I've been afraid to admit this for a while… afraid to say this out loud.
But this is a safe place right?
For years I felt like a fake. I would be so nervous the night before a shoot that I felt like tomorrow was the day that I was going to come undone.
Tomorrow the world will discover that I'm faking this. I'm not really a good photographer. They really shouldn't pay me for this. I'm not worth anything.
I'm pretending to know what I'm doing. When really, I'm scared as hell.
You may or may not know this, but I'm a celebrity, music and advertising photographer in Nashville. I make most of my living shooting album covers for musicians and photographing advertising campaigns for companies like Pepsi, March of Dimes and Cracker Barrel.
But I owe all of my clients an apology.
A few years ago I had some big breaks. I shot an album cover for a band that sold over a million copies. I probably copied an idea from someone else or slightly altered someone else’s style and claimed it as my own. Regardless, I was the new hot thing in Nashville for a minute or two.
After a few more successes and working my butt off trying to take amazing photos… I realized I could just keep doing what I was doing. I found a couple of things that worked. Like shooting on a white backdrop and a specific lighting set-up that would look killer every time. It became my "old faithful." I became more confident in my craft… or at least a few of my tricks.
I didn't want to feel insecure anymore or worry that I'd be discovered as faking it, so I started playing it safe. We've probably all experienced this right?
I found myself saying by default, "How about we shoot that band on a white seamless backdrop. That would be cool and original!" Even though I'd already done it a hundred times.
If you've been shooting for a while, I bet you can relate to having a specific set-up that you know will work. Maybe you shot a killer senior portrait session in your secret location, or a bride in a beautiful backlit garden, and you kept replicating your past successes.
No one knew it wasn't your best. But you knew. You knew it was only a copy of your previous best.
Sometimes early success is not good for you (or at least me). We turn to coasting on the momentum we luckily gained from a big break.
I've heard it said, "If you're not growing, you're dying.
Well, here's my confession:
I've been stale. I've been coasting. I've been lieing to you. Cheating my clients.
I told the artist, I loved the idea. I told my clients this was my best work, I told you… well, what you wanted to hear. I didn't want to be vulnerable, I didn't want put myself out there again, I wanted to be comfortable. Frankly, I wanted stay on my couch where it is warm and cozy.
PLEASE STOP THE MUSIC.
The world needs your art. It needs all you have. It doesn't need my half-assed effort anymore. It needs my best. It needs me to push limits. To do things that scare me.
DON'T WITHHOLD YOUR BEST. If you're not absolutely spent after a shoot… you've cheated the world.
I've had a few moments of being shaken back to reality in the past few years… but then I fall back into the same creative rut or safe zones.
Until recently, I hadn't done any test shoots for myself in the last 3 years. I hadn't gone out and tried something new. In contrast, my first couple of years, I was shooting every chance I could to build my portfolio, to learn, and sometimes just to create something beautiful.
Everything I've been doing recently has been from techniques that I learned years ago… and I kept doing the same things over and over.
Maybe for you, you need to stop shooting the same backlit portraits at the same location over and over shooting at f/2 to get that same super shallow depth of field. I need to stop shooting on the same white seamless background.
I love Jon Foreman's lyric in the Switchfoot song: "This is your life. Are you who you want to be?"
I've been in a creative rut. I've been doing the same old things over and over… because they are safe and I know they work.
But that's lame. I've been a coward.
I dare you to join me. I dare you to get uncomfortable. Let's push the limits.
I dare you to risk being discovered as a fake… again.