Many times, the only thing that holds us back is confidence. You may have the best gear and lots of great ideas, but if you lack confidence in your abilities, your work will suffer. As a photographer, it’s easy to have self-doubt creep up on you, especially when you see the work of very successful photographers all over the internet.
When I started photography, I was just a mom with a camera. Before every shoot, I would have butterflies in my stomach, unsure of my capabilities and filled with self-doubt. I would see images of some amazingly talented photographers and want to give up photography completely. But over time, I learned ways to build confidence in my photography abilities and my work became so much better for it.
1. Know Your Equipment
Learning your gear inside and out will help you immensely in becoming more confident as a photographer. Whether you have a Canon Rebel or a Canon 1D X, if you don’t know how to use it, you’ll miss capturing great moments while you’re busy fiddling with your camera or lenses. When you know your equipment, you’ll know how to adjust your settings in bad lighting situations, what the best lens to use is in any given situation, and the limitations to your equipment. Knowing your equipment will help you begin to learn the little nuances that come with each piece of gear.
An easy way to do this is to read the camera manual. You may not remember or understand what all the features are yet, but you’re getting an overview and building a foundation that you’ll need in the future. Beyond just reading the manual, be sure to test out some of the features you’ve read about so that it becomes more ingrained into your memory.
2. Educate Yourself
Going hand in hand with reading the manual, make sure you are investing in education. You may not have a lot of money to take a workshop or purchase an online course, but you do need to invest time to learning as much as you can about the practice of photography.
From the basics (exposure triangle, composition rules, metering, etc), to lighting techniques and more, learn what you can, where you can. There are many free resources on the internet as well as great paid tutorials that can help you get to where you want to go photographically.
With knowledge comes power and confidence. When you know how to do it, you’ll be free to let your creativity loose.
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You can fill your mind with all the knowledge in the world, watch every SLR Lounge tutorial as a premium member, but without practice, you will not become confident in your abilities.
Take what you’ve learned from the camera manuals, the YouTube videos, the workshops and photography books, and practice. One of the greatest basketball players in the history of the sport, Kobe Bryant, did not become great because he read all about basketball and then magically had a successful career. He would show up hours early before the team to deliberately practice some aspect of the game and then stay hours after practice was over to practice some more. To master something and become great, you must practice.
No one to practice your photography on? Wedding photographer, CreativeLive instructor and best-selling author Roberto Valenzuela, practices lighting techniques on bananas, a teddy bear, or whatever he can find! Again, when you know what you’re doing and how you can do it because you’ve done it a million times before, you can’t help but be confident.
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Begin to train your brain to think photographically. In this digital age, it’s tempting to just “spray and pray,” holding your finger down on the shutter and hoping you’ll get one shot in focus, just the way you want it. But a confident photographer knows exactly the shot they want to create, composes it in their head, and see the end result before they even turn the camera on.
In Lighting 201, Pye talks about pre-visualizing his shot – what he wanted the image to look like, where he wanted to shoot it, what time of day it would be, where the light rays would fall, etc. Ansel Adams is also known for pre-visualizing his iconic images before shooting. Create a vision of what you want, and confidently go after it!
5. Constructive Critique
It’s difficult to ask people to critique your images; you are opening yourself up to people who can be horribly rude, or not very honest as to not hurt your feelings (thanks, Mom). But if you want to grow and become a confident photographer, you need to open yourself up to constructive critique; First, from yourself, and then from others.
You need to honestly look at your own photographs and analyze what you did well and what you can do better. This will help you begin to learn what you should do differently next time, what settings to adjust, what lens to use. Your self-confidence will grow and you’ll be able to push your creative boundaries.
You’ll also need to seek feedback from others, keeping in mind that opinions are subjective, but looking closer to see what criticisms are valid. Make sure you pay attention to those that give actual constructive critique; someone telling you that they don’t like your photo is no help at all.
If you want some constructive critique, be sure to check out our Photo Critique section here.
6. Community Participation
Surround yourself with other photographers that are supportive. Ask them questions, begin to answer their questions and give your own constructive criticism to their images. Jim Rohn said, “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” If you want to become a better photographer, hang out with a few awesome photographers. Look at their work, listen to and apply their tips. Connect with fellow photographers who are also looking to learn and grow. Encourage them and allow them to encourage you.
Looking for a community to join? We are partial to the SLR Lounge Facebook Community. Join here.
7. Enter Photo Contests
Obviously, winning a photo contest would be a huge confidence boost and validation for your work, but just entering can teach you a lot about your work, help you conquer a few fears, and help you grow as a photographer.
When I entered a few prints in a photo competition, I had high hopes of getting a blue ribbon. When my scores came back lower than I’d hoped for, I was able to re-evaluate my work from a different perspective and learn what I needed to do to make my work better next time.
Submit your winning image to our monthly photo contest here.
You might’ve caught on to a theme throughout this article, and that is: becoming more confident as photographer requires learning and growing! Once you have the knowledge and know how to use it, your confidence levels will soar in no time.
What are some things you do to become a more confident photographer?