This week, I want to talk about your photos. Not someone else's photos. Your photos. In all likelihood, I've seen few, if any, of your photos. But you have, and that's what matters here.
What do you think of your photos? Do you like them? For most of us, the answer is probably that we like some of them, but not others. That's fair. If you truly felt that everything you ever shot came out spectacularly great, you're setting the bar too low. You've become too comfortable, and should be striving for new heights to grow as a photographer. One of my all-time favorite photography quotes is from Canadian Freeman Patterson who said that "36 satisfactory exposures on a roll means a photographer is not trying anything new." Few photographers these days are shooting on film anymore, but the idea behind this quote still rings true.
Your images are your gauge of success. This may seem obvious, but most photographers I know look for success using other metrics. Professional photographers have to make a living off their work, so there's a strong tendency to measure success based on income. Making some money from their images can be a driving for some non-professionals as well if they dream of going pro. Who wouldn't feel flattered by someone asking if they can buy a print of your work they really like. Got to keep the customers satisfied. Indeed, praise from admirers can be a compelling measure of success no matter who you are, even when no money is attached.
But it matters more what you think of your images than what others think. No matter what your skill level, it's easy to feel insecure about your work sometimes if you're trying to outguess what others think. Looking for reinforcement from others can be a natural response, but it can also create problems for your growth as a photographer. You may be able to please some of the people some of the time, but it's unlikely that you can please everyone all of the time. But when opinions differ, who should you listen to? Chasing approval from others can be a slippery slope that leads who knows where.
What about comparing your photos with those taken by other photographers? Images are everywhere these days, so doing so would only be natural. The problem though is that this isn't really fair. Their background and experience may differ widely from yours. The circumstances that led to their image may likewise differ considerably. It's like comparing apples to oranges, or perhaps some even more mismatched comparison. And no matter what you may think of their images, it doesn't change yours at all.
Getting to know your own images can help point out opportunities for improvement. If you want to compare, look to your own images. How well do your current images stack up against the ones you took last year? Last month? Are you holding steady, or do you like your recent work more? This is a comparison worth noting. Be your own yardstick. If your images today are better than the ones you shot yesterday, you're headed in the right direction. Be critical of your own work. Examine it closely. Be glad that it can always be better. This is your guide.
So, back to where we started. Do you like your own photographs? Remember, I probably haven't seen them, so you can be honest here. What do you really think? You don't have to tell me. But you should investigate this in detail yourself. The more familiar you are with your own images the better. Be kind, but be honest. You should like your work, and you should strive to like it more by improving.
Staying true to yourself is key to improving as a photographer. Your own photos hold the key. They point the way to what worked well, and what can be improved upon. Listen to what they are telling you.