Getting Over Self Doubt :: Digital Photo Secrets

Getting Over Self Doubt

by David Peterson 9 comments

If you'll indulge me, I'm going to depart slightly from my normal subject of tips, and talk about your worth as a photographer (either pro, or just as a hobby). I hear from a lot of people asking "Am I creative?" "Am I talented enough to do this?" I’ve also had these thoughts. I’m sure you have too. It’s not uncommon for photographers (or everyone really) to feel self doubt. These thoughts, unfortunately, can stop us from doing all the fun stuff we want to do. Photography is not a particularly risky business, but there’s always an element of fear when you put your work out there for the world to see. How can you get over it? How can you learn to believe in yourself again? That's what we'll discuss today.

When I started this free photography tips site, I was told by friends and family that I really shouldn’t gave away my knowledge! They said I could be making so much more money at my day job, and photography should just be a hobby. How was I going to make it? What would I do without the structure and the regular paychecks? And yet, I couldn’t have been more creative. I had no choice but to be creative. To not be creative meant running out of money and having no means of supporting myself. It was do or die for me, so I did.

Now I know it’s not going to be like that for all of you, but my point is this. There is more potential inside of you than you think. You just need to stop listening to that annoying little conversation going on in your head. It’s defeating you, making you overly emotional, and wasting your time. Easier said than done, I know, but you’ve gotta start somewhere.

So here’s the practical bit. The 3 step process if you will.

  1. Don’t hesitate. It’s important to evaluate the riskiness of doing something, but we tend to get so absorbed in the process that it stops us from acting. Are you ready to take that next step? Maybe your goal is somewhat modest. Perhaps you just want to show your friends a few of your images. Some of you might be so ambitious as to start up a photography business. In either case, thinking about it much more won’t help. You’ve gotta act at some point.

    Hesitation stops you from getting into the zone with your work. My best images happen when I’m so engrossed in the art that I’ve stopped being critical. I simply create first and ask questions later. It’s not like there’s a consequence for failure. You just delete the images that don’t work out.

  2. Take a lot of photos. I mean lots and lots and lots. It’s much more difficult to doubt yourself when you’ve literally done everything possible. Invest enough time, and you’ll be able to see the nuances in what you are doing. You can’t really doubt yourself until you’ve had more than enough time to play with your gear.

    Color like this takes lots of practice. The more photos you take, the greater your chance of capturing it.

    Most people bumble around in their first few years, and then they have this brilliant stroke of insight. Where does it come from? I would hazard a guess that it’s the combination of skills they’ve learned over this time period. They start putting everything together, and it becomes one big “aha” moment. You’re going to hit a lot of plateaus before you hit your big aha.

  3. Do your best to remove emotion from the equation. Negative emotions harm you in more ways than I can say. They sap your motivation, and they make your creative time dull, tedious, and sometimes dreadful. This is the hardest one to overcome because it seeps into your life when you aren’t looking. Whenever I can see it coming, I just remind myself “David, be rational.” It’s sort of like saying “serenity now,” but believe me there will be no insanity later.

You can’t get caught up in what other people think of your work either. Art is too fickle a thing. Some people like certain things, and others like other things. If you’re trying to become a famous photographer, it’s even hairier. Just find the crowd that does like your work and create for those people.

The lesson? It’s all one big fun game of deception. Context matters. Popularity matters. Control what you can control, enjoy photography for its own sake, and believe in yourself. You’ll get so much more out that than you will from being naturally talented.

Most people think this post is Awesome. What do you think?


  1. Stephen McDowell says:

    Thanks David for this article. I've been procrastinating about putting my photos out there for sale. I guess deep down I didn't think they were good enough. This article has motivated me to start and put my photos out on the market. Also this article is true about just life in general. We all need to step up to the plate and take a swing at something out of our comfort zone.

  2. Tobie says:

    Such a lot of truth in this! When I started off with photography 3+ years ago, I focussed on Nature (I am in South Africa after all - the mecca of wildlife & bird photography!) and I took a lot of shots. About 10% of them were keepers. As I've learned more and more I started taking shots with more purpose - and my (outstanding) keepers krept up to about 20%. The result was much less time spent in LR & PS.

    Now that I'm starting to move into wedding & portrait photography I'll be taking a lot of shots again. As my experience & confidence grow I'll start shooting with more purpose again and I know everything will fall in place all by itself. At least this time I'm confident in my technical abilities - and my gear's. It's a good headstart.

  3. Lynette Pereira says:

    Hi David,
    WOW! Did I need this article from you! I have always enjoyed taking photographs and I am known as the trigger happy in our social group. My photos are often used by my friends as their profile photos and my scenic shots always commented on. My photos on my travels are used in articles too. I even take photos at my friends weddings and events and it is not an uncommon sight or compliment to me to have other photographers come and stand behind me to try capture the same photograph as me.
    With that background I got my first DSLR camera last year and I have been an absolute sponge in trying to learn all I can. Now 6 months later, one of the first pieces of advice I got from you is to take photos closer is the one paying off the most. I have my social group now awaiting me to start taking photographs for a fee - it has given me "stage fright" like you cant imagine! This article has made me "remember" why I take photographs in the first place - because I love to! And it is time that I get out there and start having fun again, whether it be for a fee or for my own pleasure as in the past, but the answer is to start TAKING photos and not only trying to learn all I can behind a computer. My stubbling block has been to ask myself - When can I call myself a photographer? Well the answer is I already am one! Thanks for your gift of photographic knowledge and your insight to help me get out my plateau I have obviously been in.

  4. Ron says:

    Fantastic piece! But the best thing about this is it doesn't apply just to photography...this is what can, (or does), make life so fulfilling!

  5. Dumblabrat says:

    Thanks for this: every now and then I feel I have lost my edge especially with my photography (which is a hobby). I shall print this out and keep it on my notice board for my self-doubt-riddled days.

  6. Karen says:

    you are right on cue for me with this one, hesitation being a Big block. Everything you said reinforced what I've been telling myself... I'm off to get reacquainted with my gorgeous camera, have some fun and maybe a little less critical for now! Thank you David

  7. Tina says:

    Self-doubt is one of my biggest enemies. Thanks for that motivational spiel, David.


  8. Richard says:

    Very well put David. Also everyone needs to study their photos, and ask themselves, could I have adjusted the exposure,aperture, compensation, focal length, changed my focal points ect. What could I have changed to improve?

  9. Stan says:

    Getting over self doubt!!!

    When I was much younger I was given some good advice. To become a good photographer, take lots photographs. Keep the good ones and dump the rest. In these days of digital camera, there is no longer the expense of developing and printing - so there is no excuse not to. Take a number of exposures for every picture you take and keep only the best. Try the tips that are in David's email's, but also try different settings. If they turn out good, you have learned something new. If 'bad' you know why and will be able to recognize the problem when you see it in other photographs. By this time you will probably have forgotten all about your 'self doubt' :-)

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