We’ve all had it. That moment when you suddenly start to doubt yourself. Can you really pull off a shoot for your first paid client? Can you be trusted to capture a wedding? What if something goes wrong? What if you mess up?
Self-doubt can be crippling. It can hold you back from applying for work, from putting yourself out there, and even from accepting new clients. It can strike at any time, even for more established photographers who suddenly hit a rut.
But it can be beaten. If you are struck with self-doubt, here’s how to get over it – and get yourself going again.
Never compare yourself (except when it’s healthy)
We have a tendency to compare ourselves to others, but this can often be our downfall. When you look at the work of other photographers, it’s easy to despair over how great their work is and how yours doesn’t measure up. You might think that you will never be as good as them, which ultimately just leads you down the path of unhappiness with your work and self-doubt.
Instead of making unhealthy comparisons, remember that everyone has their own style, their own opportunities, and their own growth rate. You may have a way to go yet, but you might end up maturing into an artist that is even better than those you admire.
If you want to make this into a healthy habit, find a photographer you admire and think about what you could do to improve their images. Thinking in this way not only allows you to see that they, too, have flaws – it might also give you the tools to improve your own work.
Listen to the positives
When you get a positive review, it can mean the whole world. Unfortunately, though, we can sometimes end up treasuring these for just a short while, before fixating on negative feedback or just forgetting about them.
When you are starting to doubt yourself, look back on these responses and remember how great they made you feel. That warm fuzzy feeling inside is the direct result of your success. Treasure it – you’ve earned it!
You can also look at those images in your portfolio which you feel represent you at the top of your game. If you have done it before, you can do it again – and you will always have the ability to improve on what you have done before, too.
Practice until you no longer need to doubt
One way to stop doubting yourself is to prove your abilities. How can you do this? By making sure that you know how to get the shot.
Take a common situation which you will be faced with in your photographic work. For example, if you shoot seniors, then your common situation would be a portrait shoot. Find someone you can shoot at all times of day – a family member, partner, or close friend would be best. Once you have convinced them to let you use them as a model, get into the habit of shooting with them often.
Sit down with the images every time and look at what you could have improved or what you have managed to get right. Over time, you will see a marked improvement in your work. All you have to do is to look back over the previous images to know that you are getting better and better at what you do.
This may be a long route, but for those who are really struggling with self-confidence, it could be the best way to go. Taking it a day at a time and increasing your belief in yourself little by little will help you build up to a healthy position.
Ignore the voice in your mind
If you are just about to start shooting and you hear that voice in the back of your mind telling you that you are going to get it wrong, it’s time to stop listening. Shut it out and get started anyway. Think of yourself as an actor on a stage – all you have to do is to pretend that you are a fantastic photographer, and everyone will believe you!
I used this technique myself when I was a student photographer, still at university and with no idea what I was doing. A model turned up to shoot with me, it started raining at our location, and I had no clue what to do. Instead of panicking and throwing my hands up in the air, I had to act like I knew what I was doing – not only calming myself, but also the model. In the end, I got what I needed from the shoot, and so did he.
It’s always easier said than done, but taking a deep breath and plunging in will often get you the results that you need. Standing back and hesitating because you think you might fail never will.
Take it as a challenge
If your self-doubt is harming your ability to create, then it’s time to take a stand. Look yourself in the mirror, put your back straight and meet your own eyes, and tell yourself that you are going to succeed.
Meet your doubts as a challenge. If you feel that you might not be able to do something, then promise yourself you will. Perhaps you are afraid that you might not get any good shots at your next portrait session. Challenge yourself to get ten.
With a real and achievable goal in mind, your competitive spirit will kick in, allowing you to achieve more than you thought was possible.
Slow down and take a break
Often when we make mistakes, it’s because we are fully engaged with panic mode “on”. We are running around trying to do too many things at once, and all the while self-doubt is buzzing in our ears and telling us how badly we are going to fail.
The solution to this is to sit down for a minute, take a deep breath, and start taking things slowly. Do them at your own pace. It’s better to take a long while to do something than to never manage it at all. You can start with just breathing and reminding yourself of what needs to be done. Check all of your settings on your camera. Even if you have already set it up correctly, use the time to steady yourself and get your mind in the right place.
During the photoshoot, if you find that you are starting to rush things and panic again, take a step back. Ask your model if they would like to take a quick break and relax. This will give them the chance to get a drink and sit down for a moment, while you get the opportunity to clear your head.
You can also take the time to review the images that you have already taken. If there are any obvious mistakes – for example, using the wrong exposure settings, or not getting the focus right – then now is the time to correct them. Even if you already feel that you have messed up the first half of the shoot, there is still time to work on the second.
There may also be little tips and tricks that you can use to get your head back in the game – meditating, for example, or going on a short walk. If you have had to overcome self-doubt in the past, why not share how you did it with us in the comments?