Improving mental health for photographers matter. It affects most of us but in different ways and photographers are no different.
As part of iPhotography’s investigation and improvement of mental health in photographers, we’re writing this guide not to cure, play down or fill a gap in the market regarding mental health in photographers.
Instead to raise awareness to people who may be suffering without understanding what they’re going through.
What does a mental health issue in photography 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 105,000 online members.
We’re not doctors or profess to, instead, these hallmarks have been researched, tracked and assessed to ensure their accuracy. At this first stage, answer the questions below to understand what issue(s) you may be experiencing.
1. Do I enjoy all stages of my photography? (From shooting, to editing and then uploading/publishing). Jump to Section: Lack of Confidence
2. Am I excited to find out what others think about my photos? Jump to Section: Anxiety of Criticism
3. Do I compare my photos to others? Jump to Section: Inadequacy through Comparison
4. Do I come by creative ideas and interesting shots easily? Jump to Section: Low Self Esteem / Motivation
5. Do I worry when people look at me when I shoot? Jump to Section: Anxiety of Experience
Symptoms: Deleting large batches of images, infrequent uploading/publishing, irregular use of 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.
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. Sufferers may ponder and lust over other’s images but see them as a far away dream. Many dreams of becoming a good photographer are crushed by lack of confidence.
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 to 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.
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 thoughts, visions, personal creations to non-creative people make some photographers worry about their potential response. It’s like talking about economics to a clown – there is going to be some awkward silences, at least that’s what you expect.
It’s that expectation that someone won’t like your work that stops you from sharing the shots in the first place.
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 PLUS is such a home, where our private members-only Facebook group has lots of support for photographers aiming to overcome these issues with positive and constructive feedback.
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?
If not, you need to appreciate and embrace your own style, become your own Elvis. But do it the right way. 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.
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, LUTs 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 a slight flattery. Why should they get the 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.
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.
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) that are awash with creative art.
Search for styles you like and make mood boards to get your mind thinking, the more you see others do it you’ll soon want to make it your turn. But don’t rush.
We don’t want to crush any motivation you find, but for fear of setting the bar too high straight away. If you’ve been feeling low for a while it may be a better approach to try out small, scaled projects that are quick and easy to do at home.
Smaller projects can give you greater confidence in your ability and it reduces the fear of photography needing a big production all the time.
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 practise 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!
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 array of Lee filters it’s natural to feel overwhelmed. We’ve felt like that until you see it in another light.
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 an expensive kit?
Though money can buy you knowledge, it’s not only for millionaires. 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.
You can’t stop people judging you, but that’s their problem, not yours.
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.
Building up your photography knowledge can be as simple as taking a photography course and learning the basic skills needed to become a solid photographer. There’s no easy way to gain knowledge it takes time, validation and then sometimes refresher training, but that’s the way every good photographer got there. No-one woke up and just became Picasso!
Contributing your knowledge to communities in whatever way possible is also valuable to the next generation of shooters. You may think you know nothing about photography worth contributing, but a simple explanation about what draws you to a photograph can be enough to make someone’s day.
Mental health issues have no quick fix for photographers, 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.
Over time we’ll look further into these issues individually and give each topic the time and detail it deserves. As 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.