Did you ever feel creative block? Or found yourself feeling less excited by what you do?
Many times such feelings appear from creative stagnation, when you allow your creative process to settle into routine.
Personal and professional growth is an essential component for any photographer, as well as continuous source of inspiration. Such growth can and should be stimulated, by challenging yourself, broadening your horizons and allowing some downtime for free experiments without any pressure or expectations. Not just as means of acquiring better clients, but as a means to feel more confident and satisfied with our own work. But all the pressures from content-consumption and the race to get more visibility and business, makes us miss out on this crucial part of our self-expression.
Many creatives and photographers (read: almost all) go into the field for the love of photography and creation. Creating for the sake of creation, for the joy of the process and opportunity to self-express, is a human trait. However, when we make it our business, we inadvertently put speed limitations onto our creative engine.
Below I have given few steps within two major factors that contribute to growth and how you can apply them within your craft.
Bring Back The Fun
Authors like Daniel Pink have proven that introducing expected external reward or condition on our behaviour has a negative effect on motivation and dampens our creative drive.
When your work becomes contingent on external factors, including appreciation, your mind turns potential opportunity for fun into work, and creativity faces pressure. It is not just results that gets affected, but the joy from the process itself. It makes us feel the creative process is no longer “our own.” It is “for something else.”
Simply put, when you expect to be paid or evaluated, you enjoy the process less. How many times have you enjoyed doing chores if your parents asked you to? But how many times you found yourself cleaning up your place on a whim, as a way to unwind and enjoy it simply because it felt rewarding to take care of something that is your own.
In the same way, working as a photographer may affect how much we love photography.
To reduce this negative side effect, you need to allow yourself time and instances of “pure creation,” time just for you that brings back the fun, the game.
1) Have at least 2 days a month where the shoot you do is just for you.
Is there a lighting you wanted to try?
New camera technique?
It may be a personal project that you had in mind.
Those two days are “you time” to execute all the things you were planning or thinking of trying.
Make these days only about learning and practicing that new thing or executing your personal idea.
2) Have at least one freestyle day.
What is a freestyle day? It’s when you come on a shoot with no plan, no set rules or expectations of results.
Important criteria here is that you have to let go of all expectations, and I mean- ALL:
Do not plan on publishing your work or for anyone to see it.
If you work with models, make sure to take the model you are most comfortable with and who will be okay if you will not release the images. It does not mean that, if in the end of it, you will end up liking them, you can’t release them. But making sure while you shoot, you are not having the pressure of having to show it to anyone.
Just take your camera and submerge yourself into the process. Take photos as you feel like, even if some of them will end up not looking good.
At the end of such shoot you are guaranteed to remember all the reasons you picked up a camera in the first place and feel the pure joy of the process again.
3) One for yourself.
Make sure on every shoot you take at least one image that is shot a way you would have never shot. Something very different, weird. This is how you develop flexibility of mind and can discover unexpectedly good new ways of shooting.
You can try using items around you as props, from the light bulb cover to mobile phone surface, to almost anything you can find, but something that you did not expect to use. Our brains thrive on challenge.
At the same time, we are so used to “how it is usually done” that we rarely allow ourselves to approach things differently. The true uniqueness and creativity can come from breaking the norms of the “expected” and brings back the child-like curiosity towards putting objects to unintended use.
Do Not Stop Learning
1) Have a moodboard of techniques and light that you like.
Get into the studio and try to replicate that light. Don’t copy the frame and the shot, but just replicate the light. Without Googling the set up. It will bring enormous amounts of learning, and you will grow to understand lighting better and be comfortable with it.
When we focus on only the result and forget the process, we end up only scratching the surface of experience. We can never master it.
Creative growth requires understanding of how the back-end of techniques works. Once you understand how lighting flows and what difference changing it one way or the other makes, you will find yourself confident in trying to experiment with it. You will be able to come up with your own unique combinations and techniques.
2) Once a day, learn at least one new thing… no matter how small.
Watching a tutorial, reading few pages of a new book, deconstructing the light set-ups…there is a vast world of new thing to learn out there. In sight of a big goal, we forget that any big achievement consists of small daily victories we have, small steps towards that creative goal.
Similarly, these small daily learnings, lingering at the back of your mind, once acquired, can help you improve overall quality of your work, serve as an inspiration, broaden your creative horizons and add to the feeling of self-confidence.
Give yourself small challenges once in a while. Slay your dragon and feel like a hero.
It boosts your confidence, and that confidence, in turn, will make you more open to experiments and help you feel like you can do anything, no matter how hard.
For example, I once challenged myself to read at least 100 pages of a book every day for a week. By the end of that week I did not just feel more educated, I also felt excited to try new techniques as the confidence of that small victory gave me extra energy.
Each of these steps is closely connected with one another. They provide mutual support. And all together jump-start your creative engine making it a speedy joyride.
The allure of street photography, at least for me, is rooted in a simple question. Can I create a great photograph that focuses on the most mundane and ordinary moments of public life? Am I capable of effectively photographing something that others would overlook or dismiss?
From my earliest years as a photographer, I knew it was possible. I saw the evidence in the work of great photographers like Bresson, Winogrand, DeCarava, Erwitt, Arbus, and others. In their photographs, I discovered my attraction to the world of the street with all its chaos, beauty and unpredictability.
There was a unique creative experience that I would find only on the street, rather than the controlled space of a studio. It was a palpable experience that sent a wave of excitement through my body when I thought of it. It took years to develop the skills needed to translate that visceral experience into an image. However, I was forever entranced by the magical potential of a street scene.
Street photography is more than just photographing strangers walking down a sidewalk. It is instead the practice of the art of observation. It is about what happens with my eyes and brain that determine my success. The camera is only of consequence because it confirms my observation and makes it permanent.
When I teach street photography, the biggest obstacle that must be surmounted is an inaccurate definition of what street photography is. It begins with the assumption that street photography is solely about walking up to a stranger and taking their photograph without permission. No wonder it elicits such feelings of anxiety of fear. That definition sabotages the photographer even before exposing a single frame. So, it’s important to let go of such a rigid and problematic definition, which only succeeds in self-defeat.
Instead, I suggest making street photography about seeing, making observations of the world, with or without, the presence of people. Instead of “assaulting” a stranger, see street photography as the pursuit of light and shadow, line and shape, color and gesture. Recognize and embrace the beauty to be found in the ordinary and the mundane.
Light & Shadow
Light and shadow is my starting point whenever I walk the streets. Regardless of the photographic genre that’s practiced, it often relies on the quality of light. That is no different for street photography.
Evaluating the quality of the light does more than just inform what ISO and aperture you use. It also reveals whether you can leverage high contrast light for a dramatic image or diffused light to create an image with a softer feel. Recognizing the quantity, quality and direction of light lead you to make both aesthetic and technical choices that directly inform the look and feel of your photograph. When you are aware of the light when making a photograph, you are preconceiving what the final result will look like. You are not leaving things to chance.
With a high-contrast scene, you can purposely expose for the highlights and render the shadows into deep black. Not only does this result in a punchy and striking black and white photograph, but it also obscures distractions that might be present in the shadows. It becomes both an aesthetic and practical choice born from the awareness of light and shadow.
Tip: Look for a high-contrast scene where light abruptly shifts to shadow. Shape a composition that leverages that contrast. Include an element in the brighter area to help draw attention to that area of the frame.
Line and Shape
Line and shape serve as the building blocks of composition. Whether lines and shapes are visible or implied, they become elements by which you compose the photograph within the confines of the photographic frame.
Noted photographer John Sexton once said, “The only difference between me and my students is that I’ve made more mistakes than they have.” There’s a lot of truth in that. I have been a full-time professional landscape photographer for 26 years, so I’ve had plenty of time to learn from a long string of fumbles, failures, near-misses, and fiascos.
In this post I will share some of the lessons I’ve learned from my career in landscape photography. I’ll explain why you should never eat breakfast before midnight, why great landscape photographers have the brain of an engineer and the heart of a hopeless romantic, and why the potential reward is always greatest when the odds against you are the longest. By the time I’m finished, you’ll either be inspired to shoot sunrise from the summit of the hardest 14,000-foot peak in Colorado or be ready to sell all your cameras on eBay.
I want to assure you that despite the many mistakes I’ve made, I’m actually a talented, experienced, and careful photographer. In fact, I blame all of my mistakes on high-altitude hypoxia, sleep deprivation, and excessive caffeine.
Here’s an example. I was working on a seven-year project to shoot sunrise, or occasionally sunset, from the summit of all 54 of Colorado’s Fourteeners, peaks reaching over 14,000 feet in height. My next objectives were Mt. Shavano and Tabeguache Peak. Tabeguache is one of three Fourteeners in the state where the only practical route to the summit is over the summit of an adjacent Fourteener. I drove to the trailhead, hiked in, and camped at about 10,000 feet. On the same day, I got up at 10:30 p.m. and left camp 45 minutes later so I could summit Mt. Tabeguache at 4:30 a.m. and shoot sunrise.
I returned to camp, napped, then got up again at 11:30 p.m. so I could summit Mt. Shavano in time to shoot sunrise. On the way down from Mt. Shavano, still at about 14,000 feet, I stopped to photograph some tiny alpine flowers. As I was composing the shot, I discovered that auto-focus had suddenly stopped working. Repeatedly I pressed the shutter release halfway down, but the lens wouldn’t auto-focus. I checked the auto-focus switch on the lens. It was set to auto. I checked the camera body. The LCD readout confirmed that auto-focus was enabled. I switched lenses, but got the same behavior.
After puzzling over the issue for a good five minutes, I finally remembered that a year and a half earlier I had removed the auto-focus function from the shutter release and assigned it to the AF-on button on the back of the camera. For the past year and a half, I had always focused with the AF-on button on the back of the camera, not by pressing the shutter release halfway down. Just half an hour earlier, while shooting sunrise on the summit, I had been pressing the AF-on button on the back of the camera every time I wanted to focus. Granted, I was at 14,000 feet. I hadn’t slept properly in three days. Still, a photographer forgetting how to auto-focus? It was obviously long past time to get off that mountain, go home, and get some sleep.
This is landscape photography’s dirty little secret: it’s exciting, fun, and rewarding—and a lot of hard work. There’s just no way around this. Landscape photography requires an awful lot of getting up early and staying up late, driving hard and hiking hard. Sleep is for landscape photographers who don’t drink enough coffee. In fact, great landscape photography is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.
I reluctantly reminded myself of this inspiring phrase after I hauled my 4×5 field camera up the steep sandstone slabs to Delicate Arch for the ninth time, finally captured the longed-for glow on the arch, then heard the photographer next to me remark, “That was nice! This is the first time I’ve ever been here!”
And since we’re on the topic of hard work, here’s another of my aphorisms: the potential reward is always greatest when the odds against you are the longest. For example, the most likely outcome on a morning with heavy clouds is a gray, boring sunrise. If, however, the sun finds a tiny gap between dense clouds and the horizon, the result can be some of the most spectacular light you’ll ever be privileged to photograph.
Not only is the potential reward greatest when the odds against you are the longest: the potential reward is also greater if you remove your lens cap before taking the photo. Back in the film era, I had a medium-format Fuji rangefinder. In January, 2005, I did a solo, off-trail trip into the Sangre de Cristo Range. On the first day I hiked, then snowshoed and scrambled to a campsite at about 10,600 feet. The next day I continued upward another 1,700 vertical feet and picked out a sunset location with rippled snow in the foreground and the Fourteeners Kit Carson, Crestone Peak, and Crestone Needle in the background, all of which would get sunset light.
One disadvantage of rangefinders, of course, is that you aren’t looking through the lens, which means there’s no obvious clue that the lens cap is still on. As the light peaked, I shot two rolls of medium-format film that I thought were capturing the best light of the trip.
When I finally looked at the front of the camera and saw that the lens cap was still attached, I dropped to my knees in the snow and buried my head in my hands. Then I chided myself: Glenn, you’re alone, it’s January, you’re at 12,000 feet, it’s getting dark, and you’re 1,700 vertical feet above your campsite. This is no time to throw a hissy fit. I stood up, regrouped, and saw that the clouds over the peaks were starting to light up, so I was able to make a few decent photos even though I certainly missed the best images of the trip.
10-15 years ago this wasn’t even a concept. I wish I had access to photographers’ old websites so I could show you just how differently photography was branded compared to now.
More and more potential clients aren’t even going to your website. They’re checking out your other portfolio: Instagram.
Instagram can be a photographer’s best friend or worst enemy. Thanks to this social platform, users can take a look at our most updated portfolio in a millisecond. We’re judged only by the last six pictures we posted.
When potential clients are looking at our images that quickly, and that displayed on that tiny mobile screen, there’s one thing that will stick out in their minds. “Does this brand look put together?”
Make no mistake, photographers (and really all businesses) on Instagram are viewed and evaluated as a whole, not by single images. Consumers are wise to what a good, cohesive, consistent, branded business looks like and they expect it.
In addition to looking at how many followers you have to determine if you’re a reputable business, they will look at your images as a Collective.
Scared yet? You shouldn’t be!
As a photographer, this is your strong suit. If you haven’t honed in on your photography brand image yet, now is the time to start.
As a photographer you have control over lighting like no other businessperson does. There are three easy ways you can start displaying a strong brand, using lighting as your guide.
Finding And Creating Consistent Light
This is where it starts. Your effort here must be very intentional, and not haphazard, or your outcome won’t be successful.
I’ve decided that my images are to be bright, vibrant and soft. So, when I’m deciding where to photograph details, or the bridal party, or the bride and groom, I’m placing them (and any other light that I’m using) fairly consistently in the same kind of places.
For example, if I’m looking for a spot for the bride and groom, I’m looking for a background that is backlit, and I plan on filling in the light in their faces with a reflector or off-camera flash. If I had a more moody style to my imagery, I might always look for a contrasting background with light coming more from the right or left.
This isn’t to stifle creativity. I’m not saying that every picture you take must look exactly the same. Of course I take pictures that are more moody, and moody photographers will take pictures that are more bright and light.
But the overall body of your work should be collectively parallel. Not only for social media branding, but so that you fulfill the expectations you’ve given to your clients. After all, if you have nothing but dark and moody pictures on your website, but then half of your pictures are light and airy, you probably will have clients wondering what happened to the photographer they thought they hired.
Creating Light If You Can’t “Find It” Naturally
You may be a natural light photographer, but what happens when the natural light just isn’t cooperating? You don’t want to run the risk of not delivering the style and quality photos that you’ve promised your clients. You need to be able to create the light instead.
I know off camera flash can be daunting for photographers who shoot natural light. I remember trying to learn for years and getting frustrated with the existing technology and my failing results. Thankfully, it’s gotten much easier.
If you’re ready to learn off-camera-flash, I have something for you. I’ve written a book all about it. But it’s unlike any other book on flash out there.
This is “scenario-based” teaching, and without all of the complicated terms and photograph-ese. You want to make it look like golden hour? Here’s what you need. Looking to create a magenta sunset? Here’s steps 1, 2 and 3. It’s simple, easy to understand and you don’t need to read the whole book to start trying it out right away.
It’s being published by Rocky Nook in February, and you can pre-order yours right here.
The next step to creating consistently lit photos is in the post-processing. As we know, there are limitless ways to edit, enhance and potentially destroy a photograph. This is where I see most photographers make mistakes, and you’re not alone! Just scroll down my Instagram feed a little while and you’ll see my all-over-the-place editing and posting (@vanessajoy).
Thankfully, post-production companies (mine is Freedom Edits – $50 off if you use that link) are helping out a lot of photographers now-a-days. When you send your work out to be edited by another company, one of their primary goals is to give you consistent editing. I believe this is teaching photographers the importance of editing consistency and helping their urges to edit according to their mood that day.
This is a place where decision-making has to take place either with your editing company or on your own. As much as one photo might look killer with a vintage edit on it, it just won’t bode well to have it sitting next to a vibrant, colorfully edited image. Make a decision on what you want your images to portray and stick to it.
Again, this isn’t to put you into a box of any kind. You absolutely can change your editing style, and your lighting style even. But these kinds of changes should be done gradually and over time, not daily and whenever the feeling flows.
Another smart move in the Instagram world is to purposefully set your first six pictures up perfectly if you have a marketing push coming. For example, if you know that you’re going to have an ad running, or be implementing some kind of Instagram marketing, anything that’ll drive traffic to your profile, make sure that you’ve “set-up” your profile spectacularly.
Remember, most people won’t even give you a scroll, they only see the first six images you’ve posted. So, if you’re knowingly making an effort to push people to your Instafeed, make sure those first six pictures are amazing individually and collectively.
When I was invited to write on Scott Kelby’s blog I was instantly excited! I have followed Scott Kelby for years and years!
I decided to share about my life and my career. I tried my best to curate it properly, but my life is all over the place. As a result, my write up of my life and career was all over the place. If I were going to be authentic, I needed to write that way. Hang in there with me!
My name is Audrey Woulard, and I have been a full time professional photographer for the last 17 years. I would have never thought that I would be in the position I am today. I was not the girl who grew up loving photography. I was not the girl who always had a camera in her hand. I was not the girl who felt even remotely artistic or creative. Truth be told, I still do not feel creative. I feel like an anomaly within the industry of photography for so many reasons.
So you know how I mentioned that I would have never imagined that I would be in the position I am today? There were so many reasons why. I quit my very good corporate job to be a stay at home mom (SAHM). Let me add that I had a very good corporate job in my early twenties. So I gave up the growth that I could have achieved because being home with my kids meant the world to me.
After I quit, money was tight, so I didn’t have the luxury of buying all the latest equipment. I mean, at the time I didn’t even know I liked photography! So I was at home with a small child, and two babies that were a year apart. My husband came home with a super cheap digital camera that he bought from his sister for $50. He literally said, “maybe this will keep you busy.” My sister in law won that camera at work. This camera came with a disk that contained Adobe Photodeluxe. From there, my love for photography was born!
I would use that cheap Fuji digital camera, and the most remedial version of Adobe’s editing software and I was honing my craft! I would practice and practice every single day. Those babies of mine back then are now all adults in college! I figured out ways to manipulate light to create images with inferior equipment. I was creating images that many just weren’t creating. When I say I was practicing, I was practicing! I printed so many of those images! What is funny is that I have prints of my practice images, whereas photographers today, have images saved on hard drives or their phones to remember when they practiced.
I have to stress that the only reason I still have those prints today is due to my mother. She saved every single image of her grandchildren that I shared. My father would buy the biggest and best printer out there! When I sent my mother digital images, my father would print them. This is the only reason why I still have those images.
I would share my work in online message groups and receive praise. Well, not all of it was praise, but I think my consistency with what I felt was my photographic voice resonated with those who viewed my work. Now let me be honest here, my work back then was beyond awful! They need a new word for awful when I look at my early work. I am also very proud of it because it is part of who I am, and I just can’t run away from it. I don’t want to.
There are always those friends and family members who tell you that you should go into business. For some strange reason, I decided to listen to them! I was in love with what I was doing, and it gave me a creative outlet. I was going to be a baby/family photographer. The one thing I told myself was that I was not going to go and play with other children, and not be paid handsomely for it. I also wanted to be known for my work, and my work only. I didn’t want it to be about me, and who I was.
Truth be told, there weren’t a lot of black women photographers out there, and I wasn’t sure if that would make someone decide that they didn’t want to hire me. However, I knew they would love my work and me once they met me. So I kept what I looked like under wraps by not placing a headshot on my website. This was done for those who weren’t referred by someone who personally knew me.
Because I wanted to be paid well, I decided to create relationships with high-end businesses within the city of Chicago. I did this so that I could ensure I could charge handsomely for being away from my boys. If I were going to be away from them after I decided to be a SAHM, I wanted to have something financially that would benefit them. Well, it worked, and it worked almost too well! People loved me, and loved the way I approached the photography process. More importantly, they loved the pictures. Clients weren’t able to predict the final outcome. My business BOOMED! No one cared what I looked like. Everything seemed to be going great!
Remember those Internet message boards I spoke about? Well, I kept sharing my work there too. I confidently went against the photography norm. Let me be honest here, I hate rules! So I kept trying to find reasons to break them. I guess this is why I was the child who gave my parents and teachers a hard time! I stuck to my guns and created a large photographer following. I know in 2019 we live in a land full of influencers, but in 2005/6, that was not my goal. I consider myself an ambivert. An ambivert is a person whose personality has a balance of extrovert and introvert features.
I am very extroverted when need be, but I also crave my space like an introvert. When things are smooth sailing, I am quite introverted. When I need to shake things up, I am the biggest extrovert you’ve ever seen. I am not afraid to speak to large crowds. I am an advocate for myself, and I am not afraid of confrontation. I am not afraid of anything really. However, I like to keep to myself! It’s such a conflicting personality. However to the masses, I believe it is a very confusing personality.
So with this large photographers following I built, most just knew of my work. They knew little about me. I never talked about myself really due to my ambivert personality. At the time, I didn’t have the luxury of social media to create my own narrative. I would meet photographers in person, and they would say they assumed I was a 6ft blonde woman!
I was catapulted on the biggest stages within the industry with platform presentations at Imaging, and WPPI. My rooms were overflowing with people! One year at WPPI they put me in a small room and the Fire Marshall came by and shut my class down. The next year (2009), they placed me in their biggest room. It was FULL!
All the while, I didn’t see anyone who looked like me on stage. When I say I didn’t see anyone, there was absolutely no one. It was me. Just me. I was the representation, but I also was too young and too busy with my home life to understand what that responsibility meant at the time. I was in my twenties, and creating history. The only thing I could think about was getting back home to my babies. My biggest goal at the time was to satisfy my urge as a woman to have my own, and to make sure my family didn’t miss me. That was it. That was my goal. My goal was work/life balance.
Going back to WPPI. I had my lab print out about 12 huge enlargements that sat on easels. They were in the front of the room.
I stood on that stage in front of almost 700 people and proudly said I shoot JPEG. The sound of the GASPS was deafening! The audience didn’t look like me, so I felt a bit isolated. Nothing was familiar to me. I still stayed true to who I was. I invited people to come to the front of the room and inspect my prints.
Let me say this… Now, I shoot RAW! However, my point is that I was true to who I was at the time. I got beat up really, really bad. I wasn’t beat up because of my work. My work was good. I was beat up because I proudly said how I did things very differently. I said that as a person that people felt was someone they looked up to. I didn’t follow the status quo of photography.
It isn’t easy to stick out from the crowd. It is much easier to go with the flow. It also isn’t easy sticking out photographically when the average photographer doesn’t look like you. There were absolutely no black female photography speakers when I was speaking on major platforms. I was the only one.
After those platform presentations at WPPI I bowed out of the public scene a bit. I would speak at Imaging every other year, but outside of my personal workshops, I did nothing. I refused everything. I wouldn’t respond to conferences who would ask me to speak. I simply felt it wasn’t worth it the heartache I felt I would endure. I was taking so many hits from the peanut gallery that it just wasn’t worth messing with my mental health.
During that time, when it came to photography education, I kept to myself and did my own thing. I still conducted my own personal workshops. I conducted those with absolutely no sponsors of any kind. There were years when I had workshops once a month. Each one sold out. I also took my workshops international. I have had two sold out workshops in London. I’ve had one workshop in Amsterdam, and I have had three workshops in Australia! I have been very blessed to have people from all over the world want to learn from me.
Now things are going GREAT! My business has continued to grow by leaps and bounds! I’ve had not only one, but TWO brick and mortar studios in Chicago. My most recent one was in the very trendy West Loop. I still tried to keep it all a bit low key.
At this point, I struggled with being proud of my accomplishments, and worrying if others felt I deserved them. It was like I was the most confident, yet insecure person out there!
After taking a break from the BIG public scene of the photography industry, I jumped back in. My break was about 5-6 years. I came back in and thankfully didn’t miss a beat.
During my break, I nurtured my soul. I understood why I was doing what I was doing. I photograph people because I like getting to know others. Speaking to huge crowds, yet making zero connections, is something that I struggle with. Getting to know people keeps me going. Because of that natural part of my personality, I kept my early client base.
I nurtured those babies and young kids that I started with. They all grew up into tweens and teens. I rebranded my business (that is a story in itself!) and became a tween/teen photographer. My photography business continued to flourish, but on a new level! I was tapping into a market no other photographer was. Again, I was stepping out on faith, and doing something that was against the norm. As an industry, we think babies, families, seniors, and weddings. That’s kind of the portrait timeline. Then you have headshots, and commercial work.
In 2014 I found a new genre. I grew with my family and my business! I was now a popular tween photographer!
So I stepped back onto the speaker scene full time in 2015. I was ready to talk about how I was dominating this new genre of tweens! At 7:00 in the morning, my room was back at 700 capacities at Imaging USA.
I seriously did not expect that! I remember staying up ALL night stressing!!!
After that presentation, my presence grew with photography vendors. Of course I kept conducting my photography workshops, but I became one of the first black female photographers that was an ambassador for a major camera brand. This wasn’t the goal but hopefully it opens the door to others that look like me.
What is the takeaway from this ramble?
Follow your heart, not the status quo. Do this regardless of who you are. Follow what you want to do. Do not create what you think will bring you likes. People are attracted to consistency; consistency in all areas! It’s not going to be easy, so do not go into it thinking it will be. You will ruffle some feathers doing so.
For me, I was consistent with my work, and I was consistent with what I spoke about. Although it is easier if everyone loved me! It felt better if I did things where I loved myself. It is hard when the things that I convey to the masses are misunderstood. However, I was placed in this particular position for a reason, and I am going to navigate it with honesty and integrity.
I am a mom with a camera. I create work that speaks to my soul. I also speak words from my soul. I have had so many great things happen for me that more importantly opened doors for others. I also have had a lot of bad things and heart break in regards to being recognized for my work. You have to find a way to just keep going.
Follow your heart. I know I did. As uncomfortable as it may be, you never know what can happen.
Many today would never view me as an underdog. When I began, that is what I was. Sometimes I look at my accomplishments and think that no one would even think that I am an underdog. I often think that if I voiced a grievance online, it would be viewed as arrogant. However, when you complete a goal, you must create new goals. Guess what? Even today as I am writing this, I am being turned down from a goal. I am now an underdog to that particular goal.
As much as it may hurt, or discourage me, I am going to keep pushing on. Hopefully I have another opportunity to share the addendum to this story!
The moral of this story is, regardless of who you are, please keep pushing! The creative industry is complex, and very rewarding at times. Just like capturing a picture!
Thank you to Scott and Brad for having me back here as a guest blogger. When Brad asked if I would be interested in doing another guest blog, I thought for a long time about what I could write about that would help those reading this blog. In past guest blog posts, I have talked about sorting and editing using Bridge, what it’s like to shoot a full day concert, photographing pets, and of course, more concert stuff.
This time around I want to talk about what I wished I had known before giving up my day job and going into photography full time. I made lots of mistakes, and I still make mistakes. But I make fewer than when I started, which is a good thing. Many of you know that I am a concert photographer, but I earn most of my income from photographing corporate events, some private and some public. This post is about that work, as it’s where I earn my living and where I have made the most mistakes. So here are five things I wish I’d known before going pro.
You Have To Run A Business As A Business
I wish I had taken more business classes in college. An accounting class would have been really useful. I thought that being in a creative field like photography would mean less spreadsheets and more fun, but working for myself means that I have to deal with a lot of stuff that isn’t photography. I actually spend much more time on the non-photography stuff than I do making photos, like…
Finding the work (that’s a whole different blog post).
Creating budgets and scheduling the work.
Creating invoices, tracking payments, and keeping track of what’s owed and when.
All that business stuff isn’t taking photos or very creative at all.
I ended up going back to community college to take an accounting class just so I could understand the math behind my business. This ties right into being able to say no to work sometimes. You need to understand how to price your work. And if you don’t understand how to do that, how will you know when you should turn down a job offer because the money isn’t right?
One more thing about running a business, you need to make sure you use contacts and legal forms. This protects you and the client.
Can’t Do It Alone
This one took me a while to understand and even longer to embrace. I honestly thought the I was in direct competition with every other photographer in San Diego. While there is some competition (as there is with every job) having a group of photographers you can work with is way more beneficial than working alone. Let me give you a few examples of what Im talking about.
The first involves one of my best clients, a company that has hired me consistently over the past four years for multiple jobs in San Diego, Dallas and Nashville. This client only found out about me because another photographer here in San Diego gave them my name when he couldn’t take a job due to a scheduling conflict. If it wasn’t for the relationship I have with this other local photographer, I would never have been introduced to this client.
For the last decade, I have been photographing the San Diego Comic Con for a variety of clients. You can hear all the details on the He Shoots He Draws podcast (episode 87). In this interview, I discuss how for the last three years I have had Hasbro as a client but I needed to put together a team of photographers to do the job.
I was able to reach out to a group of local photographers that I know, and trust, to work with me to get the client everything they need. Had I not had a good working relationship with a group of local photographers, I would not have been able to take the job at all. So just keep in mind that while there will always be some healthy competition, cooperation can really help move your business forward.
Learn To Say No
This one might be the hardest lesson to learn, at least it was for me. I really thought that I needed to take every job that was offered to me. Boy, was that a mistake. I would say yes to jobs that didn’t fit my style or what I wanted to photograph. I would end up unhappy, and the client would end up unhappy which really didn’t help my business grow.
For example, I was recently asked to do a newborn shoot by someone I know from photographing concerts. They know me as a photographer, so they asked if I could do this for them. Knowing how important these types of shoots are and that it’s not something I do, I had to say no, but I did offer to put them in contact with someone better suited to their needs. This is another great example of why you need to have photographer you know and trust.
The other time I had to learn to say no is when the job would end up costing me more than I would make from it. That’s a great way to go out of business slowly. I know hard hard it is to say no to a paying photo gig, I used to just say yes to all of them. Then I started to think like a business person and did a little math and started saying no. I am not saying that you should never work for a low payment or even take a job for free now and then, just make sure that it is worth your time and energy. I still take photos at charity events for a greatly reduced fee and will still even shoot for free if I think the images created will help me book future work or its something I believe in.
Consistency Is Key
Make sure the you can recreate the photos in your portfolio. Clients are going to hire you on your ability to create images for them in the style and look of the photos in your portfolio. Makes perfect sense, yet we tend to pack our portfolio with the very best images we have taken, even if those images were shot at workshops or when there was help with the lighting or styling. This is a huge mistake unless you are confident you can recreate the image yourself. The best way to avoid this, is to recreate the image in question and add that one to the portfolio instead.
Every image in my portfolios (yes I have different portfolios for different job types) was taken by me without any help, and the look and style of the images can be recreated for my clients without worry. Most clients that hire me for my conference work want a full set of good images that can be used to show what the conference was like, and can be used if they ever put on that event again (or one like it). I have heard from clients that the sets of images I produced at past events are still being used to to this day.
Have A Shot List
One of the reasons I have repeat clients is that they know what they are going to get from me. I make sure that we discuss the job beforehand and that I have no questions about their needs. When I started out, I assumed I knew exactly what the client wanted without actually talking to them. This led to some awkward moments when the client asked about a specific image and I didn’t have it. Now I make sure that I discuss the shot list in depth and if the client doesn’t have a shot list, I ask them to create one or we can create one together.
Many times the hardest shot to take are the ones the client thinks are the easiest. This usually end up being a large group shot in poor lighting conditions without any way to get everyone in the shot. In the two following examples, I made it work in really terrible lighting conditions without any extra gear or preparation time. In the second shot, I had people stand on furniture and I stood on a chair myself.
I was recently on a four day job covering a conference / workshop with about 150 people. They wanted me to take a group shot of all 150 attendees on the last day inside the workshop area. I had never seen the location before, so I had to rely on my problem solving skills and my past experience on taking large group photos. Turns out the ceiling was really low and there were pillars in the middle of the room. I worked out a way to use the staircase and the landing, along with a couch to gain as much height as possible and got the shot. I was only able to get this shot (I can’t post it here due to client restrictions) because I had worked out the best way to do it and I have had practice in that type of image. Still, it was the most stressful part of the job.
I really hope that some of these help you if and when you decide to turn a hobby or passion into a business.