How to Beat Imposter Syndrome in Nature Photography
In this article, discover effective strategies and empowering insights on how to overcome imposter syndrome, and why this is important in the realm of nature photography.
It’s been over a decade since I embarked on my journey toward a career in nature photography and video production. It has been the journey of a lifetime. I have been blessed with opportunities to explore our remarkable planet and witness fascinating wildlife.
Recently, however, I have been reflecting on this journey and some of the things I have noticed about our industry.
I don’t want anyone else who might have similar feelings to me to feel like they are alone, so in this article, I am sharing my thoughts on imposter syndrome and offering some tips on how to combat it!
What is imposter syndrome?
The way our culture talks about imposter syndrome, it could easily be mistaken for a medical condition, but it is not.
Originally known as ‘imposter phenomenon,’ imposter syndrome is loosely defined as persistently doubting your abilities or accomplishments and feeling like a fraud.
When someone has imposter syndrome, they feel as though they ended up in a position by mistake, and everyone else around them is much more competent. It can cause you to worry that your client or employer will realize that you are not cut out for the job.
Imposter syndrome is frequently associated with people who suffer from anxiety disorders. However, imposter syndrome is indiscriminate, and it can impact anyone.
Imposter syndrome in art
Nature photographers and filmmakers are particularly vulnerable to imposter syndrome.
In one job, I had a colleague who thought her project photos were not of good quality. One of her photos went on to be the most used photo of the year in our employer’s global marketing efforts owing to its popularity among staff and its strong composition.
In another role, I worked alongside a senior filmmaker who produced stunning films, but when he shared his work, he believed it wasn’t good enough. I remember being utterly shocked.
His films were extremely well-directed, and the editing was so incredible that I was always inspired by his work, and yet he genuinely believed his work was weak.
These are both prime examples of imposter syndrome amongst highly successful professionals in our industry.
I think we as nature photographers, in particular, are more vulnerable to imposter syndrome because nature photography is very competitive, and when you choose a creative path professionally, no one expects you to do well.
The opinions of others can affect our self-esteem.
During my studies, the students aspiring to be doctors or lawyers were considered to be ‘sensible.’
On the other hand, aspiring to be a photographer was considered foolish, and I was regularly questioned by my peers and sometimes even teachers about how I could make a living on this path.
Perhaps these kinds of experiences can worsen our insecurities and give us that feeling of needing to prove ourselves.
Read more: How to Develop a Photographic Style
How to cope with imposter syndrome
Here are my top tips to help you cope with imposter syndrome whenever you feel it setting in.
1. Stop comparing yourself to other photographers and filmmakers.
While social media has its benefits, particularly for freelancers who wish to market their work, it can also be a toxic place to spend your time. On social media, it is so easy to look at what everyone else is doing and fall into the trap of comparisons.
It can become a habit to question why we haven’t achieved as much as our peers or where we have failed. In fact, some social media platforms are designed to encourage this toxic behavior.
Imposter syndrome builds on our reluctance to extend what we know of ourselves to those around us. In our minds, we are fully aware of all our own shortcomings and inadequacies.
However, our understanding of those around us is highly edited, and we only have a limited picture derived from highlight reels shared on social media.
You end up comparing your files straight from the camera to a curated and edited gallery of work on someone’s page, which is by no means a fair comparison.
Behind the highlight reels of social media, there are often difficult realities. We don’t often hear about the challenges others are coming up against or their aching fears that they are not ‘good enough’.
Even though we cannot see their inner picture, the reality is the people we assume have it all together are much more like us than we think.
2. Build your community
One of the most important things for nature photographers and filmmakers is community. Surrounding yourself with the right people can boost your self-esteem.
In fact, regardless of what you do, community can have a profound positive impact on your well-being.
Early in my career, I rarely entered photography competitions because I had so much doubt that my photos could compete.
However, in 2016, a friend encouraged me to enter a photo into the British Wildlife Photography Awards that I honestly thought was so terrible I was going to delete it.
That same photo went on to win Highly Commended in a national competition with thousands of entries. My story shows the danger of imposter syndrome, but also the importance of having a supportive community.
By building a community, you can also remind yourself that you are not alone. I am a part of a wildlife camerawomen group, for example, and the ladies in this group are incredibly supportive.
But your community does not need to be made up of solely photographers and filmmakers; your friends and family are all part of your community.
I am fortunate that my parents and siblings have always been supportive of my dream of working in visual storytelling, and you may find the same in close friends or family members.
3. Celebrate your successes and set personal goals
For nearly half of my life, I have been obsessed with reaching a notable level of success. I thought if I got the right kind of job, then success and happiness would follow.
Every success I’ve had, whether it was winning a photography competition, getting a photo published somewhere new, or being scouted by a new client, boosted my self-worth.
However, after every success, I found I would soon feel inadequate once again.
I recently found myself wondering, ‘at what point are we satisfied with our lives and proud of all we have achieved?’ For many nature photographers and filmmakers, it can feel impossible to take our successes on board.
Something that helps me is looking back at my photography from when I first picked up a camera.
This enables me to focus on my self-improvement, rather than comparing myself to anybody else around me. In that moment, I can objectively observe how my photography has improved and be proud of my achievements.
Another helpful thing is using the ‘wheel of life’ to set goals. A quick Google search will give you lots of free templates you can use.
I fill one wheel in monochrome showing where I am now, and then I fill out another using colorful pencils showing my aspirations. You write the date on the top, and your future self can refer back to it to see how far you have come.
I didn’t think much of this method until I looked back on my wheel from 2018 and was astounded to realize I had achieved almost every single one of my goals from back then.
Again, this forces you to celebrate your success rather than focus on comparisons.
I would also like to add that being successful should not equate to being valuable as a human being.
More often than not in this industry, privilege and luck play a massive part in being ‘successful,’ and being less successful does not automatically mean you have not worked hard enough.
Additionally, ‘success’ is defined in countless ways, and interpreted differently by everyone. There is no one right way to have a successful career in the nature photography industry.
You can’t measure your own success against that of another person, as their own goals and ideals may be very different from your own.
Instead, focus on setting goals surrounding what success means to you.
4. Don’t let perfectionism stop you.
Perfectionism is a character trait that many artists or creatives are known to battle. It can be detrimental to our work, however, as the desire to strive for perfect, flawless results can come with debilitating self-criticism.
Sometimes perfectionism inhibits my creativity.
When things are at their worst, I find it difficult to edit my photos and films because I am so worried about the disappointment I will feel if my content does not meet the high standards I impose on myself.
Dealing with perfectionism is challenging, but the best cure is to simply pick up your camera and walk out the door. Get out there and shoot, let your work be imperfect and messy. Nature itself isn’t perfect!
Nature photography is hard, and there are so many unpredictable elements involved, from the weather to the wildlife itself. The most important thing is to start and not be so precious with it.
We have the incredible ability now with digital cameras to shoot without limitations on the number of images we create.
And even if you go out there and come home without a single decent photograph, you will often feel better for it from being out immersed in nature.
5. Remember why you do what you do
I first got into photography not because I wanted to be a photographer or filmmaker. I started taking photos because I loved the experience.
As mentioned in my ‘From Amateur to Professional’ interview with Nature TTL, my camera was my key to the world.
I am sure you also have your reasons, and you must never lose sight of those. I recommend writing them down and keeping them somewhere that you can pull out every now and then to go over them.
Focus on the meaning behind your work more than you focus on measuring the quality of what you do.
Nature photography has the power to improve our well-being by forcing us to get out of our heads and focus on the world around us. Visual storytelling has the power to change our world for the better.
The planetary crisis of biodiversity destruction, climate change, and pollution is not going to wait around while we doubt ourselves and question our abilities.
I love nature and this incredible planet we call home, and I think that is one of the greatest motivators to stop worrying about what anyone else thinks and get out there and tell the stories that matter.
How to overcome imposter syndrome
I think our society plays a crucial part in imposter syndrome. We ask toddlers ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ and the first question asked when we meet someone new is often ‘what do you do for a living?’.
We have a cultural obsession with work, and society places more value on career-driven, ‘successful’ people.
Capitalism can make us feel inadequate. We may feel the need to be wealthier, healthier, and more experienced, and to own more material things.
We pressurize ourselves that we need to ‘make it’ in our careers. Even our education system can feel that it is pitting us against one another more often than it encourages collaboration.
Capitalism is ableist, non-inclusive, and encourages us to feel inadequate.
In this environment, anxiety is a natural human reaction. Imposter syndrome directs our view toward fixing ourselves as individuals instead of fixing the culture where we work or the society in which we live.
Perhaps imposter syndrome is not resolved by becoming sure of our abilities, but when we recognize that we are not unusual in our self-doubt.
The only way to overcome it is to face it, and you can be certain that you are not facing it alone. Take some of the steps mentioned in this article, and don’t be too hard on yourself.
You will find in time that your feelings of inadequacy lessen, particularly when you share the burden of those feelings with others, and find that they are reciprocated.
- Switch off your social media for a while, and when you’re back on it, remember that there is more than meets the eye to the lives of the photographers you’re looking at.
- Spend real time with other people in this industry; shooting, sharing images, and talking about your goals for the future. Networking can only help you find success, but it may also provide you with the supportive community you need to move up and out of an ‘imposter syndrome slump.’ Go to events, workshops, or talks, and look out for relevant Facebook groups.
- Keep your goals in sight and stay positive. You can achieve them!
- Get outside: the best thing you can do to beat imposter syndrome is to keep shooting.
- Remember why you love nature photography. This might mean re-connecting with nature and spending some time outdoors without your camera for a little while.
Whether you are a beginner, amateur, or professional photographer, and whatever your employment status, job title, living situation – you are worthy, and you should be proud of your decision to pursue this wonderful art form.
Don’t let doubt stop you from picking up your camera.
I wouldn’t be surprised if almost every photographer, no matter how ‘successful’ they are in our eyes, feels like an imposter sometimes, and I know for a fact; our self-doubt has very little to do with the quality of our camera work.