Other photographers are better than you. That statement can hurt. Worst of all, it can set you up on a path to destruction (a.k.a giving up). I want you to come away from this article knowing other photographers are better than you BUT also knowing that’s ok. I also want you to understand that you can use them as fuel to improve your photography.
Dealing With Portfolio Envy
I am guilty of this. Big time! It can be tough seeing the outstanding work that others produce and then looking at your own, only to feel decidedly dissatisfied. On one hand, I think this comes down to personality. I’m rarely satisfied with what I produce – a true perfectionist. Whereas others are more easily proud of what they create. My mentality is potentially more damaging but both have their benefits.
The problem with portfolio envy, with comparing ourselves to superior photographers, is that it can become so consuming that it causes us to stop. To give up. I hope this article will help you transform that energy/emotion into something positive. It’s not an easy thing to do, but let’s give it a try. First things first, we need to find a portfolio to envy.
How To Find Admirable Photographers
There’s no secret here. The key is to simply remember to do it. On my browser, I have a folder which houses the websites of all the photographers I admire. Well, not all of them (that would be a huge folder) but, at least, the ones I am currently looking up to. At the moment, I’m trying to advance my product photography portfolio. Hence, the folder is filled with roughly 20 product photographers and counting.
Google is a fantastic way to find photographers but the ones you discover may not necessarily be the best photographers, rather the best at SEO. In fact, that’s a very important point (although mildly off topic). SEO is hugely important when it comes to being able to find you and your business online. If you’re a little hazy on the subject, take a look at this great eBook in the SLR Lounge Store click here.
Searching on Google, or your alternative search engine of choice, is a great way to start. However, you won’t be able to find all of the best photographers there. I stumble across lots of photographers as they get featured in articles across the net. When I find one I like, they go in the folder. I’ll also actively try to find out who shot a particular image I come across. I’ll often see a good photo while out and about and then try to track down the photographer.
The important takeaway here is you need to actively find good photographers. Always keep an ear to the ground and you’ll gradually build up a decent list of outstanding photographers. Don’t settle, find the best.
How Does Staring At Better Work Than Mine Improve My Photography?
Having discovered a vast array of enviable photographers and stunning imagery, you’re now either thoroughly depressed, wallowing in self-pity… “They’re so much better than me; how will I ever be that good?” Whine, whine, whine. Or you’re already inspired and have an idea for your next shot in mind. If you’re that 2nd person, I hate you. I’m the 1st, wallowing in self-pity.
Even though I despise the 2nd personality described above, they also demonstrate the first way that other photographers can improve your photography. Inspiration. I challenge you to look at the work of another photographer, with an open mind, and not get inspired. Take the photo of the couple above. If you’re a wedding photographer and you don’t already incorporate the bride’s veil in a shot, I’m thinking you might give that a go now. You may even be thinking of a better way to do it.
Another way we can use others to improve our photography is to help us identify our weak points. This requires an ability to heavily scrutinize your work and the work of others. Thankfully, it’s usually where that second personality shines. Given that I am more closely related to personality two, I am fantastic at ripping my work to shreds and analyzing the work of others.
When I look through the photographers I have in my admirable folder, I see a common theme. They all, without exception, incorporate many others elements within their product photography: splashes, powder, liquid, ice and so on. From this, I have now taken it upon myself to do the same. I’ve identified a couple of avenues I’d like to explore and am working hard to up my game. It is not easy; progression never is, but I’m trying to turn that envy into drive.
There are many ways we can use the work of others to inspire us and drive us forward. You could decide, upon scrutinizing the work of others, that you’d like to take your photography in an entirely different direction; or that you need to learn off camera flash, that a tilt-shift lens produces just the look you love. If you can manage to look at the work of others with an open mind, the list will go on and on.
Don’t Run Before You Can Walk
A word of caution from my own experience; you may see an image and think that you want to give that a try, to begin incorporating that technique into your photography. Fantastic. Go for it! But, do not assume it will be easy. It may end up being something you cannot achieve with your current level of photographic knowledge and skill. In other words, if you fail, don’t let that failure discourage you.
My first step whenever I see a new technique is to find some education on that topic. For example, as I’ve said, I’m trying to master the use of splashes (and some other things of my own invention) into my product photography. Luckily, one of my favorite educators for product and still life, Photigy, has a course precisely on that topic. Once I knew I was headed in that direction, I made sure to watch it. The tips I have picked up have been invaluable.
Photigy is wonderful for product and still life photographers. For those wedding and portrait photographers amongst you, I love the content Pye and the team produce. I’m talking Lighting 101, 201 and Photography 101, click here. There’s also our new partner CreativeLive, who has some the best education around. Honestly, the options for online education these days are endless. My point is, don’t run before you can walk. When you find something you want to replicate, do your research first. Or dive straight in! I’m a research kind of guy.
I’ve said this a few times lately but I’m going to say it again. Nobody starts out knowing everything and everyone’s portfolios suck at first. It’s a valuable skill to be able to pick out elements in other people’s work which you can then use to drive your own development. It could be as simple as finding a new technique or as all-encompassing as altering your style. However you digest the work of other photographers, try and let yourself be encouraged, rather than discouraged through comparison.