Cut the CRAP – just take pictures

A friend of mine was down the other day—he’s a great photographer who takes photos that tell stories, but he’s facing a lot of negativity lately, and his online presence seems to have reached a plateau, according to what he told me.

We all have days when it seems we should just chuck the camera out the window, flush down dreams of publishing or selling prints, and just move to Tahiti and lose ourselves in the depths of mango daquiris.

Like all arts, photography has loads of aspirants, and like all arts, it breaks the heart when no one seems to appreciate what we produce.

We all want appreciation, if not accolades.

But there’s some things we can keep in mind to help us keep going and not give up. First, we have to remember that what gets us down is CRAP. CRAP stands for the four things that slam us down and try to keep us there.

Criticism

Many people are afraid to put their photos online for fear of criticism. I remember one of my favorite images being dismissed in an online forum as a “Mills and Boon” cover—a reference to a series of short romance novels that entertained millions of mostly female readers in the 1970s but which had shallow, predictable plots. When this happened, instead of reacting negatively and dumping my romance with the camera, I began to think of it as an inspiration. What if I could tell stories with my photos? What if the stories were not cliché and predictable, but surprised or elicited discussion? Rather than let the criticism get me down, I struggled and broke through with personal projects that explored the idea of narrative photography.

The image that began my passion for storytelling was criticized. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Rejection

One of the best ways to get better is to enter competitions or to submit photos for critique. It’s not easy to do this, because there is always the fear that the work is not good enough, and there could be unflattering things said about the photos submitted. But let’s face it—we are all learning, at this craft. What matters is the feedback.

Recently, I submitted a photo for a critique, on the theme “Solitude.” Not a landscape photographer, but one who is trying to learn this genre, I submitted a photo that I admit only approximates the landscape genre. It was a photo I took because of the values (black and white and shades of gray in between) and not for the composition or content. So of course when I submitted it, one of the editors told me that it was a good attempt, but it was not a very good match for the theme.

 

Rejection can bind us, but it can also strengthen us. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

This is by no means the hardest rejection I’ve had to face. I’ve submitted a series of photos to an editor I’ve worked with before, and she’s told me in very polite sentences to “submit excellent photos next time.” Rather than cry over it, I went back and tried to see my submissions with an editor’s eye. What I learned in that reflection is probably something that will help me do better at future assignments.

Assholes

Yes, there are assholes in our world. For some reason that is esoteric or egoistic, there will always be someone for whom your work is not ‘pure’ enough, or not Photoshopped enough.

That’s not your problem.

Not pure enough? Not Photoshopped enough? Not your problem. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Pressure

Finally, the P in CRAP is for pressure. Pressure can come to us through an assignment, a deadline, a contest, a critique, a creative problem. It could even be the limits of our equipment.

One thing that’s comforting to know about pressure is that with certain amounts of it, creativity can flourish.

 

The secret is to just take pictures. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

We’re all equipped with skills, more or less, and when the bar is raised to produce from these skills, we can use that added pressure to add to those skills. A bit of pressure gives us new challenges that will bring new learning, so it’s good to embrace this pressure and allow ourselves to relax. Relaxing can lead to openness, and openness increases the chances of getting into flow.

If we just cut the CRAP, we’d be able to do what we really want to do, any way: just take pictures.

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You might also like:
Be a Photographer, Not a Lens Changer
Let the Shadows Speak
All You Need is a Window
Let the Light Inspire You
The Beginner’s Guide to Photography’s Holy Trinity
11 Ways to Build a Better Photo

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About Aloha

I am a photographer and writer currently based in Bangkok, Thailand. My work has appeared in CNNGo, Canon's PhotoYou magazine, Seventeen magazine, The Korea Times, Thailand Tatler, and a few photography books including recently Blogging for Creatives, a book published in the UK. I believe there is nothing you cannot imagine that you cannot do.

10 Responses to “Cut the CRAP – just take pictures”

  1. Aloha,
    I’ve really been enjoying your articles lately. Ever since that trip to India, I’ve been focusing on photography as an aspiring amateur. At some point I hope to incorporate photography into travel writing as a way to make a living while we sail around the world. I have a feeling that this article will come back to me at an appropriate moment. Thanks for taking the time to put it all down for us.

  2. Tucker,
    Thanks for the comment and kind words. It’s great news that you’re taking your photography a bit more seriously. It’s a fun craft, you’ll never stop learning. Sailing around the world sounds like an awesome adventure! I hope you’ll share your trip with us in future, do send me the link when you start writing about it. Take care.

  3. Aloha,
    This was a really enjoyable and enlightening article! As someone who doesn’t endeavor to be a published photographer but needs to take pictures that capture the essence of things as simple and beautiful as rocks, the whole crap thing really spoke to me. I look forward to hearing more from you in the future!

  4. Hi therockshaman, thanks for stopping by and leaving your comment! The crap thing really spoke to me, too. There’s only so much crap we can take, but hopefully taking it all with a grain of salt makes it easier to go on doing what we do and not giving up. All the best to you!
    Aloha

  5. This article was great. I’m going to remember this next time I am stressing over a photo shoot! Great article, Aloha! And the photos are stunning.

  6. Teresa Walker May 12, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    I am learning so much from your posts! I love your work and just wanted to thank you so much for sharing :)

  7. Hi Siobhan, thanks! It’s hard not to stress over a shoot, but it helps to keep it all in perspective.

  8. Hi Teresa, thanks for stopping by. One thing I’ve learned about photography is that it has a special karma–sharing brings a lot of learning, too. :)

  9. Aloha-
    I love your photography and really appreciate this article! As someone who’s just starting to get a feel for photography and still not real sure of myself it’s been tough to hear negative criticism at times. As I’ve taken more photos and become more sure of myself it doesn’t bother me too much anymore, but It’s good to know that it never ends- and that someone else’s opinion is not the end of the world ;c) Thanks!

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