This is a topic I’ve been meaning to write about for quite some time. I teach and coach a lot of photographers who are truly great food photographers, but they don’t believe so. They will go out of their way to try to prove to me that they are not as good as I tell them they are. It breaks my heart.
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What Is Imposter Syndrome?
The phrase, “imposter syndrome” was coined by two clinical psychologists, Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in the 1970’s, so this is certainly not a new idea, and it came about when Clance and Imes were studying very successful women in the academic world who had reached great success but felt like they were just lucky. There’s more to it, but you get the idea. So yes, it’s a real thing.
Simply put, imposter syndrome is when you feel like you are accidentally successful, that it was mere luck involved with your success and that sooner or later, someone else is going to figure that out and expose you. That you are not as smart or as talented as those around you.
This is Webster’s definition of imposter syndrome, “a psychological condition that is characterized by persistent doubt concerning one’s abilities or accomplishments accompanied by the fear of being exposed as a fraud despite evidence of one’s ongoing success”.
How Do You Know If You Have It?
In our photography world I see this with students where their photography is great, yet it doesn’t matter WHO tells them this, they refuse to believe it. In spite of their successes, they have no confidence in their work and they feel completely incompetent about their work. Sound familiar?
Photography is an interesting profession because it’s a business AND it involves a creative talent. Many new photographers struggle with both of these aspects, especially the creative talent part. They don’t think they have any talent, or they think their talent is not as good as many others.
As photographers (or any other art form) our product is our creative work with the images we create. Many businesses are selling products they don’t actually make themselves, so selling this product is not as personal to them as it is to us.
I work with so many photographers whose work is excellent, but they just don’t think so. I see photographers selling their work for $3 an image to food bloggers when that image could sell for thousands to a big brand.
Why Is This Feeling So Prevalent With Photographers These Days?
I think that part of the lack of confidence with the digital era, is because many photographers do not have a college education for photography these days, which in the days of film was the main way photographers got their training, by going to school.
We were paying good money to learn from TRUSTED sources, the instructors who have qualifications to teach.
The digital era made things much easier when it comes to getting access to content to learn about photography (or anything else for that matter) because of the new immediacy that the internet gave us.
The first problem with this is that ANYONE can post content online about anything, and claim they’re an expert.
There is no way to actually vet the content you find online to know if it’s accurate or correct. Then of course there’s all sorts of conflicting information as well, which makes this type of learning overwhelming, and the learner ends up totally confused and guessing what they should do.
I believe that this new way of learning has led to more photographers feeling this sense of imposter syndrome, or let’s just say lack of confidence in their work.
They are no longer in class with 20 other student going through image critiques every single day. They are not being guided by a seasoned professional to help them along their journey. The modern era is very isolating, we are by ourselves as we learn new photographic techniques. We are not getting the much needed feedback from a trusted source about our work.
This leaves you guessing if your work is good enough.
What Should You Do?
First, I suggest you look for a trusted community of other photographers so that you are not alone in your journey. One being my Facebook group, The Food Photography Club.
Next, I would suggest that you sit down and do a little brainstorming exercise. Do what I call a brain dump.
Write down all of your concerns with your photography. What are you doubts? Why do you have them? What are your goals? And last, what do you think you need to do to get there? Be honest and reasonable with yourself here.
Next, write down ALL that you have accomplished since you first picked up that camera. Seriously, write it all down.
In order to see the amazing growth that you have had, you need to acknowledge how far you have come.
Every one of you reading this has accomplished a lot over the last year, two years, or even just a few months with your photography. It’s human nature to ignore that and keep asking, “what’s next?”. So, take some time to see how far you have come.
You Are Not The Only One
Just remember this feeling, this lack of confidence will go away the more that you shoot.
I don’t like that expression, “fake it till you make it”. It implies to me that you have to lie about your experiences and expertise, and I don’t agree with that at all. I’m not talking about faking anything here. I want to address the feeling of inadequacy with your work because of the feeling that you are not good enough.
I started shooting commercial photography with ad agencies at a very young age – mid twenties. My clients were at least twice my age, so it was very intimidating, and a lot of my competition were 10-15 years older than I was as well. Talk about feeling like an imposter.
I did feel I was inadequate at times when I compared my career to those I was bidding against – and THAT’S the source of the inadequacy.
As soon as we compare ourselves to anyone else, we are going to be hard on ourselves. I get it. It’s human nature to look at those in our field and compare what we are doing with them and their work.
The problem that comes from this is when you take their entire life experience (unknowingly I have to add), and ignore that, and look at your work and think it’s not as good (in your mind), then you decide you don’t have what it takes to do this type of photography.
That is totally unfair to yourself! This is the imposture syndrome I am talking about here. Do you feel it? Are you thinking this way with your work?
Here’s the deal though – this is totally normal! There’s nothing wrong with you. We all feel this way when we start out. We all feel inadequate when we start something new.
When ever you start something like food photography, there is soooo much to learn. You are going to feel this imposture syndrome, this lack of confidence for a few years. Yep, a few YEARS. And, that’s totally normal! Please understand that.
Then as you get more jobs, more experience, more shots under your belt, this feeling will go away. You will start feeling like this is your calling. This is your space. This is your world. This is what you were meant to do.
T-R-U-S-T me – you’ll feel awkward at first with your first few jobs – we all do! That’s how starting a new business works! Once you get used to talking to prospects and doing jobs, you’ll understand what it takes to do a food shoot for a client. The more you do this, the easier it gets. I promise!
So, do you have imposter syndrome? If you do – WELCOME TO THE CLUB! That means you are starting a business and you are going through what we all go through in that ever so precious beginning stage.
You are not alone and this is totally normal.
Because soon enough, you won’t have this feeling of being an imposter, but you’ll have this feeling of a photographer who is helping their clients by creating images that they love, and can use to bring clients to their business. You are helping your clients – and that’s the goal, by the way 🙂
If you feel isolated, or would like to be with other fabulous photo foodies, please join me in my Facebook group, the Food Photography Club. I’m in there every day chatting with awesome photographers just like you.