Rule 6: Tame Your Inner Critic

These flowers weren't shot out of a cannon, just through one.

If you take your photography even remotely seriously – and I hope you do – it’s likely you want to do it well. It’s also likely that you’re convinced that your photography, or at least a fair amount of it, is crap. This is true of many photographers I know (myself included).

In small doses, believe it or not, that can actually be a constructive thing. There are few things worse for your craft than assuming you’ve got it licked. Room for improvement? Pah! That’s for rank amateurs, not an artiste like mysel—oh, cut that out, already. However, it’s equally counterproductive to assume that you’re as good as you’re ever going to get and that, let’s face it, that just ain’t all that good.

That inner voice, your inner critic, when he or she is constructive, can be very useful. After all, that can be who keeps us from becoming complacent about our craft, and keeps us striving day after day to question the why and how of what we do. That internal monologue (or dialogue, if you’re given to replying to yourself) can motivate you, and keep you going on those days you’d rather just say the hell with it.

However, he or she isn’t always constructive. There are times we, and our inner critic, can be our own worst enemy. We find ourselves telling ourselves that our work is awful, which is bad enough; what’s worse is when we think that a bad shoot or a bad day is somehow reflective of who we are as people. At that point, your inner critic just becomes your inner bastard.

“But wait,” I hear you say, “my photography’s a big part of me, to a point where I identify with, and by, what I create.” Good. Just don’t let that identification be limited to all the times you picked the wrong shutter speed, or left the lens cap on. You’re better than your mistakes, and not yet as good as you’re capable of becoming.

Let’s step back from this for a moment. Instead of an internal discussion over your own work, let’s imagine for a second that someone was disparaging the work of an artist you really understood and respected. At the very least, you’d disagree with that person. You might even go so far as to point out where you think this person’s in error vis-à-vis the artist. You could also, if you’re feeling particularly feisty, tell said individual to get over themselves.

Now tell me: do you owe yourself any less compassion than you’d give, oh, Van Gogh?

If you’ve got work that you’re not happy with, hang onto it for a bit. I say this for two reasons: first, you may just come back to it later, and realize it wasn’t so bad after all. Second, let’s suppose for a second that you’re right, and it really isn’t so great. Go back to that same photo six months from now, and compare it to what you’re doing at that time. I promise you, it’ll be a great reminder of how far you’ve come, and how much farther still you’ll go so long as you stick with it, and don’t give up either on your craft, or (more importantly) yourself.

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