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On Dealing with External Validation as a Photographer

Shortly after I developed an interest in photography, I started sharing my photos online. It was a great experience because it introduced me to a wide variety of photographers, some of whom are still my friends today. 


The internet is an amazing place with endless possibilities. It's only natural for us to share our work and find inspiration here. However, if used excessively or unwisely, it can lead to burnout. After years of constantly sharing my photos online, I lost interest in photography. I forgot what it was like to simply enjoy the process of taking photos. 


Everyone has a different opinion on this matter, so this is just a personal essay that may or may not resonate with you. In hopes of helping someone who's experiencing something similar, I'll share a few tips that have helped me stop chasing external validation. 


The Pros of External Validation


External validation comes in many forms, and it can often be a great source of help. There are many amazing photographers that we can learn from, so seeking their approval can help us improve. For example, working with a photography mentor who guides and validates you at the appropriate times can be immensely beneficial. Getting validation and constructive criticism in a photography group or forum can help you look at your work from a different perspective. 


As a beginner, I had photographer friends whom I looked up to and whose opinions I valued more than my own. Receiving feedback (and sometimes approval) from them was nothing short of motivating. 


cat hiding in shadows

When External Validation Becomes Unhealthy


On the other hand, there are many unhealthy versions of external validation. Seeking validation outside of yourself, especially when strangers are involved, can quickly turn into an emotional rollercoaster. 


Social media is an endless cycle of opinions, trends, and unpredictable algorithms. As a result, many photographers base their worth on the amount of attention they receive.


How many followers do I have? How many likes did my recent photo get? Why did this photo get less attention than my previous photo?


If the amount isn't satisfactory (and it never seems to be), discouragement and comparison enter the picture. 


Everyone experiences this differently. Some are more sensitive to this than others. However, after interviewing over 180 photographers, I've come to realize that a large percentage of people struggle with social media validation. 


Should You Quit Social Media? 


Quitting social media isn't always the best option. If you have a photography business, you might need a certain platform to find new clients and give your business more exposure. Some photographers find great success without needing social media, but they rely on other forms of networking to achieve this. The great thing is that there's something for everyone.


I'm no longer active on social media, but I wouldn't recommend quitting unless: 


  • Photography is your hobby 

  • If photography is your business, you have other ways of networking outside of social media

  • Every time you use social media, you feel drained


Quitting didn't magically solve everything. I didn't feel inspired right away. What I did feel, however, was relief. My sources of external validation were gone, so I had the opportunity to figure out how I really felt about my passion. I decided to take a break from taking photos, something I had been secretly wanting for a while. 


Don't Share Your Photos Right Away 


How do you feel about your work? When I asked myself this question, I couldn't find a proper answer. Other people's compliments and opinions came to mind. I realized that I took certain photos because they'd do well on social media or complement other photos in my portfolio. I had a style that I stayed loyal to, even though I was eager to experiment with different things. I knew those "other things" wouldn't get much attention, which worried me. 


Quitting gave me the freedom to make all kinds of decisions without being concerned about external validation, but it also taught me an important lesson: if you live to please others, you will never find any kind of fulfilment. 


If quitting social media isn't possible, you can prioritise spending quality time with your photographs before you share them with the world. Some photographers share their images months after taking them. Some people don't even look at their own photos right away! 


Why do they do this? To enjoy the process of taking photos again. Being able to find joy in that process can make it easier to deal with the unpredictable world of opinions. If your passion is grounded, the unpredictability of external validation is less likely to shake you.

silhouette of person and guitar

Find the Right Community 


If you're reading this article, you know what it's like to be a part of a community. Many of you post your photos in the forum because you want to improve or just share your perspective with others. In my opinion, this is one of the best ways to find inspiration.


There is something very special about sharing your photographs in a community. If you're passionate about what you do, you have the ability to inspire others. Your work can motivate someone to pursue photography. Your view of the world might resonate with a stranger!


What has worked for me is finding a supportive community of photographers with whom I can learn on a regular basis. It's like having a small group of friends, all of whom you know very well. Approaching it this way allows me to share my work, network, make new friends, and receive constructive feedback. 

Take a Break 


People say this all the time, but taking a break can truly do wonders for your creativity. Even if you're out of inspiration at the moment, you're still a photographer. If you feel like being creative without picking up your camera, there are many other hobbies you can enjoy. When you feel like taking photos again, you might come up with unique ideas thanks to these new interests.


In my opinion, it's also okay to take a break from creativity in general. There are other things that can relax or inspire you, like spending time with your family, going on a trip, or just...living!


I needed a very long break from photography before I felt even remotely inspired. During that time, I focused on other things that brought me joy. Now that I'm eager to pick up the camera again, I look forward to taking photographs without relying on external validation.


high-angle portrait of walking cat

Conclusion


External validation isn't always a bad thing, but it can drain your creative energy if your self-esteem relies on it. It's normal for human beings to seek approval from others, but it's important to stay grounded. You can achieve this by focusing on the "why" behind your photography, finding a supportive group of photographers, or taking a break and focusing on something different. 


No matter which path you choose, I'm sure you'll find a lot of inspiration and a greater sense of self in the process. 


Let me know your thoughts on external validation in the comments. 

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6 Comments


cklarue
cklarue
May 09

Good and thought-provoking article, folks! I was especially drawn to the parts about social media and maybe not sharing images right away (maybe letting them settle a little while). So here's my question: What role do you think having a Portfolio website can play in a person's external validation? My take is that the very act of culling and deliberately placing images in a curated place on your own Portfolio site that you control (vs. social media) can serve to cultivate a personal feeling of validation and satisfaction before any external validation takes place. At the same time, a high-quality presentation of one's work, which you'd get from your own site, yields the best chance of positive validation from others. My personal conclusion…

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Taya Iv
Taya Iv
May 10
Replying to

I completely agree. I've never thought of online portfolios or website as "traditional social media" because they usually don't have an algorithm. It's impossible to get too distracted when you're enjoying someone's photos on their website.


Social media is a great tool for getting exposure and finding new clients/friends/collaborators, that's for sure. It's important to have a website that can serve as a foundation for your work, though.


Thank you for sharing your thoughts here! I appreciate your input. :)


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Guest
May 07

A good read indeed

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Taya Iv
Taya Iv
May 07
Replying to

Thank you for taking the time to read this article!

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Guest
May 06

I most enjoy posting my photos on social media soon after taking them; however, other interests and obligations frequently interfere with that timeline. I sometimes feel guilty that I can't show my followers very recent pictures, especially as the major seasons change or just after a major weather event. Example: I have images from the most recent solar eclipse, but haven't taken the time or had the time to work up a composite image to print or post. It's old news now!

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Taya Iv
Taya Iv
May 06
Replying to

I'm sure that your followers will still enjoy looking at your solar eclipse composites. In fact, it might be a nice reminder of that event! Everyone has a different relationship with their photos and the way they share them on social media. Thank you for sharing your perspective. :)

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