Validation in Photography

Validation 3Validation is one of those things that we all seem to crave as humans, yet it often causes us problems. This is especially true for photography and other arts because there is no easy way to evaluate how "good" it is.

I have had photographers say to me in portfolio reviews that they want to win a contest or "get published" because that would validate their work. I have to always tell them that such things are fun and nice to receive, but they are not really validations of anything other than a specific group of judges of that particular contest or a specific editor of a particular publication likes your work.

I have also had photographers show me work and tell me that this or that photo won a prize at their camera club or some other venue. This is implied as support for the value of the photo (though no one actually says that). Again, that's fun, but that should not be the value of your photography.

It can be hard at times, I understand, but your photography should be yours and its ultimate validation something that comes from within. If it doesn't, then you are in essence apologizing for most of your photography because it hasn't had "outside validation." You are apologizing for who you are.

You, like all of us, are a unique person with unique ways of seeing the world that are always important just because of the uniqueness. As Jen Sincero (author of You Are a Badass) says, "It's about respecting yourself instead of catering to your insecure need to be liked...When you love yourself enough to stand in your truth no matter what the cost, everyone benefits."

Validation 4The need for validation rears its head in other aspects of photography, too. This is one area that I have too long suffered. Whenever we feel that someone else must use the software we use, the gear we own, the techniques we favor, read the books we do, we are often simply looking for approval, for validation of what we do. This is not the same as genuinely offering something that truly fits someone else's needs, but often, when we/I think deeply, we/I find that there is that common but unhelpful need for validation.

Ultimately it comes down to the stories we tell ourselves: "My photography is not real/good/adequate until someone else says it is" or "My gear is not right for me unless someone else uses it too" and so on. Breaking free of the validation trap starts by recognizing the stories we tell ourselves then challenging them. Are they really true?

Treat yourself and your photography this year with the love it deserves. Have fun with it, enjoy your time in nature with a camera, then take any "outside validation" as nice and fun, but not necessary for you to succeed as a photographer.

Validation 5

About Rob

I am proud of the work I have done as a photographer, author, naturalist and nature photographer, editor and videographer. I love the natural world, and that can be a native bee in my native plants garden as much as a visit to a national park. I am a husband of a beautiful and smart wife, a father to my outstanding son and daughter, and one who lived in Minnesota most of my life, but now loves the variety and very long growing season of Southern California. I have written and photographed a lot of books and magazine articles but what is most important to me about them is knowing that I have helped people become better photographers and gain a better connection to nature. I work to help people connect with photography and nature through speaking and as a workshop leader, too. All of this has gained me a Fellow award with the North American Nature Photography Association. Many people knew me as the long-time editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine and I am still connected with them as a contributing editor. A short list of some of the books I have done: Landscape Photography: From Snapshot to Great Shot, Magic of Digital Landscape Photography, The Magic of Digital Nature Photography, National Geographic Field Guide to Digital Photography, The Power of Black-and-White in Nature Photography and Reports from the Field (an iBook). My website is at www.robsheppardphoto.com; my blogs are at www.natureandphotography.com and www.mirrorlessnature.com.
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4 Responses to Validation in Photography

  1. John Snell says:

    Rob,

    Wonderful article! Thanks for reminding us of this. I have been selling my photography primarily through art fairs for about 20 years. From my perspective, the worst "validation trap" I fall into is trying to make images that will sell. I keep having to remind myself to go out and create photographs that speak to me - images that are an extension of who I am and which represent my vision of the natural world around me. I find that when I fall into that mode of only trying to make sellable images, the quality of my work often is diminished. If the photos I make become good selling images, that's a bonus. But that, for me, cannot be the sole objective of my photography.

    • Rob says:

      Thanks for sharing, John. It is true that certain markets "demand" certain types of photographs, but that doesn't have to mean, as you point out, that you can't also do work that fully represents who you are.

  2. God bless you, Rob, for sharing this wisdom. I once asked an opinion of my photography from someone of whose motives I was suspicious. They pointed out a couple of shots they liked, then pointed out another that they thought was less good. I didn't believe them. I believed in that "less good" photo. Six years later and it's still one of my best-selling photos!

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