Stories, Thoughts, & Reflections

Building Creative Confidence: What Makes You a Photographer?

May 25, 2023

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The “I’m a Photographer” Struggle

“How long have you been a photographer?” It seems like such a simple question, yet I feel this fog descend upon me as I try to answer. At what point do we stop being a person with a camera taking snapshots? When do we become a photographer creating art? Better yet, how do we grow as artists?

It took me a long time to gain enough confidence to say “I’m a photographer” out loud to strangers. If people saw me out with my camera and asked if I was a photographer, I would cushion the answer with “Not really” or “Oh, I dabble a little.” Meanwhile, I’m lugging around a 40L backpack filled with lenses, filters, a rocket blower, etc. 

Then, it took even longer to include that tricky adjective “professional” in that sentence. Uttering the phrase “I’m a photographer” or “I’m a professional photographer” may be easy for some, but for me, I softened the proclamation for a long-time with I’m a hobbyist, a beginner, part-time, and so on. 

Naturally, there’s a part of us that doesn’t want to be judged. We want to keep the bliss that photography brings us without the risk that someone rains on our parade. If I’m a professional photographer, there’s pressure to maintain that title. If I’m not producing or traveling to the level of previous years, do I just go back to being a regular photographer? What about if I work full-time in my other job or keep my part-time job? Then, I’m not truly a professional, right? Or let’s tap into our deepest thoughts here – what if my photographs are just not good enough? What if they don’t like my work?

There will always be a voice whispering that you’re not good enough. Some days it’s louder than others, but that voice has meaning. That voice pushes us to refine our composition one more time or go on an adventure and try something new. It pushes us to do better. We need that voice. We just need that voice in the backseat. It doesn’t get to drive our decisions. 

There’s always a level of imposter syndrome with any craft. I’ve always had an issue with how quickly people throw the imposter syndrome card. It’s funny because we all feel some way, but I have yet to know anyone who has tricked people into thinking they produce impactful art or are exceptional teachers. If you’re invited to talk for a camera club, write an article, speak at a conference, or teach at a workshop, or even a friend asks you to show them how you did something, then you’ve probably done the work. That’s what makes you a photographer. The “work”.

Getting back to my original question “How long have you been a photographer?” – when someone asks me that, my overanalytical nature takes control because I feel the need to clarify my assumptions before answering the question.

Chrissy Donadi photographing in Iceland in Winter

A Photographer In Limbo

My first 10 years are what I call when I was a non-practicing photographer. I had a camera. There were occasional spurts of activity, mostly when we went on vacation or if I planned a photography workshop. I could operate my camera, but I needed a warm-up period to knock off some of the rust. I would have to re-remember how to use hyperfocal distance or look up a video for a post-processing technique I only kind of remembered. Growth was slow. 

Looking back, I would say that I made it to an intermediate level and then felt stalled or stuck for a long time. That’s when I tried new gear, new genres, and new teachers, and yet the majority of my photos still feel blah when I got back home. Don’t get me wrong, I was still learning and those experiences built me into the photographer I am today – but I was maintaining – I was not growing.

Cover Image for Camera Gear Accessories for Winter Photography

What Makes Me A Nature Photographer

Then, there was another 10 years of being a practicing photographer. That was the point when photography was incorporated into my life on a daily or weekly basis. This means me having a camera in my hand and pressing buttons for a little bit each week. My camera is either out in the house or with me when I’m out and about more days out of the year than it is packed away collecting dust.

In my opinion, this is what makes you a photographer. It’s practicing photography. That continuous experimentation and daily effort lead to accelerated growth, creative breakthroughs, and finding your photographic style. Previously, I wrote an article about having the right mindset and how that transformed my photography and made me a happier photographer in the process. I guess the other part of that coin is we need to view photography as a practice, as a ritual, a routine in our lives to gain the reward of growth.   

Undoubtedly, if I read this article 10 years ago, I would have rolled my eyes with a sigh and said, “Good for you, but I have no idea where I would find the time.” Yes, that is the trifficult (tricky + difficult) part. The trick to getting a new routine to stick (at least for me) is to find a way to incorporate this into an already-established routine in your life. 

How to Become a Practicing Photographer

Ask yourself: What’s the one thing I don’t miss every day? 

For me, it’s coffee. Mornings are my favorite to have some quiet moments with me and my mug before I start the day. I started putting my camera next to my coffee machine each night. Just having it there would lead me to 20 minutes of sitting on my back porch enjoying my coffee with some backyard birds and blooms. Albeit, I always have my bird feeder filled and flowers planted or potted around my house. 

P.S. I have yet to learn how to make fancy foam artwork.

Back in the day, I had a long commute to and from work. Keeping my camera with me in the trunk of my car meant I was always ready for a session. Sometimes, it was a lunchtime stroll through the park or the little pond area outside the office complex. On other days, it was taking an extra 20 minutes at the grocery store to photograph parking lot puddles (sorry to my frozen food if I found something on the way out). On a few occasions, I was a little late after work because I stopped at a park on my way home from work or when I saw wildflowers along the roadside or the reflection of the lake in the distance. 

To be clear, a photography session doesn’t happen every single day. It’s hard to do this when you are working a full-time job and balancing family responsibilities. But it did happen a couple of times a week. The key is I tried to remain consistent. Those few sessions each week or every weekend were therapy. It gave me time alone with my thoughts and a creative outlet. It was a reset, a small recharging of my batteries. At the same time, I was growing as a photographer. I was building my compositional understanding, learning how to work with angels, studying how light changes the scene, etc. All of that practice was a slow and continuous building of skills to reach the autonomous stage where I’m photographing on auto-pilot because I have so much experience under my belt. That’s the feeling of being in the zone or a flow state.

My morning coffee companions

All that to say, I think you’ll be a happier photographer if you’re conscious about being a practicing photographer. That’s the way to push for growth and fend off that feeling of being stuck. Find a ritual to help create a routine and harvest the rewards. Happy photographing!

Ritual. Routine. Reward.

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  1. Patricia Edwards

    June 11th, 2023 at 1:59 pm

    Hi Chrissy, I am thrilled to have met you while fire flying a couple of nights ago. Thank you for inviting me to join your website…. I am a beginner that loves taking pictures! I am excited to receive your posts! Thank you

  2. Chrissy Donadi

    June 15th, 2023 at 1:05 pm

    Hello Patty (I hope I spelled that right) It was so lovely to walk back with you that evening as well. I’m so glad our paths crossed and hopefully they will again too. I try to visit the area as much as I can. Reach out anytime!

  3. George Loch

    November 12th, 2023 at 11:40 am

    The timing of reading this is so helpful because I have felt the imposter being present in my thoughts and not because I questioned whether I was a photographer or not. I just wasn’t ‘pursuing’ photography with intention or “practicing” as you mention. Part of the challenge for me is being too dependent on ‘good conditions’. Fall colors are easy to get motivated by, but the in-between time with fall and winter are bleh for interest. I need to treat this more like a professional where I always show up, no matter the conditions.

  4. Chrissy Donadi

    November 18th, 2023 at 5:53 pm

    Hey George! It’s good to know you found it helpful. Everything you explain sounds quite normal whether you consider photography a profession or a hobby. It’s hard to carve the time out of our busy lives to be outside with our camera – so it makes sense that good conditions or when fall colors are popping becomes a trigger to justify taking the time for a trip/hike/few hours outside. However, without that regular practice, we have to knock some rust off to get back into our photography rhythm, and I feel that is when the imposter syndrome would creep into my thoughts. Even just a little internal push to “show up” at the “other” times can work wonders – plus, time with our camera is always a good respite. Cheers and thanks for taking a moment to leave your thoughts!

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Fine art nature and landscape photographer, speaker, and Lightroom educator.

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