For much of our lives, it seems we’re trained to not pursue something out of the ordinary unless we have someone else’s permission.
The permission of our parents, our teachers, our bosses, the leaders of our community and country, or just our peers.
But ultimately, when it comes to pursuing what you love, there’s only one person who can give you permission.
Who happens to be exactly the same person who can deny it.
With photography – as with any other pursuit – not giving yourself permission can hold you back from blossoming into the photographer you’re capable of becoming, and from enjoying this passion to the full.
It means continuing to be frustrated with snatched and fleeting pockets of time, mundane mediocre photos and awkward equipment experiences.
Turning it around and giving yourself permission isn’t quite as obvious as it seems though.
It’s not simply a case of saying “please go ahead, you have my permission” (though this is a great start).
Here, actions speak louder than words, in the same way our body language communicates more than the words we say.
So how can you give yourself permission to become a better photographer?
Here are three ideas –
1. Prioritise photography for a minimum amount of time each week, even each day.
Whenever someone says “I don’t have time to…” it really means they are not making that activity a priority. Put another way, they’re telling themselves other activities are more important.
We all have certain fundamental needs that have to take priority, like sleep, food, drink, relationships.
But claiming you don’t have enough time for photography then spending hours a week checking social media or watching TV or reading yet another article on the latest camera you’re told is essential, doesn’t stack up. These are all non-essential activities that can be dropped for the more important pursuit of your photography.
You just need to make the decision to raise photography up that priority list. To give yourself permission to accept and honour its importance.
2. Use just one camera, even for just a month.
My One Month, One Camera project this year has been quite radical for someone who’s owned and used hundreds of cameras and lenses in the last six or seven years.
But what it’s given me is freedom from that overwhelming choice of which camera/lens/film to use for this particular photowalk, which in itself was sucking valuable time and energy from actually making pictures.
Using just one camera also allows you to get to know that one piece of kit well enough that you use it without thinking.
You don’t need to consult the manual or wade through menus or fiddle with dials and buttons each time you make a shot.
You just set up your core preferences, then make minor tweaks instinctively when you need to, because the camera becomes an extension of your eyes, hands and mind.
This is another important way of giving yourself permission to commit more fully and more deeply to photography.
3. Display your best work.
Some of us are more shy about sharing our photographs than others, and some do simply prefer to photograph for our eyes only.
If this is the case for you, then at least explore ways of displaying your photographs where you’ll see them, even if no-one else does.
Make prints, buy a digital photo frame (they’re surprisingly better than you might think, and small, good quality used ones can be picked up for £20), gather together a book or album of your photos.
If and when you do want to share, it’s easier and cheaper than ever to have an online portfolio too, whether that’s through a photo site like Flickr or 500px, or your own blog or website.
Publish your best images, be proud of your work.
Both of these approaches give you permission to be a better photographer, because they repeatedly make your work visible and unavoidable. They reinforce the fact that are you an active, growing photographer, with an evolving and improving body of work.
Hopefully these three ideas have shown you how you can give yourself permission to be a better photographer.
By not doing them, you’re not only denying yourself the opportunity to explore your full capabilities, and the richness that photography can offer, but you’re also stopping others from enjoying and being inspired by your photographs, which in turn can help them to give themselves permission to be photographers too, more deeply and more often.
How do you give yourself permission to be a photographer? Do you feel you do it enough?
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