We all love Pinterest. We get a kick out of seeing collages of images laboriously compiled by the staff of the world’s best wedding photographers. We enjoy getting “pinspired” by portraits of newborns in metal washtubs with shower caps on their heads and strategically placed rubber ducks. On the other hand, there are days when Pinterest makes you lose all motivation for creativity by the sheer volume of unattainable perfection captured in tiny box-sized representations. We see hundreds of perfect people in perfect situations—enough to make any new photographer want to put their camera back on the shelf and return to their day job.
But this isn’t just about Pinterest
Although Pinterest has its share of negative commentary (see articles like this one in PetaPixel), it’s not the sole culprit. The problem extends far beyond what Pinterest alone can cause. The issue, simply stated, concerns noise, and the discouragement this seemingly endless barrage of noise causes. There are so many voices shouting at the tops of their lungs that it seems almost impossible for a single creative voice to shine through for any length of time.
Three hurdles to success
Hurdle 1: Rising above the noise
photo credit: Gregorius, via Wikimedia Commons
The interconnectivity of humanity via the convenient tool of the Internet has made the likelihood of a single creative voice rising from the crowd decrease significantly—so much so that a rising photographer will often perceive that he or she has little chance of breaking through to some degree of success. This initial period of discouragement will keep many from taking the step from amateur to professional, convinced that there’s no point in even trying.
Most of this noise comes directly from the Internet; social media sites like Pinterest, Facebook, Tumblr, etc. have a steady supply of fresh material from amateur and professional photographers all over the world. The good, the bad, and the ugly are laid out for all to see. Some of it will inspire you to want to take better photographs. Most of it isn’t worth your time.
How to deal
If you’re a photographer in today’s world, shutting off the Internet is not an option for you. The best thing you can do is cultivate a personal filter. Since this is the just-getting-started phase, you need to give yourself some room to learn and grow. If you see a quality picture that’s well crafted, don’t immediately think “It’s so good! I’ll never be able to take a photo like that.” Instead, learn from it, and assure yourself that you will get there someday.
This quote by Jim Rohn aptly sums it up:
“Don’t wish it was easier, wish you were better. Don’t wish for less problems, wish for more skills. Don’t wish for less challenges, wish for more wisdom.” ~ Jim Rohn
And if you find yourself becoming discouraged, block out as much noise as possible. Spend less time on those sites, and more time on those which are constructive, and guaranteed to help you improve your craft.
Hurdle 2: Criticism
If you manage to ignore the noise long enough to get past it, to forge ahead despite the possibility that you may to have to work extremely hard to be able to make a living doing this—the thing you know you love—you will face a whole new hurdle to your success: public criticism.
Any photographer who has been courageous enough to put themselves out there will face criticism. Because photography is an art form as well as a trade, it is subject to preference. Some people won’t like your work because it’s not to their taste; but if someone is mature and well-mannered, they usually won’t say anything about it. They will pass it up. Some people will politely make suggestions, and in some cases these are actually helpful.
However, there is a different sort of person who you need to watch out for. And you are, under no circumstances, to take this sort of person at his or her word. On the whole, you can’t really take the Internet seriously, but more importantly, never take a troll seriously.
Photo trolls are among the worst of our kind. They are the ones who sit lurking on photography forums and popular photography websites just waiting for the right moment to pounce on those they perceive as weak, and often to be contrary for no other reason to be contrary. They will claim four million ways in which they—the absolute expert on the matter—could’ve improved the image that you painstakingly created. If given the opportunity, they will rip it to shreds, simply because doing so makes them feel important.
Unfortunately for us, it is the times which have created such monsters. There is an incredible density in the photography pool where many photographers, in an effort to validate themselves and the distinctness of their work, attack the work of others.
There’s no greater blow to a new photographer’s—or even an experienced photographer’s—ego than to be the victim of such callous and uninhibited cruelty.
How to deal
Don’t. Take. It. Seriously. If it’s constructive, recognize that, pocket what benefits you, and move on. But your journey doesn’t have to lead through a trail of nonsensical abuse.
Hurdle 3: Staying the course
The brilliant surreal photographer Arno Rafael Minkkinen tells a famous metaphor about the bus station in his birth city of Helsinki, Finland. (If you’re unfamiliar with the reference, you can read it in the transcript of the 2011 New Hampshire Institute of Art Commencement Address). Essentially, he uses the bus routes of the Scandinavian station as parallels to an artist’s vision, expressing the idea that only by staying with a path long enough will that artist be able to reach the chosen destination, and become distinguished among his or her peers. He says, “If you truly believe in what you are doing, don’t let anyone steer you off your route.” Once you have found what you love, commit to it, and become the best at it.
This third obstacle, although not any more difficult to overcome than the previous two, will take more time and investment, but if you are sure of yourself and believe in your vision, you are already more than halfway there, leaving behind the thousands who never even got started.