It’s time to be honest with yourself. It’s time to ask tough questions about your job and answer them honestly, even if you hurt yourself. Grab a pen and paper, drop your ego and address these questions.
If you feel like you have a gargantuan ego and are preparing to tear me to shreds in the comments, don’t worry, if you were reading my own answers, you wouldn’t be rushing to your keyboard. I constantly have these conversations with myself and I’m nowhere near a 10. And anyway, this article is about you, not me.
How is your work? Honestly though. Are you surprised by the pieces you deliberately make? Or do you carry on, somewhat uninspired, with the passable hits you share by rote on the gram?
Let’s address these questions.
1) On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most inspiring photograph you have ever seen, how would you rate your own images?
If you kept reading without stopping and answering the question, I challenge you to stop and answer it. What is your number? Are you producing at your maximum potential? Do you create work that you are very proud of, but you know you have even more if you push yourself? Do you have to be honest and admit that your images are a bit dull? Do you know that your work is mediocre but you are too busy or too tired to do anything about it?
2) What are my strengths as a photographer?
The heat is off on this one. What are you good at? What really works in your images? What do you like in your pictures? What is the genius in your work that only comes from your unique mind? In the business world, entrepreneurs are encouraged to spend the majority of their working hours performing tasks that are in their “zone of genius”. What is your “vision of genius”? What is a “very you” move?
3) What are the areas in which my work is weak?
(Turns the oven back on)
American physicist Richard Feynman said: “The first principle is that you must not be deceived – and you are the easiest person to deceive”.
In what area do you need the most growth? Is it off-camera lighting, editing, concept creation or creativity? Maybe it’s that your images are all over the place and you’re missing a brand style. Maybe it’s just that your snaps are boring and you need to spice them up. Maybe it’s the knowledge of trade secrets (like getting those perfectly spherical water droplets, i.e. glycerin) or techniques (like panning for sports imaging). Write down 2 of the 3 areas where your work needs growth.
4) Is my work significantly better this year than last?
The key word here is significantly. If so, congratulations! Keep growing. Many of the photographers we admire have been perfecting their craft for decades. It is not useful to compare your work to theirs. Be inspired by their work; but only compare your recent images to your previous images: those from one, three and five years ago. If your work isn’t significantly better, why isn’t it? Dig into that a bit.
5) What skill do I need to learn that I haven’t invested the time to master?
Here are some ideas:
Flash (including portable flash)
In-camera double exposure
Post-processing (Photoshop, Lightroom, Capture One)
Pose for the portrait
Marketing Business Courses
Use of reflectors or VFlats
Digital Compositing or photo stacking
There are huge amounts of resources. YouTube gave us access to the biggest names in the industry at no cost. In addition to YouTube videos, I regularly take crash courses to really dive deeper into a subject from platforms such as Fstoppers, PhLearn, Creative Live, etc. I’ve taken courses on all three of these platforms: from splash photography to hair retouching, advanced cloning, product photography, skin retouching, portrait photography, and more. The investment is increased tenfold. You can also attend a workshop or look for mentorship opportunities. There are seemingly limitless ways to improve your craft.
(The furnace is extinguished; sigh of relief.)
Although some of the questions required some honesty, I hope you took the time to answer them. The great adventure of being an artist is discovering what else you have inside. I leave you with a quote from one of my favorite books, “Art & Fear” by David Bayles
“Making art is working in the face of uncertainty; it means living in doubt and contradiction, doing something it doesn’t matter what you do, and for which there may be no audience or reward. Doing the work you want to do means putting those doubts aside so you can see clearly what you’ve done, and see where to go next. Doing the work you want to do means finding nourishment in the work itself.
If you’re feeling brave, share some of your answers in the comments below. I’d love to hear what you crush, what you want to improve, and how you handle social media so I can check in on your background.