Commentary: It's Ok To Hate Your Work

If you are a creative type person, and you are anything like me, chances are there is a part of you that hates just about everything you do immediately after you do it. It’s only natural when you think about it. The mental high of the moment has worn off, you’ve snapped the shutter, you’ve developed the film, you’ve made your print. Now all you have left is to stand back and look over what you’ve made, inevitably comparing it to everything that has been made before by every other photographer you’ve ever looked at or admired.

But you know what? That is ok. In fact, there is an aspect to that hatred and self doubt that is even healthy.

I’m going to use this image as an example. I made this photograph with an 8×10 pinhole camera I put together myself out of wood. I didn’t have a lot of experience with it at the time and was just starting to take pinhole photography seriously. On the day I created this photograph I wasn’t feeling all that inspired. The model and I drove all over the place looking for locations – old abandoned houses, rock formations, you name it, we tried to make it work. Ultimately, I settled on railroad tracks. Yup… railroad tracks. I might as well have gone with caution tape. After developing the negative and making a print I wanted to kick myself for being so generic.

However, despite the fact that I find this image to be ultimately uninspired, it serves as a very effective learning experience. In fact, from a technical standpoint it is nearly flawless. The exposure was over four minutes long, and somehow the model came out sharp with amazing detail. My exposure was spot on, a complete miracle for a pinhole image. Maybe most importantly, whenever I am teaching other photographers about the nature of pinhole photography, I always point to this image to illustrate the inherent infinite depth of field one will always get when working with such a tiny aperture (in this case that would be f/295 for anyone who wants to know).

So on one hand, while this image perhaps make me cringe, it also serves an important role. It is a creative failure while also being a technical success. I can point to hundreds of images I’ve done that are exactly the opposite, creative successes while being technical failures. Some images are neither of those things and those have their place too, because if nothing else I learned what I don’t want to do and what habits not to repeat.

It isn’t a sin to be your own worst critic. It is only detrimental if you let that stop you from being creative in the first place. It’s important to be subjective to yourself, but it is also critical you cut yourself some slack. After all, nobody looking at your work will know what you originally set out to do, they only know your destination and your final product.