The Wall



Seemingly insurmountable.

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 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.

← Previous post

Next post →


  1. Love the Mulan shoutout. 😛

  2. this happens a lot in motion pictures. As a cameraman, you often look at other master works and question your own career choice. You want to really cheer for the other person, but usually your heart is buried in your own disappointment. The only solution, I found, is to embrace your unique vision. In other words, you were chosen for a reason. And be critical of your own self. have you progressed? Have you told the story you wanted to tell? Did you do your best? Often times, I hear from a director that they’re getting criticism openly for their project (BEFORE it’s even completed). My answer to that is “you’re out here doing it, all they’re doing is talking.”

    Keep doing it. Let others talk.

  3. Thank you for this! Only last week i was cursing my own work and had hit “The wall” too many times in the past few months. I started to dread weddings and the fear of bad lighting, bad people and bad weather. I too had some fantastic feedback from my last wedding (which i felt was my less quality work) was nail biting while waiting for feedback when they praised me! Phew! i think all creative people hit “the wall” Thank you for this as you have basically saved my self worth! 🙂

  4. Not just professionals, I am a serious hobbyist landscaper and that wall is a harsh thing to hit. The first few times it’s seriously depressing and you wonder if you’ll ever see a way over but the only way I found is to get serious. Go out and just keep shooting. It may take one new trick you learned while you were out or it can take a couple of months of shooting but if you keep pushing you do get over the wall each time. As a serious hobbyist I’ve been lucky to get some magazine articles and sell a few prints here and there but I see people going out and shooting the world’s most amazing sights and it just kills me to know I have to head off to my day-job rather than grabbing my kit and heading off to location.

    You’re so right about those little messages that turn up, people get behind you and when it’s someone you look up to that turns around and congratulates you on a great shot or full shoot, you don’t so much climb that wall, you smash right through it!

  5. This seems like a somewhat inspirational piece on a website dedicated to making fun of everyone else’s work. Are you bipolar or just bitter?

    • I don’ think she is bitter. As a photographer, I think this is just trying to help people realize that photography is not something in which you can claim to be a professional without knowledge and experience. I think if she was trying to put people on blast she wouldn’t block out the names on the watermarks.

    • Hi Chase!

      While, yes, the name and typical content of this site does point to satire, sarcasm and shaming of unspeakably horrible work, this is actually another facet of the site where contributors can post inspirational, educational and informative articles from a “helping hand” point of view.
      My hubby and I are merely one of several professional contributors to THIS section of the website. The more fun stuff is back on the main page!

      Thanks for your comment!

      M & J.

  6. This is THE BEST article I’ve ever read on this site. It’s so unbelievably accurate it’s scary.

  7. Thank you for this post! My “wall” is just recently started to come down.. I gave up photography for a whole year because I was comparing myself wayyyy too much. And i graduated with a bachelors in fine art photography! But just today a potential client told me “i want you to do my pictures because no one else has pictures like yours.. Everyone else’s look the same” i was like whaaa??? Literally the best compliment ever!

  8. Hi Chase!

    While, yes, the name and typical content of this site does point to satire, sarcasm and shaming of unspeakably horrible work, this is actually another facet of the site where contributors can post inspirational, educational and informative articles from a “helping hand” point of view.
    My hubby and I are merely one of several professional contributors to THIS section of the website. The more fun stuff is back on the main page 🙂
    Thanks for your comment!

    M & J.

  9. I have been a photographer since 1989. I am know going through my 3rd major stage of the wall after returning to finish what started out as a Fine Art Film Photography degree. Now I almost 40 and learning in a digital world of photography. And all I can say is wow, I want my darkroom and photography buddies back. Actually i still have a running darkroom. Its my own private idaho at the moment. The way I have seen people fling the word professional around makes me sick. I am the one of the last of who knows how many classically trained photographers in my age group and my goal is to teach film now, after school. I don’t want to shoot crap portraits now when the clients think they should only pay me in gum money when there are several reasons why my prices are firm. I have sat back and watched this photographer phenomenon and my soul died a little as I saw what most folks in social media like and want in portraits over the years. I just don’t think people know good photography.
    I really dig this article, I printed it out and its taped by my PC!

  10. I had a great laugh after reading Phase 1, how accurate! Despite not being an established professional, I am very, very familiar with The Wall. I recognized just yesterday that I’m spending too much energy being wistful over the work of other photographers, and instead of inspiring me it’s starting to bring me down and even confusing me about my own style. I personally think a huge part of the problem is familiarity… we are so accustomed to what we, ourselves, produce that we stop seeing it for how good and unique it is, we can only scrutinize for flaws and compare with So-and So. And “fall short”, of course, because even if we were in the same location with the same equipment as So-and-So, our final images would look different – that’s the thumbprint. But recently I saw one of my seniors and her sister (a junior) who had just had picture exchange day at school. They said they were both mobbed by people wanting to know who her photographer was… they went on and on about how much the other kids liked her images. There’s the ladder and I’m climbing! Thank you for this great perspective from a place of wisdom.

  11. I like that you mention hitting a wall. I am not a professional, but a hobbyist who charges a low rate as I build up my portfolio.

    I have had SO many great clients and people come to me asking for tips and telling me my work is great.

    But I also had 1 person who has been a nightmare, and a bunch of difficult people all of a sudden. I have been doubting my skills, and thinking I should stop taking clients.

    I took a month off for personal time, and I think it was a good chance to get perspective. I am only 2 weeks into the break, and I have been turning people away right and left. They all keep telling me that they really want me, and they like my work. The ones who are not looking for an event photographer have scheduled for when I return.

    It made me realize that one person who yells loud enough is going to find people who also agree my work is bad, because that is what he’s searching for. But the fact that there are far more people who like my work and are happy is what I should be focusing on.

    And yes, I should always be critiquing my work, and looking to do it better next time. but it is still good now too.

  12. I cannot help but shake my head as I read through these articles. How old is the writer? Sounds like a high school kid who is full of him/herself talking out their ass. On occasion a point is made, but overall, just poor writing.

Leave a Reply