Have you been feeling “Imposter Syndrome” in your photography business lately? Or maybe you don’t even know that Imposter Syndrome is holding you back in your photography business. If you’ve thought to yourself:
- I’m not even worthy of calling myself a professional photographer
- My photos aren’t good enough to put up on a website for the world to see
- I know I’m a good photographer, but I just don’t think my work is important enough to talk about
- I’m ashamed to call photography anything more than a hobby when people ask what I do
Then you’re probably suffering from Imposter Syndrome in your photography business, and it’s time to make a change.
I’ve been there, too. I know what it feels like to constantly be doubting my abilities and feeling like a fraud. I used to think that the reason I received accolades and was asked to speak to thousands of photographers at WPPI and Professional Photographers of America’s annual conference Imaging USA, was all just because of “luck”. Feeling like such a phony… I had only been in my photography business for a couple of years, so how could I even be deserving of awards? I didn’t feel like I belonged where I was, and I was worried that one day I was going to be found out as a fraud. Then, I found out the truth behind why I was feeling this way. Imposter Syndrome is actually a real thing, and it disproportionately affects high-achieving people who find it difficult to accept their accomplishments.
But even after being in the photography business for over 23 years now, I still doubt myself from time to time. I let the little voice in my head get the best of me, and convince me that I’m not that good of a photographer. That clients are going to figure out that I just use the basic lighting setups and am not some guru with my camera. I’m nobody special. Imposter syndrome is real, and it’s probably going to follow you around in different areas of your life. Like being a mom. Or going to the gym for the first time in years. Or raising the prices of your photography and being priced higher than your competition.
If you’re a boutique photographer, you’ve probably encountered imposter syndrome when you first told your clients your prices. You probably asked yourself, “Am I even good enough to deserve money for this?” So, here are my top 5 tips for getting rid of the head trash and getting over “Imposter Syndrome” in your photography business.
1. Remind Yourself That You Deserve To Make Money in Your Photography Business
When I started my business, I remember feeling insecure and thinking, “I’m a bad person for making money on something I’d do for free.” The imposter syndrome was slowly creeping into my photography business. On the bad days, people’s comments would make me feel horrible for trying to have a profitable business, even though that was my goal. Some people told me that my prices were too high for them to afford. The story I told myself is that my photography wasn’t good enough. But that was a lie.
You have got to remind yourself that there are people out there who are willing to pay higher prices because they want to invest in custom wall art. It can be so hard to talk about money, but you have got to shift your mindset around money. It isn’t this icky thing that we shouldn’t talk about. You aren’t supposed feel bad when your clients give you money in exchange for heirloom wall art.
As photographers, we forget that our job is a real job, and it’s an important job. You’re good at what you do. You invested in education on how to use your camera. You’ve put hours of work into coming up with special portrait products that your clients will love. You have thousands of dollars invested in your gear. Photography is your way of helping others celebrate their loved ones, and you deserve to be paid for your work.
2. Stop Comparing Yourself To Other Photographers
What happens if you see another photographer in your town who just got a $5,000 order? As much as you want to celebrate with them, the volume of your headtrash is up to level 10. You think, “How come I’m not getting orders like that yet? Is it my prices? My marketing? My photography? Maybe I should throw in the towel and go sell essential oils.” Comparing yourself to other photographers is like poisoned fruit. It’s easy, but it doesn’t serve you.
If you find yourself constantly comparing your photography business to others, try to turn the tables. Instead of a negative comparison, use the other photography businesses as PROOF. When you see another boutique photographer crush it with a five-figure portrait order, use it to remind yourself that you can do the same exact thing. That boutique photographer just proved it can be done! So why can’t you get the next high-paying portrait order? That is why it’s so important to learn with people who are ahead of you. If they can do it, you can do it too.
No photographer has the same background, the same skills, or the same journey. It truly is apples and oranges here… There are so many different types of photography, not to mention several different business models.
3. Stop Hiding Your Failures In Your Photography Business
Take a look at the shame and guilt and all those yucky feelings that we hate when we fail. Ask yourself “Why am I feeling this?” Is it because you think you let your clients down? Did you let yourself down? Did you let your family down? Instead of looking at it like you failed someone, look at it as an opportunity to get that much better at your craft. You just got hands-on experience by making a mistake that you’ll never make again.
I had to refund a $6,000 order that was paid in full to a studio client back in the transition to digital because I didn’t know how to use my digital camera and lost the images. There was no way to reshoot it because the client’s stepdaughter lived out of state. I did everything I could. I apologized, and they were fairly nice, but the daughter hardly ever came to town. Needless to say, I lost that client. Nobody yelled or screamed at me, but I had to give $6,000 back. It wasn’t my favorite day.
It can be easy to take a look at your failures and tell yourself that you’re just an imposter and you’ll never be like the professionals. But the truth is, the professionals got where they are by failing. Over and over. So if you have a failure, remind yourself that this is exactly what the best of the best went through to get where they are today. Which makes you one step closer to being the best version of yourself as a photographer. And that’s not something you should try to hide or overlook.
4. Accept That You Will Mess Up With Your Photography Clients
There is no such thing as a portrait emergency. If we mess up, nobody’s going to die on the operating table. If your portraits are terrible, you reshoot the session. Or if you miss a deadline, you apologize and make it right. The bottom line for us boutique photographers is that if you mess something up, you fix it. Now, wedding photographers, little asterisk there, you’re different because you can’t reshoot. But for portrait photographers, at the end of the day, nobody’s going to die because of a mistake you made.
Sooner or later, you’re going to lose a client. You’re going to lose money. You’re going to have someone unhappy with you. Those things are going to happen, and all you do is your best. You can apologize. You can work to fix it. You’ll add a process to your system where you can make it up to people. And at the end of the day, you’ve done everything you can. You know you’re a good person.
If someone’s going to forever bad mouth you because of a mistake you made as a photographer, even though you took responsibility and did your best to fix it, they’re not even a client you want. Think about those people in your life. You know who they are.
Go into your business accepting the fact that you will fail your clients at one point or another. When you accept this, you can cut off Imposter Syndrome before it even happens. Because when you fail, you’ll already know that it’s not because you’re an imposter, it’s because you are a human. And humans make mistakes.
5. Realize You Aren’t For Everyone, But That Doesn’t Mean You Have to Let Imposter Syndrome Bring Down Your Photography Business
To succeed in business, you have to find a specific audience that loves what you do. When you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one. But that’s a hard thing to accept, right? As photographers, we strive to be people pleasers! We want to absolutely thrill all of our clients. The good news is that you can still thrill every single one of your clients. You just have to start by finding the right clients for you, who get goosebumps when they look at heirloom wall art hanging above the mantle in their homes.
When I started my second business, the Joy of Marketing, I would get snotty replies from some of the photographers on our email list. But, I also got way more emails from photographers who have shared with me that my business has changed their life for good. And then it all clicked: Haters don’t pay the bills. But serving the right clients for you does.
Remember, you don’t have “haters” because you aren’t good enough, or because you’re an imposter. It’s just that no business in history has appealed to absolutely everyone ever. Shoot-and-burn photographers that only sell digital files will never get clients that want wall art. Boutique photographers will never get clients that only want a couple hundred digital files on a zip drive. And the good news is that there will always be enough clients for both kinds of photographers and both types of clients.
There are a million and one reasons your subconscious could make up to convince you that you’re an imposter. But there are also a million reasons for why you are the real deal as a photographer, you just have to choose which reasons you’re going to listen to. For most of us photographers, there are two truths:
- You are an extraordinary human, and
- You will spend your entire life trying to convince yourself otherwise.
Instead of letting Imposter Syndrome get the best of you, here’s what you can do to get ahead of it:
- Get a small journal that will fit in your camera bag. Every morning, list out five reasons why you’re a great photographer. Keep this journal in your camera bag, and read through your reasons every time you start to feel the doubt creeping in.
- Learn what it’s like to believe in yourself again. Make it a habit to remind yourself what you are good at, and to let go of the things that you aren’t.
- Instead of comparing yourself to other photographers and allowing that comparison to hold you down like a heavy brick, realize that you need to hang out with other successful photographers so you can do what they are doing.
- Don’t let someone else’s success make you stop and feel worse about yours. Instead, let it motivate and challenge you.
There is enough room in this world for all of us photographers without anyone having to be an imposter. Just because another photographer is at a different point in their journey doesn’t make any part of your journey less valid or important. It’s completely valid to feel Imposter Syndrome in your photography business, but just know that there are ways you can combat the head trash and go forward confidently!
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