Do you sometimes despair, feeling like you'll never be really good at the thing you love? You work at it, you obsess over it, but you still feel like you fall short.
If this is you, here's an exercise for you: find something you create often. A subject you photograph often, a sample of your knitting, a page of text, a scrapbook, a meal you prepare. Whatever it is you strive to be good at. If you're able to find an example of what you produced several years ago, get it (that might be difficult for bakers and musicians and the like). Lay it in front of you and look through it. Then get the updated equivalent, the latest pieces you've created, and take a look at that. What do you notice? How have you changed? Do you see evidence of growing skills, changing style? What do you like about what you produced before, and what do you like about what you've done recently?
For my comparison, I dug up two photos of orchard spiders (above), taken one year apart (you can click on them to see bigger versions). They were taken in different back yards, but both were taken in a garden setting in July, using the same camera and lens. Both are representative of the type of work I was doing at the time; they seem "average" for me for 2008 and 2009, respectively. The major difference between them is a user difference.
What do I see? I see that I learned how to use aperture settings to control depth of focus, and that I pay much closer attention to focus. I feel like I'm spending more time thoughtfully composing a shot (and that composition is coming easier to me), and I think that difference shows, as well, both in how I approached the spider and my awareness of the background. My perception of light is much different now and I actively think about how to use it to my advantage.
When I look at other shots taken this year of the same subject, I feel even better about the direction I'm moving. Hooray for gaining new skills! I really, really love these two images from this past July:
Where have you been, where are you going? How do you feel about your journey? Where would you like to go next?