It’s an unavoidable obstacle, and it can be one heck of a roadblock on your journey to bettering yourself and developing your skill as an aspiring photographer.
“The Wall,” as many a pro will refer to it as, is an inevitable breaking-point that occurs several, if not many, times over the course of a photographer’s career. It slowly and quietly constructs itself from your endless perusing and drooling over other’s fabulously striking work. Their work is so beautiful, fresh, flawless; and it is the innocent beginning of what will snowball into a very depressing, uncertain period of time.
Here is the timeline of an average professional photographer’s life:
Stage 1 or, “The Day I Decided to Set Up Shop and Take People’s Money Pictures.”
When you first begin your exciting journey into the world of photography, you are typically convinced that the DSLR gods gifted you everything there is to know about taking good pictures when you opened up that brand-spankin’-new camera on your birthday or Christmas Day. You are a self-proclaimed master and eagerly create an awesome Wix.com website or a free blog ( along with an obnoxiously giddy Facebook “fan page,” of course ). You hang up your “Free Pictures in Exchange for You Telling All of Your Friends About Me” sign, post 183 photos of flowers and wait.
Stage 2 or, “Time to Get My Learn On!”
You’ve been “in business” for a little while now and, if you are deciding to stay away from fauxtog-land, have decided that it might be prudent to learn some things. So, you pick up some books, surf the web, maybe even reach out to some local pros to pick their brain and snag some advice. This is a good stage. You’re realizing that you don’t want to shoot flowers and cats forever and that you need to actually know what you’re doing when people put their precious memories into your hands. Go for it. Eat it up. Knowledge is good, but ( and excuse me while I gag a little bit here ) stay true to YOU. There are endless, endless ways to take a picture, stylistically. Everyone has a fingerprint in the photographic industry. Hone your skill and talent to reflect both a professional grasp of technique and a firm foundation in your personal style.
Stage 3 or, “Let’s Get Down to Business” ( …to defeat the Huns… sorry. )
In this stage, you are ready to get serious about your career choice and are chomping at the bit to get everything in line. Taxes, branding, marketing, and a partridge in a pear tree await your eager motivation. Settle down; this stuff will never be fun, I promise.
Stage 4 or, “Going, Going! … Gone?”
This is the stage where The Wall comes shooting up between you and your dreams, goals and generally happy, happy-place. You’ve learned so much, you’ve meticulously refined your business plan, you are booking clients left and right… but one day out of nowhere, it will hit you:
“I wish I was as good as ___________ photographer / photography.”
Now, everyone looks up to someone. Everyone has inspiration. The Wall, however, is when that inspiration becomes obsessive aspiration and tailspins into intense self-criticism. Being even with yourself about your weaknesses and areas that need improvement is great, but hitting The Wall is not that. It’s you looking at the work of others ( typically, your photographer-idol ) and slowly starting to loathe your own creativity. Many will describe this time in their career as feeling completely knowledge-less, despite thorough understanding. They’ll say it is a time of feeling your worst, because your best doesn’t look like theirs. They get published in every magazine and blog while you are scrapping for Facebook “likes.” They are jet-setting to Europe to shoot luxurious destination weddings while, in the meantime, you methodically scroll through the 15th gloomy, yellow church ceremony. You’ll feel like you’re not good enough, that you’re stuck in a dead-end dream, that you’ve lost your inspiration… It is an incredibly anxious and emotionally tumultuous time.
Stage 5 or, “Finding Your Ladder.”
When I hit the wall, it was just me. My husband, Justin was creating amazingly beautiful images, flawless finish and loving every moment. I, on the other hand, was chipping away at my own creativity and scrutinizing every photo with a harsh eye. I was lost. I hated my work and drove to every shoot with a sense of dread and resentment. I couldn’t be like so-and-so photography, and it tore me up. I was constantly pulling up photos online and saying to Justin, “SEE? Look at that! Look at the lighting, the color, everything! WHY can I not do that??” and on and on. It was exhausting and very unhealthy for my passion.
Then one day, this popped up in my inbox:
“I just wanted to let you know that you did such an amazing job at Bride + Groom’s wedding! The pictures are absolutely incredible and look like they belong in a magazine!! I wish I had your eye, you guys are amazing! I love how you make every shoot unique to the couple themselves! Every picture you take looks different, yet flows so perfectly with you style! You are an inspiration to me!”
Me? An inspiration? For someone else? The thought was so foreign to me that I nearly fell out of my seat. But you know what? that little blurb of encouragement and affirmation of my talent hit home so deeply that it built a ladder, rung by rung, all the way to the top of my Wall.
And over I climbed.
After that day, I made a conscious decision that I was going to approach every, single wedding with the same enthusiasm and determination to make it, “our best one yet.” I stopped pre-dooming myself with issues like bad lighting, ordinary décor and non-outgoing people. Instead, we charged forward into every shoot with the idea that we would come out of it with the best images we’ve ever taken. This emotional grounding has made an unbelievable difference in my life and the way I look at my work. Once I climbed that ladder and hurdled The Wall, our company took off in a brand-new direction and we haven’t looked back since.
Stage 6 or, “The Rest of the Ride.”
Being a professional photographer, no matter the industry, is difficult. It can be downright infuriating, terrifying and rewarding ( occasionally all at once ). One of the most pointed pieces of advice we can ever give to anyone aspiring to become the best they can be is to never stop learning. You’ve seen them: the old pros that have stalled in their creativity because, well, they know everything. They know the perfect techniques for posing, lighting and post-production and stick to it, forever.
It’s not a bad thing to be grounded in knowledge. It’s a bad thing to be stuck in your norm. You can produce perfect images, technically speaking, but if you don’t insert a bit of your own style and thumbprint into your work, then it can easily become dull, lifeless and stale. Don’t ever stop learning. There is a plethora of awesome material out there; get your hands on it and own it. Try new things and don’t be afraid to experiment. You’ll have ups and downs and upside-downs, but one thing will always remain true:
No other hands create your vision but your own.
Decide what that vision is and ride it through the hard parts. It’s ok and healthy, even, to doubt yourself. It’s perfectly acceptable to think you are the worst photographer on the planet and that you’ll never amount to anything spectacular. That’s fine.
It’s up to you to prove yourself wrong and tackle that Wall when it appears. And, if you’re in that rut right now, grab your ladder and start climbing.
The view is much better on the other side, I promise.