Teddy Roosevelt once said, "comparison is the thief of joy." Now, I'm going to fancy a guess that he would never have entertained the idea that his words would be used in reference to photography on a podcast, but little did he know, I'm just the man to do such a thing. Thank you, Mr. Bull Moose Guy!
When we all start out, we’re easily drawn to photographic works that speak to us. The beauty of a pro’s work, or how they carry themselves and their business, is attractive, and what appeals to us is directly what we want to emulate.
But then, we grow up... well, in theory. We gain more experience after shooting more often and more frequently, learning new tricks and figuring out the mechanics and techniques of our cameras while unveiling the mysteries of photography. And all during this journey, we continue to take a peek at what our contemporaries are doing and realize... man, I am just NOT on par with where they’re at. How did they get so far ahead in the journey than me?!
And then, if you’re like me, the depression and self-doubt kick in. “I will NEVER be that good. Why can’t I shoot like that?! What are they doing that I’m not?” you start to cloud your thoughts with all of this negativity and soon enough, you stop shooting.
Do you remember high school? How you’d take a test and when you got your grades back, you saw that some of your friends did better than you did? Or maybe not even your friends, but there was always that ONE PERSON who was the brainy one who always got straight-As? And you’d think, “man... I will NEVER be a straight-A student like that.”
Whenever I would come home with those kinds of thoughts, my parents always told me that, as long as I studied hard and tried my best, they were happy with whatever grade I got - just as long as I tried. And in looking back on that, I think it’s important to continue focusing on that even today as an adult and as a photographer. I continue to work hard and pursue a career in photography with a lot of diligence and effort, and I don’t ever want to let my clients down, so I produce the best work my abilities can produce, always pushing myself to the maximum I can. And I don’t think I’d have the repeat clients I have if it weren’t for that work ethic.
I’m not as successful as the Joey L’s or the Chase Jarvis’, but I’ve come to terms with the idea that I don’t need to be at the point they’re at to be happy. I’m happy shooting what I’m shooting now, and I’m always learning ways to improve and get better, which makes me happier. And if I keep working hard and continually push myself to be better at my craft, someday I WILL get to that point.
Another note is that, when looking at one’s body of work in comparison to your own, you have to remember that they don’t see the world in the same way as you do, and therefore, they capture it differently than you do. I love the work Trey Radcliff does, with that brilliantly-done HDR photography. But I also know that that’s not how I see the world and how I go about expression my vision. I can admire it, but I don’t let his brilliance dictate my own. I know that I like shooting with a more vintage look, and while I love his photographs, comparing his work to mine is like apples and oranges... or more like a well-polished apple compared to an unripened orange, but... you know...
Whoever stated it said it correctly: “The only photographer you should compare yourself to is the one you used to be.” When I look back at the works I was doing even six months ago from today, I know for a FACT I’m shooting better than I was back then. I know that the body of work I’m able to produce now is of a higher quality than what I once was shooting, and yet I’m STILL growing. And that’s crazy to think that I’m only going to be EVEN BETTER than I am now! How exciting is that?!
I may never be a Joe McNally or Gavin Gough, but when I further reflect on it, I’m completely fine with that. Who wants to be a remake of someone else? I want to blaze my own path and be unique, telling my own story and sharing MY VIEW of the world around me. Rather than looking at the growth as a sign of weakness, I’m chosing to view it as an opportunity, especially since I know I am producing work that I’m happy with right now, even with the chance that I can only get better! It’s exciting to think that I’ve grown so far, but even with the growth I have yet to do, I can achieve greatness if I put my mind to it and work hard. And by the looks of things, my journey to greatness is just getting started.
Until next time,