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Comparing Photos without Becoming a Bitter Photographer

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Sara Rodriguez Martinez
  By Sara Rodriguez Martinez
Comparing Photos without Becoming a Bitter Photographer www.sleeklens.com

I am going to share something I am not proud of: comparing my photos with the ones taken by other photographers makes me a bitter person. Yes, I too, have these moments in which I hate all the photographers in the world. OK, I am exaggerating. I don’t hate them all. I just hate the ones that are better than me. When I come to this realization, I feel even worst. I will give you a real example.

The other day I went to take photos of a valley close to my home. It is one of my favorite landscapes. I know that sunsets are beautiful in this area. And now is already summer, so everything turns golden. I was feeling happy and inspired. I found the perfect spot, set the tripod and my camera and I was shooting until I got what at that point I considered the perfect picture. I ran home and first thing I did was to transfer the photos to my computer. I searched for “THE PHOTO” and I did some post-processing using my best photo edition skills and Lightroom tools.  When I saw the final picture I thought:  “This is a great landscape photo”. I felt happy and proud. Such a great moment!

This place is right next to my home. I was feeling so happy when I took this photo! I emphasized the summer mood of the scene in post-processing and I was proud of the result. Until I started comparing myself with other photographers.

I decided to share it in a photography community to see if people like it. I usually post my photos in 500px. In case you don’t know it, 500px is an online community that encourage photographers to share their best work. It is a good place to connect with other photographers and get some inspiration. At that point I just needed to wait for the “likes” and the comments. I decided to have a look at what other photographers posted in the landscape category. I started comparing my photos with all the others. And so I entered into what I like to call the “negative criticism spiral”.  I am so familiar with it that I can even describe it by stages.

Stages of the negative criticism spiral

  • First 30 seconds: everything looks amazing. I like all the pictures. They are so BEAUTIFUL!! I love the colors, and the composition. Everything!!
  • From second 31 to 1 minute: Insecurity. Would I ever be able to take a photo like this? And I thought that my picture was good!! Next to these beautiful landscapes my photo looks so bad!!
  • Second minute: Hate. “I am sure that these photographers have a better camera and better lenses“. “I am sure they are  having fun all the time! They just travel to these wonderful places and they have all the time of the world for finding the perfect composition”. “I hate them!”
  • Third minute: Sadness. I go into a very negative mindset: “I am not good enough. I should quit photography”.
  • Fourth minute: Comfort. I feel desperate and I try to cheer myself up. “Let’s see the pictures of the beginners. I am sure there are going to be worse than mine” (recognizing that I can think in this way is kind of embarrassing)
  • Fifth minute: Deep sadness. I realized what just happened in the last minutes and I conclude that I am a bitter photographer.
When I start comparing myself to others I am like a cactus: I put barriers between me and anything that can come from the outside.

Can you relate? In just five minutes I went from having a positive mindset (I was happy and enjoying my photography) to a deep sadness. I was either putting myself down or putting others down in order to feel better. Why do I do it? I guess that the answer is simple:

I compare myself with others because I am human.

I was not getting any benefit out of these comparisons. They were just making me sad and angry. I was losing my passion for photography too. These comparisons are destructive, so instead I decided to turn them into something constructive. I want to share with you my 3 ways not to become such a bitter photographer:

Put yourself in the shoes of the other photographer

For some reason I tend to think that these photographers are not making any effort. I just see their final photo and I forget that it is the result of their work. You can’t know just by looking at one photo how many books they read about composition or how many years it took them to find their photographic vision. They might be travelling all the time. But you can’t know what they left behind. Maybe they did a big sacrifice in life in order to become a landscape photographer. Maybe they feel lonely. Maybe they took 10000 photos that day in order to get this one outstanding photo. Maybe they also feel that other photographers are much better than them. Now when I see that I start hating some photographer, I take a deep breath and I imagine all the efforts that this person might have done for taking the photo. It also helps to appreciate the picture even more.

I took this photo in Australia. You might think that I spent months travelling to the other side of the world and living great adventures. But the reality is totally different. I couldn’t afford travelling to Australia. I did it because they send me to a Biology conference (I am also a biologist. I spend most of my day working inside a laboratory). Instead of going to the good recommended hotels, I went to hostels. In that way I saved some money that I spent travelling around for just 2 weeks because I needed to come back to work in the lab. The stories behind the photos are not always what we thought.

Instead of comparing yourself with these photographers, use them as inspiration

Now every time I see a photo that I find great I add it to a gallery. This way I can come back to it at any time I want. I study them. I try to figure out what I like in them so much. Is it because of the composition? Or maybe it is the mood of the photo? When I focus on the photo and not on the photographer, I go into a positive mindset and I feel like I want to learn from the guy (or girl). I end up following them as a fan.

I was never modifying my backgrounds. But I saw the awesome work of other nature photographers that were doing it. I decided to give it a try and in my next hike I took with me a black cardboard. The cardboard allowed me to isolate this gorgeous Gilboa Irus (Iris haynei) from the messy background.

Compare your pictures from now with the photos you took some time ago

If still feel like I need to compare myself with something, I do it with one of my old photos. That I can see how I evolved and improved. I would like to go over all the learning process and take awesome pictures NOW. But photography doesn’t work like that. You learn, you practice, you make mistakes, you keep learning… and you improve. Slowly but surely. Put a new and an old photo next to each other and feel proud of yourself. Then comparing your photos can become something positive.  Be aware of your strengths and keep learning to improve. Enjoy the journey. Love your photography. Appreciating yourself is the best way to keep motivated!

I took this photo 5 years ago. I am not sure what I wanted to show here. The only thing I see is a flat sand landscape that doesn’t talks to me.
I took this photo the last weekend. I wanted to show how summer looks like for me. It is not the best landscape photography ever. But if I compare it with the previous photo, I can see my progression. Now I put more of myself into each photo.

Each time you feel you are entering into a negative spiral of comparison, take a breath and apply one of the tips I told you. Think that it is all about mindset. My strategies are focused on promoting a positivity. When you’re looking at photos with a negative mood you close your mind, you don’t want to learn or to see any more good photos. On the other hand, a positive mindset will keep your mind open, You will learn from others and this will lead you to good places!

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Sara Rodriguez Martinez
I am a biologist and a self-taught photographer based in Barcelona (Catalonia). Buddhist philosophy has a strong influence on me: I have a deep appreciation to life and I give a huge value to the little things that makes our days happier. I became a passionate about photography when I got my first camera and I understood that photography allows me to express my way of approaching life. I love learning so I am always willing to trying new things. These days I am shooting mostly nature and portraits.

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