Oh, the struggles of photography – I don’t know many people involved in this activity who never faces any struggles, therefore I have recently asked my Instagram friends what their struggles in photography are. Here is the list of what people came up with:
- Having The Confidence Of Calling Yourself A Photographer
- Getting Paid
- Clients Having No Clue About What They Want
- Finding Interesting Subjects
- How To Travel To The Moon
- Light Reflections On the Lens When Shooting The Sunset
- Lack Of Patience And Too Much Preplanning
- Getting Tripod Just Right
- Finding Time To Do More Of It And Get Better
- Gear Acquisition Syndrom
While all of us struggle with inspiration from time to time (some more than others), here are a few things that can help boost your creative flow:
- Hanging out with other creatives.
- Going on photo walks (while hanging out with other creatives), just don’t get too carried away discussing gear instead of taking photos.
- Purchasing (and actually reading or skimming through) photography books.
- Watching youtube videos of people whose work you enjoy.
- Starting a 30-day project of photographing something (if you are ambitious enough, you can go for 365, but I personally never managed).
- Going to photo exhibitions and photography talks.
- Buying a new camera or lens (expensive option and doesn’t last long).
- Travelling somewhere cool (also, not a cheap option).
Sometimes you just simply need a break. Let yourself rest for a bit. When I have too much work, I have very little inspiration to do any photography for myself. When I have long periods of time not working, I start seeing photos everywhere.
Another opinion on the subject suggests that inspiration is for amateurs, and if you want to do something – just start doing it and inspiration will come in the process.
Having The Confidence Of Calling Yourself A Photographer
This subject more often than not has to do with the confidence of the said individual in question rather than the possessed skills and talents. But keep in mind that your thoughts become your reality. If you constantly tell yourself that you can’t and you’re not good enough, you’re not going to get really far. Also, if you think you are not cool enough to hang out with some well-established photographers, how will you ever learn? Be brave, send them a message and I am sure they would be delighted to share a moment of their life with you.
Personally, it took me the longest time to unequivocally call myself a photographer and the imposter syndrome still kicks in some days. Where I come from (and I suspect that not only where I come from) people tend to say: “Everyone is a photographer”, which doesn’t help to be confident enough to say hey, but actually I am one. I also always liked to write, and yet I would definitely be hesitant to call myself a writer or even a blogger, though I have written more than 37 thousand words on this blog.
If it makes it easier, you can call yourself a creative or an artist. I personally dislike the term “content creator”, but that’s what some people do. Other people edit their pictures to the point that it becomes more of a digital artwork than photography, and that’s great, don’t get me wrong – everyone is free to do whatever they want and call themselves whatever they feel like. I am a photographer, sometimes a videographer, and an artist. I know, it is easier to apply this term to yourself if that’s your main occupation, you have a business license and people constantly compliment you on your images, but believe me, even if you never received an award or made a penny out of your photography, you still can call yourself a photographer.
Fake it till you make it worked well for me, but you can also be honest in your insecurities and let other people help you grow. In any case, when was the last time someone pointed a finger at you and yelled: “You are not a real photographer!”? Right, just what I thought.
Being consistent is a hard work that only comes with practice, but it surely pays off. Consistency in your photos can only be achieved by merciless practice in hope to find your style one day and having the relentlessness to stick to it.
Consistency is a desirable attribute because if you are a working professional then the client when looking at your photos, will know exactly what they are going to receive as a final product. Consistency also makes your work recognizable – something that so many of us are striving for, but few of us manage to achieve.
A few things that might help you with consistency in your images:
- Teach yourself to shoot with manual settings on your camera.
- Limit your colour palette (easier if you shoot in black and white only).
- Use the same filter again and again for all the photos.
- Create your own preset and apply it to anything you photograph.
- Stick to the same focal length, same lens, same camera, and same white balance (if conditions don’t change).
- Look at your portfolio and try to identify what is the key elements already present in your photography and build up on that.
As for me, my signature look is beautiful hues of pinks and purples at sunset/sunrise, rather wide angle shots and including something to the foreground to add the 3d feel to the image.
When it comes to street photography, as much as I enjoy monochromes, my signature style is lots of yellows and oranges with an occasional occurrence of the blue. It’s not that I tend to shoot this way, but more often than not they come out this way.
I would be lying if I said I don’t struggle with consistency, and often times I would photograph something only to later decide it doesn’t follow my (not so) curated Instagram feed and completely abandon the idea of posting it online.
It is a disease worse than coronavirus of having clients who want everything to be done yesterday, but when it comes to paying you, they will take 6 months or more to process a somewhat insignificant sum of money. I myself have a client (a huge national oil company) who owes me money since 2020, and they just simply said we cannot pay you. So you mean, I can drive for 2 hours one way to another emirate, sweat for 4 hours in your facilities, and give you photos the same day, and you are unable to pay me for that? hmmmm….
Well, first of all, it is a sound idea to always have a contract signed by the client, so that if they end up owing you large sums of money, you can take that thing to court, but of course for the small amounts of money that would not be helpful.
Harass them, if needed. Clients have no problem harassing us when they need their photos at the “end of the day”, so you should not feel bad to call or email them every day for your payment if needed. However, be empathetic, it can be that your clients are facing some issues and if they communicate that, see if you can work out some kind of extended payment scheme where they can pay you what they owe over several months – better than nothing, I suppose.
To save yourself from having to harass your clients after the shoot, you can ask them to pay you upfront, but in my practice, it almost never works. Mostly due to the fact that they know they might cancel themselves and want to save the trouble of getting their money back from you.
clients having no clue what they want
Another curse in photography is dealing with clients who want either something unrealistic for the budget that they planned or have no idea what they see the final image to be like. I have faced situations where the clients would send me a brief full of moody dark images, and then when I shot it (in front of them) and sent it over, they said that they wanted something bright and airy. Of course, you can say – communication is the key, but it doesn’t always work. Ok, let’s agree some people are outright batshit crazy and no matter what you do they will never be happy. Other clients just don’t know what they want – and when you don’t know, it is unlikely that the photographer will figure it out either. The only solution is to be patient and repeat again: “Tell me exactly what you want…”
Finding Interesting Subjects
Blessed are those living in photogenic places and big cities where something is always happening, but even there some of us struggle to find interesting subjects to shoot.
Here is something you can do:
- If there is nothing interesting happening outside, you can set up a studio or rent a studio and shoot your friend or a model.
- Try some new techniques, like panning, slow shutter, silhouette, shooting through things, isolating a particular colour, shooting low, and shooting shadows… there is always something you can try.
- Go to the neighbourhood you don’t often visit or have never been before
- Spend a day with volunteers, there are always a bunch of interesting subjects hanging around.
- Wake up early and go find the fishermen (or farmers), or delivery people. There is always someone working early.
I think first of all you need to identify what you’re enjoying photographing because what I might find an interesting subject (like shooting the Saudis doing some Saudi things), might be of zero interest to other people. My friend told me that when he lived in the US he loved just to sit at the mall and look at people (what I like to do here), but he has no interest in watching Saudi people in the mall (he lives in Riyadh), cause he says he knows everything about them.
How To Travel To The Moon
Now that’s an unusual struggle. Currently, I have no solution for this one apart from maybe becoming an astronaut.
According to Google, all proposed missions to the Lunar surface are for professional astronauts only and are not the type of thing where anyone could pay money to go to the Moon. Some private companies have proposed tourist trips to the lunar surface, but none of these have started serious development.
But, don’t lose hope, things might develop in your favour. For now, we are stuck here, shooting the moon from the Earth.
Light Reflections On the Lens When Shooting The Sunset
All kinds of unexpected elements creeping into your photos are usually unwanted – dust in the sensor that you don’t ever manage to get out, the light reflections (especially bad with iPhone photography), lens flare, chromatic aberrations, vignetting, digital noise and that’s just the short list of those.
What can particularly help you deal with the light reflections (by which I think you mean flares) is using the lens hood in some cases, but if you are shooting directly into the sun, the hood won’t do much… some lenses have a larger number of glass elements inside and arranged in a particular way that they just catch those in no time. Personally, I don’t mind it so much – it is an additional interesting feature that happens in your photography, but if it occurs every time, then it might start driving you mad. So here is a technique you can use (if you are familiar with masking techniques in photoshop and please let me know if you’d like me to describe the whole process in a separate post)… so:
- Your camera should be tripodized (fixed on a tripod, or wherever in space that it wouldn’t move).
- You shoot your scene with the sun where it is, the foreground is usually hit with the lens flare, and maybe a piece of the sky too.
- You put your finger in front of the lens to block the sun (works the same way with ceiling lights in art galleries or anywhere).
- Take your two photos with and without the finger to photoshop, and blend them to perfection.
That’s all I got to say, really.
Lack Of Patience And Too Much Preplanning
I don’t know how one can be a photographer without patience, as this is like 85% of everything you are doing. For portrait photography you have to have the patience to get to know the person in order to make them feel comfortable, for street photography you have to wait for someone to show up in the ultimate location, for landscape photography, all you do is wait for that moment of decent light, so perhaps you should work on your patience (I think it is kind of like a muscle and you can make it grow). On the other hand, if you have no patience, and you think that you’re gonna plan it all and it will work out this way, well, I have bad news for you – too much planning often leads to disappointment when just one thing doesn’t go your way. Meditation helps people with patience problems, and I’d recommend cutting social media that promotes short-term entertainment options.
As a landscape photographer, I will tell you this – when you think it is over, wait another 20 minutes and then leave. Don’t bring someone impatient with you, as they are going to drag you away from potentially the shot of the day.
Also, learn to accept the fact that if today didn’t work, you might need to come back another time, or two, or five. One day you’ll be lucky, and by repeating this exercise you are growing your patience and resilience.
Another point is when I can’t do anything about planning my photography time, I just document – it still allows me to enjoy my hobby and exercise some creative muscle.
But for you, I of course wish you to always be in the right place at the right time and have everything aligned in your frame like you imagined. Inshallah.
Getting Tripod Just Right
Well, don’t get me started on the subject of tripods – they are a curse and a blessing. They are a pain to carry but can help you with things like long exposures or time-lapses. And there is absolutely no tripod out there that can do all the things you want painlessly, but the more expensive ones promise that you will be just a tad less exasperated. In this article I have written extensively on the subject of what would you need to win your tripod battle, but here is a recap:
- Good tripods are expensive for a reason – they will last you longer, they will break less frequently, and they will support your camera properly, so don’t try to score the cheapest deal on the market.
- There is no perfect tripod out there, but you can find one that frustrates you the least.
- If you can afford carbon fibre, go for carbon fibre – it’s lighter and it is more stable. If you can’t afford one, just give your aluminium tripod a chance to shake it off before you start taking your pictures.
- I find the clip-lock tripod is better than the twist-leg one. Once you closed the clip, that’s where it is going to stay. With the twist-leg, you can definitely set up the tripod faster, but when you’d think it is locked in place, you’d find that your tripod legs continue to sink into the quicksand of the sea of frustration making your blood boil trying to figure out which of the legs is not secured and in which section of it. But the clip-lock will probably pinch your fingers on several occasions, be cautious of that!
- The tripod head is of vital importance for your image sharpness too. If you have a ball head that just won’t lock in place and keeps rolling down under the weight of your camera+lens, there is no chance your image will be sharp.
- Geared tripod heads are so much more practical for shooting landscapes and cityscapes, but again – don’t go for the cheap options, and unfortunately, the proper ones are not lightweight at all.
- If you go for the ball-head tripod head, make sure it is solid. I have this one, which I bought when I was travelling to the US. If you ever want to own one tripod head, this could be the one.
- L-bracket – if you can find the combination of the tripod, tripod head and L-bracket attached to your camera, that’s the dream come true. L-brackets attach solidly to your camera and you can clip this combo to the tripod in the most balanced point both horizontally and vertically. I do, however, recommend that you get one that is made for your camera specifically, not a general fit-for-all.
- You might be tempted to get that travel-friendly tripod from that overhyped company that will fit in your pocket and extend to 3 meters high, but remember – they need to be heavier to be stable, and if tripod’s legs are as thin as your pinkie, it is unlikely they are going to support your camera in the slightest windy condition.
Finding Time To Do More Of It And Get Better
For many of you, the daily job provides security but takes away from your photography passion. Sadly, you can not buy extra time to enjoy your hobby, but there are a few things you can do to make sure to fit photography into your day:
- Bring your camera to work and document your day, or use it on your commute instead of staring into your phone.
- Wake up 30 minutes before sunrise and go spend an hour outdoors taking photos.
- Stop making excuses! You could be taking pictures right now, and instead, you’re reading this 20 minutes long article for some reason.
As for getting better part – well, guess what, practice makes perfect! Now, get out of here and go create some magic.
Gear Acquisition Syndrom
Last, but not least on our quite long list is the so-called “GAS” – the ultimate belief that once we get just that one more piece of equipment, we gonna totally step up our game and get better, shoot more, win all the awards and whatnot. The reality of things is that we are going to get poorer by acquiring yet another thing that is going to weigh us down.
There is nothing wrong with purchasing gear that is essential for your work, but you can as well be renting it and saving some space in your house and money in your bank account.
Stop watching all the youtube videos with every new piece of gear that just came out, and unsubscribe from all the promotional emails too.
Don’t hang out with gearheads. These people are not even interested in taking photos, they just gather together to talk about sensors and layers of glass and coating, and whatnot – if you want to be a photographer, just take your camera and go out and take photos.
Stick to one camera, figure out your favourite focal length and just use that. Every time you start thinking if only I had a 200mm now, instead challenge yourself to find a way to shoot the scene with the equipment you have.
When we think that having more choices will make our life easier, in reality, it is quite the opposite. When you don’t have a choice of equipment, you just use what you have (which is often the case with us using our phones because we didn’t bring any cameras). So often I see people doing landscape photography, opening their bags full of stuff and then standing there scratching their heads, not knowing which one to use now. If you have one camera and one lens hanging off your neck, or even fitting in your pocket – that eliminates the problem.
The reality of things is that no matter how much money you spend on photography gear, you will never be truly happy because it is an addiction and perhaps the time has come to listen to the wisdom of buddha and free yourself from suffering and wanting more gear.
Another solid piece of advice is if you want to buy one new thing, you first have to sell something – better for your financial stability and for your space management.
However, I do know a guy who calls himself a camera collector – he rarely even goes out to take photos, but his true passion in life is sourcing and purchasing cameras for his collection…
I prefer the minimalist approach. Most of the time I would be happy to have just my Fujifilm X100v or Ricoh GR3 and nothing else. Enough options to play around with, the rest is up to me. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have 5 tripods, all kinds of tripod heads and plates, a total of at least 10 cameras that take photos… and lenses for cameras that I don’t even own.
Hope all of this helps with your photography struggles. If there is no struggle, there is no progress… so get off your ass and go take some photos now.
2 thoughts on “12 Photography Challenges and My Advice On How To Overcome Them.”
Hey, Anna. Josh here (from Glass). Wonderful post and advice! I felt targeted in some of these (especially the GAS bit at the end), but it’s all stuff I needed to hear. My GAS has largely been fueled by only shooting with an “entry level” Nikon D3000 and its 18-55 kit lens for literally more than a decade. The reasons for this are a long story in and of itself. I moved to the mirrorless world with the R5 early last year, and I feel like my photography education has been nonstop ever since. It was definitely “too much camera” for my skill level when I first got it (probably still is).
I felt extremely limited by that “entry level” setup, and for far too long. I’ll say, gear DOES matter. I appreciate you’re not saying otherwise (so many high-profile YouTubers try to say it, and it makes me roll my eyes.. if they really believed that, they wouldn’t be shooting with flagship gear), but that you’re reminding me there’s a balance to be struck. Lenses are my poison. It’s healthy to hear I don’t need to buy every lens I find interesting.
I have gotten into a habit of making my gear decisions at home, BEFORE I go out. I’ve experienced the “tyranny of choice” by having too many options at hand when it counts in a fleeting moment, so I intentionally limit my cameras and lenses before I even leave home.
Anyway, thanks again for all of this great advice, and for taking the time to write it all out!
Thanks so much, Josh, for sharing your struggles with me. R5 can be easily too much, I’m sure I’m not using half of its potential 😆 for once I have never attempted to shoot anything in 8k.
It’s true that it’s easy to tell people that gear doesn’t matter when you have flagship cameras and lenses, but I also started modestly and whichever shitty set up I had, I made it work. Thankfully time has taught me that sharpness and creamy bokeh is not necessary to tell a good story.
Just recently I was thinking to buy 24mm r lens but then I told myself that it’s not that good of an investment and I can better use my 24-70 which is a terrific lens (not for a stabilizer though).
Deciding on your gear before you leave is wise, but on a trip to places like Iceland you feel like you need to be covered for any opportunity.
Thanks for reading and for making an effort to write out your struggles.