How to balance humility and confidence as a part time photographer

by Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor on January 14, 2014

in This is Business,This is Life

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Most of the photographers I meet are very humble, and this is as much a source of their endearment as their failure to launch.

Humility with a lack of confidence is what’s holding most of you back from taking the small daily steps needed to get your business off the ground and start earning an income with your art.

This beast was unmasked by psychologists in the 1970’s as “Imposter Syndrome.”

There’s a balance to be had between the humility of knowing you always have room to improve, and the confidence to take daily steps to make those improvements.

Most of you don’t understand why anyone would pay you $20 for your work, much less $200 or more.

I’ve totally been there my friends, over and over again. I spent years as a professional photographer with the same mindset, and even today (15 years in) I have to reach beyond my comfort zone to ask the price I’m worth.

“I wouldn’t pay $XXX for my photos,” is just the kind of trap start-up photographers fall into as they let fear talk them out of going pro.

There are plateaus in any arena of growth – in the gym, in the classroom, in a career, in artistry, in business. But you never stop striving. You never stop reaching. Humility will serve you well. So will the confidence to always move forward, come what may. Forward. Ever forward.

Balancing Humility and Confidence

Humility and confidence are two of a part time photographer’s most powerful tools.

As a humble and confident photographer:

You have the humility to recognize your art can always be improved, and the confidence to know your art as it is today has value for clients, and thus salability.

You have the humility to offer affordable pricing to keep your shooting schedule full, and the confidence to charge enough that your average client sale leaves a big grin on your face.

You have the humility to know odds are highly against your having outgrown your equipment, and the confidence to create professional-quality (salable) art and experiences for your clients, no matter what gear you shoot with.

You have the humility to accept constructive criticism of your work, and the confidence to filter out bad advice that is mean, discouraging, or distracts from your artistic vision.

You have the humility to understand that your artistic vision today may not be what your artistic vision should be tomorrow, and the confidence to do your best work now knowing that six months or a year down the road you’ll look back and say, “What was I thinking?” (I can’t tell you how many iterations of ‘artistic vision’ I have gone through in the past 15 years. Even I get embarrassed looking at some of my older work – hell, some of what I did last year! – but professional photography is always, always, a learning experience.)

You have the humility to know that there will always be someone better – at photography, at marketing, at business – and the confidence to do your best work and never stop learning. Understand: you’re not trying to be better than anyone else – you’re trying to be better than who you were yesterday.

You have the humility to find a photographer (or several) whose work inspires you, and the confidence to reach out to those photographers for advice, mentorship, and constructive criticism (protip: if they don’t respond or don’t want to help, find someone who does!).

You have the humility to read a book (or magazine, or blog, or tutorial, or podcast) on photography, business, or marketing, and the confidence to take action – one action, or a series of actions – and make tangible improvements in your art, policies, practices, and exposure in your market.

You have the humility to recognize that if you’re going to make your dreams come true, you’re going to have to take action and put yourself out there – and the confidence to accept that vulnerability and take action anyway.

You have the humility to recognize that your art today is not what you want it to be, and the confidence to put your name out there as a professional photographer anyway, knowing the best way to get to where you want to be is to shoot often and enjoy the motivational rewards of running a business (and cutting yourself a paycheck) at the same time.

You have the humility to accept that your natural inclinations toward business and marketing are probably not the best practices, and the confidence to seek out those best practices and have faith in their efficacy (if you’re still ‘specializing’ in a dozen different styles or niches of photography, I’m talking to you, friend).

You have the humility to to accept that it’s a long road to where you want to be artistically and professionally, and the confidence to know that with small daily improvements, you’ll get there faster than you think.

You have the humility to volunteer your photography talents to your church or a local charity, and the confidence to know what you give will come back 10 fold.

You have the humility to reach out to amateur photographers, and the confidence to help them through knowledge, mentorship, and most of all, encouragement.

You have the humility to ask a local business leader out to lunch, and the confidence to request their advice and mentorship.

You have the humility to never stop studying and practicing, and the confidence to fail and learn from that practice, and do it again and again, knowing progress is both incremental and inevitable.

You have the humility to know you need to practice on real subjects, and the confidence to ask your friends, family, and even strangers to pose for you.

And most importantly – you have the humility to accept imperfection in yourself and everything you do, and the confidence to know that your best effort – no matter how seemingly small – is leagues beyond everyone still sitting in front of their computers wishing they could be doing what you’re doing.

It’s not a to-do list – it’s a mentality. It’s an attitude. It’s a philosophy. It’s a way of being. And it’s the best attitude to have if you want to accelerate your growth while enjoying every step of the journey along the way.

Next Steps

  • Stand up (yes, right now, I’m serious), and read this out loud: “I am worthy. I’ve come a long way, and I’m capable of more. I deserve more. My clients deserve more. And I’m going to work daily to study it, practice it, fail it, and learn it – in honor of my art, my muse, my clients, and my Self.”
  • Set a calendar reminder for three months from now with the above words, and have it repeat every three months, forever. Every time, stand up, and read it out loud.
  • Grab your cellphone and send a text message to me at 830-688-1564 with one word: “Kaizen”. This doesn’t secretly sign you up for anything – it’s just an action. A step. Momentum. A connection. A public commitment to yourself in front of another human being that says, “I’ve read these words and I am moving forward.” Lao-tzu wrote, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
  • Brainstorm session: Are you better than you were yesterday? Are you better than you were a year ago? In what ways? What growth opportunities have you missed? Are you going to miss them this year? How are you going to make progress this year? What are the Next Steps? Write this down and file away in your Brainstorms folder.
  • Start practicing humility and confidence today. Choose from the above list, and take action today. I’d suggest picking three photographers whose work you love, and reaching out to them by phone or e-mail to ask for a casual mentorship relationship. Ask them humbly if they would be willing to look at your art, or your web site, or your marketing, and offer any advice they may have. This will provide you guidance, confidence, and accountability – three key ingredients to learning and improving in any endeavor.
  • My writing at PartTimePhoto.com exists to serve your needs as an amateur photographer making the transition to paid professional. I appreciate and welcome your readership, and invite you to subscribe to my e-mail newsletter at the top of any page of this site.
  • If anything in this post has spoken to and inspired you, please comment below, drop me an e-mail, or call or text me at 830-688-1564 and let me know. I’d love to hear how you use these ideas to better your part time photography business!

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Emily Baker February 11, 2014 at 4:33 pm

Thank you, James. I really needed this…all of this. I started my part time photo business last summer and opportunities have been knocking more frequently as of late. A few I have done the initiating, others have literally fallen into my lap and it is SUCH A STRUGGLE to not feel like an imposter. I follow so many amazing photographers on Facebook and sometimes that ugly Imposter beast raises its ugly head. So I take a step back and remind myself that they are all so inspirational and it’s a learning experience just studying their photos. Then I visit my own website just to remind myself where I’ve been, where I am now, and how I can tweak things in the future.

You are so clued in to this business – I really appreciate your honesty and advice!

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Tracey February 24, 2014 at 4:51 pm

Thank you so much for all of your advice. You are such an inspiration and SO helpful!!!! I thoroughly enjoy your blog and read many posts on it in preparation for my first photo shoot. I’m literally JUST starting photography. I got a camera for Christmas and took maternity pictures for a friend a couple of weeks ago. The session was not as smooth as I had anticipated (her 1.5 year old daughter didn’t act like the perfect model I had envisioned… 🙂 ) but I was actually pleased with a handful of photos and definitely have to desire to do and learn more! Your blog is a great source of knowledge and support for me and I’m very thankful for it!!

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Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor February 25, 2014 at 4:09 pm

Tracey, thank you so much for your comment and kind words!

I’m super excited for you! Not only are you riding the wave of newfound creative inspiration, but you’re immediately seeking congruence with growing your professional and business skills at the same time. As both grow, you’ll enjoy multiples of success by growing those two parts of yourself together.

Synergy, as the corporate folks say!

Don’t worry about the challenges of your first shoots – so many people get one or two bad experiences under their belt and then convince themselves that they’re not cut out to be artists or professionals. Keep up the great work, fight the good fight, and know that your persistence will create as many blessings for your community and the clients you serve as for yourself and your family. Your success touches far more lives than just your own, and you’re already off to a great start.

Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures! And if there’s anything I can do to help, any topic you’d like to read more about here on PTP, please don’t hesitate to let me know. Thank you again for your readership!

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iulia March 19, 2014 at 10:45 am

Thank you James for these amazing , real and sincere words you reveal in your posts. I really appreciate. I will bookmark your page and come back to it often. I wrote down a few pieces of advice and I will surely follow. And especially I liked this post and your words of wisdom, because it caught me in one of those days when I do feel humility and less confidence about my future in this business. I started a few months ago and I`m putting a lot of energy in improving myself and my business, but sometimes I sense the fear of failure so close to my neck that it paralyses me in seeing the big picture. But I thank you for being there. I think you are great person and you helped me a lot today, and every day from now on when I will remember your suggestions.

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