I'm freaking out just a bit, because I've just realized that I'm in a group on facebook with Robert Cornelius. And how flipping awesome is that?! He posted this amazing blog today about the self deprecating comments we make that are actually pretty harmful- and how we all just need to calm down and realize that with work and time we can all be "as good as" our favorite photographers. Go read his blog post and then come back to me, because I have some stuff to add. -------> "YOU CAN DO IT- BY ROBERT CORNELIUS" <------------
Did you read it? I love every bit of what he says and it's really really true. All of it. I remember when I first got back into photography after a long hiatus, and at the time, I was internet stalking family photographers and still life photographers and getting frustrated that my work didn't even come close to theirs. So, I practiced, and then I learned through a multitude of failures and very few successes. I asked questions mercilessly of every advanced photographer who would talk to me, and eventually I made a picture I was very proud of. It does happen! Have you ever heard this quote?
"The difference between a novice and a master is that the master has failed more times than the novice has yet to try"
It's true. You cannot beat yourself up when things don't go the way you want- your only true failure would be if you take nothing away from the experience.
If you line up all the work you've created from start to finish, I'm guessing you'll be able to see a great improvement if you've been at it for any length of time. If you don't see improvement- then ask yourself what you love about each piece, and conversely, what you hate. Think about the result you got vs. the result you wanted and if you don't know where you went wrong, don't be afraid to ask someone. Facebook has some really amazing groups for photographers to share knowledge and ask questions. You just have to develop a bit of a thick skin and be ready to accept critique. (Yes, some people can be real douchebags, but just blow those idiots off and listen to the ones who can be respectful and helpful)
Secondly- I'm going to parrot what Robert says in his blog. Be mindful of the language you use and how it hurts you mentally. If you are constantly telling yourself that "you'll never be as good as..." or "It's never gonna happen for me" you are eventually going to believe it. Instead, change your language. It worked miracles for me. Instead of saying "This work sucks compared to... " I started saying to myself "I'm not that good, yet- but I am getting closer" or "When I have mastered that, I will create this" Or even, "This might not be what I wanted to do right now, but when I improve, I'm going to try it again"
Those are truths you need to start telling yourself. You WILL improve, You WILL learn, You WILL reach your goals if you put the work into it. Don't let that negative voice in your head tell you the lies that suffocate your creativity and drive.
I thought it was awesome that Robert added a slideshow of his very early work, So I thought I'd show you mine. It goes from my earliest attempts at photo manipulations, back when I was still using Paint Shop Pro 8, to some of the stuff I made over the last few years. Try not to laugh too hard...
Here are a few exercises you can do to help you grow and learn:
1. Start a 52 or 365 project- This is where you make it a priority to make an image once a week or once a day for a whole year. It does take some stamina, but it is so worthwhile. Make the most out of it and make a list of things you feel you need to work on, or would like to try- use that list as inspiration.
2. Hit up websites like CreativeLive or Phlearn.com and make a point of watching one video or class a week, and then apply what you've learned to your own work.
3. Find some like minded photographers or artists (in the real world or on facebook) and set up challenges with them. Keep it fun and keep the competition at a low boil. That will motivate you to do your best and try your hardest.
4. Take Self portraits. The thing about self portraits is that nobody has to know you're even shooting!! So, if you come up empty handed, if your image just doesn't work out, then there is nobody to know but you. That takes SO MUCH pressure off and leaves you free to create and experiment. I cannot count the number of times I've set up my living room and tripod and just shot stupid stuff. I wanted to experiment with lighting- so I did, I wanted to try an idea... Whatever! Who's watching? NOONE. Be as weird as you want to be.
5. Quit being afraid to fail. That is where you learn!! I can't remember who told me about this, but she said that whenever someone in her family suffers a failure, they throw a "failure party" to celebrate the chance they've had to learn something. The celebrate it. Because it's not really a failure- it's a learning opportunity.
I hope that this has helped you, if you're feeling like you'll never get there. Trust me- every single artist out there is feeling like that too. Even the ones you think are amaze-balls. They still have that self-doubt. The really successful ones have learned to stuff it in a corner and pep-talk their way out of it.
Good luck out there!
I recently posted on my Facebook page that it's been just over a year exactly since I took my first "fine art" image. There's a fun way to organize on Flickr so that you can make an album and organize it by date taken- So I've put together an album of every fine art piece I've done since that first one- The good, the bad and the really really awful. You can see it HERE, if you like.
What have I learned in the first year of creating storytelling images? Tons. I'll share some "been there, done that" style experience with you in the hopes that you can use it.
1.Learn to use your camera in full on manual mode.
One of the scariest things about photography for me was taking that giant step into learning the manual settings of my camera. I much preferred the safety net of the auto setting, but I was finding that each picture was exposed differently and often, my whites and lighter colors were completely blown out. For composite images, this is a big deal. It is ten times harder to composite images together if they are all exposed differently. (You want each image to match so it looks seamless) Just take the plunge and learn in manual. Practice!! Nobody has to see your mistakes unless you want them to!
2. There are days and even weeks when you will feel uninspired.
The cheerleaders in the art community would have you think that "every day is an inspiration" and that you can find something to create and make beautiful every single day. I know they mean well, but they need to knock that crap off. I read the blogs and books of all the big names in fine art. They all want to preach about how easy it can be to be inspired, and how they wake up every day ready to create masterpieces and tackle new obstacles. It made me feel horrible, because I did not feel that way. In fact, there are a great many days when I wouldn't even get out of bed if someone didn't pour water on me (true story) If you are one of those people who can be inspired everyday- Good for you. I'm talking to the other 98% of artists who don't. It's okay to be uninspired. You never know what will inspire you and you can be bumping along for weeks without a single idea, then BAM! There it is and you spend the next two weeks mass producing masterpiece after masterpiece before you hit another dry spell. You know what? That is OKAY. Inspiration and Creativity are not infinite resources and sometimes your batteries need to recharge. You should absolutely let that happen. Let yourself relax and enjoy the process. If you force it, people will be able to tell.
3. Not everything you create will be golden.
Yeah... a good bunch of my stuff is crap. Pure, unadulterated rubbish. But I am blessed from time to time with a piece that I am truly proud of and will defend to the death against anyone who says it isn't awesome. Don't be afraid to create something awful. You'll learn from it. Even if the only thing you learn is not to do THAT again.
4. Critique can sting, but it's essential to growing!
I'll admit that when I joined the critique groups, I did so for the purposes of harvesting praise for my latest works. And that dream evaporated exactly .05 seconds after I uploaded my work. If you find a great group, who is truly invested in helping you grow, you will gain invaluable insight into your work and how you can improve it. They will pick it apart, down to the bones and then tell you all the places you went wrong, and if you have a really wonderful group, they might even tell you how to fix them. Sometimes, any critique at all can sting, and especially if it's a piece that you are exceptionally proud of, but those are the times when you should calm down, set your emotions aside for a moment and really look at what people are telling you. It's an asset.
5. Create it all and don't apologize.
After I did my very first fine art piece, the people on my facebook friends list freaked the heck out. They didn't understand it, it was wayyyy darker than anything I'd ever done and they took it entirely wrong.
If it hadn't been for my model Ella Paloma piping up and saying how she thought it was awesome, I might have given up right there. I am blessed and cursed with people in my life who will tell me exactly what they think and hold no punches, so when I think about making an image- a little part of me wants to wave her hands and scream NOOOO WHAT WILL THE PEOPLE THINK!?!?!? To that, I answer, "Let them think what they will, this is my art, not theirs" There is no subject that I will not touch if it speaks to me. When I finally release that image, and those people have their say, I never ever apologize. I simply thank them for their consideration, and let them know that my work is not intended to appeal to everyone. We create for ourselves after all, not the masses.
6. You will learn your rhythm through doing.
What I mean by this is that we all have a unique way of creating that will yield us our best results. When you begin on your path, you will have NO IDEA what your way is, and the only way to find it is by doing your thing and noting what works best. For instance, my favorite images are not the ones I intended to take, but what comes from the extras I took while we were out. So, from that I can deduce that I am a spur of the minute creator. The best laid plans will often fail for me, so I always throw in a few extra props so that I can create something on the spot. Another thing that I know works for me is deadlines. So I have to set a few arbitrary ones for myself now and again- with rewards for meeting them. These little bits of insight into my creative flow have come to me over many many many shoots, and now that I know what works well for me and what does not, I can adjust my workflow accordingly.
7. Success is defined by you and you alone.
I want to be successful artist. When I first began, my mind was filled with ideas of being just like Brooke Shaden and Lindsay Adler. I wanted to sell out workshops and have sponsors, and travel and get my own show on CreativeLive or the Framed Network. But that is not my idea of success, actually, it's theirs. My idea of success is simple- I want to be happy with what I create. I want to have some recognition, sure and someday I would like to perhaps teach or put out a book, but the idea of being so in demand that I get off a plane from one workshop and step onto another immediately just exhausts me. I have a full time job that pays me well, I have no need to make money from my work (it would be nice.. mind.) So I am free to create without imperative. Your idea of success will surely be different. The truth is that success is really about where you will feel content. When you will sit back and think "There! I've done it!" By my standards, I am successful.
There you go. Everything I can think of on the spot about what I've learned since I stepped on this path. I hope that I can put some things in perspective for you, if you are also beginning, or maybe further along on your path. Don't take it too seriously.
I'll finish up with another new image- with the help of my ever so patient husband Dan, and my niece Maci and daughter Eve. (The floated the boats for me!)
About a year ago, I received the meanest email I've ever had in my whole life. It was from another photographer who was upset that I dared pick up my camera and take pictures. He called me a "MWAC" (mom with a camera) and told me I was ruining the photography industry by taking pictures of people. He told me I should stand back and let professionals do it, because I didn't know what I was doing or the first thing about how to run a photography business.
Yes, it hurt my feelings. Like, a lot. I was outraged mostly, because I felt like a little of it was true. I was still finding my footing as a photographer, and I hadn't yet discovered my love of creating fine art and surreal works. He might have been a little bit right, and he was surely right about my not knowing how to run a business. But that was no excuse for him to tell me not to try. How else are people supposed to learn if they aren't allowed to do the thing they are learning?
When the sting of it wore off, I realized that he wasn't trying to "help me" as his email had claimed. "I'm only telling you this for your own good, I"m trying to help you see that there isn't any real future for you in photography" He was scared of me.
He was scared because he could see potential in me that I could not yet see in myself.
He saw future competition. And he was trying to squash me before I even got a start.
I believe this is the case with anyone who puts you down. Maybe they're afraid of you or what you'll become, maybe they feel bad about themselves and want to see you feel bad too, misery does love company after all. But for whatever their reasons are, they have nothing to do with you and everything to do with them.
If you look at a seed, hold it in your hand, it doesn't look like much. But plant that seed and tend to it, nurture it, and watch it grow, you'll see that it becomes a beautiful flower or a majestic tree. And if you had quashed that seed when it was still a seed, you would never have the joy of looking upon it's final form.
You must think of yourself and your talent in this same way. Especially if someone is trying to put you down. You are a seed. Or maybe a sapling. But give yourself some time and some TLC and you will grow into a majestic tree or a beautiful flower.
If you are already a tree? You must tend to the saplings. Help them grow, move your branches so they too can get some light. Only a falling tree takes down everything beneath it. Don't be a falling tree. A diseased tree will spread it's blight.
Nobody starts off in their final form. We grow into it. and must give ourselves the time to grow. Don't be discouraged. Don't let people try to tell you to quit, because if you DO quit, you'll never know where you might have ended up.
My Fellow Fine Artists
Tammy Zurak of Z Photog Studio | Memphis, TN, USA | Fine Art/Illustrative Photography Gallery:
Pam Korman of District Photography | Philadelphia, PA, USA | Fine Art Photography:
www.bonniealrifai.com Fine art photography
Handy Andy Pandy