I've been afraid to admit this for a while… afraid to say this out loud.
But this is a safe place right?
For years I felt like a fake. I would be so nervous the night before a shoot that I felt like tomorrow was the day that I was going to come undone.
Tomorrow the world will discover that I'm faking this. I'm not really a good photographer. They really shouldn't pay me for this. I'm not worth anything.
I'm pretending to know what I'm doing. When really, I'm scared as hell.
You may or may not know this, but I'm a celebrity, music and advertising photographer in Nashville. I make most of my living shooting album covers for musicians and photographing advertising campaigns for companies like Pepsi, March of Dimes and Cracker Barrel.
But I owe all of my clients an apology.
A few years ago I had some big breaks. I shot an album cover for a band that sold over a million copies. I probably copied an idea from someone else or slightly altered someone else’s style and claimed it as my own. Regardless, I was the new hot thing in Nashville for a minute or two.
After a few more successes and working my butt off trying to take amazing photos… I realized I could just keep doing what I was doing. I found a couple of things that worked. Like shooting on a white backdrop and a specific lighting set-up that would look killer every time. It became my "old faithful." I became more confident in my craft… or at least a few of my tricks.
I didn't want to feel insecure anymore or worry that I'd be discovered as faking it, so I started playing it safe. We've probably all experienced this right?
I found myself saying by default, "How about we shoot that band on a white seamless backdrop. That would be cool and original!" Even though I'd already done it a hundred times.
If you've been shooting for a while, I bet you can relate to having a specific set-up that you know will work. Maybe you shot a killer senior portrait session in your secret location, or a bride in a beautiful backlit garden, and you kept replicating your past successes.
No one knew it wasn't your best. But you knew. You knew it was only a copy of your previous best.
Sometimes early success is not good for you (or at least me). We turn to coasting on the momentum we luckily gained from a big break.
I've heard it said, "If you're not growing, you're dying.
Well, here's my confession:
I've been stale. I've been coasting. I've been lieing to you. Cheating my clients.
I told the artist, I loved the idea. I told my clients this was my best work, I told you… well, what you wanted to hear. I didn't want to be vulnerable, I didn't want put myself out there again, I wanted to be comfortable. Frankly, I wanted stay on my couch where it is warm and cozy.
PLEASE STOP THE MUSIC.
The world needs your art. It needs all you have. It doesn't need my half-assed effort anymore. It needs my best. It needs me to push limits. To do things that scare me.
DON'T WITHHOLD YOUR BEST. If you're not absolutely spent after a shoot… you've cheated the world.
I've had a few moments of being shaken back to reality in the past few years… but then I fall back into the same creative rut or safe zones.
Until recently, I hadn't done any test shoots for myself in the last 3 years. I hadn't gone out and tried something new. In contrast, my first couple of years, I was shooting every chance I could to build my portfolio, to learn, and sometimes just to create something beautiful.
Everything I've been doing recently has been from techniques that I learned years ago… and I kept doing the same things over and over.
Maybe for you, you need to stop shooting the same backlit portraits at the same location over and over shooting at f/2 to get that same super shallow depth of field. I need to stop shooting on the same white seamless background.
I love Jon Foreman's lyric in the Switchfoot song: "This is your life. Are you who you want to be?"
I've been in a creative rut. I've been doing the same old things over and over… because they are safe and I know they work.
But that's lame. I've been a coward.
I dare you to join me. I dare you to get uncomfortable. Let's push the limits.
I dare you to risk being discovered as a fake… again.
You can see more of David’s work at DavidMolnar.com, and follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
Good for the amateur as well. Sometimes I’m afraid to click the shutter. What if the shot is no good? Well, so what? If you want to succeed, fail more!! Great article.
Thanks Cheryl. We certainly all feel that or have felt that way at a certain time. Maybe don’t fail more… but be vulnerable and open to failing more ;)
Excellent blog post. I think most photographers have this feeling and it’s healthy, it pushes us to be better. We must always work hard at reinventing ourselves, and push beyond our comfort zones. David’s work is amazing to me, I see no reason to be apologetic!
Thanks for being honest Puggle! I really appreciate that. And I appreciate the kind words. Onward!
Although being an amateur I can relate to this! Playing it safe always leaves me feeling empty the wrong way while pushing it gives me energy and a good feeling. Excellent post, I’ll bookmark it to have as a reminder. Or perhaps print it and put it on the fridge?
Haha. Thanks for sharing this :) I’d be honored if you print it and put it on the fridge :)
Weil, the whole thing did not fit but I did put this on it:
“The world needs your art. It needs all you have. It doesnâ€™t need my half-assed effort anymore. It needs my best. It needs me to push limits. To do things that scare me.
DONâ€™T WITHHOLD YOUR BEST. If youâ€™re not absolutely spent after a shootâ€¦ youâ€™ve cheated the world.
I dare you to join me. I dare you to get uncomfortable. Letâ€™s push the limits.
I dare you to risk being discovered as a fakeâ€¦ again.”
I’m listening to your’s and Emil’s advice to think outside the box and step out of our comfort zones. Without this honesty, many of us wouldn’t have made progress, or had enough of a foundation let alone the inspiration to get to the next level. So we think about it, dream about it, practice it and sometimes we fail but we get up and make it part of our day. Honestly, I’m looking forward to the next 10,000 shots! And when I don’t have my camera ready I will blink the shot because I see it! You have to want to go to the next level to get there and I do.
Thanks for sharing Melissa! That is refreshing to hear. I’m glad Emil and I could help :)
I’ve worked in the field myself know exactly what your saying. I have learned so much from you & Emil regarding the use of my iPhonr camara. Thank you so much for that. It is refreshing to hear another pro speak honestly about the emotion roller coaster of photography. But in the beginning I think we are to critical of our work. Now I always keep in mind something my Dad used to say ‘One Man’s junk can be other Man’s treasure’. So just because an image did come the way you intended to doesn’t mean it isn’t a incredible image. So don’t be to quick to delete your images that disappoint.
Thanks Michele :)
I love this post, David! I’m in a totally different field, but I could relate to the emotions you described. I’ve been reading Brene’ Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection, with a group of friends. Over the years, I’ve developed the ability to take risks and to be vulnerable with friends. However, as I reread the book, I realized to my shock that I really struggle with perfectionism at work.
As Brene described it, I’ve been “hustling for my worth”, and it’s gotten in the way of really meeting my clients’ needs. Just in the last few days, I’ve found that resting in the knowledge that I DO bring value every time has freed me to relax, stop trying to prove something, and really focus on my clients, what they need, and connecting with them.
Thank you for sharing this post! It was a great reminder that it’s not just me, lol. And I appreciated that reminder that fear keeps you stuck. Here’s to growing and taking risks!
Wow! thanks for sharing all of that Abby. I’m reading her book “Daring Greatly” right now and learning a lot from it. Part of the inspiration for this blog post probably came from that book. That’s awesome that are relaxing in the knowledge and confidence that you do bring value. Onward!
Such a great post and I can totally relate to this! I just set up a shoot for next Friday to just create. Thanks for this my friend. -Zach
Thanks for sharing Zach! Glad it could help :)
I have felt that way before and can totally relate. Not from photography (because I haven’t actually made the leap to a paying gig yet) but in a previous career. The only time in my life I felt really confident was when I had a job that I essentially had to follow a checklist, lol. Hard to screw that up although people managed to somehow do just that. I could easily see myself finding something that works and then sticking with that. Easy pattern to fall into.
Totally hear you Tammy. It’s tough… comfort zones are well, comfortable. But it’s a dangerous place to be in. Let’s pursue something worthy of discomfort!
Love all these bands and your transparency, David. Phenomenal photos/art. You absolutely captured the spirit of the artists. Luv that TFK shot! I’ve seen several of these bands in concert (more than a few x’s). Nuff said – brilliant!
Thanks so much Kathy! I love those bands too :)
Thanks for sharing. Love your work.
Thanks John! Appreciate that :)
You give me hope that I’ll kill the poseur and become the artist. Thank you for sharing this!
Thanks Keith! Go for it!
Thanks for your thoughts. We live in a world traveled by the multitudes who have trampled down originality to settle for the seemingly mundane, and every once in a while someone like yourself comes along who has made the success journey and shouts, “Wait a minute, I have so much more!” and you begin on that road less traveled, not following the path of trampled down. I’m an old man who is encouraged to see there are still those who will risk it all to provide us with something spectacular…keep at it so we can see the fireworks you will light our skies with in your journey.
Wow!~ Thanks for giving this encouragement. I’m inspired. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Jon Foremanâ€™s lyric also means a lot to me… I thought I was the only one… thanks!
Hey @Ross, You are not alone!
Thank you for this post David. It’s a very inspiring kick in the butt.
Love to hear this Sam! Thanks for sharing.