Self Awareness as a Barrier to Seeing

This article originally appeared in Outdoor Photography Canada – subscribe to the magazine to get my articles years before they appear here 😉

One of the biggest hurdles I had to overcome as a photographer was me. I was constantly sabotaging my own progress in photography by worrying about how I looked to others. This wasn’t about fashion (I have none) or the gear I owned (I have too much) or whether my hair looked good (when I had hair); it was about my preoccupation with what others might think of my photos.

©Darwin Wiggett - oopoomoo.com

©Darwin Wiggett – The more self aware you are when you make images, the less likely you’ll make original work.

Whenever I went out shooting with others, I was always watching to see what they were photographing instead of concentrating on my own work. Were they seeing something I was missing? Were they using a lens I had not thought of? “What are those filters they are using?” “That is a weird angle of view, maybe I should try that!” In short my head was full of constant distracting chatter and my insecurities had me watching everyone else instead of concentrating on just making images. I was in a self-imposed competition.

©Darwin Wiggett - oopoomoo.com

©Darwin Wiggett – This photo was made in direct competive response to the presence of a famous American photographer who was looking for Abraham Lake bubble photos. “I’ll show him – there is more here than just bubbles!”

Even when I shot alone, I was still thinking things like, ‘If I do this funky thing with the flash then people will think I am amazing” Or, “This is awesome! I can’t wait to show people this image; they’ll love it”. In short, I was still worried about my audience. I was shooting for other people and not shooting for myself! And of course I never grew as artist.

©Darwin Wiggett - this image of Balancing Rock, Nova Scotia was made specifically to wow! The audience was considered first, my needs as an artist were put way don the priority list.

©Darwin Wiggett – this image of Balancing Rock, Nova Scotia was made specifically to wow! The audience was considered first, my needs as an artist were put way down the priority list.

Only in moments when others were not around, when I was not in ‘trophy’ photography territory (the grand landscape in iconic locations) and when I didn’t have a camera with me did I start to notice things beyond my preconceptions of what a good photograph should be. I started to see the light and shadow patterns of the window blinds, the play of light through a water glass, the brush of light across the carpet. In short, in quiet moments, and in forgetting about how my photos would appear to others, I started to see.

©Darwin Wiggett - There are amazing images everywhere if you just close your mid to yourself and start to really see.

©Darwin Wiggett – There are amazing images everywhere if you just start to really see.

In my nature photography, I still searched for the grand landscape and the big light and the rewards of accolades by others, but more and more that pursuit was ringing hollow. I was finding more pleasure in making images that were softer, quieter and more introspective. I found great pleasure in making something from nothing and that pleased my sensibilities the most. As soon as I let go of self I became a better photographer.

©Darwin Wiggett - This picture is not about getting 'likes', it is about making an image that pleases me.

©Darwin Wiggett – This picture is not about getting ‘likes’, it is about making an image that pleases me.

Now I just shoot for me and worry little what others will think of my photos. As long as the photos are true to my vision and represent who I am and what I saw, then the photos are a success for me. Letting go of self, competition, and concern for audience is really about letting go of insecurities. Finally, I can fully pursue my creative vision. And in doing so the joy of creation has come back full force.

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett – personal seeing at Abraham Lake

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett  – personal seeing in the Canadian Rockies

©Darwin Wiggett - personal seeing in the Antarctic Sound

©Darwin Wiggett – personal seeing in the Antarctic Sound

If like me, you suffer from a bad case of ‘yourself,’ then maybe it’s time to let go and make pictures purely for you and not with others in mind. Stop submitting so many images to online forums, stop hoping that others will love your work and start shooting for you. In the end you’ll be a better artist for it. Happy shooting! (Thanks to Freeman Patterson and Samantha Chrysanthou for valuable lessons in ‘barriers to seeing’.)

©Samantha Chrysanthou

©Samantha Chrysanthou

About the Author

I am a Canadian landscape and outdoor photographer who loves long hikes in the woods, yummy food, hairy dogs, good company and a good guitar jam.

12 Comments

  1. rob provencher
    May 7, 2015

    Good one. Great insight. Not many talk about this stuff. Success starts inside….

    Reply
  2. Linda
    May 7, 2015

    Wonderful article and so very well said and true. I can certainly relate to it lol 🙂

    Reply
  3. Tom Peck
    May 7, 2015

    That is so true. Forget what the others say, and shoot for yourself!

    Reply
  4. Al Garner
    May 7, 2015

    How did you get inside my head? I am going to print this blog post and put it in my camera bag to read before every shoot! I am not a creative type by nature (am an accountant what can I say). It has been struggle to learn to “see” but I have made some progress. Now if I can just “get over myself” more often photography will be a real joy! This blog post has been a great help!

    Reply
  5. Brian Hayward
    May 7, 2015

    In a nutshell, I understand and agree- I like to see how others view a scene as often I really like and learn from the perspective they used. I also like to observe as I am still trying to learn the “how to” for getting right exposure, especially in difficult lighting, and getting “tack sharp”. I learned a lot from our mutual friend Colleen about right brain/left brain which has really opened my way of looking at scenes or things around those scenes and allowed me to try and get the blade of grass or the reflection because that is what grabbed me – not because that is what everybody should have been shooting – totally agree with your insight

    Reply
  6. Dave Benson
    May 7, 2015

    sounds more powerful today than when I first read it i OPC… and soooo true…

    Reply
  7. al hart
    May 7, 2015

    I’ve long thought that if I read everything Wiggett wrote, I’d become the photographer he is, but after years of trying, I’ve just become too old for hikes in the woods and too fat for yummy foods. I do like hot dogs, rarely-appearing company, and gooseberry jam.

    Reply
  8. Florian
    May 7, 2015

    Hello,

    thank you for your thoughts and interesting photographs. I think that I understand the essence of what you are saying, and think (and try to do) likewise, but I do not understand how “letting go self” and photographing for oneself go together. I would have said that the type of photography you describe implicates a much stronger concentration on self (and not on others); not a letting go of self.

    Reply
  9. John James
    May 7, 2015

    Deer Darwin (always like to start with a bit of humor)
    I have been a follower of oppomo (sp) for years and an admirer of your work and style and sharing. In a small effort to give back to you, I want to share an article regarding the psychology of nature photos. It is in the May 2015 issue of Outdoor Photographer; written by Glenn Randall. I was quite amazed at his perspective of how ‘viewers’ might perceive (and maybe subconsciously) landscape shots. The article, Psych 101, makes some comments that seem quite accurate…sort of the ‘Aha Moment’ for me, similar to the ‘Aha Moment’ lessons you have shared to increase my appreciation and creativity. I do shoot for me only, but the learning curve angles many different ways.
    Thanks for all you’ve shared,
    John

    Reply
  10. Nancy
    May 7, 2015

    Totally agree. I find myself falling back into old habits of following and have to pull myself back to me. Hope this makes sense. N

    Reply
  11. Claude Theoret
    May 7, 2015

    I also find a lot of photographer try to copy others . I say do your own style ..

    Reply
  12. Links worth reading (on photography and more) from 12-21-2015 - Tamme Maurer
    December 20, 2015

    […] Self Awareness as a Barrier to SeeingOne of the biggest hurdles I had to overcome as a photographer was me. I was constantly sabotaging my own progress in photography by worrying about how I looked to others. […]

    Reply

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