Imposter Syndrome is something that pretty much everyone suffers from at one point or another. You know the feeling; you see all of the art and work that other photographers around you produce and you can’t help but compare yourself to them, and wonder if yours isn’t the same because there’s something wrong with you. That you’re getting by on luck rather than knowledge or skill. That you’re a fraud.
I wanted to make my last post in 2019 a bit more reflective, and the main challenge I’ve had this year (aside from trying to build my client base) is Imposter Syndrome. This is something that I’ve had to think about a lot, especially because I’ve taken on new and exciting work which has been terrifying and incredible in equal measure. I think it’s time we start acknowledging it and asking for help when those feelings of self doubt and inadequacy rear their ugly heads, and I’m making it my 2020 mission to make sure I keep addressing this for myself and with others too.
I’ve felt this quite a bit during the year, and it’s triggered by one of two things; me attributing a value to my time and work, or that I’m not really good, or knowledgable, enough to be a working photographer. Being self taught (unless I’m counting that A level in photography) often makes me feel like I should treat what I do as a hobby rather than as a profession.
Cost and value – what am I worth?
The first time I really questioned myself was when I needed to charge for my freelance work, and get out of the ‘it’s ok, I need it for my portfolio’ habit. When I was trying to set rates, I was really worried that I wouldn’t be taken seriously or that it’d hurt my business. However, there comes a point where the time investment for planning, shooting, and editing is simply too much to be free.
How could I justify asking for money when I had a small client base? How much could I reasonably charge? Would I be called out as totally over-valuing myself by clients? Conversely, would I be too cheap to be taken seriously?
I had very few people to reach out to about this, especially because other photographers don’t always want to discuss their pricing. It’s a very personal part of their business, and all relative depending on what equipment, location, and travel costs they have. Aside from this, there’s always a small concern that you’re giving someone exactly what they need to undercut you on price, which makes it doubly difficult to ask for advice.
The only way I saw myself being able to jump the hurdle and think more confidently about my own price, and value, was to logically work through all of my worries. If I had a good reason for my rates, there would be no room for error or argument. Its easy to lose sight of the fact the a client isn’t just paying you to click a button; they’re paying for you as a person, your time, and your specific way of looking at a subject.
Firstly, I did a lot of homework to get a benchmark of what other photographers were charging for some of their packages. This wasn’t to undercut them, but see how they worked out pricing based on the length of the shoot and amount of work delivered. Not everyone lists their pricing on site, but it’s useful to see what the average cost of the photographers local to you are.
Secondly, armed with this information, I then looked at the number of hours I’d spend working on a basic 8 hour shoot and images, and the amount I’d like to ideally earn from the time spent on each booking in, say, 10 jobs that year. That helped me work out the price I’d need to charge per local shoot, and then allowed me to split my hourly shoot rates up from my hourly editing rates. It also allowed me to factor in separate travel costs for any long distance work. By breaking everything down, I was able to charge justifiable, flexible, fees without feeling like I was undervaluing myself.
I popped this in a spreadsheet, and I’ve updated it every year since starting out. Plus, I now have a job costing template that I can use to complete quotes for more bespoke shoots that’s also client friendly, ready to be sent out at a moments notice.
Skill and knowledge – am I as good as everyone else?
As I mentioned at the start of this post; aside from doing an A level over a decade ago, I’m largely self taught. I try to do a lot of homework to make sure I’m putting my shoots together in the most suitable and efficient way, and I also spend a lot of my time looking at the work of other photographers. Those photographers aren’t just the really famous ones (think Salgado, Leibovitz, and Knight) but unknown artists that I follow on Instagram and Twitter that create incredible, clever, beautiful bodies of work.
I’ve spent a lot of time worrying that my own work just doesn’t measure up, and that I’m nowhere near as good as the other people in my field. It’s discouraging, and can be really damaging; what’s the point in creating work when it’ll always be inferior to everything else out there?
Well, looking at other peoples’ work doesn’t have to always be negative; whenever I felt myself comparing an image to mine, I changed how I thought about the image and tried to decipher how it was created either in camera, digitally, or in the studio. I tried to see if there were lighting, composition, editing, or camera setting techniques that I could use in my own work.
I have tried to put a number of these into practice over the past year. It turns out that you don’t actually need the best camera, a huge studio space, and a complex lighting rig. You’d be surprised at what you can create with even a smartphone, some cheap soft boxes, a hand held strobe, and a basic background.
Dispelling some of those myths really helped me make this a more positive, and constructive, thing. Some of my best work has been created with really basic set ups, and have required minimal post processing because I’ve been able to get more right at the point that I took each image.
Seeing my work improve, and practicing as much as I can, really helped with making looking at other peoples’ work analytically rather than simply trying to weigh up if it’s something for me to aim for. It’s made me realise; I am just as good as everyone else. I’m constantly learning, and have produced images that I’m really proud of. Why would I want any other portfolio but my own?
Odds are you’ll feel exactly the same as I have at one point or another, and I can’t promise that it’ll be an easy feeling to shake. If you find yourself struggling just remember; work through your worries logically, and try to think of one positive take away whenever you start to doubt yourself. I can promise that the habit will have you learning and creating in a much more positive mindset.