Kate Hopewell-Smith believes that the more confident you are, the better photographer you'll become. But she worries about the lack of confidence in our industry, and wonders how many photographers are considering whether to carry on or not…
From my experience meeting and communicating with lots of photographers there is a serious problem out there with lack of confidence, which for some can become quite debilitating. In fact I describe it as an “epidemic” –extremely prevalent, widespread.
I read a lot of photography magazines but I can’t recall ever reading an article that openly discusses the confidence issues that plague photographers. Yet one brief post from me on Facebook recently demonstrated quite clearly that people are not only happy to talk about it, but probably need to.
Becoming a full time photographer is often a shift from living a dream inside your head to something that other people can see. It is often at this point that the doubts and fears begin to take hold - the kind of thoughts that are telling you that you are just not good enough.
I’m sure we all know that crises of confidence are common amongst creatives in all fields. Meryl Streep once said “You can have a perfectly horrible day where you doubt your talent… Or that you’re boring and they’re going to find out that you don’t know what you’re doing.” She is talking about a very specific problem – fraud fear – and I know it is something that many photographers can identify with. The reality of this insular experience is a horrible feeling of vulnerability that can lead to a negative impact on the creative process and the quality of our work.
Now I happen to believe that you become a better photographer the more confident you are – the more you believe in your ability. It’s complicated isn’t it – which comes first the chicken or the egg? In truth if you aren’t able to believe and trust in your abilities then you need to address the reasons why. You need to work out what is stopping you becoming the photographer that you want to be.
One of the most common problems is constantly comparing yourself to other photographers and finding your skills lacking. This is truly a losing game and you would be far better to focus on you. You can only be the photographer inside you and not a replica of an idol.
Focus on what you can control and don’t lose sleep over the things that you can’t. A few years ago I had started putting myself in situations where my lack of knowledge could let me down, and I knew it. I was constantly on edge about the stuff that I didn’t know – and if I’m totally honest I had no idea what I didn’t know. I solved this problem by getting training and learning to control light, which increased my confidence hugely. I talk about photography being like an enormous jigsaw puzzle, and each piece of the puzzle being a nugget of knowledge. Every time I learnt something new the puzzle became more complete, and in parallel my confidence built.
At this point I am going to emphasise the fact that you have a choice here. You may be someone who hates the technical aspects of photography, and find you get the results you want without really knowing how or why. This is absolutely fine as long as you are not taking on commissions that will expose your lack of knowledge.
A very simple example is that of winter weddings. To do a low light celebration justice you need the right kit and you need to know how to use it. The benefit of my training is that I can now walk into any scenario (within my niche of lifestyle photography) with the confidence that comes from knowing that I can deliver strong imagery – maybe not my best, but certainly of a high enough standard for my clients.
Practice – there is no substitute for hard work. Knowledge should help liberate you, and allow you to make pictures that you love. But only with some hard graft. After all, “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” ― Henri Cartier-Bresson.
Be nice to yourself. Try to forgive your mistakes, learn from them and move on.
Getting to this ‘happy place’ tends to need some serious work and a plan. A plan will keep you focused and moving in the right direction rather than in a static state listening to the doubting inner voices. Take the time to sit and identify your weaknesses and work out what it is going to take to change the situation. This process alone, the act of recognition and positive action, will make you feel so much better about yourself and your business. Trust me.
Finally let’s consider that our end goal is often to be ‘successful’, but what does that mean? Sometimes it is important to just remember the reasons why you wanted to do this in the first place. You might find that you have been taking on commissions that not only sit outside your comfort zone, but are also at odds with what you most enjoy about the craft of photography. Work out what you most want to shoot and then skill up to ensure that you can deliver work that you are proud of.
UK photographer Kate Hopewell Smith has turned Boudoir Photography into an art form - with a passion that she shares with other photographers at Aspire's Boudoir training sessions in the Lake District. She calls her boudoir work a ‘wonderful, frustrating but ultimately rewarding art’, and a gift both to her and the women she sees so positively transformed by the experience. Kate is also a highly successful wedding and portrait photographer. She writes features for a number of magazines, including a monthly column for Professional Photographer, where her role is to be a relevant voice for female photographers in the industry. She is on the assessment panel of The Guild of Photographers and a UK Nikon Ambassador.