything. Just for the sheer pleasure of it. Don't look at them critically (as I do too ... ), just enjoy the experience and looking at them.

What I find terrific about this forum is that there is none of the nastiness and back-biting that routinely goes on many fora. I just enjoy looking at all the photos that people post here. Some are fantastic. Some are pretty ordinary. That doesn't matter. I look at the subject, and enjoy that first. This has re-invigorated my own interest in photography, and I am now prowling my web site with its 3,000+ images and posting some here. I'm also prowling through the more than 70,000 images I have on my local HDDs and uploading some of them. Some are pretty bad technically. I no longer care. If I like the photo, that's all that matters. Same advice you have already been given. It's good advice.

All the best with it.

John
 

John King

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This is the photo I referred to.

M115074.JPG
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And this is how I cropped it, with a tiny bit of help from the Clone Stamp tool in Photoshop in the top/left corner.

E-M1_MkI_JAK_2020-_M115074_crop_Ew.jpg
Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)
 
Last edited:

RS86

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Hello all. I haven't been around much lately because I haven't been taking photos much lately. I just recently realised why and it worried me a little.

During the lockdown, my local camera club has been meeting on Zoom every second week. We've also had photo competitions, to keep people going with their cameras. I participated in two of them, my first ever competitions. I actually managed to come second in the first one! I didn't do as good in the second competition, but that isn't the problem.

During the meetings, a judge (former member of the club) took us through every photo (about 20 both times) and commented on them. I learned a lot during these sessions, especially about composition, how to crop more/better etc. There were also many things I didn't agree with myself, and many things the judge himself said "well if I allow myself to be VERY picky you could have... (insert comments here)".
While I really enjoyed these session, I noticed something troubling afterwards when I was out with my camera. I've found myself thinking "what would a judge think about this" instead of thinking "is this a nice shot" or "do I like this photo".

I've always been extremely self-critical because my self-confidence is quite low and especially in creative areas for some reason. I like many of my photos but hesitate to share them here and there (depending on the audience of course) because I think like "people will think this photo sucks". I tend to always add a disclaimer "this probably isn't a great shot, but.."
I had an experience on Twitter some time ago where Olympus had a macro challenge and I posted a photo I had recently taken in the garden of an insect (it's somewhere on this forum too I think), and added exactly that disclaimer. I received some overwhelmingly uplifting feedback on the photo from Olympus themselves, and some other guys commented to especially regarding "If you like the photo yourself, then it is a good photo!"
After this event, I was so upset with myself and wondered "why am I doing this to myself?". I then stopped adding disclaimers and decided to be proud of my photos although I'm not a pro. I've been doing ok with that.

But this thing with what would the judge think... has made me lose all creativity and joy in photography. I don't blame him because he's a great person, it's all about my own way of thinking. I think more about "rules" than about creating something nice, and I hate that! I was never like that earlier.

What are your suggestions to get off this way of thinking and get back to my love and creativity with the camera?

You might like this speech from Olympus Visionary Joe Edelman. He basically says forget the rules, which might be a bit over the top. He thinks they hinder creativity and there is a very good point in that.

Like John I try not to crop to get the best quality out of our sensors. And to challenge myself. In macro photography this makes you miss some shots, but is very rewarding for me when I succeed.

But it's also important skill to know when to crop and how.

 

Panolyman

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Hi Susan, I'm sorry you're beating yourself up over this, but forget the guy.
He was a judge..OK, and he was judging simply what he thought.
Years ago I entered an inter-club competition and one shot of mine, a transparency, was of golden oats against a bright sun, causing a nice bit of flare. When it came up on the screen, most folks in the audience gave a sharp intake of breath, as it was quite breathtaking :rolleyes:
The judge commented that it was obviously a composite of two separate slides and derided it.
He then awarded another of my photos a couple of marks, and the worst one I entered he gave ten out of ten.
Everyone who spoke to me afterwards completely contradicted his views and I've never forgotten them, but what the heck, I just like taking photos.

I only joined this forum in January and was initially wary about uploading as the standards are superb and I occasionally put a disclaimer on some of mine that "it's not a very good photo, but"......
Quite often the photo will get "likes" and even a few "winners" as the viewers have interpreted what it was I saw when taking the photo.

I still consider myself a "snapper" and merely an observer, but I love taking photos and can't stop myself from sharing them on here (only once was it suggested I put too many on :laugh: ) so please, concentrate on the now and the future, get out there and do what YOU enjoy and then show us all too.
 

CD77

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I have gone through some of the things you speak about relating to club competitions... a crisis of confidence, taking harsh criticism to heart., etc... I have found that the best way is to treat the critique as loose guidance, take the good stuff and do it again, take the bad stuff and apply it but only in a way that satisfies you and the images that you want to produce... and listen to the critique of other peoples work and use the same approach... reap the benefits of someone else's experience but don't accept that it is definitive, and use as much as possible to your advantage!

I now accept that not everyone will like my images... and I even deliberately put stuff that I think judges might sniff at because the image does something for me or challenges accepted norms... and then take the criticism apply it to the next image that invokes the same reaction in me and more often than not it has done better than previous images.

I can honestly say that this mindset has not only helped me deal with taking criticism in a positive way, but has also helped my photography immensely, and now I create images that I like and that do well in club competitions.
 

speedy

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Go & shoot how, & what, makes YOU happy. It's YOUR camera, YOU are the one that has to be happy, & enjoy looking through your photos. Remember the saying -you can't please all the people, all the time. Trying to shoot only what you think others will like, is the fastest way to drive yourself nuts. If anyone else likes my photo's, it's simply a bonus. Not the reason I shot them.
 

Macroramphosis

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Everyone has said what needs to be said, though to me there are no rules in any art. If there were, it would not be art. Faint heart never won fair lady, and experimentation is half the fun of photography. I'd never been in a club until recently, and even though I enjoyed i for the two years it existed there weren't half some pedantic sods in it. I've learnt more from people on here who I have rudely PM'd and asked for advice than I did from any of the Canikon devotees in that club. Most people in a camera club will not have your eye, your mind or your senses. Most of them will also not use m4/3 gear. Make friends with those who do and forget the rest. Enjoy what you do because YOU like it.

I have never followed any rules in life, and I'm now at the age when nothing bothers me much. I travel my own road, sometimes with a friend, and I suggest you do the same. If anyone criticises you just ask to see one of their bad photos. It always shuts them up. :D
 

RichardC

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What are your suggestions to get off this way of thinking and get back to my love and creativity with the camera?

Hi Susan.

Take pictures for you.

As soon as you start taking pictures for other people, it becomes a mechanical rather than an artistic process.

If you have something that you like, and enter it in a competition and it does well, then great. If the judges don't like it then that's tough on them because they're the ones who have failed to get any enjoyment from it.

As you develop as a photographer, the most incisive critic will be yourself. Macro photographer Micael Widell is a good example. He recently disclosed that on a typical photo walk in the forest he'll take 500 shots - hoping he's got 10 that he's pleased with. This is typical of many pros (and the odd competition judge). James Popsys will take 1000 and publish 1 - and not everyone will like it.

Keep shooting.
 
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You take pictures because you enjoy doing it and enjoy your photos and that is the only thing that matters. I agree with all of the comments above. Judge's opinions are simply those of one person's taste or what he was taught and you should not take them to heart. By all means participate in your photo club, but consider the judge's opinions just that. Simply do what you enjoy doing and post on this forum so we can also enjoy your photos. Also there are several "challenges" here that you can enter if you like.
 

Susanne

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Thank you, thank you, everyone! I suspected I would get some good advice on here. This is such a great forum.

One thing I want to point out is that I didn't really take the judge's criticism about my own photos personally or in a negative way - I didn't agree with all of it but could move on. I also learned a lot from listening to the critique generally (including the critique on everyone else's photos) and will use what I agreed with, forget the rest.
The problem has been that listening to all that, made me so aware of what "a good photo should be" that I forgot what I want to do or what I consider a good photo and that that actually matters.

I don't normally do competitions but did it this time mainly as a challenge because I was curious and I didn't take myself too seriously in it. I haven't engaged much in the club activities so far so I saw this as a way to do just that.
I joined the club before Christmas and have been very happy with it, normally we meet in town and have workshops and lectures, it has been very inspiring and they are some very nice people. Only a few (actually younger ones) can be a bit annoying. During lockdown obviously everything has been very different and we've mainly met for social reasons, see that everyone is ok, inspire each other to keep taking photos, etc. The competitions were also to inspire people to get out with their cameras.

But I very easily get into bad ways of thinking because I'm such a perfectionist.

As soon as you start taking pictures for other people, it becomes a mechanical rather than an artistic process.

This is exactly what happened to me. So I'm not going to enter more competitions, but instead watch the others and learn from them, but forget the comments that I don't agree with.

You mentioned James Popsys. I absolutely ADORE his videos. Because he kills clichés, goes against rules and does his thing, while being a brilliant landscape photographer. He inspires me so much!! I've been indulging in some of his videos yesterday and today.

Camera club judges may be found at photography shows and events. They are generally older men, strutting around looking extremely important. Can be fun to observe.

Spot on!!!
Our judge seems like a nice guy though. He called me the whisky queen (because of a discussion we had about my whiskey collection at a previous meeting) which gave me the idea of a name for a new whisky blog project. :D

Everyone has said what needs to be said, though to me there are no rules in any art. If there were, it would not be art.

Most people in a camera club will not have your eye, your mind or your senses. Most of them will also not use m4/3 gear. Make friends with those who do and forget the rest. Enjoy what you do because YOU like it.

I have never followed any rules in life, and I'm now at the age when nothing bothers me much. I travel my own road, sometimes with a friend, and I suggest you do the same. If anyone criticises you just ask to see one of their bad photos. It always shuts them up. :D

I agree with everything.

Susanne, there is a terrific little book by Freeman Patterson titled "Photography and the Art of Seeing". It particularly deals with what you are facing.

You are beating yourself up for no good reason, mate. It's like some stupid song that you cannot get out of your head. Had quite a few of those experiences in my longish life (I'm nearly 73 y.o.). After a while, the song goes away ...

Just go out and take photos of anything and everything. Just for the sheer pleasure of it. Don't look at them critically (as I do too ... ), just enjoy the experience and looking at them.

YES. Thank you.

Someone mentioned a video with a speech - I've saved it and will see it. Thank you.

And to everyone else I didn't quote, thank you.
I'll also check out some challenges here on the site, haven't been on here for quite a long time.
 

wyk

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Hello, Susanne,

My name is Wes Keller. I have seen your photos, and they are lovely.
Feelings are human. It's good to have them. It's good to share them.
If you'll permit me, I have a short story to tell:

When I was young, I realised I was the only person who saw things from my point of view(shocker). I started to take photos and develop them at the age of 16 purposefully to share and to catalogue my experiences. That was the 80's. My memory is terrible, and I also am very thankful to have photos of my experiences. I often ask myself after seeing a forgotten photo 'Wow, did that ever really happen?!'. I recall once early on a colleague was a bit critical about one of my photos(she had actually been the one to bring me into this field). She was technically right looking back on it, and I did learn from her criticism, but my response came from the heart. I asked her if she had a photo of the same thing. She hadn't. I then said, let me know when you do and we'll compare. She never came back to me on that. And she couldn't anyway - that memory, the creation of it, was my own and never will be hers. Also, I think she knew what I was really saying more than than I did myself.

Always know that criticism is simply someone else sharing their mind with you.
And always know that when you enter a contest, you are asking for judgement.
Personally, I do not take photos for judgement, I do so to share. I never enter contests unless a free calendar is involved.

Or I can be just talking bollox. I usually do.

Did I mention I also live in Ireland? To me, the most depressing part of this whole Covid affair was missing great tennis weather. Weeks and weeks of it, too!
But, I am not Irish. I'm American. My awesome wife is Irish. I mentioned all this because there's one thing I do notice often while not being Irish in Ireland - this rock is literally an awesome place for a photographer. We are both very lucky to be here and be photographers. There is so much amazing scenery and culture here to share. Covid has locked us in, and we are feeling it. But once we are more free to roam, we'll be hard pressed to hold back all the images.
The photos are out there, just waiting for us. All we need to do is get there and press the shutter button.

Sometimes I do get to places just when God's ready to have somebody click the shutter. - Ansel Adams
 

Susanne

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Hello, Susanne,

My name is Wes Keller. I have seen your photos, and they are lovely.
Feelings are human. It's good to have them. It's good to share them.
If you'll permit me, I have a short story to tell:

When I was young, I realised I was the only person who saw things from my point of view(shocker). I started to take photos and develop them at the age of 16 purposefully to share and to catalogue my experiences. That was the 80's. My memory is terrible, and I also am very thankful to have photos of my experiences. I often ask myself after seeing a forgotten photo 'Wow, did that ever really happen?!'. I recall once early on a colleague was a bit critical about one of my photos(she had actually been the one to bring me into this field). She was technically right looking back on it, and I did learn from her criticism, but my response came from the heart. I asked her if she had a photo of the same thing. She hadn't. I then said, let me know when you do and we'll compare. She never came back to me on that. And she couldn't anyway - that memory, the creation of it, was my own and never will be hers. Also, I think she knew what I was really saying more than than I did myself.

Always know that criticism is simply someone else sharing their mind with you.
And always know that when you enter a contest, you are asking for judgement.
Personally, I do not take photos for judgement, I do so to share. I never enter contests unless a free calendar is involved.

Or I can be just talking bollox. I usually do.

Did I mention I also live in Ireland? To me, the most depressing part of this whole Covid affair was missing great tennis weather. Weeks and weeks of it, too!
But, I am not Irish. I'm American. My awesome wife is Irish. I mentioned all this because there's one thing I do notice often while not being Irish in Ireland - this rock is literally an awesome place for a photographer. We are both very lucky to be here and be photographers. There is so much amazing scenery and culture here to share. Covid has locked us in, and we are feeling it. But once we are more free to roam, we'll be hard pressed to hold back all the images.
The photos are out there, just waiting for us. All we need to do is get there and press the shutter button.

Sometimes I do get to places just when God's ready to have somebody click the shutter. - Ansel Adams

Thank you. I totally agree that this island is made of photos just waiting to be taken. I'm very privileged to live out in the country and I have stunning areas to see even without leaving my garden, and within the walking limit (also when the limit was 2 km), especially now when I can walk down to the sea as well. It's a couple of km away.

I'm not Irish either by the way, I'm Swedish, and moved to Ireland in February last year for the love of the country, culture, people, and weather :D (escaping the long Swedish winters). This year was supposed to be the year of photography for me because last year was too busy. Covid prevented any brilliant photography but at least I've taken time to learn some flash photography, basic lighting etc, and taken a lot of flower photos in the garden.

But I'll get out there again. I'll take in everyone's comments here and take photos for myself again.
 

exakta

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this thing with what would the judge think... has made me lose all creativity and joy in photography

It's not a competition. It's fun. Like Robin Wong always says, go out and take some pictures.

I'm a musician as well as a photographer and in both worlds, competition is like a disease. It's fine to compare your work to others as a learning experience, but all that is really important is do you capture images that invoke an emotional response.
 
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Like you, for many years I suffered the voice in my head that had me stopping before I even started. That voice killed my joy of everything, and especially my making of photographs. You must throttle the voice. Ignore it, talk over it, banish it from your mind.

Your photography is an expression of how you experience the world. Make photos for yourself. If other people like them, great, if they don't, great. Who cares what anyone has to say about your work. Van Gough spent his life making paintings that everyone hated at the time, he was undeterred. He was also a bit off the wall. But then, so are we all. Be yourself, make your photos for you.

Camera clubs are fine as a social club to meet like minded people, but don't lower your standards to fit a competitions criteria, or to allow your work to be judged by someone who knows nothing of you, what you have to say, or why you have to say it. Sit back while the judging goes on, and enjoy the spectacle. Speak with others in your club who know you well, or privately seek out critiques from people here on this forum who make work that you respect. Have dialogs, show work, converse. You'll learn far more this way than through any camera club judge.

I've been making my living as a photographer for over 40 years now. And early in the 2000's I started submitting to these on line competitions to get my work out there. It was demoralizing. I don't do it anymore, and I feel far more confident about what I do on a personal level than at any time in the past. My commercial work is judged all the time from the only people who matter, my clients. And their main feedback is a check and another phone call or email when they need more work.

Do your thing. Seek out people who will give you relevant feedback. And just keep making photographs. The more relentless you are, the more you'll learn, and the better you will get.


Hello all. I haven't been around much lately because I haven't been taking photos much lately. I just recently realised why and it worried me a little.

During the lockdown, my local camera club has been meeting on Zoom every second week. We've also had photo competitions, to keep people going with their cameras. I participated in two of them, my first ever competitions. I actually managed to come second in the first one! I didn't do as good in the second competition, but that isn't the problem.

During the meetings, a judge (former member of the club) took us through every photo (about 20 both times) and commented on them. I learned a lot during these sessions, especially about composition, how to crop more/better etc. There were also many things I didn't agree with myself, and many things the judge himself said "well if I allow myself to be VERY picky you could have... (insert comments here)".
While I really enjoyed these session, I noticed something troubling afterwards when I was out with my camera. I've found myself thinking "what would a judge think about this" instead of thinking "is this a nice shot" or "do I like this photo".

I've always been extremely self-critical because my self-confidence is quite low and especially in creative areas for some reason. I like many of my photos but hesitate to share them here and there (depending on the audience of course) because I think like "people will think this photo sucks". I tend to always add a disclaimer "this probably isn't a great shot, but.."
I had an experience on Twitter some time ago where Olympus had a macro challenge and I posted a photo I had recently taken in the garden of an insect (it's somewhere on this forum too I think), and added exactly that disclaimer. I received some overwhelmingly uplifting feedback on the photo from Olympus themselves, and some other guys commented to especially regarding "If you like the photo yourself, then it is a good photo!"
After this event, I was so upset with myself and wondered "why am I doing this to myself?". I then stopped adding disclaimers and decided to be proud of my photos although I'm not a pro. I've been doing ok with that.

But this thing with what would the judge think... has made me lose all creativity and joy in photography. I don't blame him because he's a great person, it's all about my own way of thinking. I think more about "rules" than about creating something nice, and I hate that! I was never like that earlier.

What are your suggestions to get off this way of thinking and get back to my love and creativity with the camera?
 

Darmok N Jalad

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The thing with any sort of judging is that it is subjective. Sure, the judges can be well-trained and may even be great at their craft, but it’s still ultimately up to personal taste. If you go to an art museum, do you find every exhibit compelling? Probably not, but everything in the building still ”made the grade” and is featured in an art museum! If you go to that same museum in a group, the odds of you all agreeing on your favorite exhibit are slim to none.

To me, it comes down to why to you do it. If you enjoy your craft, then keep at it. It’s an act of creation, and that is very good for your own mental well-being. And even if it’s only just one other person that is moved by your work, then you still provided a little joy to the world. The world needs more of that, doesn’t it? Once it gets competitive, it usually turns into something else. There’s nothing wrong with competition, but you have to really really want it, and you can take the criticism constructively and not personally.

If you have a low tolerance for constructive criticism (like me), then it’s best to save your tolerance for your family and job!
 

Susanne

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Messages
187
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Ireland
Like you, for many years I suffered the voice in my head that had me stopping before I even started. That voice killed my joy of everything, and especially my making of photographs. You must throttle the voice. Ignore it, talk over it, banish it from your mind.

Your photography is an expression of how you experience the world. Make photos for yourself. If other people like them, great, if they don't, great. Who cares what anyone has to say about your work. Van Gough spent his life making paintings that everyone hated at the time, he was undeterred. He was also a bit off the wall. But then, so are we all. Be yourself, make your photos for you.

Camera clubs are fine as a social club to meet like minded people, but don't lower your standards to fit a competitions criteria, or to allow your work to be judged by someone who knows nothing of you, what you have to say, or why you have to say it. Sit back while the judging goes on, and enjoy the spectacle. Speak with others in your club who know you well, or privately seek out critiques from people here on this forum who make work that you respect. Have dialogs, show work, converse. You'll learn far more this way than through any camera club judge.

I've been making my living as a photographer for over 40 years now. And early in the 2000's I started submitting to these on line competitions to get my work out there. It was demoralizing. I don't do it anymore, and I feel far more confident about what I do on a personal level than at any time in the past. My commercial work is judged all the time from the only people who matter, my clients. And their main feedback is a check and another phone call or email when they need more work.

Do your thing. Seek out people who will give you relevant feedback. And just keep making photographs. The more relentless you are, the more you'll learn, and the better you will get.

Thank you for your wise words. Very interesting that also an experienced professional photographer finds competitions demoralising!
 
Joined
Mar 27, 2018
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305
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Texas
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Kyle
You might consider doing a 365 project. I did one last year and really enjoyed it. With that volume of photos one has to accept they will shoot crappy photos, mediocre photos, good photos, and fantastics photos. The group I was a part of is on flickr and are very nice... they do not judge each others photos only comment if they like them. It's a closed group so you get a sense of camaraderie. You can inquire with Jenny Stein - https://www.flickr.com/groups/twipfamily365/
 

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