Confidence, Hard Work & The ‘Nifty 50’ On The Streets

These three things have tied in together over the past month or so in my life. It has been hard and also been fantastic. The creative struggle is real, everyone at some point will hit that block where they really find it hard to deliver what they want. It is tough, people try to help and encourage you and tell you that your work looks great – they mean well but when you look at your work you are unhappy with what you see. We all set the bar for ourselves, we all have our own standard to reach and more often than not that standard is high. So today I want to go through the tumble of falling off the edge of a creative high and the struggle to get back up again. We all go through this at some point, the key is never to give up.

Confidence

It has been a tough few weeks creatively, confidence in my work took a massive dip as I went through a period of hating everything I shot on the camera. Nothing felt good enough, nothing got me excited about going out and taking new photos. I was struggling to see the shots I wanted to get and while family and friends kept telling me that my work looked great, I didn’t see it as the case. I was questioning where it was going wrong, where was I struggling all of a sudden? Was it the framing? Was it the editing for the final shot?

It can be hard to turn it around when you find yourself in this hole and it really is a slippery slope to be on. My confidence really started to tumble, I started to dread going out on shoot. I was shuddering at the idea of going into the city to try and get new content. I would go in and feel out of place, I would feel like there were lots of eyes on me when I was walking around with the camera in hand. I felt like I stood out from the crowd for all the wrong reasons. Ever had these kinds of thoughts? It is a tough place to be and the stark reality is that it is all mental, it was all in my head. I started to feel really uncomfortable holding the camera. It is a lonely place to be, mentally draining and exhausting.

There is no right or wrong way to deal with something like this, people will have their own ways to cope and get through the tough creative times. My way of getting through it won’t be for everyone, but it was simply to work.

Hard work

Going through these moments where I am struggling creatively my answer has always been the same and it has always worked for me in the end – keep working hard. Now that is much easier said than done, motivation is down, confidence is down, I felt like shit but the only thing I could think to do was to literally force myself to keep doing it.

I forced myself to get up out of bed and go into the city or to head out to the coast somewhere for a shoot. I packed the gear, made sure everything was charged up and hit the road to try and get something done regardless.

Some days I would get some shots that I still didn’t really like all that much and on really bad days I would walk around the city with my gear in my backpack for 2-3 hours and not take a single shot. I wouldn’t even take the camera out of the bag, I would simply walk around the city thinking to myself – ‘nope, none of this is good enough.’

This continued for about 3 weeks and really I had fallen down to a point where I fleetingly wondered at times if I had fallen out of love with photography. Had the spark and the passion gone out? Thankfully the answer to that is no! Two weeks ago I had shoot that I was semi-happy with. I came home and thought, ‘yeah that wasn’t too bad, those shots are okay.’

Honestly, I think the only thing that changed was my mood and that came with persistence. I refused to give up on something I knew I was passionate about and kept plugging away at it even when I hated it. Two weeks ago I felt a bit more upbeat after that shoot, then I had another shoot shortly after and that was better. My mood picked up, I felt a bit more confident and then last week I picked up a new nifty 50 and fell in love with photography all over again.

The nifty 50

Shooting with a prime lens is something I haven’t done for a long time. So basically for those not familiar with or in the photography scene, the nifty 50 (or nifty fifty) is the name for a fast 50mm prime lens which has a wide aperture typically at around f/1.4 or f/1.8. The lens tends to be typically made of plastic than metal and are lower priced. A prime lens has no zoom function, they are a fixed focal length and 50mm is the closest replication of what the human eye sees.

It is a phenomenal piece of kit and should be a part of every photographers kit. So why have I not had one in such a long time? Honestly, I think I just got lazy using the selection of zoom lenses that I have in my kit. Now that isn’t to imply for one second you are lazy for using zoom lenses, zoom lenses are great. Super versatile and really functional to use but I think that I was getting lazy in my own working habits when shooting. I think for me, I started to spend less time thinking about the shoots and was spending less time waiting for the shots. I had forgotten the art of patience.

I typically have used an ultra wide lens for street photography. I don’t use a telephoto lens on the streets, I keep that for my nature work or sunrises/sunsets. When it comes to the street work I don’t use telephoto lenses because for me personally it feels really weird/kinda creepy. Now don’t get me wrong, it you can rock a telephoto lens on the streets and are happy with that then props to you. But what I have learned over the years is that it is just not my personal style of shooting. I feel a bit weird getting shots of people from a distance and even more important for me – I feel detached from the scene. For me, being close and personal is part of the magic of street photography.

So I picked up a new nifty 50 and after feeling more upbeat from recent shoots I instantly fell in love with photography all over again. I forgot how much fun a prime lens was to use. I forgot how much I enjoyed shooting with a prime lens. It forces you to be patient, it forces you to think about the framing and composition, it forces you to move to get the shot you want. One of the biggest changes I have noticed shooting with the nifty 50 is that it forces you to take a step back, stop and take your time with the shot.

With the 50mm focal length you don’t need to get too close in peoples faces but close enought that you are also part of that scene regardless. For me it just feels a lot more intimate and in the moment than it does shooting from range on a telephoto lens. An incredibly versatile lens which makes you think about what you are doing and allows you to throw yourself into the world of bokeh. I’m absolutely loving shooting with it because it is throwing me back into the world of photography which I first fell in love with.

I’m looking forward to share the results of those recent shoots over the coming weeks. Keep an eye on my Instagram page to see the final results.

@themarkdalton

In the meantime, this is probably my favorite shot taken with the 50mm lens so far.