I go through phases where I wish I was a better photographer. Often.

I look at my photos and while they please the client and I know they're decent, I wish they were better. I look at the work of other photographers I am inspired by - all of whom seem to shoot in idyllic locations - and my work seems ho-hum. Like many artists, I am my own worst critic.

I recently went through one of my "tortured artist" phases where I felt like my work is crap. The ironic thing is that on the same day I felt this way, I got these amazing compliments from a bride and groom whose wedding I just shot:

"After months and months of researching photographers, I can honestly say that Chrissy and I absolutely, without question, chose the absolute, without question, BEST wedding photographer in Arizona, if not in the U.S. I would have absolutely paid for Melissa to travel if I wasn't getting married in Arizona. She was professional, kind and creative. She is also incredibly quick!" -Anthony

"I can't imagine choosing anyone other than Melissa to shoot our wedding. From a new bride to all of the soon-to-be brides out there who may be reading this, her talent and professionalism are far beyond the industry standards of what you'd expect from a photographer. Melissa keeps her cool at all times and has higher expectations of her photos than the brides and grooms do. She knows when shots/locations are working and aren't working and doesn't waste time on such an important day. And trust me, she gets PLENTY of great shots :) I know I'm probably rambling here, but I have one more really important last note: Melissa makes you feel comfortable! I hate having my picture taken and I didn't feel like a robot - not once, not ever. She allows moments to happen and then captures them, not the other way around. Okay I'm done, I swear <3 Long story short, I love our photos and Melissa Jill."

Of course these incredibly sweet compliments warm my heart and make me smile. I LOVE making clients happy. But I'm also shaking my head inside. I know I'm nowhere NEAR the best wedding photographer in the US.

While it sucks to feel down about your work, I've also learned to be thankful for and embrace the tortured artist in me. These phases of frustration have always served as an impetus to improve my craft. I want to be better. I want to stay inspired. Even after 7 1/2 years of shooting weddings, I want to continue to push. Negative feelings in and of themselves are just bummers. But if you embrace dissatisfaction and frustration these negative feelings can be transformative.

That day after pulling my sorry self out of the depths of despair, I determined to improve. I made a list of goals for myself. One of them was to try to shoot with more of a sense of place in my photos. I always try to make each venue and location look it's best. Often that translates into NOT photographing the ugly or ordinary. And to be honest, I'm underwhelmed by Arizona venues in general so sometimes the location isn't highlighted in my work. Photographers often get tired of shooting at the same local settings. The grass is always greener and the trees are always bigger on the other side, right? Ironically in this instance the grass IS greener and the trees ARE bigger everywhere else than Arizona. But just because I'm not awed by the venue doesn't mean that it isn't special and beautiful. Including it in the photos really helps give the wedding a sense of place - something I love in the work of other photographers I am inspired by. So that's what I did. I shot the next wedding with that goal in mind. And I improved. I liked my work a little bit more.

I still have a long way to go. Photographers who I coach or who come to my workshops sometimes ask questions as if I've somehow "arrived." The reality is there's no destination. Only a journey. Thankfully the perpetual journey when you're living your passion is challenging, rewarding and keeps life interesting. Here's to embracing the tortured artist and continuing to put one foot in front of the other!
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