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

D7k1

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My deceased wife was an art consultant and worked for an art magazine. Being a MBA in marketing and having owned an advertising agency I can tell you from my experience and helping my wife create marketing plans for artist, self doubt is the most common fear that most working artistic (both fine and commercial) have. Make art that speaks to you and don't worry about other folks. Many judges bring their own fears and prejudices to bear on their evaluations. I've sold commercial work and it is the only time I care about what someone wants.

Be brave and create art that speaks to your heart and set it free so the world can see it.
 
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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?
Your images are great. I also often have creative boredom and then force myself to go out with just one lens for a while and take time to imagine things I can create. 95% of the shots I take on any day are not good. I delete most of them and save 30%, which sometime later get rehabilitated when my post processing skills improve.

I am happy if I have 5 or 10 great photos a year - which invariably means I shot 10,000 frames that are not great.

Hope I'm not the only trigger happy photographer here with such a terrible hit ratio.
 

Susanne

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Your images are great. I also often have creative boredom and then force myself to go out with just one lens for a while and take time to imagine things I can create. 95% of the shots I take on any day are not good. I delete most of them and save 30%, which sometime later get rehabilitated when my post processing skills improve.

I am happy if I have 5 or 10 great photos a year - which invariably means I shot 10,000 frames that are not great.

Hope I'm not the only trigger happy photographer here with such a terrible hit ratio.

Thanks Steve!
I heard that tip from someone else, was it James Popsys? To go out with one lens, preferably a prime lens, and force yourself to get creative with that. It’s good advice because you have to think differently.
I often ditch up to 80% of my photos from a session. But it depends on how picky I am that day and what I’m going to use those photos for.
 

exakta

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To go out with one lens, preferably a prime lens, and force yourself to get creative with that. It’s good advice because you have to think differently.

I started shooting in 1965 with my dad's fixed focus rollfilm camera (everything in focus from 7.5 ft to infinity, gotta love it!), got into 35mm a year latern with a second hand Argus that cost me $12 I earned mowing lawns for a month. I didn't get an ILC for another decade. I took a lot of photos in those ten years.
 
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And just so you know, I still suffer from a lack of confidence, or a feeling that my work isn't that good. And frankly that makes me feel good. As where judges and critics are generally quite satisfied with their abilities.

The upshot is, if you don't doubt yourself and your abilities, you're probably deluding yourself. And if you do doubt yourself, you'll probably work harder to get better at what you do. Doubt is good.

Are you familiar with the Dunning-Kruger effect? This is from WikiPedia.

In the field of psychology, the Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people with low ability at a task overestimate their ability. It is related to the cognitive bias of illusory superiority and comes from the inability of people to recognize their lack of ability. Without the self-awareness of metacognition, people cannot objectively evaluate their competence or incompetence.

As described by social psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger, the bias results from an internal illusion in people of low ability and from an external misperception in people of high ability; that is, "the miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others."



Thank you for your wise words. Very interesting that also an experienced professional photographer finds competitions demoralising!
 

Susanne

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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.

Totally true! Photography has always been like therapy for me earlier, it’s always made me happy, both the creative aspect and the memories I’ve kept in my photos, as well as the joy of learning new skills. I want to get back to that.

And just so you know, I still suffer from a lack of confidence, or a feeling that my work isn't that good. And frankly that makes me feel good. As where judges and critics are generally quite satisfied with their abilities.

The upshot is, if you don't doubt yourself and your abilities, you're probably deluding yourself. And if you do doubt yourself, you'll probably work harder to get better at what you do. Doubt is good.

Are you familiar with the Dunning-Kruger effect? This is from WikiPedia.

In the field of psychology, the Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people with low ability at a task overestimate their ability. It is related to the cognitive bias of illusory superiority and comes from the inability of people to recognize their lack of ability. Without the self-awareness of metacognition, people cannot objectively evaluate their competence or incompetence.

As described by social psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger, the bias results from an internal illusion in people of low ability and from an external misperception in people of high ability; that is, "the miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others."

I heard about this a while ago, and I’ve seen it mentioned in other contexts too. It’s both uplifting (that self doubt can be a sign of competence) and sad. But you’re right - self doubt makes you work to get better which definitely is a good thing. If you settle down without ever learning anything new, that would totally kill the satisfaction too.
 

Keeth101

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I entered a competition a long time ago for the first time.
When I returned after the judging and saw what won and other highly placed pictures, I then spoke to one or two people 'in the know' about it and about the reasons for the results. I vowed never to enter a competition again ..... and I haven't.
The other thing I've never done is regretted it.
Judges, when faced with lots of great pictures, have to make up reasons why one is deemed better than another and those reasons get more and more absurd as time goes on.
Go out and make your pictures as you want them to be and as you've always done and enjoy yourself. Let your fellow photographers see how good you are and do what so many other people do ..... stop entering club or show competitions, it ain't worth it.
 

Susanne

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I entered a competition a long time ago for the first time.
When I returned after the judging and saw what won and other highly placed pictures, I then spoke to one or two people 'in the know' about it and about the reasons for the results. I vowed never to enter a competition again ..... and I haven't.
The other thing I've never done is regretted it.
Judges, when faced with lots of great pictures, have to make up reasons why one is deemed better than another and those reasons get more and more absurd as time goes on.
Go out and make your pictures as you want them to be and as you've always done and enjoy yourself. Let your fellow photographers see how good you are and do what so many other people do ..... stop entering club or show competitions, it ain't worth it.

Well said about making pictures as I’ve always done it and as I want to do it.
Last year actually people in the club mentioned that only a certain type of pictures manage to get high scores in the nationwide competitions, and that made me so sad. I remember thinking that I’ll never enter a competition! Now I did and I suppose it was good to see what it was like, but not good for my creativity.
 

RS86

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Well said about making pictures as I’ve always done it and as I want to do it.
Last year actually people in the club mentioned that only a certain type of pictures manage to get high scores in the nationwide competitions, and that made me so sad. I remember thinking that I’ll never enter a competition! Now I did and I suppose it was good to see what it was like, but not good for my creativity.

I entered a Finnish contest this year for the first time, and thought I could have chance at something. I didn't even get to top 10 %. Well those photos were with 2 years of photographing experience so I didn't expect very much.

The sad thing about these big contests is that you don't get any feedback. You don't know if the files were somehow wrong or photos not good enough.

In that way the feedback in club contests seems a lot better, but I can understand how it can affect.
 

mfturner

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This is a great thread, thank you for bringing it up @susannemcom . I feel like the oddness of these Covid times make it easy to get into a rut and lose self confidence and motivation.
 

Susanne

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In that way the feedback in club contests seems a lot better, but I can understand how it can affect.

Yes, actually the feedback in these contests was very good and gave ideas of how to improve photos, but it affected me a bit too much, so to speak. I need to learn to keep that feedback in mind but still let myself ignore some of it and be creative in my own way.
 

Keeth101

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The other thing, of course, is that you enter a club or show competition once and think you've learned from your 'so called' mistakes. The next competition, the way of judging will change because everyone else will have 'learned' the same thing so the judges then have to think of something else to criticize. And so it goes on .... and on ...... and on .....

None of it really makes any sense and a lot of people are very upset about the criticism they receive when it really only applies to that one competition and will probably not apply at all to the next or any other competition you may enter.

Feedback is good but only if it applies to photography in general. If it applies to just winning competitions then is it really good advice?
 

Susanne

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The other thing, of course, is that you enter a club or show competition once and think you've learned from your 'so called' mistakes. The next competition, the way of judging will change because everyone else will have 'learned' the same thing so the judges then have to think of something else to criticize. And so it goes on .... and on ...... and on .....

None of it really makes any sense and a lot of people are very upset about the criticism they receive when it really only applies to that one competition and will probably not apply at all to the next or any other competition you may enter.

Feedback is good but only if it applies to photography in general. If it applies to just winning competitions then is it really good advice?

Very good point!
 

phigmov

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Keep shooting & keep shooting what you enjoy the way you enjoy it :)
I tend to struggle with feedback, but on the other hand it can be super beneficial when its done in a genuine way. I think the feedback would also depend on context and category - is it technical or compositional or artistic (eg you could take a blurry bokeh-shot as an abstract that might not look out of place on a gallery wall that may not satisfy any critic but it may be a pleasing image for all sorts of other reasons). Also, even if the feedback is genuine, it can sometimes go against the way you prefer to shoot - I think it can be important to decide what feedback to take on board and what to leave behind - no point bending your creative process to suit someone elses criteria (unless your career depends on learning it in which case you may need to "do your time" in a particular way and then "unlearn" to find your own unique character which is still well-grounded in the fundamentals).

TL;DR - stick with it & keep shooting!
 

doady

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It is too easy to give too much attention to what others think about our work. How many likes did my photos get? My photos got five likes! That sort of thing.

And these are reactions from strangers, people we don't really care about, who don't have any meaning in our lives, but somehow their hearts or thumbs up has so much meaning to us.

It is a very impersonal interaction, but somehow we make it so personal. If we allow influence from people who we have no personal connection with, then our work becomes less personal. And making something personal is probably the most important thing in art, to connect with others on a more personal level.

Of course, artists who we admire, their reactions can have some weight. Their work has meaning to us and affects us on a personal level, that is a good influence for our own work, which in turn can make our work more meaningful to others.

I think that is really what creativity is all about. It's not about shutting out all outside influence. It's still about connection and sharing. You just have to recognize what exactly those connections and those things you want to share with others are.
 

Gerard

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I once wrote this text: "ABCDE".
Being not entirely sure about it, I showed it to a friend. She said: nice text, can I make a suggestion? Sure, I said. How about "BACDE"?
So I rewrote it and went to an other friend. He said: Wow, good text! but why not change into: "BADCE"?
I liked the suggestion, so I rewrote and with that text I went to yet another friend.
He said: Good text, but you could have written: "ABCDE"

At the time I was glad that I got the confirmation of my first version.
Though over time and rereading the text and its variations, I came to the conclusion that the suggestions of my friends did make the text better.

Like so many things in life, you should learn how to judge your own opinions, actions, etc. A teacher can be helpfull at times.
 

piggsy

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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?

Judges: f that. Also one thing I would suggest if you're going to go out of your way to shoot a) a lot, b) of macro subjects, c) in a way that will generate a lot of stuff that might suck through experimentation, get Fast Raw Viewer. It's one thing to take a look of photos messing around, it's another to sort through them in a full fledged development program. FRV gives you a full-res pre-zoomed thing of the actual raw file, rather than the embedded jpg, in a fraction of a second.
 

John King

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@piggsy I have found that FastStone Viewer is better, because it's faster to cache. Pressing the A key when a preview is displayed will load the full size file, whether JPEG or RAW is also very fast. It has a fairly decent built-in editor, and is free (although I made a donation years ago).

VERY flexible for printing thumbnails and EXIF data too.
 
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