Monday, October 30, 2006

Pressure To Perform

Most of us shoot for ourselves. We may have ambitions to sell our work, but we get to choose the subjects we photograph and we have another source of income so we won't actually starve if we don't photograph or even harder, don't take 'great' photographs.

So there's no pressure to perform, right?


Pressure comes from all manner of sources, from within and without. We set ourselves up to be pressured. We share our work with others thus setting up expectations of quality that are hard to maintain, at least on a regular basis. My setting up this blog puts pressure on me - I need images to publish - all text makes George a dull boy. If we are selling our work we need new images to maintain client interest.

If we are lucky enough to publish, the glow doesn't last long and soon we are looking for new mountains to conquer - new places we can get our work published. I remember telling myself that if I ever got my work in Lenswork, that would be the be all end all and I could rest on my laurels after that - yea, right!

It doesn't matter what we accomplish, we soon want to move on and achieve the next goal. Our achievements might be modest - giving a print to a family member, showing our work at the local Camera Club, simply having an image good enough to spend $25 on a frame.

If 10 people a day visit my website or blog, then I want 20, if thousands, then more thousands.

So, lots of pressure, much of it self generated based on assumptions about what other people think.

I wrote previously about '10 things to do to get out of a slump' but here I want to discuss coping with the pressure.

First, simply recognizing that the pressure is self generated is a start - identify your enemy.

Second is to analyse the way that the pressure affects us. The obvious thing to do is to take even better photographs but this implies that we shoot more of the same thing, only better. This is a direction of very limited scope. Yes, you might eventually get a better shot of a particular mountain, but if you keep photographing the same subject in the same style, the odds of creating anything better are slim, even though that is what we want to do.

Rather we need to create something different. It may turn out to be better, it may be worse, but do we really need to make the same shot as before only better and is it even realistic to anticipate that we could make the same shot better. I mean, how could you take the same shot only better - do we look for a nicer tree, a rockier rock, a wetter stream?

I think we need to get past the idea of improving on previous photography and simply move on to new photography. Perhaps our mantra should be' been there, done that.

This isn't to say that we should abandon the places we love, but rather that if we revisit old haunts, we need to challenge ourselves to say something different about it, to try to make a different photograph, not a better one.

I strongly believe that in doing this we will improve our photography without trying to 'improve'.


Concentrik said...

Bayles and Orland write most eloquently about this in their book "Art and Fear"...... highly recommended, it encourages and builds confidence - it has moved me on lots of times when I've been 'stuck'

Gary Nylander said...

Writing from the perspective of a photographer that earns my living from photography I have personal experience in regards to "pressure to perform" as I deal with it more or less on a daily basis as staff photographer for the local daily newspaper in Kelowna, B.C.

For instance when I covered the massive forest fires during the summer of 2003 in the Okanagan here it made headlines around the country, not only was I expected to produce great images for the paper I work for, also I was making images for Canadian Press, which our which our paper is a member of, which distribute photos to most papers across Canada. So I had a lot of "heavy weight" on my shoulders during that time as other papers and magazines were eager to grab any good pictures they could get a hold of. Thankfully I don't have to deal with that kind of pressure every day.

On my time off when I photograph and there are few professional photographers who have been in the business after 30 thirty years and still enjoying making photographs on thier days off and holidays, the pressure is suposed to be more relaxed, but the pressure from the job still spills over into my personal work, beacuase I don't like to produce anything but the best !