Imposter Syndrome

As we begin a New Year, I wanted to blog about something many of us face as a creative. Something that is essentially baked into us.

Before Christmas, I posted a story on my Instagram asking what people wanted to work on or achieve in 2023. Some comments were steered towards pushing more business, while others were more towards learning and getting out more with the camera. However, several points that arose were centred around this feeling of imposter syndrome and self-doubt as a photographer. This was either shooting as a hobby or professionally. 

These conversations don’t usually appear when you scroll down your social feeds, but they are very real and more common than you think. As conversations developed, it became more evident that despite some having an outward appearance of success, or having a strong body of work, there was an undertone of doubt and inadequacy. A contradiction of imposter syndrome is that the common payoff of success can often result in intense feelings of self-doubt instead of it being recognised by validation.

As photographers, each year we take so many images and tend to upload only the best to our social media accounts. The handful that we share over some time may only constitute 1% of the total images taken. Amongst the many images we have stored from this time, we also tend to see the worst of those too. This is everything from out-of-focus and badly exposed images, not to mention the moments you missed. I and a lot of photographers are easily perfectionists, and when you hit these walls where you see a series of failed attempts or misjudgements, these can appear amplified by all other standards, making it easy to question yourself. It’s easy to have the same feelings outside of social media too. For example, whilst we know our struggles in trying to find success, we don’t know the struggles and pitfalls that others have when reaching for success. We only see the good, glossy stuff and not the regular hardships that we all feel when trying to create our work. 

I can see the benefits of social media. Instagram has been a great platform for my photography, and I have managed to grow a good following of people from all over the world, with a good amount of those based in my home county of Suffolk. It’s great when people resonate with the work, whether it be a comment or a direct message. However, with a continuous stream of images from those you follow, along with regular new content from your peers, it’s inevitable for imposter syndrome to soon sink in. 

Whilst I have not formulated any strategy at all with my social media, I know that some have got their head into trying to understand the algorithm and have found themselves frustrated and even judgemental of their work, purely based on likes and comments. I find that doing this can lead to a very negative outlook towards your photography. After all, if you have shared the work in the first place, then the chances are that you like it enough to put it out there. To think differently or negatively based on not receiving X amount of likes or comments then seems counterproductive.

Photography is a journey. I am always on a path of learning new things, trying out different compositions and so on. Early on in my photography journey, I took the attitude that if I came home with just one great shot, then it was a success, and if this didn’t happen, then it was still the experience of getting to a destination and doing what it is you enjoy and being out in the open. 

While it is easy to fall into a cycle of comparisons with others, what you have to focus on in your own success is the images that only you can create. This act removes the element of competition and acknowledges that every creative has something to offer that is uniquely theirs, whether in style, approach, or execution. The doubt of comparison starts to fade when you bring together your own, unique craft, and focus on the images that are entirely yours and have your own unique stamp on them.

I cannot deny that I have been affected by imposter syndrome in the past, and occasionally still am to this day. In the early days of my journey, I was easily comparing myself to other local photographers that had been doing it for much longer than I have. It can be so easy to compare yourself and your work to others, but the key is comprehending where you are and what you are doing. Once you begin to realise those feelings of self-doubt, insecurity etc. take a deep breath and appreciate that these are simply a perception or beliefs that you can overcome as time goes on. 

It can feel that you are a mile off being anywhere near as good as some of your peers, but I stepped back and took inspiration from their work and applied it to my process, and slowly started to focus more attention on my work. By accomplishing this, I shaped my own take on the world and was able to develop my own style. I found that this was something that was within my control, and allowed me to get in a good position in being able to understand and appreciate my efforts. I believe acknowledging that these feelings of self-doubt and insecurity are not connected to your reality or your achievements and success can help in overcoming imposter syndrome. 

This applies to any commercial work as well. I follow several brand and commercial photographers online and each has their own signature to the work. I was aware that I was comparing myself to them and wanted to create work to the same standard. On some shoots, I felt very disappointed upon uploading the images to my computer, being very critical and comparing them, again, to photographers that had been shooting commercially for a lot longer than me. The clients on the other hand loved them and used them, not to mention heavily praised the work and recommended me to others.

Wrapping up, one thing that we must do, at least, which is what prompted me to write this blog in the first place, is to talk about it. Be open about how you feel and network with others in the process. It sounds scary, but what you soon realise is that not only these kinds of thoughts are common in others, but are also shared. When you realise that you are not alone, you can start to shape a different perspective on these feelings of imposter syndrome. Many successful artists struggle, and these feelings aren’t specific to just one individual, so I always urge people to talk, even to those that you see as your competitors or those that have achieved what you would like to achieve in your journey. These people may even be related to triggering your self-doubt through comparison, but you may be surprised to only learn that they feel the same way as you. 

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