Winning The Mental Battle Of Photography

By Geoff Harris

How to be A Successful Photographer

Beach view
Being a successful photographer is all about great technique and gear, right, and that mysterious 'eye' that you either have or you don't? Yes and no.

While these are all essential attributes, they will come to naught if you don't have the right mind-set. Photography is a mind game, and one which you need to win, as the stakes are high.

If you allow yourself to get discouraged or depressed or demotivated, you might pack it in completely, and then what use is all that expensive gear? Here are a few slogans and insights to help you keep your head on track.

1) You're not the best... and not the worst

Polar flowers
Photographers, especially when seriously getting into the subject, tend to veer between grandiosity and despair. In other words they get so into their images that they invest lots of emotional energy into them, or assume that they are so bad that they should never see the light of day.

Unless you really are an undiscovered genius (unlikely), the truth is probably somewhere in between. Getting objective feedback on your images is the best way to give you a better overview of where you are at.

So, post them online or join a photography society. Feedback can be tough at first, but it will help you improve and make you less 'emotional' about your photography.

2) Zen mind, beginner's mind...

red poppy field
Don't worry, we are not going all mysteriously Eastern, but this is a great saying from Buddhism. It boils down to this. The beginner is open to new possibilities, eager to learn and expecting to make mistakes.

They need and welcome feedback. The more advanced student or 'expert,' however, can be resistant to feedback or resentful and defensive about negative comments, as they have invested too much ego into their work, hobby, whatever.

So think more like the beginner and be more humble. That's not to say you need to denigrate your work or give it away for free, but remember that ego and pride can be a barrier to continued improvement.

3) You're never 'there'

surfer silhouette during sunset

Don McCullin gave a talk recently where he said he was still learning about photography, after 60 years of professional shooting and more awards than we have space to list.

So, if this living national treasure is still learning, then so are you. You never get to the stage where you say 'right, I am an expert and have nothing left to learn.' Don said that the moment this happens, you are finished as a photographer.

4) Done is better than perfect

This saying, often associated with Facebook boss Sheryl Sandberg, is very relevant to photography. You can waste hours fine-tuning your images at the editing stage, endlessly tweaking them in search of perfection.

Chances are you will never find it, and you could miss publishing opportunities because other photographers who shot the same subject got their work out faster.

This doesn't mean you should put out shoddy work, but set yourself a deadline and keep it. Just get your images out there.

5) Put yourself in the viewer's shoes

Early morning photograph of a scenic seascape in Norway
Related to the above, you need to think like the people who are consuming your images.

Maybe you are beating yourself up as some wedding shots you took are not technically perfect, but if they capture a tender scene or a special moment with a very elderly relative, the customer probably won't care.

You need to think like your customer, so if you wish to sell images to a magazine, for example, leave lots of creative empty space for text.

Thinking like an objective viewer will bring you back down to earth and make you more client focussed.

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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