Post by Brendan Hufford [Click here for Photo MBA’s 7 days of free training ].
Stay Motivated in photography
So there I was, yet again, searching Instagram for hashtags related to photography inspiration. I’d lost steam. I’d gotten new cameras and new lenses, but my photos weren’t improving.
I’d tried learning new techniques, but my interest still waned. I couldn’t find a reason to pick up my camera.
I was facing the second biggest hurdle we face as photographers. It seemed like a mountain to climb.
I’d later learn that this hurdle is ironically called “the dip”. It’s the price of entry. It’s when your skills start to catch up to your taste. Here’s what I mean…
Hurdle #1 – The Taste Gap
When you start photography, you know what kind of photos you love. You have great taste in images. However, having good taste means you know that what you’re doing does not match what you see quality photographers producing.
Being able to continue working, taking photos, editing them, and sharing them will get you over the Taste Gap. It will allow your skills to catch up to your taste.
From a Video by Ira Glass
As you develop, you’re the best photographer in your family, then among your friends, then probably, one of the best in your local photography club or community. But, you still don’t feel like you’re “there” yet. It’s then that we encounter the second hurdle.
Hurdle #2 – The Dip
Coined first by Seth Godin in a business context, the dip is the small inflection point right before we start to move toward mastery of our craft.
The Dip – shows how performance dips just before mastering our craft [Graph Image By Seth Godin ].
The idea of growing as a photographer has already been covered quite a bit on this web site. However, it all involves using your camera to “get better” by doing more. Here, we want to look at staying motivated enough just to pick up the camera after you’ve started to really feel stuck.
Stay Motivated in photography through a 5-step process
Here’s a ‘5-Step Process’ that others have used to overcome the dip and stay motivated in photography even when they want to quit.
1. Develop a “Not Do” List :: This is all about protecting your time and creativity. What you don’t do determines what you can do. Eliminating stressful habits around photography is one of the best ways to do your best work.
Here’s a few that I think are super-helpful:
- Don’t do tasks that kill your creativity as they occur; batch them.
- Don’t fully book your schedule; leave white space so you can be creative.
- Don’t be overprotective of your camera; take it everywhere with you.
- Conversely, don’t feel like you always have to be taking photos.
- Don’t take a million photos at once. If looking through them later is overwhelming, you’ll skip it completely.
- Don’t compare yourself to others; their work isn’t inspiring you, it’s making you feel bad.
2. Be Tougher :: This isn’t overly complicated. Just decide. Decide to be tough. This is a short period of time. Push through it. You’ll start growing in more noticeable ways soon enough. See this time period for what it is (temporary) and decide to come out the other side.
Think back to the past whenever you’ve struggled with something. You’ve probably struggled with thousands of things in your life. How many of those do you still struggle with? Close to zero.
When you push through, you learn something important (even if you’re forgetting it right now): the thing that’s on the other side of this struggle is you. It’s the realization that you’re capable of so much more than you initially thought. Be tougher, beat this momentary block, you’ll grow as a photographer.
I’ve found it helps to break an overwhelming task into micro-goals. When you can’t be tougher than something huge, break it into smaller parts. Then you simply need to be tougher than that one small goal. With that small goal accomplished, move onto the next and so on. This has a cumulative effect. You can accomplish much bigger goals in the end.
3. Surround Yourself with Success :: Earlier I mentioned not comparing yourself to others and your photos to theirs. What I mean is, physically surround yourself with successful photographers. Go to meet-ups, join a mastermind (more on that below), go to events and photo-walks. If these don’t exist in your area, start them.
You can also meet people online. However, online meetings shouldn’t be used in lieu of meeting in person. The benefit of meeting people online is access. We have a tremendous amount of access to successful people who can help us grow when we’re struggling. There is a problem, however. We think that if we join a few Facebook groups or follow a few people on Instagram, we’ll become successful. That is not necessarily true.
The answer is to do both. Join a club or create local groups of successful photographers that can help you grow. Then, follow photographers who are active on social photography sites, like Instagram . Build a relationship with them. Join with a group of other photographers on a 365 project. You’re the average of the five people you associate with most. Make them count!
One of the best pieces of advice I can give a photographer is to join a ‘mastermind group’. A mastermind group is a committed group of people that meet together. Stay Motivated in photography through your meetings on a regular basis with those who help each other achieve their goals.
Nothing encourages growth like accountability. I’d been running businesses for years before I joined my first mastermind group . We met every week to talk and the accountability that I received from those three other people was a game-changer for me.
The same is true for photography. Meet regularly with a set group of people to review each other’s work and push each other and watch yourself grow.
4. Make it Binary :: Binary decisions are between two options, typically “yes” and “no.” When we make decisions into variables, like shades of gray, we lose focus because we can be overwhelmed. “Where should I go on a photo walk today?” is overwhelming because of too many variables. What if it rains? What if the sun isn’t out? What if…
If I have to decide fifteen different things before photographing, I’m making it difficult for myself. However, re-framing that question helps make it easy. Asking, “Should I go on a photo walk before work or after?”, makes it an either/or decision. That question is much more easily decided. Growing as a photographer is hard, but making questions a binary “yes or no”, makes it easier.
5. Limit Yourself :: When you introduce constraints into your work, you’ll force yourself to really get the most out of what you are using. You’ll find new opportunities that you weren’t even aware of before.
Whenever I don’t feel like I’m growing as a photographer, I take things away to force creativity and growth. Instead of trying a million things, I focus on just one, such as one of these:
- One camera
- One lens
- Only black and white
- One editing program (or no editing program!)
- One location
- One time of day
- …and so on.
For instance, by limiting the number of shots that you take, you start to put more time and effort into setting up the shot. You become a sniper rifle instead of a machine gun. When I limited my focal length, I had to consider how to photograph things differently. Where I’d previously taken hundreds of photos of something in the past I now had to look at them in a whole new way. I had to move around my subject, instead of relying on my zoom lens.
By forcing a constraint, you’ll grow in that one area of your photography. You will also quickly see a carryover into other areas. Limiting my focal length meant that now I move around a lot more as a photographer. It has an impact even when I am using a zoom lens. In another area of my work, shooting only in black and white taught me to respect the effect that contrast has on my photography. I have seen that benefit carry over into my colour photography too.
5. Motivation and Action :: I’ve always felt that searching for motivation was a distraction. Reading motivating quotes, looking at the work of other photographers, trying to be someone else… All of this lead me to feel like I needed those things in my life in order to be creative and grow as a photographer.
I was wrong. The best way I’ve found to grow as a photographer is through action. Motivation is fantastic as long as it translates into action. Motivation feels like action. So, we often spend time thinking about doing the things we should do to grow as a photographer, but we never get to them. If you want to stay motivated in photography you also need to continuously take action upon it.
Combine motivation and action. Look at things that inspire you and stimulate your creative sense. But temper that with the commitment that, no matter what, you’re still going to put in the work.
Some great resources to help you stay motivated in photography:
- The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
- Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon
- 13 Tips from Petapixel
- A few words to help you through to success
And, two tips on taking action:
You Can Do This
Being motivated isn’t something that comes from outside of you. It comes from within. And, it is the child of discipline. Commit to pushing through this small hurdle and remember why you were excited about photography in the first place.
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I read each and every comment. Comment below and commit to doing one of the things above. How has this article helped you? Don’t feel like my comments are a fit? Comment below with what you’re struggling with. I’d love to help.
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