Feel stuck? Frustrated? Feel like you want to hang up the camera, or that you’ll never make it as a photographer? Those feelings are terrible I know, you feel like you’re in a prison from which you will never break out. But take heart, here are a few things to help you when dealing with your frustrations as a photographer.
The thing you most need to hear – it’s normal
The thing you probably need understand the most if you are frustrated as a photographer is not that it is going to be okay (it probably will), it’s that it is NORMAL. It’s always useful to remember that every artist/photographer had these feelings before you and others will have them after you. It’s just a normal part of the creative process. Doubts, frustrations, those “what’s the point?” feelings are all normal stuff.
So you just need to understand that it’s okay. If you want to have a dog, you’ll have to deal with feeding it, cleaning it, dealing with the brown stuff. If you want to be a photographer, you’ll have to deal with feelings of self-doubt, frustrations, and all. It’s all part of the deal.
Can you imagine that one of the greatest artists of all time, Michelangelo, wrote in his diary, “I am no painter”? He did, and let’s face it if someone like him could be frustrated with his art, it makes it pretty normal for you and I to have those feelings too.
But why am I telling you this? Because sometimes you may feel bad for feeling frustrated while it is a normal part of the creative process. Don’t worry though, it’s not quite your fault if you have felt that way. It is because you’ve been fed a lie.
The lie you’ve been fed
One of the biggest reasons for frustrations is because expectations do not match reality. And most of our expectations are pretty much warped because we’ve been fed a lie. So it’s not quite your fault.
What lie am I talking about? You see it everywhere on TV, movies, newspapers, pretty much everywhere. It’s the lie of the edit, and it destroys anyone who believes it.
What is it exactly? You are fed selective pieces of life and believe them as true, warping your expectations, completely dismissing the process behind everything. Take this famous example:
A middle aged woman walked onto the stage of Britain’s got talent. She looked like your typical next door old lady that bakes cakes. She’s about to sing. The cameras zoom in on smirks, one of the judges tries not to laugh at the contestant. She opens her mouth and you can hear gasps. That woman has a stunning voice, the world was introduced to Susan Boyle. An instant star, an overnight success.
Boy oh boy do we love those stories. But they are not true. Susan Boyle has been practicing most of her life. You can’t just take her 5-minute viral video and call that an overnight success when she’s been putting in the work since she was little.
The process is part of the story
The reason why the lie of the edit is destructive is that it bypasses the most important part of all – the process.
Look, I’m not saying that it’s a media conspiracy or anything, but the fact is that everywhere we turn, we see the edit of someone’s life. Then when we start looking at our life, and how can we not feel frustrated with where we are?
Say you want to be a travel photographer. You check out Instagram and you see that this couple quit their job and now travel the world full-time. That’s the edited version. Then you look at poor old you and the only travel you can afford is to your job every day. How can you not feel frustrated?
But what was the process that couple had to through to get there? They scrubbed 150 toilets, spread 250 kilos of cow dung, among other things. That is a true story by the way.
I’m not suggesting that to travel the world you need to scrub toilets, but always remember that everything that you see has been edited. It’s only the tip of the iceberg. What you don’t see – and the only way to get where you want to be – is whole the process.
Know the whole story and don’t compare yourself to others
It’s my numero uno critique of certain photography gurus by the way. They sell you the edit. Quit your job, become a photographer, live the dream. They never tell you about the process of finding clients, being worried you can’t pay your bills, etc.
What I am saying is this: It’s okay to be frustrated. What you see out there of everyone living the photography dream you want to live is an EDIT. Don’t compare your life with someone else’s edit of their life. It warps your expectations, and when expectations don’t match reality, that’s a recipe for frustration.
Harnessing your frustrations
So far I’ve said it’s okay to feel frustrated, and it’s usually because your expectations have been warped by unrealistic expectations (thanks, media!). But what if you are *still* frustrated? Good news, you can use your frustrations as fuel. How so? Just realize one thing:
The universe works a certain way, and the system is rigged so that only the most dedicated people get through. If it was easy, everyone would do it. So things like frustration, self-doubt, discouragement are good because it’s trying to weed out those who will press on from those who simply don’t want to do so. Once you realize that it’s a built-in obstacle to weed out those who are not committed enough, it can empower you to press on.
I’ve been around for a few years now. A month or so ago I started to click on the sites of photographers that I knew started around the same time as I. All I got was 404 errors, meaning their sites and their presence are not there anymore. They’ve been weeded out by the system.
All those frustrations and feelings are like fuel that can either block your vision or you can use them as fire to get you going. Whatever you want out of your photography, it’s a game that only the determined and steadfast win. Let those frustrations knock others out while you know it’s just an obstacle to go through to test your own resolve.
I interviewed a photojournalist once for my magazine, and one part stood out to me. He went to see an editor, and after some brutal comments went home and put his camera up for sale the next day. He was done with photography. Was that the end? No. He went on to be the photojournalist he wanted to be and to make some jaw-dropping images.
The moral of the story is that you as a photographer need to have resolve, the resolve to continue the path of photography until success. Whatever that may be or mean for you. Because every photographer you look up to, they had all of the same frustrations you have, but they are where they are because they pressed on.
Name any feeling you have, they had it too, but they just continued. Because it’s only failure when you give up. I’m glad the photojournalist got back in the game, but how many photographer’s careers were ruined that way? Resolve to do the work needed to achieve your photography goals. Keep your eye on the prize, but put in the work.
For Micheal Phelps, the most decorated Olympian, that meant going to the pool 7 days a week. What does it mean for you? Read interviews every day, shoot as much as you can, learn as much as you can. It’s different for everyone but the principle is still to focus more on the process, the very thing that is always edited out in the media.
There you have it, folks. Because I have a lot of experience with this stuff, it’s pretty much ingrained in my mind. But thinking about these points mentally always leave me with a state of renewed empowerment and I hope it will do the same for you. Be yourself, stay focused and keep on shooting.