The opening verse of the Skyhooks song, Ego Is Not A Dirty Word, goes like this;
Generally speaking, the word has negative connotations. If you have an ego, then it is implied that you hold yourself in too high a regard.
But in their 1975 hit, the Skyhooks hinted at a more multi-faceted definition.
What does this mean for your photography? How exactly do photographers dress as they please? Have courage in their convictions? Stand out from the crowd?
Not my best shot, and unlikely to ever grace my wall. However, the act of taking the shot was immensely enjoyable. The appreciation of a rare blue-sky day in winter. The sense of isolation and peacefulness. The typically narrow Yorke Peninsula roads whose imperfect edges are, in actual fact, perfection.
Ego and photography – the good side
You believe you have something to say. There is meaning and passion behind your work, and you aren’t afraid to show it to the world.
You’re not concerned with how you are received, because being true to yourself is more important than anything.
Inevitably, you won’t appeal to everyone. This is perfectly fine.
You enjoy connecting with like-minded individuals. You don’t care if it’s 1 person or 1,000.
You accept that you don’t know everything and you’re always striving to learn.
This includes being able to admit when you’re wrong. Because in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter, does it?
It is also collaboration with other photographers. And giving more than receiving. Indeed, giving with no expectation of receiving.
It is shooting well-known locations or adopting popular workflows because you know they’re tried and tested.
Conversely, it is having the courage to shoot lesser-known locations, or going where no photographer has gone before.
The initial excitement of finding this kangaroo alone in a field at sunset was tempered somewhat when I went to post-process. My lens wasn’t long enough, there wasn’t enough contrast and the sky was a bit boring. Perfectionism, ego, sweating the small stuff – whatever you want to call it – serves to undermine my enjoyment of photography by establishing unrealistic standards.
The slightly less good side
You believe your work isn’t good enough to be shown to anyone else. Instead, it lays confined to the dusty recesses of your hard drive.
It can also manifest as being overwhelmed, not knowing where or how to start.
This is related to perfectionism and requiring that everything be just so.
So much energy is wasted in the pursuit of perfection that there is seldom enough energy left over to do anything meaningful. This is a constant struggle for me.
You believe that people don’t care about your work or the message that you are trying to convey. So you keep it to yourself.
There is nothing inherently wrong with keeping to yourself of course, but true joy comes from sharing your passion with others.
The bad side
Your photographs are too good to be shown to anyone else. People are going to steal your locations, ideas, post-processing or composition techniques.
Your photography is the best because you know everything there is to know.
Gear is updated frequently for the sake of keeping up with others, and for the (mostly) mistaken belief that new gear will produce better images.
A general lack of humility and open-mindedness manifests itself as the coveting of these locations, ideas and techniques – when they’re common knowledge.
Social media exacerbates these issues. Many, including myself at times, have been preoccupied with likes, comments or locations instead of finding more enjoyment from the making of the images themselves.
Originality often suffers in search of this external validation.
Then there was the time I had a great day taking photographs on the Yorke Peninsula, only to discover that I was shooting in low-quality JPEG mode all day.
Ego in photography is not necessarily a bad or a good thing.
You have to believe that you have something to say, without feeling the need to force it on others.
You have to appreciate the positive feedback on your work, without relying on that feedback as your sole source of motivation.
The internet and a proliferation of high quality, affordable cameras has meant that photography has never been more popular.
But the Earth is still the same size and has a finite amount of locations to shoot. Finding your voice has never been harder, some may suggest.
I would argue that the opportunities for original, unique photography are still infinite.
Ditto for the opportunity to share a passion with like-minded individuals.
The world is crying out for creativity and passion, and it is through creativity and passion that you can find (and then bask) in your uniqueness.
Ego gives power to those who are willing to stand out in a sea of sameness, to make their opinions heard and ultimately, connect with others who share similar values.
But it also has the ability to strip you of your capacity to learn, collaborate and most importantly, be yourself.
Has ego ever got in your way, or has it made you a better photographer?