July 11, 2011

Don’t Compare Your Work to Others…

When I look at other photographer’s work I sometimes get discouraged.  I’ll see an incredible shot, taken at a place I’ve visited before and wonder why I didn’t see it.  I may see a great new technique and wonder why I didn’t have the vision to think of that.  There will be a fantastic new portfolio on a familiar subject and I’ll wonder why I hadn’t see its potential.

In other words: I sometimes compare my work to others and become unhappy with my work and progress.

Do you ever feel that way?  I suspect that we all do this sometimes: compare our work to someone else’s, or worse, compare our work to everyone else’s!  It’s good for me to periodically remind myself of a few things (and that’s why I write all of these blogs);

First, creating art is not a competition, someone does not have to lose for someone else to win.  Unlike much of life, we can all win if we create images that bring about personal satisfaction.

Second, it’s not realistic for a photographer to be great in all things.  I am not going to be a great street photographer AND a great portrait photographer AND a great landscape photographer AND a great photojournalist AND a great abstract photographer.  So comparing myself to all of these other photographers is just silly and frustrating!   We can be great, but not in everything, and our goal should be to find what we are great in.

Third, please yourself.  Comparing, in photography or in life, is never very productive.  You cannot look to external standards, whether it be others work or their opinions, to find personal satisfaction.  You must be comfortable with yourself and your art to find satisfaction.

Don’t compare your work or yourself to others, it’s not needed and no good will ever come from it.


23 thoughts on “Don’t Compare Your Work to Others…

  1. Rightly said Cole. When i started i always did it for the reason that later i realized i got more influenced by their vision than being inspired. Having said that even now when i see something good i kick myself on the back and tell 2 things a) its a good image b) dont get too hooked to it and try to imitate it and end up making a photo-copy than photo-graphy.

  2. Great post Cole. As time goes on and my art grows, I start to relate to your photographic celebacy practice more and more. I often find that when I compare myself to others, I come to the conclusion that I can never be as good. I know I can create great art and choose not to look too much into others work. I like looking at other images but try not to go in too deep….

  3. Hey Cole. Great topic. I wrote these words down the other day after reading them in some post somewhere: “Do the work with honesty, integrity, curiosity, boldness, and courage.” I think that is what it is all about. In fact, I think it would be awesome to live one’s life in the same way. What is the take-home message for me is that if we are relentlessly ourselves, then it’s not about what others think or do.

  4. Yes, great points everyone!

    Stacy, here is one of my “quotes of the day” I have come up on my phone each month;

    “What other people think of you (and your work) is none of your business.”


  5. It took me a long time to practice this. Knowing something and acting on it are two seperate things. Just like you shouldn’t get sucked into social mecanics like votes on 500px.com or faves on flickr.com.

  6. A quote I like: “Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.” C. Connolly

    Applies to all forms of art.

  7. Wow, I love that quote Jorn. But I wish he had been a photographer and the quote said:

    “Better to create for yourself and have no public, than to create for the public and have no self.”

    No truer words…


  8. Some good thoughts Cole, but I disagree with the overall premise. I compare my work to others – that’s how I get better.

    Comparing does not need to equate with feeling jealous or discouraged. Comparing can be productive. Going through art school, if I didn’t compare my work with my classmates nor care about what my professors said I would of flunked out. Not comparing my work to others, I would not of had a successful design career. Architects and designers create for the (client) public and themselves all the time. Are they therefore not true artists because of that? I believe many are artists.

    If I didn’t compare, how could I decide if my work is worth $50 or $500?

    I agree with your above last quote but don’t agree with the implication that it has to be one or the other.


  9. Hi Cole,

    Nicely put…in Desiderata it says…never compare yourselves with others for you may become vain and bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser person than yourself…
    Very inspiring mate!



  10. Mo, I’m very open that different people have different perspective and goals, but from where I am at right now, I just don’t see the value in comparing. My work is what it is, regardless if I compare or not. I do not choose my projects based on what others are doing, I develop my style and vision based on what I think and feel (and as much as I can isolate myself from other influences). I also do not set my prices based on what others are doing.

    I really do not care what others are doing when it comes to my art.

    Perhaps the difference is that I create my art purely for my enjoyment and others use their art to earn a living and must compete in the marketplace?

    One other thing that I have learned over the years, is that whatever I believe today, is likely to change in 10 years.

    Thanks for another point of view Mo!


  11. Cole,

    I don’t need my art to earn a living nor any income, yet I compare and look deeply at other’s work simply because it’s one of the best ways I know to grow as an artist (beside the pure enjoyment I get from it). For me, I do not fear being overly influenced. Maybe being near the art world for 40 years has given me some immunity?

    Thanks for bringing up these thoughts for each of us to think about!


  12. Cole,

    I find that cutting myself off from other photographic influences is essential to produce new solid work.
    To find that difficult path on your own in the dark is the hard way to go – but worth it.


  13. Wise words Cole, and ones I need to remind myself of constantly. I can really relate to your statements about kicking yourself because you did not see something. Nice post.

  14. a friend showed me your work and I found my way here. I know exactly what you mean, I am so quick to compare and come up with the short stick. My children too, compare themselves to me and then don’t want to create anything.
    I recently found this blog – http://www.austinkleon.com/2011/03/30/how-to-steal-like-an-artist-and-9-other-things-nobody-told-me/ – and ended up printing it up for us all to read, over and over.

    also, I find your work stunning, the portraits of Linnie made me cry they were so beautiful.

  15. Great blog subject Cole and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Yesterday I received in the post the latest copy of my favourire photography magazine. After flicking through it and seeing the images, I felt like abandoning my cameras and taking up knitting instead!

    It is so easy to be put off after seeing other peoples work (bit like coming here Cole!)
    Dispirated me? Well for a while but then I grabbed my camera and the dog and we went out together for a walk. He sniffed, he cocked his leg, I cocked my shutter and clicked away. We were both happy.

  16. I could not agree more. I always find myself comparing my artwork with other artist and like you said I become discouraged and frustrated. I think the great thing about art is that we all have different styles, techniques and viewpoints and thats what makes artwork so great. Two people could look at thing same thing but see it in whole different way and thus you get two beautiful works of art.

  17. Oh,thank you so much for this post. I was having exactly same problem. I do this all the time. I watch Peter Licks’ photo documentary program, and he really discourages me. But I guess I’m not the only one and knowing that, makes me feel better. Thank you again so much for sharing your insight.

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