Tuesday, May 6, 2014

How I Put my Inner Critic Back in its Place

by Kelly

I don’t know why I let this get to me.

For starters, Scott Kelby has no idea who I am.  And secondly, he has never seen any of my work.  Yet, after watching just one episode of ‘The Grid’ last week, my inner critic was unleashed, and for the past week or so it has been sucking the joy right out of my photography.

If you are unfamiliar, ‘The Grid' is a weekly, web-based photography program.  And periodically, they host live critiques of viewer submitted photos.  Most of the time, the submissions are from professional photographers seeking feedback about their photography portfolios.  Scott and his co-host, Matt Kloskowski, will then offer their opinions and/or advice about how the shot might be improved.

I would like to state for the record that I am not hating on Scott Kelby.  In fact, after watching this episode, I am more of a fan than ever.

Anyway, one of the most common suggestions Scott shares in his critiques is for photographers to take ‘interesting’ photos.  Whether it’s a detailed macro shot of a flower or an awe-inspiring landscape shot, in his opinion (which he is quick to point out is just that – his opinion) interesting subject matter is what makes for a great photograph.

Here’s my problem though…I am not a professional photographer, nor do I have aspirations to be a professional photographer.  But I still want to take great photographs.  Even as a self-proclaimed ‘lifestyle’ or ‘everyday’ photographer, I still want to make powerful, meaningful, compelling images.  And so that’s when things start to unravel for me….ordinary life is, by the very virtue of its name, well...ordinary right?  So then I would suggest that taking interesting photographs of ordinary things might be a little more challenging than one might think.

Now, the rational part of my brain knows that it is indeed possible to take interesting photos of ordinary life..my sisters here at Focusing on Life are living proof.  And to be honest, it's not that I think I take bad photos (please...I swear...I'm not fishing for compliments or soliciting validation for my work).  It's just that when it comes to my work, I have a hard time seeing it objectively.

Especially when my inner critic is running amok.

I should share with you that this is not the first time I’ve battled my inner critic…a couple of years ago, the same exact thing happened.  So this time I was quick to recognize its mean and nasty voice:

  • you finally got the new camera you’ve been wanting for a year and your focus still sucks.
  • your compositions are totally unimaginative and uninspiring.
  • your post-processing has become predictable and lackluster

Taking a lesson from my own book, I have learned that the sure-fire way to take down my inner critic is to take all that negative, destructive criticism and reframe it with a positive, constructive suggestion. So I decided that instead of beating myself up, I would instead honor my journey and how far I’ve come already.

The way I am choosing to see it now…I am a photographer with room for improvement.  And just so you know, I don’t consider that to be a negative thing at all!  In fact, the opportunity to grow as a photographer and as a person has always been one of the very things I love about photography.  Furthermore, because of this little episode, I feel like I have crossed over somehow into a more mature relationship with my art. If that makes any sense at all.  For me, it’s almost like there has been a certain kind of freedom in the humility to say that I am still learning and growing as a photographer. And this openness to the process will hopefully be a conduit for unleashing my creativity and improving my technical abilities.

As I wrap this up, I might also add here that I don't usually like to publish these kinds of posts.  In a world so full of sadness and suffering, the creative angst of a strung-out working mom hardly seems like a real problem.  But I decided to share this with you for a couple of reasons.  The first being that when I am struggling with something kind of personal like this, it often causes me (for lack of a better word) a kind of temporary writers’ block.  And anything else that I write tends to feel, for me anyway, colossally bogus and inauthentic. So thank you for giving me this space to sort of work some of this out.

But the main reason I wanted to share this today is that, if/when you ever come face to face with your inner critic, you can hopefully take comfort in knowing that this happens to everyone from time to time…regardless of where you are in your journey or how long you have been at any kind of creative pursuit.  And regarding the journey, the one thing I know to be true....if you can learn to see your challenges a little differently, you will also be able to see yourself a little differently too.

I would love to hear from you on this topic.  Have gone to war with your inner critic before?  And if so, how do you deal with it?  Because it's time to put it back in its place and reclaim our joy.

Love, Kelly


Sarah Huizenga said...

Just think how boring it would be if you "arrived" at that perfect photography place, which by the way I don't think exists, even for people like Scott and Matt. The fun, the challenge is in the learning. If after each shoot you do you learn just one thing from what you shot, you are already farther ahead then you were before you started. I think of these moments of self doubt as plateaus that need to be traveled along so you can reach the next hill and get ready to climb again.

Dotti said...

First of all, yes, I do battle with my inner critic every time I pick up my camera. It's important to remind ourselves that if we like the photo that's all that matters. If we're putting our stuff out there just to hear compliments, we're going to pack it in. We should give voice to our inner cheerleaders instead. Secondly, I think finding the beauty in our everyday is what it's all about. After all ... it's where we are. What could be more important? Third, comparison to others in anything, photography or anything else, is sure to make us depressed. And finally, since you're not fishing for compliments, Kelly, I won't tell how beautiful your everyday looks in these photos. But I will tell you that you've hit on a subject that we all deal with.

Beverly said...

The timing of this post is "spot on"!!! Just this morning when I looked at someone's work, my inner self said "you'll never be as creative as her"!!! Well boo!!! Yes, I can relate to this post, very much so. The journey has been simply amazing, and if I could write down every morsel of what I have learned, the book would be the size of a large encyclopedia. The comforting part is that great photographers and bloggers like you also write about it and share with us, and I'm grateful for your thoughts and words. Thank you Kelly for sharing from your heart!

Cheri W said...

Kudos, Kelly, for making peace with your inner critic. We all battle it with our photos. You have a great shoot, you start to feel a little self confidence, then someone offers some constructive criticism or you have a less than stellar editing session and that inner beast unleashes the self criticism to drag us back down again. I thoroughly love your style and think you DO have a way of making the ordinary extraordinary. Thanks for this post. It is inspiring me to say shut the H**L up inner voice. I CAN and will do this, and be able to just take each experience as a learning one. Every photo can't be picture perfect or we then wouldn't appreciate the ones that truly are!

Cathy said...

I needed to read this today. And I totally agree with what Sarah said, what if we reached that goal? Then where would we go. The joy is in the process, for sure but self doubt moments like this do allow us to venture into areas we might not have gone, had we not had a push. What a great post Kelly. And your photos are beautiful.

terriporter said...

Ditto, ditto, ditto to all that has been said! And I hope all of the comments above have made us all realize that we are not alone in this. Knowing that we will never "arrive" at that perfect place and that we have to keep on working on it is what keeps this hobby fresh and challenging. Yes, it is a constant challenge to not play the comparison game. And, of course, we all want others to look at our work and appreciate it. But, as Dotti said, the one person we have to please is ourselves. I think in this hobby all we can ever hope for is growth. We will never master it. All we can do is keep moving forward (even though we may move a few steps backward in the process!) We are only photographer we should be comparing ourselves to. Great post, Kelly. This is something we can never be reminded about enough.

Melinda said...

Oh this post was meant for me! I battle with my inner critic constantly! And frankly, my inner critic often has Scott Kelby's voice. I have taken one of his workshops, read some of his books, watched MANY of his Kelby videos- and watched quite a few episodes of The Grid. I do not travel to exotic places or have the money to purchase top notch gear; my photos do not resemble his in any way (other than usually being in focus- if not TACK SHARP focus, to employ an oft-used Kelby phrase). But, I am improving- and have learned a lot from him, as well as Kim Klassen and several others. Thank you so much for this post- my inner critic's voice is a little harder to hear now! (and BTW, your photos are lovely!)

kelly said...

thank you all so much for your sharing your experiences! i can't tell you how much it means to me to know that i am not alone in this. your comments have reminded me that photography isn't something that i will ever 'master'...but how liberating is that! it takes all the pressure off. thank you for being part of this wonderful community where we can share our photos, but more importantly share our journeys. big love to you all! xo

Unknown said...

A while ago I was asked by a terrific photographer (who also runs a digital printing gallery) if I printed and put my images on the wall. My critic went crazy and had all kinds of excuses as to why not. It was his kind and gentle opinion that it helps one to get better to see things on the wall and that most of us now house everything on a computer and seldom look at it other than on the screen and not often at that. Hmm..I thought. And now I have a few things on the wall and realize that I'm not as good as I'd like but not as untalented as I thought.
Just food for thought..

Kim Stevens said...

Well, gosh, where to start...like everyone else, I don't believe we will ever truly be masters of photography for so many reasons and Amen to that...because that would be depressing really, since it's the journey I love more than anything else. I have also come to realize that there are certain things I'm good at when it comes to taking photos and things that no matter how hard I try I just "can't get it right," and I'm okay with that. I've also learned that for me, I have to keep things simple and not read too much or go on too many sights...it's just too overwhelming and that's when I start to doubt myself. Great post Kelly and I'm not going to tell you that your photos are gorgeous either! ;) xo

Focusing on Life said...

A local professional photographer who I follow recently posted a quote by Seth Godin about whether competing, literally, or in my mind, with other photographers is helpful. This was his reply," The problem with competition is that it takes away the requirement to set your own path, to invent your own method, to find a new way. When you try to compete it's the pack that decides what's going to happen next - you're merely trying to get (or stay) in front. Competing with yourself is more difficult, requires more bravery, and leads to more insight. "

heyjudephotography said...

The above comment is mine.

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