Photography, like so many artistic endeavors, requires breaking the mold occasionally. Stepping off the beaten path. Ignoring the rules. But if, like me, you were taught to always color inside the lines, rule-breaking is new territory. Scary even. It's easy to get caught up always trying to do things the "right" way and lose focus of why you wanted to pick up a camera in the first place. So in this post I'd like to address something many of us forget... there is no right way to make images. Not really.
Yes there are the elements of composition and design every photographer should learn. And yes there are certain technicals every photographer should become proficient with. But I'm not talking about fundamentals so much as the creative process.
When it comes to photography, the amount of mixed messages permeating the internet only makes things worse. There's a DO THIS, NOT THAT mentality everywhere you turn...
Use Lightroom. No, use Photoshop. No, be a purist and don't stoop to any post processing.
Go mirrorless. No, go back to film. No, soot medium format.
Be Facebook famous. No, stick with Google+. Wait, don't you know Instagram is where it's at now?
Always look at what others are shooting, it will inspire you. Never look at what others are shooting, it will only depress you.
Shoot for free in the beginning - gotta start somewhere. Never shoot for free, you'll devalue the whole industry!
It's exhausting. Everyone has an opinion, and no matter what you do, you'll be at odds with someone simply by the choices you make. But if you let the voice of others drown out your own, you'll only end up bouncing from one trend to another... eventually burning out.
So here's a crazy idea... start listening to your own inner voice and valuing your own unique perspective. No easy task for sure. It's something I have to force myself to do daily (and sometimes I fail miserably). But learning to tune in to your voice and tune out any noise which may conflict with it is the only way to find your true path.
If you're making the images YOU set out to make (not just imitating others)... then nothing else matters. Not the gear you use. Not the software. Not how or even IF you edit.
I once had a friend tell me I use too many commas in my writing. I was hyper-conscious of that for a long time, but when I tried to write "correctly" according to someone else, it just didn't feel genuine. All the fun had been sucked out of writing. I finally had to reject the criticism because 1) I'm not a grammar teacher and 2) I really don't care. I write the way I think. If someone doesn't like that style, they won't stick around. Those who relate will keep reading. It's actually a win-win... weeding out the people who aren't interested and forming stronger relationships with those who are.
The same holds true with photography. It comes down to knowing who you are and what you want... then having the confidence (or at least the unshakable resolve) to chase it.
Try not to compare yourself to other photographers (even those on your level), and quit overanalyzing what the "big names" are doing. They didn't become big names because they set a goal to please everyone else. Nope. They carved their own path by laboring with an open heart, sharing with an open mind, and serving their clients and colleagues to the best of their own abilities.
Anyone who judges others for doing the same thing (but by different methods) is not worth listening to.