5 Ways To Suck At Photography

Great Smoky Mountains Shrowded In Fog

Go to any photography tips website you can find and you will undoubtedly find a plethora of articles full of tips on how to get better at photography (and yes El Guapo, I know what a plethora is). Nothing wrong with that, but I thought I would change it up here today and give you some tips on how to ensure that you will suck at photography :-).

Brace yourselves, this could get messy. Here are 5 ways to suck at photography…

1) Spend All Your Time On Social Media and Other Photographer’s Websites

In this day and age, social media almost seems like a necessary evil. It’s not inherently evil in and of itself, but it can become hazardous to our growth as photographers. The irony of it all is that some of the best photographers out there have absolutely no social media presence and barely even a website. So what’s so bad about browsing social media and gazing at other photographer’s images for hours on end? Well…

It suffocates your creativity because you begin looking at other photographers images for inspiration instead of getting out there and creating something new and unique and truly yours. If you spend your entire life trying to become as good as someone else, you’ll never arrive or find your own path. Oscar Wilde said it best, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”

A great article about inspiration vs. creativity can be found over at Viget in an article titled “Consumption: How Inspiration Killed, Then Ate, Creativity.”

2) Fall For The Myth That Social Media Followers Is A Reflection of Skill Level

This goes both ways. Some of the worlds most incredible photographers have a non-existent or very small social media presence. There are also many photographers with hundreds of thousands or even millions of followers who produce work that is sub par by just about any professionals standards. So what does all this mean?

The fact is; social media presence ultimately comes down to marketing. It has very little to do with the quality of your images. Sure, being an exceptional photographer helps and can certainly jump start things and get you in more doors but the big thing is marketing, time and knowing the right people.

Some people are just better geared for becoming popular on the internet. It’s about hustling, grinding it out, getting your name out there, trying to get the attention of other photographers and riding their coat tails. Some people don’t like playing that game. I know I don’t.

3) Write People Off Because They Are Less Known Than You (or equal to you)

This is an extension on the last point but it was getting too long so I had to react accordingly. I’ve had this happen to me more times than I care to admit. When I wrote my ebook Tack Sharp, I sent it out to tons of people before publishing it to get feedback before the launch date. To those friends and colleagues I looked up to I would say something like, “Please read through this ebook and let me know your thoughts. I truly value your opinion. I would really love to know if you learn something new along the way too!” Many of the people I sent it to said that they would read through it for proof-reading purposes but doubt they would learn anything from it.

I remember one person in-particular had said something to that effect. Months later I met up with him and saw that he was using his shutter button to focus his camera. This was a working pro, mind you. I don’t look down on people for using the shutter button to focus, I truly don’t. Some people just prefer it. I asked him why he was using the shutter to focus instead of the AF-On button and he replied that he had never felt the need to try it before. Interesting, I had just sent him an ebook I wrote a few months earlier that talked all about back button focusing.

So what happened here? I think pride had a big part to play. Pride is one of the most dangerous and relentless enemies to our creativity. It prevents us from taking advice from those on our same level or those below us because in doing so, we feel that it will make us lower. And pride is all about maintaining status at the very least and increasing it whenever possible.

One of the things I’ve always stressed is that the moment you think you’ve made it as a photographer; that’s the moment you become unteachable and you start to fall behind as an artist. I also see many photographers who got popular, got sponsors, had some success and stopped pushing themselves to advance and evolve. I’m not saying that I have it all figured out, I most certainly do not, but every single time Photoshop or Lightroom comes out with a new version, I make a point to go and watch Chris Orwig’s training videos on Lynda.com. Why would I do this? After all, I’ve watched them countless times ever since CS3 was out when I was learning the ropes. The reason is that I always want to stay fresh on what’s new with the programs and I know that each time I watch a video on Lightroom or Photoshop, I’m likely to learn at least something or see a different way of doing something.

4) Spend All Your Time Reading eBooks And Watching Training Videos

This may seem a little ironic considering I just mentioned watching training videos and I also sell both ebooks and video courses through my site. Here’s the dill, pickle; ebooks and video courses are awesome. I create them because it’s how I learn best when I’m not actually shooting and it’s a creative outlet for me. However, when you spend more time reading and watching than you spend shooting; you are spinning your wheels. The best way to learn is to go out and shoot. Photography education materials are meant to be supplements to actually getting out there and creating art, not substitutes.

5.) Be Afraid of Failure

I have become so sick and tired of this in our society today. For some reason, we’ve moved toward this absurd ideology that failure is not an option. If failure is not an option, then neither is success. When asked about Thomas Edison’s countless failed patents and inventions before the light bulb, Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps. Great success is built on failure, frustration, even catastrophe.”

Nobody likes to fail, but if you fall for what society is serving up these days you will be so afraid of failure that you’ll never have the courage to put yourself out there and take the risks that it takes to really become successful. Social media and the internet has played a large role in this mindset because now our failures are much more public—especially if our work and our business are on the internet.

I’ve failed so many times. My most recent “failure” is a website I created called Top Photo Spots. I put failure in quotations because for all intents and purposes, it was a failure. It didn’t explode when I went public with it. I launched it at a terrible time (right before heading to Death Valley for two weeks with no internet access) and struggled to bring in contributors to the site. I then got super busy with other aspects of business and the site and project ultimately got put on the back burner when the developer I hired just dropped off the face of the earth. The website is still there, and it has steady traffic going to it. Not much, really. Around 1,500 to 2,000 a month. Now I’m just waiting for the right time to jump back in and give it another go. I will try again. I will not be afraid to fail again (even if it means failing multiple times) because each failure is an opportunity to learn and grow.

Conclusion

Truly mastering the art of photography is a moving target. And if you ever feel like you’ve mastered, you’ve entered into a dangerous mindset. To continually advance you have to set aside your pride and ego, get out from behind your computer screen, have an open mind and just get out there. Go out and make some mistakes, learn from them, make more mistakes and continually make adjustments. Aim for success, but be willing to accept failures!

I always look forward to hearing your thoughts and input in the comments below. Thanks!

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  • Cheryl T

    I really, REALLY needed this. Thank you!

    • Glad to hear it Cheryl, thanks for reading!

    • Lyn

      Hi James – excellent comments. I admit to being guilty to quite a few there. Will definitely change my way of thinking and doing. Thanks for giving us the necessary kick in the rear. Keep up the great articles and yes your Tack Sharp book is fabulous. Bought it, use it. Can’t understand why others don’t use it. Just wish I could figure out how to use it on my Olympus OMD EM5 that I use for travel. Cheers, Lyn, Brisbane, Australia.

      • Hey Lyn, thanks for the kind words. We’re all guilty of some of these things at one time or another, the key is to realize when we get complacent and take the necessary steps to overcome it! Glad you enjoyed Tack Sharp! I’d be willing to bet that you’d be able to apply the settings to your OMD EM5 if you sat down and put your mind to it for a bit. Not sure what that camera is like, though.

  • Rob Sullivan

    really digging this article, gonna make a point to get away from the computer and go shoot

    • That’s what I like to hear Rob! Be sure to let me know how it goes!

  • Mike Orr

    I take everything I read, like the points you have just posted on … what for it … social media, with a ‘grain of salt’. You will never progress as a photographer if you are not out shooting … honing your specialties and trying new ventures. Even if you don’t like the new ventures it may lead to NEW ideas with the things you like to shoot. As far as social media is concerned … I’ve sat in on speakers, like Terry White at Photoshop World, who have shown me just how to use social media to my advantage. It is all in how you balance social media.

  • Your mantra about just going out and trying stuff is encouraging, and spot on. In the street photography group I belong to we were recently given a challenge to try shooting everything wide open. I prefer close-ups, which I usually achieve with a zoom lens, and don’t like shoving my camera in someone’s face. So I left my lens on 28mm but held the camera surreptitiously down at my side in one hand, pointing it upward at passers-by. Of course I missed quite a lot of shots, but the ones I got were interesting and different from anything I’d done before. Just go out and try stuff!

  • Aha! Now I know why you never responded to my offer with respect to Top Photo Spots. I offered to contribute, sent a couple of follow up emails. Should you get this going, I would be happy to contribute what I can. Let me know.

    Good article here. I obviously spend too much time on social media! Can’t be a good photographer by just looking at other photographer’s work. You can learn from it, but full learning comes with doing.

    • Hey Garth, my apologies on the TPS emails. I got flooded with requests after I put it on the back burner and was never able to respond to everyone. I’m going to be talking with a developer soon and potentially making TPS an app so we’ll see how that goes!

  • Christophe Broult

    That strikes a chord for me: I need to go back and really make pictures. Thank you.

    • Any time Christophe. Thanks for reading and hope to see you back soon!

  • Beverley Pohlner

    While this is no doubt aimed at the more professional photographer seeking work, it is of great benefit to me as one who has started out late in life, and just an amateur I just love it, [although never really satisfied] and forever wanting to learn more. I really like your thoughts re ‘getting our and doing’, and not to be afraid of failure.!
    Thanks James.

    • Thanks for the kind words Beverly, I appreciate it!

  • susan

    A very interesting and thought provoking, so much so that I have saved this article for that time in the future when I need a reality check again. Cheers James

  • Robert Gancio

    Great article! I to have fallen into the trap of over reading. I have been taking some classes at my local photography store about how to post process on Photoshop and Lightroom. I have asked some much better photographers I’ve met for a little critique on some sunrise shots I’ve taken and all I hear is to read this e book watch this video never to go out and practice more, or go back and try this.
    Now I will. Thanks for some of the best simple advise I’ve received in a while!
    Sincerely, bobby g

    • Stories like that are why I write these articles Bobby, thanks so much! Like I said in the post, there’s nothing wrong with ebooks and videos (that’s how I learn as well) but you are spinning your wheels if you don’t actually get out and shoot. And the same thing goes for Photoshop. You can watch all the videos you watch but how much time have you spent in Photoshop just figuring stuff out on your own? That’s where the magic is. Learn how to do something like Luminosity Masking in Photoshop by watching videos, then do yourself a favor and dive into Photoshop on your own. Come up with your own workflows that simply take the best things from others you have studied.

  • Robert

    A refreshing approach with some interesting insights.

  • Ellen

    Thanks, James. I have bought a few ebooks on photography, but haven’t completed reading them because I am out taking photos and getting ready for a small photo show in my small town of Faribault, MN in October. I’ve been learning as I go through picking photos to show, realizing what doesn’t pop and what does.

  • Teresa Lundeen

    Thank you so much James! My vision (both kinds :)) are going downhill because I am watching video after video trying to get a picture “just right!” I have finally figured out that there is no “just right,” it is as good as I can do at that time and will continue striving for a better “just right!” If I’m not actually using my beloved camera I am not going to get better and that’s all I should be striving for…. Thank you, this was one of the best articles I have read (and I’ve read a lot)!! lol!
    Teresa

    • That’s great to hear Teresa! Glad I can help in any way 🙂

  • Agreeing with this and living it are two different things altogether. It’s an internet-focused piece of advice for very good reasons. Photography these days is mostly shared online. It goes without saying that it is too easy to overdose on image viewing. I think this is the reason your advice is necessary. It’s not so much our failings as artists. It’s just too much internet and not enough shooting. Or it’s too much of both, in which case you’re both retired and single (haha). Art has always been the same. Either follow your own path and vision or fail.

  • Very inspiring and so true. Having been guilty of most of these, I am now taking your advice as well as letting others know of its value. I am still on my journey of finding who I am as a photographer. I need to start letting go of preconceived ideas and just go my own path and others will find me.

    Thanks heaps, probably the most insightful but logical advice I have read.