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Facing the Imposter – The Struggle with Imposter Syndrome as an Artist


I don’t belong here. I’m not good enough. I’m not a “real” artist. I often feel as if these words should be painted in scarlet across my forehead, as I walk into a session, present my photos to a client, or even invite them into my home studio.

“These people gave me money for beautiful portraits, and they are terrible. Any second they are going to realize that I’m a fake, that I’m not a real professional”. The words echo in my mind, leaving me with an aching pit in my stomach like I’m waiting for the floor to fall right out from under me. I try to talk myself out of it, reminding myself that they hired me because they liked my portfolio. They liked it enough to spend their hard-earned money to have photos like the ones they saw.

A brief second of confidence hits me before the monster chimes back in. “You can’t make photos like that again. You just caught a few lucky shots, and Photoshop did the rest”. Or “maybe those photos aren’t that good at all, and those clients just bought them out of pity”; or because “they spent the time to have the photos made and didn’t want to leave empty handed….” Accepting what I’m now convinced is inevitable, I take a deep breath, realizing that there is no turning back, and proceed.

Storybook Studios

As photographers and artists, our work is very personal. We pour our hearts and our souls into every project we create. We dream and plan and envision every detail, before we even click the shutter, all the while understanding that we are actually documenting the history of our subjects and their lives, with the hopes that these images will serve future generations in knowing the story of their ancestors (no pressure there!).

With so much passion invested in our photos, it’s easy to perceive even the slightest lack of utter excitement from our clients as certain proof of our failure. We take every word (or lack thereof) to heart and can create so much question in our own abilities that we can actually set ourselves up to fail.
There is no doubt that this feeling is very real and can be absolutely debilitating. Even more interesting, though, is the fact that these feelings are not at all uncommon, especially among artists. So much so, that it even has a name. “Imposter Syndrome”.

Initially coined in 1978 by two clinical psychologists, Imposter syndrome, originally called impostor phenomenon, is used to designate an internal experience of intellectual phoniness that appears to be particularly prevalent and intense among a select sample of high achieving women…. Despite outstanding academic and professional accomplishments, women who experience the impostor phenomenon persist in believing that they are really not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise. Numerous achievements, which one might expect to provide ample objective evidence of superior intellectual functioning, do not appear to affect the impostor belief [1].

In today’s world, where much of our advertising takes place online, the number of website hits and social media “likes” directly affects how well we reach our market, and the better we reach our market, the more “likes” we collect and the higher our raking climbs on Google. While many factors come into play on this, from ever-changing algorithms to SEO, it’s easy to fall into the trap that the numbers on the graph correlate to our level of talent and skill- and when those numbers don’t measure up, it isn’t a far stretch to self-doubt.

The good news is, there are steps we can take to help us have a more realistic view of ourselves. A big game changer I’ve found is the community. Talking about it with a trusted friend or mentor can remind us that what we are feeling is totally normal- and the knowledge that we are not alone can help put these misaligned thoughts into perspective.

The first step is figuring out the root of the problem- Is it anxiety? Perfectionism? Something else? Ask yourself, what is causing me to feel this way? Is this feeling helping me or holding me back? What is the worst thing that could realistically happen? What is the best outcome? Writing these things in a journal can be helpful on a few levels, especially when we are able to come back after we’ve faced that fear and update with the result. It can go a long way in moving forward.

Storybook Studios

More than this, for me at least, is as simple as knowing that I’m not the only one conflicted with these feelings and maybe even more encouraging- the people who ‘face the imposter’ the most frequently, are high-achieving and successful. Mostly everyone experiences moments of doubt, this is totally normal and even healthy, as it pushes us to challenge our current skill set. The very notion that we are uncomfortable in our current state means we are ready to grow and become better in our craft. The key is not allowing that doubt or fear to control our actions.

Next time you’re feeling like your work doesn’t measure up, flip the script and use it as motivation to push through your fears and improve your skills. When we can truly believe in ourselves, the possibilities are infinite!



[1] “The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention” in the 1978 journal Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice. Published by Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes


This article was featured in Summerana Magazine | July 2019 | The Black and White Issue See the full issue here.

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