How To Grow In Your Work
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.