[How to Take a Photograph] Embrace Frustration

Embrace frustration. It pushes you to learn and grow, broadens your horizons and lights a fire under you when your work has gone cold. Nothing is more dangerous to an artist than complacence. Cheryl Jacobs Nicolai (link contains semi-nudity)

It seems quite poignant that I had intended to write this particular blog post last week, but instead let frustration take hold of me in regards to both my life and my art. I’m still working through it; every time I emerge from the other side, I do so with a feeling of accomplishment and knowing that I’ve grown somehow.

We all feel frustration from time to time in regards to our art, be it that our equipment isn’t as good as we’d like or our little models wont stand still for long enough (see photos above!). We get frustrated that our photographs somehow aren’t good enough, we can’t figure out our style of shooting or editing.

It’s ok to feel this way, and it’s good too. The frustration is what pushes us to learn and grow, because we feel compelled to get past it. Some days I hate every photograph I’ve taken, other days I like the potential of a photograph I’ve taken but I just can’t seem to edit it the right way. The copy of Photoshop CS3 that I have on my Macbook gave up on me a few weeks ago and I was lost for a while. I’d been so set in my ways of using it that I didn’t really know what else to do, but I sat down and started to learn how to use Lightroom for more than just colour balance adjustments, something just clicked. I still haven’t even bothered to reinstall Photoshop. Not to say that I wont ever use it again, but I’m sure you get my point, the frustration caused by my lack of Photoshop encouraged me to learn something new that I may not have otherwise taken the time to do.

I’ve always felt, almost my whole life, like an artist without a medium. As though I have the desire to be creative but lack the ability to follow through. The phrase “Jack of all trades, master of none” springs to mind, as does this wonderful article from Sarah Wilson (via bunnables). It leads me to feel frustrated frequently but pushes me to try new things, not just in relation to photography, but everything else too.

There are a few different things that I do to help me work through frustration.

  1. If it is something that is within my control, I work through that in particular in a hyper-focused sort of manner until I feel more satisfied with the outcome. I spent a lot of time recently learning different editing techniques, going back to old photographs and re-editing them in different ways or forcing myself to take photographs under more challenging conditions and working through the editing process with each one.
  2. If the frustration is over something I can’t control, I find a way to work around it. If you are unable to do something because of your equipment for example, find out what you can do with it instead of focusing on what you can’t.
  3. Ask for advice. It doesn’t have to be from another photographer although that can help too. Sometimes just getting a different perspective can help you work through things. My husband is the master photographer in this house and although our styles are vastly different I often ask him for his advice.
  4. Read tutorials, guides and look at the work of others. Look at various photo challenges on blogs and try to take a photograph for them, even if you don’t actually enter the challenge the practice is always good.
  5. Do nothing. Put down your camera and go work on something else. Sometimes I feel as though I can work through the frustration by stopping and not letting it take over. Do something you enjoy, I’ll bake, go for a walk, play outside with Mikey, knit, read a book, whatever.

Do you often find yourself frustrated? What do you do that helps you work through it?




  1. I can relate to this. I get frustrated alot and try new things. My frustration right now is with editing. I am just learning and it frustrates me when I edit a picture and show it to someone in my family and they don’t get it. I have to step back and realize that it’s ok that they don’t get it, but I want them to like it, ya know?… I have a lot to learn. :0) Thanks for the post!

    • You’re right, it absolutely IS ok if not everyone ‘gets it’. As much as we want approval, especially from our family and close friends, not everyone is going to like or understand what we do and that is fine.

  2. I think you actually described all of the approaches I’ve tried when I get frustrated. I definitely hyper-focus on the issue until it’s resolved but I don’t know any other way to do it. If we weren’t passionate about our craft, then we wouldn’t care enough to correct an issue. I’ve actually learned to embrace these moments because I know that I’m about to take another leap in my development. It’s so aggravating in the moment but it produces beautiful results.

  3. This is an awesome post! I love how you describe working your way past the feeling of being lost without Photoshop… and then learning outside your comfort zone. That has to be the key to photography, or at least to getting better. I feel the frustration sometimes, too, and will take breaks to gather myself up again.
    Kristen´s last post ..Black Bottom Cupcakes

    • It’s difficult for me to push myself out of my comfort zone, but I am always happy with what it teaches me, in the end.

  4. staceyrw

    Love this post as well! I get so frustrated with editing photographs. It seems the more I try to adjust the less I enjoy the photograph, so I try to keep it simple. Even then I can get frustrated with editing! Similar to number five, I usually like to step away from what I am working on and then when I come back to it, I realize why I don’t like it. All of the sudden it looks too cool, too dark, etc. The distance helps me to see it with fresh eyes. Also, I have just stepped away from CS3 and started editing in LR. So far, I am enjoying the switch. I prefer the organization and think it helps to keep the editing minimal.

    • That is how I feel about Lightroom now too after using it for so long. I used to chronically over-edit but it’s quite difficult to do that in Lightroom!

      And you’re totally right about taking a step back. I keep all of my RAW files backed up and sometimes I’ll go and look back through them, I’ll end up liking something I just skipped over before. The same way with my editing, I’ll go back to something and realise what I did wrong with it… I think being able to work that out encourages healthy growth in our craft.

  5. I can relate to this post!!! I have been very frustrated with my edits lately and they seem to take forever because I second guess myself. Thank you for sharing.

  6. LOVE this! I can relate to so many things you wrote … the jack of all trades…. the idea of being stuck behind frustrations. Wow! Nicely done 🙂 And the images you paired the post with are perfect …. particularly the first. Thee is tension in his posture which flows nicely into the idea of frustration 🙂 I’m so glad I found your blog! Can’t wait to read more!!

  7. This coudn’t come at a better time. I am feeling SO frustrated lately about a lot in my life, including photography. It seems like I’m going backwards.

  8. Great post! I get frustrated…my 4 kids rarely do what I want them too. LOL But, some of it works out, getting more candid funny shots, like the ones you have here…they are cute! I like the idea of taking a step back too. Re-visiting the pictures or the shoot idea helps. 🙂

  9. Pingback: [How to Take a Photograph] Fall in Love with the Light | Bumbles & Light

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