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Effort Justification and Your Street Photography

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Images shot with Super-Takumar 28mm f3.5

But I worked so hard on this…

There’s nothing more demoralising for a creator than having the thing you put so much time and effort into go unappreciated.

That set of street photography shots you went and took. That whole street photography project you spent weeks or even months on. You’re sure it deserves more credit than it’s getting. Why can’t people see how good it is?

Why don’t people care?

If you ever find yourself asking that last question, you might be wise to add ‘as much as I think they should?’ on the end and see how you sound to yourself.

Why do you think people should care? What makes you so special?

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If it’s not the quality of your work that makes you special when compared to your contemporaries, then you might have found the answer to your question.

You might not be special right now.

The truth is, you hold everything you do in higher regard due to the effort you put into creating it. As does every creator with the things they create.

As described by Rolf Dobelli in The Art of Thinking Clearly, this is known as effort justification, and it’s skewing how good you think your work is.

Your audience don’t suffer this. Hence they don’t care about your work as much as you think they should because they don’t care how much time and effort went into your project. They just care how it turned out.

You’ll do well to remember this if you’re trying to get noticed in the crowded field of online street photographers and bloggers.

Overcoming effort justification in your street photography

The only way to overcome effort justification with your street photography is to view it as your audience do. That means without the emotional attachment you have to your babies.

With a cognitive bias happening at a subconscious level, this is easier said than done.

Eliminating it completely might be impossible; knowing whether you have eliminated it or not certainly is.

However, there are ways to minimise it.

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To view your work as your audience do, you’re going to need to take a step back. Right back to where they’re looking at it from. A place so far away there’s no emotional attachment.

One way to achieve this distance is by giving it time.

As someone who shoots digital, I’m often keen to get my street photography through Lightroom and published as quickly as I can. However, this is surely contributing to my own overestimating of the quality of the shots.

The problem comes from still having the emotional attachment to the things I’ve just made. The process of creating them, the sights and smells I experienced, the time spent wandering and thinking alone, and the difficulties and challenges I overcame, are all still fresh in my mind.

Even if they’re buried deep in my subconscious, they’re still there and affecting me.

People who shoot street photography on film talk about leaving their rolls undeveloped for a period of time to help them disconnect from the emotion of the time they were taken.

As a way to overcome effort justification, I can see how this forced disconnection would work.

With some self-discipline, you could apply the same rule to your digital street photography. Unless you’re shooting events, there’s no need to publish today what you shot today.

Most street scenes will be just as relevant in a few months as they are now.

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So why not take a step back, give them time to breathe, allow yourself to lose the emotional attachment that’s causing your effort justification, and wait until later to publish them?

You’ll then be able to better judge which are worth sharing and which really aren’t.

Your audience might be keen to see some new photographs from you, but that only means photographs that are new to them. It doesn’t have to be today’s shots.

Serve them your best photography by giving yourself time to judge it better.

And then when it comes – a better set more objectively chosen – they might just care about it as much as you think they should.

If you want to learn more about how common cognitive biases are affecting our everyday lives, from simple decision making to our creative output, I recommend picking up The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli.

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Effort justification is making you think your photography is better than it is, and that's a problem. But how can you overcome it? Come learn here.

 

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