Inspiration Photography

Cut the CRAP and start creating

We're all learning this craft.

A friend of mine was down the other day—he’s a photographer who takes photos that tell stories, but he’s facing a lot of negativity lately, and feels that his online presence seems to have reached a plateau.

We all have days when it seems we should just chuck the camera out the window, flush down dreams of publishing or selling prints, and just move to Tahiti and lose ourselves in the depths of mango daquiris.

Like all arts, photography has loads of aspirants, and like with all arts, it breaks the heart when no one seems to appreciate what we produce.

We all want appreciation, if not accolades. And, there are some things we can keep in mind to help us keep going and not give up.

We have to remember that what gets us down is CRAP.

CRAP stands for the four things that slam us down and try to keep us there.

Criticism

Many people are afraid to put their photos online for fear of criticism. I remember one of my favorite images being dismissed in an online forum as a “Mills and Boon” cover—a reference to a series of short romance novels that entertained millions of mostly female readers in the 1970s but which had shallow, predictable plots.

When this happened, instead of reacting negatively and dumping my romance with the camera, I began to think of it as an inspiration. What if I could tell stories with my photos? What if the stories were not cliché and predictable, but surprised or elicited discussion? Rather than let the criticism get me down, I struggled and broke through with personal projects that explored the idea of narrative photography.

The image that drew criticism. Nikon D200 with 50mm at f/2.8, handheld using available light. Singapore, 2007.

Rejection

One of the best ways to get better is to enter competitions or to submit photos for critique. It’s not easy to do this, because there is always the fear that the work is not good enough, and there could be unflattering things said about the photos submitted.

But let’s face it—we are all learning, at this craft. What matters is the feedback.

Recently, I submitted a photo for a critique, on the theme “Solitude.” Not a landscape photographer, but one who is trying to learn this genre, I submitted a photo that I admit only approximates the landscape genre. It was a photo I took because of the values (black and white and shades of gray in between) and not for the composition or content. So of course when I submitted it, one of the editors told me that it was a good attempt, but it was not a very good match for the theme.

Apple trees in winter, Paro Bhutan. This is not a landscape.

This is by no means the hardest rejection I’ve had to face. I’ve submitted a series of photos to an editor I’ve worked with before, and she’s told me in very polite sentences to “submit excellent photos next time.” Rather than cry over it, I went back and tried to see my submissions with an editor’s eye. What I learned in that reflection is probably something that will help me do better when I pitch work in the future.

The value of feedback is that it can give us specific ways to get better.

Assholes

Yes, there are assholes in our world. For some reason that is esoteric or egoistic, there will always be someone for whom your work is not ‘pure’ enough, or not processed enough.

That’s not your problem.

Feedback from an editor helped me improve. Bangkok, Thailand.

Pressure

Finally, the P in CRAP is for pressure. Pressure can come to us through an assignment, a deadline, a contest, a critique, a creative problem. It could even be the limitations of equipment.

One thing that’s comforting to know about pressure is that with certain amounts of it, creativity can flourish.

We’re all equipped with skills, more or less, and when the bar is raised to produce from these skills, we can use that added pressure to improve those skills. A bit of pressure gives us new challenges that will bring new learning, so it’s good to embrace this pressure and allow ourselves to relax.

Relaxing can lead to openness, and openness increases the chances of getting into flow, a state of creative process when time seems to disappear and all that matters is what it is that you are in the process of creating. Flow can help us to do what we really want to do, any way: just take pictures.

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