Every year I learn more about photography as an art form and a business. I’ve struggled over the past few years with finding a balance between pursuing the photography I love and posting things to social media that get the most likes.
I’ve seen creative photography blossom with smart phones and affordable dSLRs and take an ugly down turn with selfie sticks and social media vanity.
Some days I feel more inspired than ever, and others I feel like packing up my gear and moving on. I think a lot of us are caught up on the daily chore of posting 3 photos at exactly 9am, 12pm, and 6pm EST on 3 or 4 social networks, and losing focus on what really matters. For me, photography isn’t just a job, it’s a passion that comes from my heart. When I take an image I’m proud of I feel a sense of accomplishment. I feel proud. When I share that photo and it inspires others, I feel happy. It’s a simple joy that gets weighed down by the pressure to post in an unnatural way.
My advice to you this year is directed at your heart, your big, raw artist heart, and the passion behind your photos. I know you’ve already taken the time to fiddle with all your camera buttons and learn about gear and spent hours and hours practicing right? Good!
Believe in your art
Beyond the technical skills required to take a photo and the eye to compose it, is an undefinable art form.
Who defines what makes a beautiful photograph? YOU DO. It’s your art.
We all struggle with doubt. Is my photo good? Will people like it? To this day, every time I finish working on an image, I ask my husband who is a pilot, not a photographer, “Is this a good one?” Sometimes he says a definitive yes, other times he shrugs and asks me what I think. “You’re the photographer,” he says. True. I am. I have been for quite sometime. So why do I still doubt my work?
There is a difference between pushing yourself to be a better photographer, and being self-critical. The later is extremely dangerous to your progression as an artist and it’s something we should all nix this year. Believe in your work. Believe in yourself. I do!
Spending all your time trying to please others is so 2016. It’s your photography, so impress yourself with your work.
If you like your photos and believe in them, then you have power and intention behind your work.
I will admit to taking and posting many photos because I thought people would like them, but didn’t really like them myself. I’ve also done the reverse where I’ve loved a photo I took, but because it didn’t really fit into my normal social media stream of photographs, I didn’t post it.
There are a lot of photographers who take beautiful photos, but lack personality and conviction. If you aren’t 100% into your photos, then why bother? I ask myself this all the time. Let’s all agree to put our passion into our photos and not give a second thought to what anyone thinks about them. Ok? Good. I feel better.
No more FOMO (fear of missing out)
There is always someone better. There is always someone with better gear, more free time, and more experience. Before Instagram, we didn’t really know about these people. But now we do and we get it rubbed in our jealous little noses on a daily basis.
There are days where I’m sitting in my PJs staring out of the window at an uninspiring landscape of the small Canadian Air Force town that I am currently living in and a really amazing image of a sunset and hot air balloons comes into my feed and for a minute I feel bad. I start searching my Lightroom catalog for something equally as cool from the past 8 years, and come up empty handed. I waste a lot of time on this behaviour and it’s gotta go!
I am extremely fortunate that I can travel as much as I do, but my life is not my social media feed. I post images from over 8 years of my adventures, so I’m not always standing under an ancient temple in Tokyo or running down a beach in Hawaii. 90% of the time, I’m in my new pirate pjs which I got for free due to an Amazon prime delivery mishap.
The point is, don’t have FOMO, because no one’s life is a perfect Hawaiian sunset everyday. I find that consuming chocolate whilst experiencing FOMO often helps.
Enjoy the journey
Now that you’ve stopped caring what others think and what beach they are currently sunning on, you can enjoy your journey. After all, this is the only journey that matters. Set your goals, both the practical and the lofty, and then take a deep breath and enjoy the process knowing you are working towards something you really want. Choose to be positive and appreciate the things that you have.
Take photographs that bring you joy, work on projects that are uplifting, and give back to those who matter to you.
It’s really simple once you strip away the doubt, the jealousy, and all the nasty negative thoughts.
Risk, fail, and keep going
If you don’t risk, you fail by default. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? Everyone fails, but eventually those failures will turn into something worthy of picking yourself up, dusting yourself off, and starting all over again. Photography is a lovely discipline, because our failures are fairly small. A few bad photos isn’t the end of the world, and in the minds of our attention deficit followers, they probably didn’t even register.
Don’t be scared of trying something new, something creative, something with wacky, crazy colours or none at all. Why not? Absolutely no reason. I double dog dare you! Now you have to do it.
Pretending to be someone you are not is exhausting. The pressure to fit into some predetermined, one-filter, samey same photography style is ever present. Social media popularity does not necessarily translate into real world success and income. Sure, sometimes it does, but compromising your style and your art to pursue this goal is, in my opinion, a waste of your passion.
Allow your photography to transcend the popularity game and be authentic to who you are and what you like.
I couldn’t imagine using the same filter day after day and capturing the same content week after week. Some days I want to photograph waterfalls, some days airplanes, other days blurry artsy shots of grass. I’m curious about different photographic styles and techniques. I never want to stop learning. I maintain a certain style throughout my photography, but different photographic genres influence this style in different ways. I’m not going to make a photograph of an F-18 soft, pink, and feminine like I would, say, that blurry piece of grass.
So for me, being authentic means taking pictures of lots of things and learning different techniques along the way. When I compromise this and only post photos that I think people will like, I stop enjoying my journey. I start to feel heavy from the weight of being someone I am not.
Don’t be fake. Don’t compromise. Be authentic and original.
I find this to be one of the hardest things and, for me, this is my major resolution this year. My head is always swimming with ideas and I’m sometimes a frantic photographer. I find myself running around, heart pounding, temples sweating, during every single sunset. “Where is the best shot?” I say over and over as I pace around, not even noticing the beauty right in front of me.
I’m more concerned with the end product than experiencing the moment. This year, I’m taking a big, deep breath and trying something new. Something like this:
Look outside. Notice the little things. The sunlight dancing on the grass. Watch the clouds pass by. Listen to the wind. Feel the ground underneath you, supporting you. Try to connect to your surroundings. Be present in that moment. Tune out the emails, the nattering text messages, the worry, the grocery lists… just be.
When you are present you notice more, you feel more, you feel less out of control. Try this with your photography. The next time you are photographing something, set up your gear and then be present in that moment. Stop fiddling around with every little setting and just enjoy that moment. It’s in this moment of being present and connected that you can actually appreciate what is in front of you and actually capture a photograph with meaning.
To sum it all up: Be positive. Believe in yourself. Stop competing with others. Be yourself. Be present and connect to the world and your art. I think that’s pretty good advice. Hopefully, I will listen to myself this year. Wishing you a beautiful journey in 2017.
About the author: Lisa Bettany is a Canadian photographer, travel writer, and tech entrepreneur. When she is not capturing the beauty of the world or making iPhone apps, she enjoys flying small planes, reading WW2 themed books, watching movies starring Ewoks, and drinking tea. You can find more of her work and words on her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. This article was originally published here.