Impostor syndrome, photography competitions, and winning the regional wedding industry awards.
I recently won the Wedding Photographer of the Year for the East of England at The Wedding Industry Awards. It was the same year I ended up in the top 50 for This is Reportage, and I won my first two Fearless Awards. It was a great year, and since then, I haven’t won anything! Yep, that’s right, nothing. Years ago, I think this would have really knocked my confidence, but now I’m feeling much more level-headed about my self doubt. So, I thought it would be great to share my experience with impostor syndrome and my thoughts on winning and losing competitions.
A little history on my impostor syndrome.
I shot my first wedding back in 2011, but it wasn’t until the end of 2019 that it became my primary source of income. Throughout this time, I’ve been accompanied by a loud persistent voice in my head. “Is my work good enough? You’re cheating them all. You’re not a real photographer because you don’t have a degree in photography. One day, you’ll be exposed, and everything will be lost.” That last one may sound a bit dramatic, but sometimes my mind would get carried away with these thoughts and I would feel sick before every wedding. Then, in 2018, I attended an amazing workshop that discussed the value and marketing power of competitions the wedding photography industry. Before that, I would have never even dreamed of entering any competition. I thought my business was too small, so I didn’t place much value on the work I was producing. However, the workshop changed my perspective, and I thought, “I have nothing to lose,” so I went home to review my work and enter a few competitions.
The Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize
This flurry of entering competitions led me to submit a portrait of my son to the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize, and amazingly, my work was selected. I got to exhibit a portrait of my son at The National Portrait Gallery. You would think this achievement would silence the voice in my head. Unfortunately, it didn’t. On the opening night, when I saw my work, the first thought that crossed my mind was that it wasn’t good and that it was a mistake. I shouldn’t be there. I was just a mum with a camera, and so on. You get the gist. I effectively ruined what should have been a great moment by allowing that voice in my head to be so loud. Eventually, I moved past this and appreciated it for the achievement it was. But I still had this nagging feeling that it wasn’t an award from within the industry I actually worked in, so I probably still wasn’t a very good photographer.
So, with the confidence that it did give me, I decided to give the TWIA awards a go. I had read online within the photography community “that everyone gets through the first round”, so I thought, if nothing else, I’ll get a little badge to promote on my site. Well, I can put a stop to those rumours now. I didn’t make it through. I can’t lie; it was really disheartening, and it reinforced my self-doubt. However, a few months later, I received feedback from my clients, and it was good—actually, it was REALLY good. I had never received such thorough feedback before, and it restored some of my confidence. I didn’t make it through because my average score just wasn’t as high as my competition, but most importantly, the people who truly matter, my clients, were really happy. It was a strange mix of knowing I was doing something right, but also realizing I needed to improve.
The biggest thing that changed my perspective:
Then the pandemic happened, and I got cancer. Don’t worry; I’m not going to digress with the details of what a shitstorm of a year 2020 was for me, but I will say one thing. Something shifted in my mind, and I suddenly saw my business and my work in a different light. Losing my income and worrying if I would be around to see my children grow up put those little worries into perspective. So, with fire in my belly and a newfound thirst and appreciation for life and my work, I threw myself into ensuring that each and every client received the very best from me.
I flipped all those negative thoughts on their head. I came to value the fact that I took on less work than other photographers. It was, and still is, a choice to ensure I have a good balance between work and my family. I entered more photography competitions, this time with a thicker skin. Many times, my work didn’t win, but a few times it did. I even entered the same portrait of my son into other competitions, half expecting it to win everything under the sun. And guess what? It didn’t. But instead of convincing myself that it wasn’t good, it helped me understand the subjective nature of any photography competition. I also ensure every year I invest in learning to make sure I can offer my best photography to my clients.
So, I entered TWIA again, and in 2022, I was highly commended. And this year, I won the Best Wedding Photographer for the East of England. Winning these titles goes far beyond the award itself. They have given me the confidence to review my prices and packages, ensuring that I am pricing my business in line with the excellent service I now know I truly deliver to my clients. That’s one of the great things about TWIA. Even if you don’t do as well as you hoped, you still receive feedback from your clients, and how you decide to use that information can have a positive effect on your business.
So, here are some tips I wish I could have given myself many years ago to help with my confidence:
1) Trust in your client feedback.
2) Make work you love and learn from the best
3) Only spend time on competitions that you value.
4) Believe in yourself and your business.
5) Define your own success based on your own goals, not those of others.
Please don’t wait for a life-changing event to start believing in the worth of your work. Honestly, I don’t think I would have been as proud of these achievements if they had come easily to me. I have gained as much from not winning awards as I have from winning them. Yeah, it still sucks when my work doesn’t get picked for an award, but I’ll keep doing my best to turn that negative into something positive.