Here’s the scenario: You get back from a gig, download the images, go through the take, mark the selects, do your editing, and deliver the photos. The client loves them… But you don’t. Sure, they’re okay, but… They don’t quite inspire you.
Sound familiar? If it does, I have some good news for you… You’re not alone.
I would guess that most photographers go through this, even the best ones. No matter how much we try to make the best possible images we can, not every production is going to result in a new portfolio image. You can plan all you want, put together your image list, research the location, research your subject, make inspiration/mood boards, clean your lenses and sensor, and carry your lucky rabbits foot; but when you do the job, the photos are decent but not great. The client is happy, so you’re happy that you’re getting paid, but you wanted to come away with better images.
Sometimes your subject just isn’t great. Or the location you picked days ahead of time fell through on the day of the gig and you had to quickly find something else that worked. Or you were unexpectedly battling the harsh sun on what was supposed to be a cloudy day. Or you just flat out had an off day and don’t know why.
For me a lot of the time, it’s concerts. There are so many things that come into play here that can make or break an image. How’s the lighting? If there’s lighting, is it always the same or changing a lot (to give variety to the images)? Is the band doing fun and crazy stuff, or are they all just standing in one spot playing and not being very emotive? Is there so much going on that I don’t even know where to point my camera to try and capture peak moments? Can I get to the spot in the pit I want to be in, or are there twenty other photographers vying for position and I’m stuck where I’m at?
I get lucky sometimes and I’m in the ideal position as the guitarist jumps off her amp in the perfect light and my camera focuses and fires and I nail the photo. Other times I see it happening out of the corner of my eye and turn to try to capture the moment from the wrong spot and there’s so little light on her that my camera can’t lock focus and I get a blurry shot. Or a lot of the time I get what are, for me, mediocre frames of the singer with their mouth open and eyes closed standing in front of a mic. It’s a perfectly fine photo that you’ve seen a million times, but you won’t see it in my portfolio.
But here’s the thing… You’ve gotta keep trying. You have to push through those bad days to get to the good ones. I once heard Jay Maisel explain it this way to a photographer who was frustrated with his photography:
“It’s like, if I’m trying to be a well built body builder… If I go to the gym on Monday next week maybe or maybe Thursday, or just when I find a day, then it’s not going to happen. You have to go to the gym and work out. I don’t go to the gym and work out as a photographer, but I do the visual push-ups everyday. If you shoot once in a while you may get some nice pictures, and if you shoot very rarely you’ll get fewer. But if you shoot all the time, the number is going to go up.”
So don’t let a bad experience or two get you down. Keep doing those visual pushups so you increase your chances of finding those holy grail photos that you add to your portfolio. When you get them, we’ll rejoice with you. And if you don’t, just remember… You’re not alone!