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  • Writer's pictureNicole Trejo

Tell Yourself the Truth

On Ten Minutes with Manzanita today we talked about telling the truth about your work. We pinpointed two common lies that can stop artists from progressing and analyzed ways to avoid those ruts. Let's dig in!

1. The first lie is this:

I am not a good artist, and everyone around me makes better work than I do.

I can't tell you how many times I've run into the self-doubters. Because guess what? We are all self-doubters. Every one of us has had at least one moment where we second-guessed our work, our vision, our product. So this is something everyone can relate to and something everyone should think about.

What are you saying when you tell yourself you're not a good artist? I mean really? Is it true? Are there people out there, maybe even many people, who are better at photography than you are? You bet there are. And here's the horrible secret: There always will be. This is a ceiling you will never reach because people continually get better and there is no way to be the Queen of Photography, even for a day. Someone will always outshine you.

So I've adopted a method for kicking the self-doubt out, and it is two parts: tell the truth, and be specific. If you know your work isn't satisfying you, then you know that. Trying to get friends to sooth your wounded ego by posting your worries on social media and hoping they'll tell you "you're fine how you are" will only keep you from finding out why your work isn't satisfying you.

Instead, look at one of your recent images and decide which parts of it are frustrating you. And be specific. It won't do any good to say "I suck, this picture bites," and then tossing your computer out the window. What is it in that image that doesn't work? Too much haze? Weird composition? Old-fashioned tones? Stoic subjects? Pick one or two and look at it with a discerning eye, not a doubtful one. And then find an artist you admire and analyze their work. And be specific. What does "they're amazing" even mean? It's so vague. Did they nail their focus? Did they create dimension? What did they do to that image that made you want to look longer?

Once you can analyze your own work and the work of people you admire without imploding, you will find you have the power to improve.

2. The second lie is:

I like how I edit and shoot. I am a classic photographer and I do not need advice from "trendy" photographers. I'm happy the way I am.

Oh, you may be happy with the way you are....but are you, really? Are you losing clients? Do you see photographers around you changing and learning and adapting? Do you find yourself often jealous that so many seem to understand movements?

I'm not saying for one second that you should follow every trend or imitate every leading photographer. That would be boring and disingenuous and missing the point. I am saying that ignoring current ideas is like sticking your head in the sand and pretending things aren't shifting around you. You have to look. Pay attention. Do some searching in your own work.

It doesn't matter how many years experience a photographer has--if they are grasping something you aren't, ask questions. How did they progress so quickly? Where are they getting their ideas? What parts of the current photography trends call to you? You don't have to make carbon copies of people's work (nor should you, frankly), but picking elements that interest you is great. It's what artists have been doing for centuries--growing on the backs of their predecessors and creating something new. But you can't do that if you refuse to learn from other people who might now more than you do.

I've noticed when I'm most stubborn or least honest I am dull. My brain is empty of ideas, my heart isn't moved. The only way to get at the root problems with our work is to tell ourselves the truth and get to work. No more complaining or worrying ourselves into a vortex of self-doubt or stubborn pride. It's time to create our greatest pieces because there just isn't time for anything else.

What about you? What have you discovered about yourself that helped you get through your rut?

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