Have you ever had the feeling that you are not being the photographer you could be (or painter, or musician, or writer, or whatever—put in the right word for you)? That you are not making the best photographs you could make? In other words, that you are not living up to your potential as a photographer (or whatever artist you are)?
It’s nothing out of the ordinary. On the contrary. This is a feeling we photographers have all had. Sometimes we may feel on the top of the world, and then the next day we just feel we can’t capture anything worth saving. Reaching our potential is a constant struggle, to become better, to overcome the fear that creative work always gives rise to, to step out of the box, to not succumb to old and proven routines. Here in this blog, I try to give snippets of thoughts on how to keep developing and getting closer to that potential that inherently lies within all of us. Moreover, my workshops, if anything, are all about helping the participants be the best photographers that they can be.
Throughout the years and many posts in this blog, I have pointed to the importance of doing the work, to challenge yourself, to work with passion, to be willing to learn—to mention a few things you need to do to be able reach your potential as a photographer. For a little summery of how to develop your creativity and become a better photographer; look up posts like A Path to Creative Life or Become a Better Photographer. Nobody said it would be easy, but as with everything in life, the purpose of the creative travel is not the end goal, but the road to the goal.
One aspect I have not written a lot about is constantly evaluating your own work and yourself as a photographer. On a regular basis, take stock of yourself. Where do you stand as a photographer right now? And how can you improve yourself so your photography will become better? In my personal experience, and as I have learned from talking with students in my workshops, one of the biggest things that hold us back is the feeling of vagueness and lack of clarity about how to get better. If we wander day by day with no sense of direction or movement, then we are easy pray for the forces of resistance—the internal and external forces that try to stop us from being creative and living the life we want.
When you evaluate yourself, don’t only look to your technical skill level. We should never lose sight of the fact that becoming a good photographer, like becoming a good artist in any medium, involves heart and soul in addition to craft and technique. A technically perfect photo can be banal, and a very imperfect photo from a technical perspective can touch something deep within us. This implies that discovery about how to improve our photography is an emotional and transformative journey in the psychological and spiritual domains, and that mastering of technique is but the barrier to entry. So when evaluating your present state as a photographer and where to go from there, you need to look at both aspects.
Evaluating yourself and your own work is difficult. Sometimes we need the help from others. We turn to family, friends, Flickr, photo clubs, or submit photos to competitions, or attend workshops. All good, but we also have to keep in mind that not all «help» is necessarily helpful. Obviously, the quality of this kind of evaluative response varies, and depends greatly on who is doing the evaluation. However, while we should keep in mind this truth, valid and useful feedback is important, and can come from many sources.
Ultimately, though, it is extremely important to develop the ability to evaluate you own work, no matter how difficult it is to do so. Almost every good artistic vision is individual, and not the result of a committee. External opinions can be noise on the line, and pull in many different directions. Learning to evaluate yourself and your work, is about practising. Do it on a regular basis and it will slowly by slowly become easier. Maybe you need some help in the beginning. Well, participate in a workshop where evaluation in most cases is an important part of the experience. Or look to literature. For one, I can recommend the book, Achieving Your Potential as a Photographer, by Harold Davis.
Are you trying to reach your potential as a photographer? Are you working as hard as you can to encourage your own development? You know, often in my travels to troubled areas, I meet kids that have nothing, may live on the street, have lost their family, or seek shelter in refugee camps. I can’t let go of thinking about the potential that lies within them. What could they have grown up to become in a better world, with better opportunities, with some guidance by mentors or parents?