Drawing Comparisons – by Sabrina Henry

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Exactly how many photographs are made each day is unknown but in 2013 PopPhoto.com shared the following statistics:

  • According to Yahoo! 880 billion photos will be made in 2014.
  • Buzzfeed reports more than 27,00 images are uploaded to Instagram every minute.
  • Facebook has said 6 billion photos are uploaded to their site each month.

This constant stream of images shared through the Internet, can create pressure to draw comparisons to our own work and when compared to the really great photographers, can send you into a downward spiral wondering if you can ever create anything half as good. While it is natural to compare ourselves to others, that is probably one of the biggest stumbling blocks to our own growth. In fact, as someone once said: “the only photographer you should compare yourself to is the one you used to be”.

Sounds like great advice but what does that look like? Here are three simple suggestions for you.

Review Your Own Photographs
Whether you have been photographing for two or five or ten years, go back and look at your previous work. Do it with a critical eye as if you were not the photographer. What do you see? Has the work gotten better? What differences do you notice? If there have been changes or improvements in your photographs, can you determine why? Maybe you have a blog where you post your best work. Look at the images you shared and what you wrote about at that time. What lessons can you glean from them? If you have a Flickr or other image sharing account, you can do the same review. I have had a blog since 2009 and while I don’t post as often as I used to, I do share most of work there through blog posts and image galleries. When I look at my early work, I see someone who was working on exploring the craft of photography. I tried all sorts of things some of which I don’t do today like HDR. One thing I’ve noticed is how much my images have changed both in technique and in feeling and emotion. And when I read my blog posts, I can see how my approach to making photographs has become clearer to me. There is a greater sense of purpose and focus and that I feel is a sign of a maturing photographer. What reviewing your own photographs does is provide the proper context for comparison. Taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture will give you a sense of how far you have come in your own photographic journey and I am sure you will have a feeling of accomplishment you can never get from comparing yourself with others.

 

sleeping dog
Made in 2009

 

Look for Similarities
When you are doing the review of your work, take a look at the photographs you have been making and see if there are any similarities. Are you making the same photograph over and over again? I’m not talking about sunrises and sunsets (especially in Cortona) but photographs that you thought were particularly good. Be tough on yourself. Maybe the location is different but essentially the photograph is the same. If you look at when you made these photographs is there a pattern and are you still making the same photographs today? Sometimes this can indicate you have an interest in a particular subject but maybe you aren’t being honest with yourself and all you are doing is imitating yourself. If I’m not mistaken this is what Andy Warhol called “pot boiling”, when you make a successful image that people like and you keep making that same image. Imitating yourself can be a sign that you are not progressing in your photography and maybe you can do with a shake up. If you feel the similarities are more of a sign post to explore something in a more meaningful and deeper way, you won’t care about anyone’s work but your own as you will now have a renewed focus to making pictures.

 

dog night market richmond
Made in 2013

 

Study Your Technical Data
I use Lightroom to process my images and from time to time I will go in and take a look at the EXIF data to see what I can learn about the way I am making photographs. The EXIF data will contain information about an image that when studied in relation to other images made, may indicate a pattern or a preference for making photographs or in my case, making mistakes. This includes information such as aperture, ISO, shutter speed, and focal length but also metering and exposure modes. Using EXIF data as a framework to compare your images will reveal areas you may need to work on to improve your photographs. For example, I looked at my images and realized while I was using the proper exposure (aperture, shutter speed and ISO), some of my pictures could really benefit from a change in metering mode to spot metering. Once I realized how much better some of my images could be, I programmed one of my camera function buttons for spot metering so that I could quickly make that change while out photographing. Another example is looking at images that missed the mark in terms of focus. They revealed to me that I really needed to nail down the area of focus for several apertures I prefer to use with certain lenses. That’s where the depth of field calculator came in handy. I now know what areas will be in focus in my photograph when using specific apertures and my rate of missed photographs has certainly improved.

You may feel inspired when looking at the work of other photographers but in my opinion, real improvements in your own photography always come from within. I hope these suggestions are useful to you and if you are looking for some help with technical improvements using Lightroom, rumour has it we might have a class soon. Make sure you sign up for our newsletter for any announcements regarding classes.