Jealousy as a photographer – recognition and how to overcome it today!
This is the point where I stop talking about photography and start talking about mixing vodka and jelly crystals into shot glasses and celebrating like its 1999! Woohoo!
No, this is about the other jelly – jealousy.
And this is about the other type of shots – photographs.
More specifically, this is about why you as a photographer get jealous or envious of other’s works and how it’s up to you to turn this emotion into something positive to improve your work.
Photography isn’t a winner’s take all game – you don’t automatically fail because others succeed.
So, I’m going to have a chat to you today about;
- Recognising feelings of jealousy when viewing other’s art,
- Understanding why you feel this way, and
- Developing the mind-set to get past these and actually improve your own work!
Ever had feelings as a photographer like;
- My work isn’t good enough?
- What’s the point, I should just give up?
- I won’t ever be as good as X?
- I need to buy the camera that X is using before I’ll be good?
If you have had these thoughts, it’s totally normal and if you haven’t then you’re not human (and I for one welcome our jealousy-free robot overlords).
Also, it may not be obvious. The feelings that arise might not initially be something that you can articulate but they may be characterised by actions such as;
- immediately scrolling past someone’s work on Facebook
- unfollowing someone on instagram after seeing awesome post after awesome post come up on your feed
- subtle feelings of frustration when looking at artworks and photographs
Social Comparison Theory
Yeah, so why do I feel like this?
Well, for one perspective, let me introduce the Social Comparison Theory.
Social Comparison Theory basically states “individuals determine their own social and personal worth based on how they stack up against others they perceive as somehow faring better or worse.” 
With the amount of media we’re exposed to, we’re all very likely to be exposed to amazing photographic works on an hourly basis. With the volume that flows through our social media accounts like Instagram, Facebook and Flickr, it’s almost impossible to not see awesome images. And, as such, it’s almost impossible not to measure our own worth, as artists, against what others are posting.
You know what? This kind of jealousy that’s brought on by social comparisons hasn’t just been around since Facebook and Instagram. In fact, Leon Festinger popularised the “Social Comparison Theory” and published it in the Journal of Human Relations in 1954!
So, don’t go blaming Social Media – sure it doesn’t help with comparisons but we’re talking about is a long-standing human psychological condition here.
Why do photographers in particular feel jealous?
Generally, for landscape and travel photographers like myself, the jealousy comes in based on one or more of 3 key factors;
- Location and Environment – jealousy of the location the photographer has travelled to and the environment the photograph was captured in,
- Attention Attracted – jealousy over the attention the work has attracted, and mainly
- Quality of Work – Jealousy over the high quality of the work produced by other photographers
What you need to do is figure out the root cause of your jealousy and turn that into a productive outcome.
So, what can you do?
It sounds simple (and it kinda is) – what you need to do is learn to understand why you’re jealous and use this emotion to improve your work.
Ok, so recalling back to the 3 key factors for jealous photographers we have:
- Location and Environment,
- Attention Attracted, and
- Quality of Work
In my opinion, Factors 1 and 2 are able to be overcome externally and are the easiest to tackle.
What do I mean by externally?
I mean that with the proper hustle, planning, funds and determination, you can use your external means to overcome these factors through utilising money, networks, hard work, and so on.
For example, I got to a point where I was almost sick of constantly seeing photos of the Northern Lights as an Australian, they don’t occur here very frequently. As in, never. I was jealous of photographers who had access to these locations and environments.
So, I overcame Factor 1 by paying for flights to Tromso in Norway and proposing to my now-wife under the Northern Lights!
As another example, I was getting frustrated (and yes, jealous) of lots of photographers on Instagram that were getting much higher post engagements that I ever did. So, I put in the work and started engaging the community more myself (Factor 2 = conquered!).
What about Factor 3 – the Quality of Work?
What I really want to talk about is the key factor that can’t be easily overcome externally, and that’s jealousy based on comparative quality of work.
This is the feeling you get when you see other’s work that is simply awesome. The kind of work that makes you jealous you can’t produce, the kind of work that makes you think you need a better camera, the kind of work that makes you want to give up.
The key lesson is that instead of feeling hopeless and quitting photography use the realisation of comparative quality to improve your work.
There are always going to be photographers out there that create stunning work. Sometimes, much better than your work. Yep. There it is – accept it and move on. As Leon Festinger stated “there exist, in the human organism, a drive to evaluate his opinions and abilities.” 
Go back to those feeling of jealousy and see this as a positive, you’ve just identified high quality – amazing! A lot of people can’t recognise this is what they’ve done, so you’re already ahead.
Now, shrug off the jealous emotions and define why you believe this work is of high quality.
- Are there compositional elements you like that draw you into the work? Leading lines? Specially selected exposure?
- What about the colouring and editing? Did they dodge and burn to create stronger depth?
- Have they show the subject in an interesting way that you wouldn’t have thought of?
Dig into it, learn, integrate into your own work, put your own personality into it and improve!
You should also embrace other’s success as photographers.
Think about it, is their success really hurting your success? This isn’t a winner’s take all game – you don’t automatically fail because others succeed.
In conclusion, when we’re sitting at our desks at work or on the couch at home seeing all this amazing work and that feeling of jealousy starts to creep in… consider this your chance to cast off the jealousy, improve your work and positively impact the photography community!
What do you think readers? Have you had these jealous thoughts before and been able to move forward positively? Let me know in the comments below.
 Social Comparison Theory – Psychology Today https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/basics/social-comparison-theory
 A Theory of Social Comparison Processes – Leon Festinger – First Published May 1, 1954
Stock Photo Credits