Are you walking the right path?
It’s without a doubt that the internet and social media have connected people from all over the world and have made connections between total strangers who share the same passion for a certain craft such as photography. This has allowed for global virtual communities like Fstoppers to exist and bring together photography enthusiasts from all walks of life. However, this has also made a good fraction of people in the community to get over competitive to a point where they would attack and hate on people for simply not being as good as they expect, or having a contrasting opinion about gear, shooting techniques, or post-processing.
Photographers can be really competitive and that can be good to a certain extent. Good and healthy competition can fuel one’s passion and push them to become better photographers and better artists. But be wary of growing competitive to a toxic extent. You’ll never be the best photographer around anyway. And that’s a good thing.
Is There Even Such a Thing?
Is there even a person who can officially be called the best photographer around? How does one even get considered for that and who would be the ones to make the call? For one to be deemed the best, wouldn’t it have to be someone of more superior expertise to decide who is best? But then wouldn’t they just be proclaiming themselves? It’s a chicken-and-egg question, actually. What criteria would be used to determine this? Would it be based on how much a professional photographer makes? Or who gets the most prestigious work? Would it be stratified per genre of photography? Would it be based on nominations or based on the number of photo contest wins? Or maybe it depends on who gets more sponsors and free gear? No. Of course not.
As children, many of us were taught to aim to be the best at something but clearly, some limits have to be defined. If at one point in your journey as a photographer, you find yourself frustrated for not achieving something you planned for, or worse, for not achieving something that someone else did, then you might be looking at the wrong direction for yourself and should rethink your reasons for being a photographer.
If you were at the top, how long would you be there? In the same way that a new camera comes every couple of months to top what seems to be the best one around, new talents emerge every day. It may take time for someone to become extraordinarily good, but good photographers become great every day. If you would be the best at one point, only to know that this coveted stature would be short-lived, would you still aim for it?
Photography and Art Are Subjective
Appreciation of a piece varies entirely on who is looking and who is judging. This is a given for all photography contests and competitions. Judging is solely based on the taste and opinion of the appointed judge and this method works for determining (subjectively) the best photographer in the pool of photographers who submitted entries and joined the competition. But to be the absolute best photographer in the world, is it a valid measure?
Why Is This Good?
You probably already knew everything mentioned above but I do hope you got to this point in reading this article. This is a good thing because knowing that fact reminds you of the more important things: self-improvement and a constant desire to learn. There might not be an absolute best photographer in the world but some of the best photographers you will ever meet are the humblest, nicest, and friendliest people around. It may not apply to all of the great master photographers but you can definitely see that a lot of them, even though many people admire and follow them, never stop seeking to learn new things.
The only kind of competition you should be craving is against yourself. If even just by one bit, you can say that you were better than you were yesterday, that is a win. Being overly competitive can be toxic and impede your growth as an artist. If your craft revolves only around things that you consider triumphs against other people, winning contests, getting praises, getting perks, that can turn you into a frustrated mess. No matter who you are, no matter how good you are, no matter if you do photography professionally or as a hobby, your journey as a photographer will have its highs and lows, and believe me, it’s better that you get used to the lows before you take a plunge that you weren’t prepared for. For every opportunity to practice your craft, there will be failures. There will be mistakes. If you’re a professional, there will be some blunders along the way. There will be some regrets one way or another. But what’s important is that you take what you should out of them and we’re not talking about the pain and failure here. Always choose to learn out of every challenge.
Focus your creativity on fueling your passion. You weren’t born just to please anyone and certainly not everyone. In fact, aiming to do so will just push you towards being burnt out. The craft may be very subjective but be objective towards yourself. Find your strengths and treat them as your weapons. Develop your skills from your strengths and they should take you to the right path. On the other hand, also be objective in identifying your weaknesses. It has been said that a person who knows their own weaknesses are more successful in avoiding failure. Know them, acknowledge them, and work on them at a pace that you can take. Some photographers become great photographers in a month or in a year’s time. Some take longer and that doesn’t really matter. You will never be the best photographer around and that’s okay. You will still be a great one. Enjoy the journey. That’s all that matters.
I dont think it was mentioned anywhere that aiming to be better is bad. In fact I encouraged yearning to be better.
The top photo of the Santa Monica pier caught my eye, I was happy to get a shot of that myself a little while back. Good article, I have owned a DSLR for 4 years and it has been quite a journey, seeing the pictures on Fstoppers can almost be discouraging because they are so amazing, but it has pushed me to do better and learn more. I am not competing to make a living, I just do this as a hobby, but artistically challenging myself to be better has been a fun journey. Also, if I ever get too full of myself, I know there will always be someone on Fstoppers rate my photos at 2 stars! (just kidding, I think).
My own Santa Monica Pier shot just for fun..,
Way to go, Mark! Seeing great photos by other people is one thing, how you react to it is another. Let them inspire you and you won't go wrong. Cheers!
Excellent point on how sometimes seeing too many great photos can be discouraging. Earlier in my photography journey I could picture images similar to some of these Fstoppers images but I just couldn't quite pull the same beauty and emotion out of my images and got extremely frustrated. It's pretty hard to find someone who will honestly critique your photos in my experience. Friends don't want to hurt your feelings so they just say it's good and strangers have better things to do with their lives than take a long hard look at a strangers photograph and give them an in depth break down. I've had to sort of teach myself how to break down every aspect of these images and then self critique my images to see what I'm missing and it's helped quite a bit but I know I still have a long way to go. This image I took is light years ahead of the ones I started with but still light years behind some of the travel photographers on here or IG. I'll get there though, just have to keep pushing and learning.
I recently participated in a local photography contest - essentially a popularity contest / Facebook poll where the winning photo will grace the cover of our community calendar. I'm happy to be a finalist, and that my photo will appear in the calendar... but my ego craves the spot on the cover! So I dwell on it and think of all the reason why I might not win, reasons why I should win over others. I'm proud of my work and the modest achievements and milestones I've reached, but there's something about competition and pure external validation that just plain feels good, ahahah
Of course there is and theres nothing wrong with that. Whats important is that you don't let losses bring you down. :)
Really love your insight on this! In my opinion it's spot on! Congrats!