The “I suck” Phase

Sunset - Bagan Myanmar

Sunset over ancient temples, Bagan Myanmar

Yes. It’s possible to think of photography as an act of editing, a matter of where you put your rectangle pull it out or take it away. Sometimes people ask me about films, cameras and development times in order to find out how to do landscape photography. The first thing I do in landscape photography is go out there and talk to the land – form a relationship, ask permission, it’s not about going out there like some paparazzi with a Leica and snapping a few pictures, before running off to print them.- Michael Kenna

I’m back from my month in Southeast Asia and am deep into the editing phase of the project.  Or as I like to call it, the “I suck” phase.

I go through this with every project.  I wrote about it in my previous blog post called The Agony of Editing.  I know it will get better, but this is all part of the process – and an important one.

I have a background in Naval aviation, and the crews always debriefed themselves after every flight to see what they did well and what they could do better.  By doing this analysis, they continue to grow their skills and always stay sharp.

So as I go through each shot, I’m my harshest critic.  I look at the lighting, the composition, the content and really try to look impartially at it.  I usually find myself asking why I didn’t move to the right a bit or get a different perspective.  Sometimes the exposure is off, so I try to figure out why.

But the main thing that I want to see is if I captured the emotion that I was trying to convey.  Did I actually come back with the series that I envisioned in my head before I left.  To the last point, I inevitably don’t.  It’s like a novelist who writes a book.  They usually have an outline and a vision for the final product, but it can just as easily take a different turn as the writing process progresses.

Here’s the thing though – I can’t analyze that “main thing” right now.  I need to distance myself from the negatives for a while.  I find it gives me a better perspective if I live with them for a few weeks out of mind.  I can look at them more objectively that way.  Right now I’m too emotionally connected to them – I remember how hard it was to take a particular shot or the good or bad experience I had that day.  None of that should factor into whether it’s a good print or not at the end.

At this point in the process my “artist insecurities” are running rampant (the “I suck” phase).  I need to let that calm down for a while before I can see clearly. So you won’t see any of my B&W work from the trip until sometimes in January most likely.

Until then, I’ll relax and enjoy the holidays.  I’m flying back east to spend Christmas with the family in Ohio.  My flight leaves on Tuesday – it will be my 17th flight in the last 5 weeks. I’m already planning out 2012 and there are some seriously exciting things to come.





  1. Don’t sweat it. I am in a constant “I suck” phase, lol.

    I too recently returned from a month in S.E Asia, Vietnam to be specific. I could easily write a similar post. Upon viewing the images as I imported them into LR, I was not too happy. Lots of ok “touristic photos” but nothing much in the way of artistic or story telling. I am unhappy with images upon first glance. Luckily, I will not have any time to dig in and do some hard core editing and such with the holidays here and working out of town in the New Year. This will allow some time to be separated from my images for a while. It should detach me from the images emotionally. Maybe two months from now, I will have time to dig into the editing process. This should give me a more objective opinion of what I am looking at.

  2. I think most people in the creative industry go through the “i suck” phase constantly. It’s a particular kind of pressure you’re placing on yourself, going somewhere to do this one something, for a myriad of purposes, most of them tied in some way, to self definition.

    I too need a separation time of weeks between when I take my pictures and get down to the post processing and the edit. For me, it allows the time to forget the usually an anti-climatic experience of actually making those pictures (where the “god i suck” line starts), and reflect on the day out, holiday, whatever trip with a more balanced perspective.

    Happy holidays Mark. Safe travels, and looking forward to hearing about your exciting plans for next year 🙂

  3. As many stated “I suck” periods will come and go. Always. They are part of the overall process artist must goes through from time to time. I remember accepting that was a game changer in my whole attitude towards photography. It boils down to the moment you acknowledge the fact that “sucking” at some point is non-negotiable. All we can do after that is to perserve and do our best without giving up. Because if you think about it, the secret to getting really good at something isn’t being superhuman in any of the cases (at least i’d like to think that)

    And heck, this year i opened up archive from 2010 and i found stuff i’d never found if i’d go for it then. Now i see in themes!
    It’s good practice to wait for PP part i think, we get a healthier distance from our own work, we get more impartial with judging it without the memories of taking the pictures getting in a way.

    Anyway i wish you happy Christmas Mark and the fruitful editing after that. Really looking forward for you to unveil your recent works. Take care and hear from you on that in 2012 i guess 🙂 Cheers

  4. I am at a “I suck” phase constantly, then I take a break, take a deep breath go back to my beginnings and see that I to am still changing. My style has not yet appeared, not sure if it will ever happen but I love to shoot. So until then its all I really know. Very nice blog and love the photo, thanks for sharing.

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