Self-reflection. Are you honest to yourself?

With 2014 coming to an end, it is time for some reflection. And of course, when I blog, I want you to be intrigued, help you grow, entertain you, or share some beauty. This blog however, will be for myself. Because in some situations, I get really stuck and don’t know how to grow. Putting words on paper helps me structure thoughts. Hopefully, you can help me out here! So please leave a comment and be brutally honest!

For some reason, when I see a picture made by someone else, there are a few things I would have done differently. I always have some suggestions or ideas to share. But when it comes to my own pictures, I find it hard to learn how to improve. And this is not because I am an annoying guy (well maybe I am) or find nothing to improve at my own pictures. It is just because I somehow black-out and really to much live in the moment.

Whenever I take a picture and I don’t like it, I am temped to retake it quite quickly which doesn’t lead to the desired results. The last few years, I have spent a lot of time looking to improve myself. Not just as a photographer, but also as a person and a professional. One thing I have learned, is being self-critical is great, if you are honest. Be too soft on yourself and your growth won’t be efficient, but if you are too hard on yourself, you’ll be miserable. Here are a few tips to help you improve yourself. Take note, that reflecting is a repeating process!

Where are you now and where do you want to be?

First thing to do, is define where you are now, and set goals where you want to be. Look at your pictures and tell what you like about them, and what you would like to improve. When you’re looking for improvements on your photos, try to act like it is someone else’s photo. Maybe you’ll get an idea of your growing goals this way. It is really important to make these goals somehow “S.M.A.R.T.“. Which is difficult and sometimes impossible, but a goal to “become a better photographer” isn’t measurable. Take a look at your favorite photographers and try to be a little more specific: “I want to learn how to lead the eye trough a picture”, or “I want my landscape photographs to look like Craig Parry“. Take a look at your favorite photographers and try to bring to words, what you like about their pictures.

Understand what your goals mean

When settings goals, try to understand what your goals mean. In order to make beautiful pictures, you have to understand what beauty means and you need some basic knowledge of photography, like:

What are your problems?

Like I stated above, reflecting yourself is a repeating process. While reflecting, try to understand what your problems are in photography. Compare two of your similar pictures and try to tell why you like one more than the other. Is your problem related to colors? Depth in pictures? Does your picture tell a story? Is your subject in one picture more clear than in the other picture? Always ask yourself, why do I like or dislike one picture (The Power of Why)?

Work on it (but take small steps at a time)!

Now you have learned a little bit about yourself and your pictures, work on it! Go out and take pictures and keep in mind what you want to achieve. Practice makes perfect. One idea to help you out, is to take notes after each photo shoot, about what you liked and would like to work on. Improving is an endless journey, and you can’t remember all your lessons learned a year ago, so take notes! Take small steps at a time, perfecting one skill and then another will lead to a great set of skills. Trying to learn everything at once probably will lead to a large set of average skills.

Take a step back

While working on your photography skills. It is important to regularly reflect. Every time you go out to take pictures, look at your previous shoot and compare results. Be critical and honest! It is also a good idea, to compare the pictures of your most recent shoot, to (similar) pictures you took a year ago. What have you learned in this year and how did you improve? Again, try to be specific, for example: “A year ago I tried to take a picture of a scene, but did not have a subject. My pictures include a subject now”, or “my colors are better because I started to shoot at the Golden Hour“.

Let others reflect and go back to the first step

Like I stated above, advising others on their pictures, can be easier than criticizing your own work. I believe one of the reasons is you are to close at your work and you need a certain distance for a complete view. That’s why it is very important to let others criticize your work (and feel free to criticize mine). Don’t reject their comments (even if they don’t know a thing about photography). It might hurt (that’s why you should also ask for some positive feedback), but you will learn. Again, take notes!

After others criticized your work, go back to the first step, because like I said: improvement is an endless repeating journey. Make sure you compliment yourself on your work and be happy with what you do! And if you feel you are not learning because you keep making mistakes: Improving is making new mistakes.

Kind regards,

Tieme

26 Comments

  1. Reply

    Hello Tieme – great post! It made me realise a few things about myself:
    First, I am way more critical about my own pictures than other people’s. Some of my friends say I’m too hard on myself, so your advice “When you looking for improvements on your photos, try to act like it is someone else’s photo” is definitely something I should try.
    On the other hand, though, I don’t really have any proper goals in photography. I like learning by doing, and most importantly I like photography to be – and for it to stay – something fun. I don’t want to be thinking I need to get better at this or that; mostly for me I can be content with what I’m doing until I realise: you know you could do better than this if you did this or that. And only then I know that I do want to change something/get better at something. But it can actually take a loooong time for me to get to that point, and until I do, photography is something I do purely for fun.

    • Reply

      Thank you Kiki! I know the feeling: I don’t like any of my pictures. Sometimes I like them, but when I take a second look I feel I should improve more.

      It is really difficult to be subjective when it comes to your own work, however there are objective points you can look at: How did you do on composition? Are the colours natural?

      I personally compare my pictures with other photographers work, to see what I like more in their pictures. But in the end of the day, it should be about fun. And not even just fun: Photography to me is a form of therapy. To remain calm when life is a bit hectic. So you are absolutely right about that!

      Kind regards,
      Tieme

  2. Reply

    there is some things I would like to say:
    1. we never grow up, we just learn how to act in public
    2. intelligent people , always put in doubt what they know, so you should consider yourself one.
    3.the real artist almost never like his work and he will always want to improve his work, he will never be truly satisfied with his work
    4. there is no “better” than you, everybody see the things with his own eyes, with his personality and his mind. you dont have to care about what the others they are doing, you do your stuff, creativity is not something you learn, it is something you have, a camera will not teach you to be creative.
    5. who are the others to criticize your work? there is only you who can do that in order to improve yourself. your work means who you are, in your work there is your mind, your emotions. your work tells things about you. eventually will tell you who you are. “who I am ?” hm.. this is a question an artist will not be able to answer, we search ourselves, we search a place in the world, we will find it finally or maybe not, but this is a thing we will always do, to search who we are and what we want, that si wahy we do what we do.
    🙂 M.

    • Reply

      Thank you very much for your comment M.! And thank you for considering me an intelligent person 😉

      Growing up.. I like how you describe it 🙂 I feel the same about it. I think that’s why some many people embrace their “inner child”. That’s why I like photography to: I can lay in a puddle of mud, or position myself strangely to take a picture, and I don’t care what people think of me at that point.

      But it would be fun to enjoy your own work. In a way we are, otherwise we wouldn’t share it. But there is always room for improvement. Erwin Olaf, a famous Dutch photographer underlined at as he once said: It took years before I liked my work, I hated it, even when people loved it. I sometimes feel like that too.

      I do look at others, since if there are people better than me, I can learn 🙂 But you are right, using your own point of view is very important. I have to disagree a little bit on this one: “…creativity is not something you learn, it is something you have, a camera will not teach you to be creative.”

      I think creativity is like intelligence: If you have a lower IQ, it takes more time to learn something. But if you have time enough, you can learn a lot. Sure, I might not be very creative, but if I train myself I believe I can become more creative (but I am going to find out how and hopefully blog about that somewhere in 2015 😉 )

      And you are absolutely right on your last point! However, I am curious to what other people think of my work, and what their point of view is.

      Again, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts, I truly appreciate them!

      Kind regards,
      Tieme

      • Reply

        creative….
        -the COURAGE to try new things and risk failure.(This doesn’t mean you should constantly go off the deep end, just that you should balance your routine portfolio of solutions with an investment in the new and untried. Over time, the risk is usually worth the reward.)
        – Use INTUITION as well as logic to make decisions and produce ideas. (keet it simple, small, fast, -and some would say ugly and primitive. But it works.)
        – Like to PLAY, since humor and fun are the ultimate creative act. Which is to say you just have to lighten up. We all have goals, and quotas, and deadlines, but it’s not life and death. When you enjoy yourself, your brain relaxes and is able to produce more and better ideas. One of those ideas may be just what you’re looking for.
        – Are EXPRESSIVE and willing to share what they feel and think, to be themselves. Blogging is the ideal arena for injecting your personality into your work. People are emotional creatures and respond better to people who appear real, honest, and open. Not only is it more interesting, it can also be more persuasive.
        – Can FIND ORDER in confusion and discover hidden meaning in information. Research and critical thinking are key tools for the creative person.
        – MOTIVATED BY A TASK rather than by external rewards. You must like the challenge of taking pictures and persuading. Sure, you can make money along the way, but if you’re in it just for the money, you’re not going to be a fountain of new ideas.
        – Have a need to FIND SOLUTIONS to challenging problems. Even the most creative pfotographers won’t have a solution for everything. If they claim to, they’ve stopped thinking. Highly creative people are those whose eyes light up at a question they can’t answer. That’s the opportunity to learn something new and produce remarkably creative content.
        – CHALLENGE ASSUMPTIONS and ask hard questions to discover what is real.
        – MAKE CONNECTIONS between old ideas to produce new insights.
        – willing to TEST new ideas

        and.. again, what it makes you to be an artist, to call yourself creative? well, it is very simple: the way you see the things. that it is makes you to be creative, not a photo camera. the camera teach you things too, some of them important some of them not, but, the way you look at the world that it is important.

        after you read this, take a second and think about how you feel when you take a picture, that very single second when you press the button, that second when you loose yourself, you forget about everything… what a bliss…
        and then.. imagine how it is to miss a place where you never was …. … …
        very strong feelings, isnt it? 🙂
        hugs .

        • Reply

          Wow, thank you for such a wonderful reply! Your point of view is truly appreciated, and hopefully inspirational to all reading this.

          Trying and failing. That’s what I do 😉 But I enjoy it too. Well, not always. I am really a goal-setter, goal-getter type of guy. And maybe my intuition should talk to me some more. I guess sometimes I feel too pressured to create a photo, write a blog, or produce a monologue, that I focus on setting a goal, rather than focusing on what I have to say or what I feel.

          I think my best pictures are the ones where I feel connected. And somehow, being happy never delivered the best shot. I felt down when shooting my favourite photos 😉 Thus expressing myself is a good reminder, thank you! 🙂

          On the other hand, I think I do have a sense of humor, and love to play. But these photos are very difficult (writing this feels plastic.. it’s feels cosmetic). When I feel like doing something crazy, I have to get involved with Photoshop – since I have a few ideas but they require image manipulation , which I am not good at (maybe a learning goal for the next year?).

          Your point about being motivated by a task rather than by the external factors: wow, absolutely true, and you want honesty? This is quite a pitfall for me! I love to talk, to be heard, and sometimes too much.. That’s when I stop myself and wonder: What is the reason of all of this? And those moments are when I realize that I hate it to do something for recognition and I become that weird guy: I don’t talk to be people I don’t like, if all the people walk on the left side of the road, I’ll walk on the right side. And that’s when I get most creative. So you surely have a great point! 🙂

          And after all, I don’t do it for the money, nor the recognition, but for fun. But in a way we all do it for recognition, and that’s fine. We are animals who want to belong, and being recognized is part belonging..

          This is truly a circle in my life I think:
          Setting goals ->
          chasing goals ->
          the “what am I doing?” phase ->
          the “what ever, I don’t like it/don’t like myself I am going to quit” phase ->
          and finishing the circle off with the “ah it’s okay, I’ll do it for fun anyway” phase. And then I blog…

          My has camera taught me a lot. About myself, about looking at the world. And most about enjoying. And surprisingly: I considered myself to be quite conservative, but I figured out that when I walk from the train station to work, I hate it when all people walk the same route and I walk another route. Just not to be a zombie 😉 All because I started to LOOK and SEE!

          Thank you very much for this moment of reflection 🙂 I loved it!

          One last thing: Do you know what happens when I press the shutter button? I have to figure out why: I black out. I don’t even see what my camera is seeing. And when I get home, I feel I wasn’t on this planet for a while.. It makes me calm, and exhausts me!

          Happy new year and thanks again 🙂

          Warm greetings,
          Tieme

  3. Reply

    I’ve been a photographer for 43 years. I’ve owned and used just about every kind of film and digital camera. I’m an expert at Photoshop and plug-ins used in conjunction with Photoshop.

    My Advice:
    1. Learn everything you can about your camera gear. Tray every control and setting so you can manipulate them in near darkness.
    2. Shoot a lot of pictures. A true saying in Photography is that you don’t learn anything until you shoot 10,000 frames. I’ve found that to be true. Carry your camera everywhere and try to shoot everything with one lens per safari. Leave the rest of the lenses at home. Repeat with each lens you own on a regular basis.
    3. Try to get exposure, composition and especially depth of field focus correct in the camera. Sharp pictures are paramount. Delete the rest. Practice good equipment holding techniques. Don’t rely on optical image stabilization.
    4. Learn about minimum lens focus distance and practice shooting at that minimum distance. You’ll be surprised at the bokeh and pleasantly blurred background when close-ups are shot with a 200mm lens.
    5. If you like a photo you’ve taken take all critics with a grain of salt. You’re the best judge of what you like.
    6. Avoid photographic forums that are full of men overdosed on their own testosterone.
    7. Have fun! I’ve been at this for 43 years and enjoy it more every day. When it stops being fun, back up and determine why. Get back to the basics to recover the love of photography.

    • Reply

      Wow Bob, what a tremendous comment, very much appreciated! I am sorry for my late reply. Holidays are over, and work is calling again..

      You are absolutely right! The Nikon D7100 has so many settings, I still need to learn to get most out of this great camera! And shooting lots of pictures is what I should do! I started photography in 2010, and have taken quite some pictures, but I am not satisfied at all! I want to learn more, more, and more!

      I never delete bad pictures though, not sure why. Maybe because I might need it one day. For example in a post about bad exposure, or to show why a composition does – or does not work?

      And yeah, bokeh.. Owning a Nikon 50mm f1.4 since two months made me very happy. the bokeh is great! I love it!

      Thank you very much for your last three advices. I think hearing another persons perspective, or opinion on a photo could broaden my point of view, but it should not destruct what I like.

      Haha, I have visited a forum once, I wanted to reply to a question where I recently found an answer to. Wow, after reading 3 pages I was surprised by the amount of lads telling someone why his camera was bad, or why a picture was ugly.. I thought: “Who are you to decide what’s beautiful and what’s ugly? An amateur, just starting photography and enjoying his first pictures, and you decide they’re ugly?” Leaving constructive criticism is great, but I never visited the forum again.

      And yeah, fun! You are very right about it, it’s all about shooting!!

      Thank you again for your wonderful response! 🙂

      Kind regards,
      Tieme

      • Reply

        It’s sad how someone on a photographic forum with their first dslr suddenly becomes an expert. I shut them down by asking what other cameras/lenses they’ve owned and used. That generally shuts them right up. Blogs aren’t create to be competitive and so many are created by women, less interested one who has the biggest…….. lens. LOL

        • Reply

          It is a bit sad yes, and I truly believe that if you dig deeper you’ll find some psychological compensation (dysfunctional) behaviour – what I truly do not mean to be offensive.

          I decided not to get involved in the conversation, I rather saved my energy 😉

          But yeah, I figured most bloggers are woman. And I was truly surprised by how quickly you gather a community of nice people in WordPress!

          Lol, a the biggest lens…. it’s not the size, it’s how you use it 😉 I love my small Nifty Fifty!

          Kind regards,
          Tieme

          • Keep in mind that if you own a 50mm lens and use it on a cropped sensor APS-C camera you’re actually shooting a 75mm compared to the old film 35mm cameras. I have a 35mm F/1.4 Fujinon that when multiplied by the 1.5 crop factor makes it a 50mm equivalent.

  4. Pingback: Self-reflection – The follow-up | Luvo

  5. Reply

    I would love to get some feedback, but it seems that people are very shy to give their honest advice. Maybe because they think people would take it wrong, and not visit their blog anymore, but it’s kind of sad. Or maybe they don’t know enough to l eave a feedback, like me for example .Sometimes, I can tell why I like a picture but I can’t tell why I don’t like one 🙂

    • Reply

      I will keep that in mind next visit on your website 😉 Feedback is great indeed. Very valuable for growth. Telling why you like a picture is valuable feedback too, I prefer a comment like “I like this photo because ..” over “I like it!”.

      Thank you for your comment!

      Kind regards,
      Tieme

        • Reply

          True, but giving it a shot is always appreciated! 😉 And if you know why you like a picture, you can apply that technique, the lines, the colours, or whatever you like in your own photos too!

          Happy weekend,
          Tieme

  6. Pingback: Reflection: Lessons you didn’t expect to learn | Luvo Photography

  7. Reply

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    • Reply

      Hi Carmen!

      Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. And I definitely hope to see you drop by in future posts!

      Kind regards,
      Tieme

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