Mental Health for Photographers

(what are the issues, how to identify & overcome them)

Mental health for photographers matters.

It affects most of us but in different ways and mental health for photographers is no different.

As part of iPhotography’s dedication to improving mental health in photographers, we’re writing this guide not to cure, play down but instead to raise awareness to people who may be suffering without understanding what they’re going through.

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Spotting a Mental Health Issue

So, what does a mental health issue for photographers look like?

There is no one answer, as with any medical issue it presents differently in different people, but when putting it into context of photography then there are some familiar hallmarks we’ve discovered as a training provider of over 100,000 online students.

We’re not doctors or profess to be, instead, these hallmarks have been researched, tracked and assessed to ensure their accuracy.

You need to ask yourself a series of questions to understand what issue(s) you may be experiencing.

Do I enjoy all stages of my photography? (From shooting to editing and then uploading/publishing).
No? Then you may be suffering from a Lack of Confidence. See Section 1.
2. Am I excited to find out what others think about my photos?
If not then it could be the crippling anxiety of criticism you could be worried about. See Section 2.
3. Do I compare my pictures to other photographers?
If so, you could exposing yourself unessecarily and creating a false inadequacy through comparisonSee Section 3.
4. Do I come by creative ideas and interesting shots easily?
This could simply be an issue of low self-esteem or motivation if not. See Section 4.
5. Do I worry when people look at me when I shoot?
Though many beginners do, some don’t see that it’s connected to the anxiety of experience and a possible misunderstanding of the situation. See Section 5.
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Section 1. Lack of Confidence

Symptoms: Deleting large batches of images, infrequent uploading/publishing, irregular use of the camera, procrastination, fear of advanced camera settings.
Lack of confidence is a mental health situation that every new photographer can face; it’s this first and biggest hurdle that will, if conquered, can completely change your approach to your photographic passion.

But if you are struggling to negotiate this challenge it can stop any enjoyment and ultimately end your pursuit of photography altogether.

Technophobia

Where does this lack of confidence come from? Most of the time, it’s your camera. DSLR cameras carry so many functions and buttons it’s too easy to keep to the AUTO options and let the camera do most of the work but there is a world of creativity is missed by doing this.

The lack of time amongst many aspiring photographers inhibits the opportunity to learn about exposure compensation, metering modes and bracketing etc. The more options a camera carries the more overwhelming it can be and therefore it sits on the shelf gathering dust.

Not only does this stop any photos being taken, but all photographic engagement can seize. Many dreams of becoming a good photographer are crushed by lack of confidence.

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Section 2. Anxiety of Criticism

Symptoms: Rare uploading/publishing, mixed portfolio of images, no consistent style, burning yet unfulfilled passion, potential misunderstanding of feedback
Anxiety varies in degrees can’t be dealt with simply. When it manifests itself in photographers then it typically arises in moments of constructive feedback, sometimes misconstrued as criticism. This gripping worry about what others think about your photographs halts people from sharing what could be very good photographs. The anxiety of expecting bad reviews is too much for some.

What’s Stopping You? Oh, It’s You.

Photography is an individual and private pursuit, it’s not a team sport where everyone gets equal praise and blame, instead, it’s all on you and that pressure is too much for some. Showing off your pictures to non-creative people make some photographers worry about their potential response.

Photographers whose mental health is burdened by this anxiety of criticism let assumptions and hypotheticals take place instead of reality. Who knows what good news you could receive?

Are there ‘safe’ ways in which to share your work and improve without fear of criticism? Involving yourself in a focused community of similar-skilled photographers is a good way to start. iPhotography+ is such a home, where our members-only Facebook group has lots of support for photographer’s aiming to overcome these issues with positive and constructive feedback.

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Section 3. Inadequacy Through Comparison

Symptoms: Setting unachievable goals, looking for shortcuts, undervaluing groundwork, overlooking technical understanding, procrastination 
Trying to sing like Elvis after hearing one of his songs doesn’t make you a musical icon and the same thinking needs to be applied to photography. Looking at images on the internet or in photography books should be an inspiring pursuit and not a comparison to your own work. Elvis was iconic because of his individual looks and styles, anyone who tries to emulate him will just be called a copy-cat. Would you want your photography to be seen as a cheap copy? 

The problem with comparisons is that photographers want to achieve that end goal as quickly as possible, but some overlook the time, experience and failures their ‘hero’ has endured. Elvis wrote many flops but it’s through these failures that he found a formula to success, and photographers need to do the same.

Be an Original

Learn the basics of photography and learn them well. Don’t forget the rules of composition and the beauty in simplicity instead of racing for the number 1 hit. Presets, LUT’s and actions are great editing fun but why should we aim to coat our photography in a wrapping that looks like someone else’s? 

The other problem with comparisons is that it only goes one way. You’ll feel inadequate comparing your shots to more experienced photographers, but those experienced photographers will never feel anything towards your emulation, apart from slight flattery. Why should they get a good feeling and you not?

No one ever got famous by making copies (besides Xerox) so concentrate on yourself and let others make those mistakes of comparison whilst you craft something personal and meaningful to your life.

mental health for photographers iphotography camera

Section 4. Low Self-Esteem or Motivation

Symptoms: Uninspired, resentment to photography, lack of engagement, images become more snapshots than photographs, lack of imagination, repeating similar shots, re-editing old photographs
This is a guaranteed mental health issue in photography that ALL photographers will have experienced at some point – if you don’t believe you have you must have only started yesterday, or you’re lying to yourself, it’s that widespread.

But with something that common, it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Every artist will run out of ideas at some point, but it’s how you deal with that slump that will decide what happens next to your photography.

Searching for motivation and inspiration is positive; waiting to be inspired is negative.

Embrace the Web

We live in a technological age where there is no excuse as to why a photographer can’t find motivation. Websites such as Pinterest, Tumblr, 500px, Flickr and Instagram are image-based communities (and almost as popular as the iPhotography gallery) which are awash with creative art.

Search for styles you like and make mood boards to get your mind thinking. We don’t want to crush any motivation you find, but it may be a better approach to try out small-scale projects that are quick and easy to do at home.

They can give you confidence about your ability and it reduces fear of photography needing a big production all the time.

To get you started we’ve got a few little tasks you can try to start off those small-scale projects. Click here.

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Section 5. Anxiety of Experience

Symptoms: Isolation, reduced/limited areas of photography explored, repetition of similar images, heavy self-critiquing, embarrassment, lack of social engagement, fear of other photographers, lack of belief in any current knowledge
This type of anxiety isn’t just about your personal knowledge of photography but also relates to your practice of photography too.

We’ve all heard the jokes about why some people buy big fancy sports cars, but that compensation is sometimes true in photography – well not exactly the same but let us explain!

All the Gear, but No Idea…

If you’re packing a cute compact camera taking some landscape shots and someone decked out in all the latest outdoor brands rocking a brand-new Canon or Nikon DSLR beast with pro lenses, Manfrotto tripod and an array of Lee filters it’s natural to feel overwhelmed.

Imagine that same person recently won the lottery or has just retired and has got some expendable income, does that make his photography knowledge greater than yours? Or is it just the case he/she had the opportunity to invest in expensive kit?

Think of how much an iPhotography course covers to the relative cost? Now that’s value for money! So, it’s actually only knowledge you need and you don’t know how much someone knows by the size of their camera.

What people think about you and your camera is irrelevant when your pictures are better composed, exposed and filled with messages in comparison to a gear-hungry photographer who relies on presets and AUTO settings, despite having access to expensive equipment.

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Summary: Prognosis for Photographers

Mental health for photographers may not be a quick fix, but to recognise that you may be suffering from one, or a few, is the first step and we hope that this guide has helped.

We believe with the right course of action, your approach, outlook and enjoyment to photography can improve. In turn, it should also increase your natural creativity.

If you’ve got any further thoughts on the issue, then let us know by getting in touch.