Shoot Outside Of Your Comfort Zone
When people ask me what I shoot, I respond with, “I’m a portrait and travel photographer. That pretty much sums it up, and I get the corresponding head nod. I have spent years practicing my lighting setups, model direction, getting my camera settings down, and investing in gear. I’m happy. However, if I stopped here, it would be such a waste.
Professionals will tell you that you should pick a genre and master it. Shoot what you like and concentrate on it. I agree. You should figure out what it is that you want to do the most and do that. It’s impossible to become great at everything. With that said, there is no reason whatsoever not to try something different and new from time to time. While I started out shooting portraits, I realized that it would be a missed opportunity not to shoot travel as well. I travel for a living and have been to some of the most beautiful places on earth.
Stepping outside of your comfort zone means that you’re going to take the chance of shooting something that you’ve never shot before. You’re willing to accept that your first attempt is probably not going to be great. However, you’re going to learn! Just getting the settings right means that you’ve mastered doing manually what the camera would have probably done had you set it to AUTO. That may seem harsh, but it’s true. It’s not enough just to take a technically correct photo anymore. It’s expected!
If you’re a “photographer,” then, of course, we expect you to get a shot that’s in focus with the correct exposure. Are you surprised when you go into a restaurant, order a dish and it comes out exactly how you expected? No. You expect the chef to be able to prepare the meal you ordered. That’s why you went to a professional in the first place. Now, if you take a bite and it’s better than anything you’ve ever tasted before, then you’re surprised and pleased. That’s how photography works.
I’m not a morning person by any means. However, I got the opportunity to attend a landscape workshop led by Joe McNally and Moose Peterson. Who says no to that opportunity? Next thing you know, I was in my car headed up to Traverse City, Michigan.
We have to be up and out at what time? You’re kidding, right? If you want the great light, you have to get up early. I got up early. It was only a few days. It wasn’t going to kill me. I learned a lot. What I learned most is that I’m not a landscape photographer. However, stepping outside my comfort zone (literally) gave me skills that I would use in my travel photography and later on in my drone photography.
One day I got it in my head that I wanted to try underwater photography. I was inspired by someone’s beautiful images. I couldn’t sleep. I had to do it. I bit the bullet and bought an underwater housing for my older DSLR. I figured that if something happened and water got into it, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. This was the most expensive experiment that I ever tried. (The concept of renting a rig hadn’t entered my brain.)
I did it! The camera survived. What did I learn? I learned that if I were really going to do this, it was going to take a lot more gear than I was willing to invest in. I never tried it again, and I’m ok with that. It’s not that I won’t ever try it again. It’s just that if I want to get the kind of shots that I saw in my head, then I’d have to go deeper (<- see what I did there?), and I had too many other things going on to get sucked into (<-I did it again :-) ) underwater photography.
I’ve shot four weddings in my life. I learned a lot! What I learned the most was that I don’t like shooting weddings. What I gained from the experience was an appreciation for all the wedding photographers out there. I learned just how hard it was to shoot an event that you don’t get to do a do-over. You either get it right the first time, or you fail. You either make the family happy, or you ruin a memory for them. That’s more pressure than I’m willing to take on regularly. I’m out! Do I regret even trying? Heck no! I learned things that helped me in my portrait work.
I love cars. I’ve never shot cars professionally. I still don’t. However, I watched a few Tim Wallace classes on KelbyOne, and those classes got me excited to at least give it a try. To step out of my comfort zone and shoot something entirely new for me.
Professionals automotive photographers pointed out all the things that I either did wrong or could have done better. That’s okay, and you have to be prepared to take “constructive” criticism if you want to learn and grow. Now when I photograph a car, I approach it differently than I did on day one, and I have fun learning.
Failure is part of the process. Don’t be afraid to get it wrong. It’s worse to never try in the first place.
I’ve never photographed a sporting event of any kind. No football, basketball, hockey, baseball, or anything else. Not even just for fun. It’s not that I’m opposed to shooting sports, I just haven’t made the time to get to a game and try.
With that said, I’ve heard sports photographers talk about shooting games and their settings. These settings have always been in the back of my head in case I ever get the opportunity to use them. Well, I got that chance, but I wasn’t ready. I didn’t realize that the horses might actually start running. By the time I dialed in the right settings, I had missed all the great shots. The horse above is leaving out of disappointment. I learned.
While I still haven’t photographed a game yet, they did come in handy while trying to freeze other action. I still have a lot to learn about photographing fast-moving objects, but it was fun giving it a shot. Now I know for next time to not shoot a car with things like trees reflecting onto the car.
I have always been a gadget geek. I love tech and tech toys. Naturally, when drones appeared on the scene, I couldn’t try one fast enough. Wait, they can shoot raw images and 4K video too? I’m in! I’ve never tried aerial photography before, but now I don’t think twice about it. What I learned from shooting landscapes and travel, helped me to become a better drone photographer.
Nothing clears a room of photographers faster than the mention of video. I really don’t get it. I guess it stems from that fear. You know the one. Oh yeah, being outside your comfort zone. Video is literally a bunch of stills moving at 24 frames per second. You already mastered composition, lighting, and working with your subject matter. Video is just an extension of that.
I would also dare say that learning video editing is far easier than learning Photoshop. Yet photographers stay away from video. It’s another form of storytelling. Yes, there are few more considerations when working with video, such as working with audio, but most of the concepts are the same.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that every camera you have bought within the last seven years is capable of shooting video. You already made the initial investment in the hardware. The next time you’re in front of a beautiful subject/scene, flip the switch and capture a few moments of video to either complement your story, or at least show the behind the scenes. I’m not a videographer, but I shoot video all the time now.
I have not failed 10,000 times – I have successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.Thomas Edison
I figured if I combined what I learned as a travel photographer, with what I’ve learned shooting landscapes, with what I’ve learned from flying my drone that perhaps I could actually make some videos to augment my stories. I have yet to be disappointed in the process.
I can just stick to portraiture. That would be easy. It’s something I enjoy it, and there is still more to learn. There is no harm in that. However, if that’s what I said ten years ago, then I would have missed so many photos and experiences that I cherish to this day.
I hope that seeing me step outside my comfort zone and all the happy little accidents along the way inspires you to go out and try new things. Nothing new happens in your comfort zone. I challenge you to try photographing something that you’ve never shot before. If nothing else you’ll learn what it takes to really shoot that genre. Life is short. Have fun!