It can and does happen in any art form. If you let it, it can derail your creative idea and kill your inspiration to learn new things, to push yourself further and improve your art. I call it, “The Other Guy” and with the internet and social media being what it is, one only needs to go online and google the art form of choice to see thousands of “Other Guys” who are doing exactly what you’re doing, many of them much better at it than you. If you let it, it can suck the enthusiasm out of you faster than a starving vampire. If you let it defeat you, other photographers like me will soon see your camera gear for sale in online classified ads.
I personally take part in a few online photography contests and surprisingly my work sometimes makes the final top 40. I go to the website and am blown away by almost all the “Other Guys'” work, wondering how I even got this far. If I let it, I could chalk that up to a fluke or some sort of bell curve but I choose to feel honoured to be amongst such amazing company, win or lose. I have, to my surprise even won a couple of the contests.
I keep saying “if you let it” because that’s exactly what needs to happen in order for it to affect you. “The Other Guy” has no power over you without your consent. He can not enter your mind unless you agree to open the door and welcome him in. It is also within ourselves to decide weather the other guy is a villain, out to stomp on our creative aspirations or an unwitting mentor who unknowingly pushes us to the next level. As hard as it is sometimes, I choose to brand my “Other Guys” with the latter label. I see them as an entity that I can learn something from. I welcome them in, make them a coffee and say, “today your photo is going to inspire me to learn how to get a great Milky Way shot”. And in this day and age of the internet all it takes is a couple hours of research and I can usually walk away with enough info to at least get me started down the right path of learning a new process, style or trick to enhance my photography.
Sure, many things are much more involved but the information is out there if you want to put in the time and experiment and learn from it. I’ll give you an example.
Two years ago I had no clue whatsoever what was needed and what was involved in taking photos with a visible Milky Way in the background. No idea whatsoever. So I went online and started looking. I found websites and resources where guys share gear lists, best gear for these kinds of shots, settings etc. I already had the recommended gear so one night at Mono Lake California I took what I had learned and gave it a shot. It was a full moon, there was some ambient light from nearby Lee Vining, California and I had no idea which direction the Milky Way was in the sky. My photos turned out “okay” but not horrible. I tried again with an old house in Alberta, a little better but nothing like what I was seeing done by others. I keep trying to see what, if anything would change in different conditions etc. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not doing anything particularly wrong but that I’ve actually hit a roadblock in my knowledge and have to hit the books (IE:internet) again to get to the next step. In this case the roadblock is how to make the Milky Way really POP like in so many “Other Guys'” shots. I don’t seem to be getting the variations of colours in the star fields in camera. Is it a time of year/month thing? Is it an editing thing? Is it a direction thing? I’ve tried to bring the detail out in editing but I’ve come to the conclusion that the data is simply not in the RAW files, so it must be something else. These are questions I will soon be asking Lord Google. These are questions that I’m sure some “Other Guy” has already asked and I too will soon know the answers, making my Milky Way shots even better next time.
So what I’m trying to say is that there’s two ways to look at all the thousands of images of work that is better than yours and one of them will crush your soul “if you let it”. It’s not a competition unless you internally make it one. Look at those amazing images and know that if you really really want to you can learn how to make them too. It will take time and most likely lots of trial and error before you become a new master among masters but that’s how we all become better.
So next time you’re perusing the internet and see one of those amazing “Other Guys”. Give them a nod, a confident tip of the hat, and then go seek out the information you need to improve and do the subsequent work. It won’t be long before you’re one of those guys to someone just starting out.