Your confidence and business will grow when you stop comparing yourself to other photographers
“That is so beautiful. Why don’t my photos look like that?”
“Her work is so good. I will never be as good as her.”
“Compared to that, my work is trash.”
“I wish I had taken that photo instead of him.”
Confession time: I’m guilty of having these, and similar, thoughts more often than I’d like to admit. If you are struggling with confidence, I bet you are too.
Here’s the thing though: we aren’t doing ourselves any favors by comparing ourselves to other photographers. My work didn’t get better that way. My client base didn’t grow that way. My self confidence didn’t improve that way. Yours probably isn’t going to either.
In fact, comparison is the exact opposite of what helped me improve in all of those areas. Collaboration did. And really, comparison and collaboration do not coexist well.
Here’s what comparison looks like
My sister and I are business partners and often photograph events and sessions together. Even when we don’t photograph the same poses or events, we are always showing each other our work.
Inevitably, we end up comparing ourselves to each other. I bet you have a set of photographers you feel the same way about. Now is a good time to stop comparing yourself to them.
I can’t tell you how many times one of us has felt defeated by the same set of photographs that the other one is gushing over. Just this week, I used one of her photographs for a blog post. As I was going through the gallery looking for the perfect photo, I was thinking “I wish I had seen that. I wish I had thought to photograph that. I wish I took that picture. Look at how beautiful that is. My photos from the same session lack the same quality of light that these ones have, and that bothers me….”
And here’s how it sneaks its way into our thinking
I was already in a world of self-doubt as I was preparing for more people to see my work than before, and that crept into my reaction to her photographs. When we are already feeling insecure, it is far too easy to use comparison to justify those feelings rather than to stop comparing yourself and find a solution for your insecurities.
Truthfully, her photographs from that session are beautiful. They speak to me on an emotional level. I can feel the love that family has for one another shine through EVERY.SINGLE.SHOT.
But her reaction to the one photo that moved me so much? “Meh. Why’d you choose that one?”
The same photograph that stopped me in my tracks filled her with her own version of self doubt. Why? Well, you see, I had taken some photographs at that session too. And she was busy thinking “Wow, why don’t I know how to do that with my photographs?”
We don’t see our own work objectively. At that moment, she couldn’t see the beauty in her photos any more than I could see the beauty in mine. But if I’d never seen her photographs of the same session, I would have been thrilled with mine.
Comparison robbed me of the joy of appreciating my own work. It knocked down my self confidence by a notch or two. For no reason. My photographs were beautiful too, just like your work likely is.
The photograph on the left is my sister’s and the right is mine from the session this story comes from. Both are lovely and should have made us feel confident rather than worried that the other’s work was better.
Chances are, you don’t photograph with your siblings though. So, what lessons can you learn from my story to help you stop comparing yourself to others?
Comparisons break down your self confidence.
Psychological research backs this idea up in both social and office situations, and it is logical that this extends to photographers. The more we compare ourselves to others, the less self worth we have. On this basis alone, you owe it to yourself and your happiness to stop comparing yourself to other photographers.
It isn’t fair-to you or the other photographer.
You are probably comparing their best work to your worst work. You know all of your work, even the photographs you would never let anyone else see. It isn’t fair to compare your worst photo to what is likely their best work. Just like it isn’t healthy to compare lives based on social media posts, comparing a portfolio image to the ones you reject isn’t healthy.
And if you decide your work is better than his or hers? Well, then you’ve probably shut the door on a collaborative option that might be just what you need to grow. Oh, and it doesn’t feel so great, morally and ethically, to think you are better than someone else.
It’s not getting you more work.
If you are spending too much time agonizing over why your work isn’t as good as theirs, you aren’t spending that time winning over clients through excellent service or improved photography.
Your clients and potential clients also sense the insecurity comparison instills in you, and they need to trust you. When I spent a month wondering why another local photographer booked her mini sessions every time, I didn’t book any of my own. When I got over that, put in the legwork to plan unique mini sessions, and spoke with confidence about how “magical” they would be, they booked without any effort. Chances are you have a similar scenario in your life.
You are your own worst enemy.
Just like my sister and I, you probably aren’t the most objective judge of your own work. You see the tiny flaws that most people don’t, and overlook the magic that most people will see first. Where she saw an awkward crop, I saw the sweetest embrace between mother and daughter. Where you see flaws, others might see perfection.
How do you stop comparing yourself and move from comparison to collaboration?
Just like so many changes we want to make in life, accepting that I needed to stop comparing myself to other photographers really was the first step in changing this mindset. It will be the first step for in to stop comparing yourself as well. I decided months ago that it wasn’t helping, so I made myself aware of it. The more aware of it I became, the easier it has been to stop.
Now, I think “she can be amazing AND I can be amazing. They are not mutually exclusive.”
The fact that we should stop comparing ourselves to other photographers doesn’t mean that you need to accept your work as it is though. If it isn’t where you want it to be yet-and I hope we are all striving to improve all the time- comparison isn’t going to help you figure out how to take better photographs.
What should we replace comparison with?
First, engage in objective analysis
Instead of comparing your work to that photograph that you are envying this week, take another look at it. Really examine it. What is it about the photograph that drew you in? Instead of letting jealousy steer your opinion, let the part of your brain that controls your knowledge of light, angles, composition, and balance lead. Or let that emotional part of you that connects with an image lead. Either way will work.
And then figure out where it leads you. Is it the light, the connection between the subjects, the contrast in colors or the unique framing?
Then, collaborate, research, and practice.
Now, reach out. Reach out to the photographer that shot the image, to your network of local photographers, or to the social media group you use and ask how it is done. Collaborate with fellow photographers and learn from them. Do some research on your own too. Look through the tutorials here for inspiration and information.
And then embrace what you’ve learned through collaboration and research and put it into practice. Dedicate your month to really working on that one skill.
Finally, break the rule and compare yourself one more time.
At the end of the month, give yourself permission to compare again. Only, this time, compare your new work to your old work. This comparison will lift your spirits and fill you with self-confidence. This comparison will strengthen those collaborative bonds as you see their value. This comparison is the only one worth making.
The photograph on the right was an early attempt at sunset silhouettes from six months ago and the right is from this month. While they aren’t something I work on every day, it is fun to see growth over time.
Remember, collaboration will help you grow and comparison will tear you down. So repeat after me: She can be amazing AND I can be amazing. They are not mutually exclusive.