Tips for discouraged photographers

I had a young photographer friend email me a couple of weeks ago because she was discouraged.

Her photography business wasn’t going as well as she expected, and she wasn’t progressing as quickly as she had hoped technically and creatively.

It took us a while to connect, so in between her phone call and the time we finally talked, I wrote down a few thoughts I hoped would encourage her. And then I decided to share them on my blog because, really, this could be any new photographer.

In fact, it is sometimes me!

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Tip #1: Don’t get overwhelmed.

This is an ever-changing business, and even those who have been shooting for 10, 20, or 30 years have to keep learning.

To keep from letting all the things I don’t know overwhelm me, I try to focus on one new thing I want to learn or practice each time I go out on a photo shoot.

Maybe it’s a new lighting technique I want to try, or a new feature on my camera I haven’t mastered yet. Sometimes I decide to pay more attention to my composition, or my background, or my bokeh. This keeps me from getting caught up in all the challenges I still face and lets me focus on overcoming one of them.

It’s also a great way to see immediate progress.

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Tip #2: Don’t beat yourself up.

Every time I get done with a shoot and see my photos on the computer for the first time, I always notice things I wish I had done differently. Sometimes even when I’m driving away immediately after a shoot, I think of a better pose I should have tried or another shot I could have captured.

I used to be in a constant state of berating myself for being so awful — until I learned that these were actually signs I was getting better.

My newfound ability to critique my own photos and techniques means that I am learning and growing.

And next time, I probably won’t make the same mistake. I’ll make a different one.

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Tip #3: Practice, practice, practice. 

I read once that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in anything. That’s over 9 hours a day, every day, for three years. Or about 4 hours a day, 365 days a year, for 7 years!

At that rate and at my age, I can confidently say, short of divine intervention, I probably won’t achieve mastery at anything in this lifetime.

That doesn’t mean I can’t run a successful business before I get to that point, of course, but it’s refreshing to know the expert photographers I look up to didn’t just get there overnight — they worked hard to learn and perfect their craft.

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4. Find your voice.

What is it you want to communicate with your photography? Do you just want to take pretty pictures, or do you have something to say?

You don’t have to decide now, or even settle on one thing. Your photo style is constantly evolving, and what you want your photographs to communicate now may be different in a year. But when you realize your photography is not just a job but also an outpouring of something in your soul, it becomes easier to follow and refine your vision.

Once I realized the photographs I take are also a way to share a tiny bit of what I know to be true, I have a purpose and a passion that transcends the limitations of my technical knowledge and even my own sometimes-getting-stuck-ness.

And it makes photography joyful and exciting all over again.


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