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These photos side by side demonstrate what happened when I started internalizing negative messages about my own body of work. The photo on the left was me trying to match the post processing edits of another photographer who promised to help me "find my style." The result is an over-exposed image that is lacking in vibrancy. The image on the right demonstrates the style I developed years ago but didn't recognize because I was so confused by negative messages. The colors are vibrant and bold, the image is properly exposed and when I look at this photo, I see MY style!
That trap is thinking you aren’t good enough.
You see, I never set out to start a photography business. It just kind of happened. I'm acutely aware that I have no background in business, and instead of seeing that as an opportunity for growth, I sometimes view it as a weakness. I’m constantly tweaking how I do things and am always on the lookout for ways I can better myself as an artist and small-business owner. For a long time, turning to the blogs and businesses of other photographers for help and inspiration was a huge source of comfort.
But recently, I learned the hard way that relying too much on the advice of others can backfire. You see, I started to let people I don’t even know influence me in a very negative way. Namely, I was told that the key to success was finding my own, unique style.
I saw and heard this message over and over and over again -- so much that I started internalizing it. I became obsessed with wondering when I would find my style. The more I followed this path, the clearer the instructions got: signature style touches are inserted in the final stages of the photography process, during what is known as post-processing.
One specific photographer – someone who I admired and who is highly successful – even promised to show people how, and I fell for it. I spent hundreds of dollars on an online course thinking it would magically lead me to my style. It didn’t. Instead, this photographer showed the post-processing elements they apply to create their own signature look, and actually encouraged other photographers to copy their style.
I didn’t think twice. I got sucked in. I spent hours trying to match this photographer’s post-processing style, and came away frustrated when I couldn't. I began believing that their look was the standard and if I couldn’t match it, I was a failure.
There was just one problem: I didn't need to find my style because I'd already found it. I had developed it years ago. I just didn’t recognize it because I internalized negative messages and believed there was something wrong with my photos because they didn't look like the photos another photographer produced. Instead of seeing that as a good thing, I took it to mean that my photos weren't good enough. That I wasn't good enough.
I didn't see the light until a friend and mentor talked to me about drastic changes he saw in my work. He helped me regain confidence by realizing there is nothing about my style that needs changing. Looking back, I'm so thankful for that conversation, but that doesn't mean owning up to my insecurities has been easy. I wasted a lot of time and money going down a path that led to nowhere, and I actually had to re-teach myself my post processing style because I got so confused.
The good news is I do feel more aware of negative messages that are out there and more confident in my own abilities after this experience. I'm also hoping my experience will help others. You see, it doesn't matter if you're a photographer, parent, student, athlete, business professional or something else entirely. We are all barraged with the message that we somehow aren't good enough, and that if we buy this one thing we'll magically be fixed.
What those ads and negative messages fail to show is that life is a process, and we are all in a constant state of learning, flux, growth and development.
Trust me when I say the next time I see or hear something that tells me I'm not good enough, I'm going to remind myself that it's all garbage. I hope anyone reading this does the same. My advice? Trust yourself. Trust the process. Enjoy the journey.