I’ve never really been a fan of the traditional images that are prominent in the midwest/south and wanted to step outside of that box. Over the past couple of years I’ve carved a space for myself in the creative market. My creative work definitely hasn’t always been easy or very good, and I’m still making mistakes all of the time. There’s always room for improvement and I wanted to help those of you that are becoming stuck or feel like you need a good push. So, here are the mistakes I’ve been making over the years. Most of them are connected and it can end up being a domino affect when we start feeling bad or good about our work.
1. Over Planning
As a very Type B personality, this was one of the mistakes I figured out very early on. I am not a planner and have never been a planner. I need to wing things or it’s not going to work. In the beginning I would set out to create a specific image and plan everything out perfectly, and then I would walk away disappointed. If I plan out shots then my expectations become to high, which is another issue entirely.
It is OK to go into a creative shoot without a clear plan and to play with the opportunities that are handed to you. Oh you have some plastic bags in your car? Great, use it to create some cool ethereal images. Big clear sky? Try playing with double exposures. Use things in front of your lenses, try out new poses, play with hands and faces and nature and just flow with what comes naturally.
It’s also OK to plan shots out if you need that, but don’t rely on that entirely.
2. Competing with Myself
If you’ve met me you know that I am HIGHLY competitive. Obviously, that’s not always a good thing when it comes to having friends so I find myself competing with myself most of the time. Trying to outdo myself when it comes to composites, double exposures, or just any photo in general can be exhausting and frustrating.
To be honest winning awards has made it even worse because I feel like I have to consistently put out photos that are better than the last and the pressure I’m putting on myself is anxiety inducing. This is something I am always working on and always struggling with. The first step is acknowledging I have a problem, so here I am.
When I notice that I’m beating myself up I reach out to friends or step away from my work for a while to refresh. If I’m stepping away I may go climbing, play with the dogs or just go to a store and walk around (mostly home depot because of plants), but normally when I come back to my computer I’m happier with the photos and realize that I was being silly.
There’s the old saying that comparison is the thief of joy and its especially true in the creative world. I look at my idols/friends work sometimes and feel like I don’t measure up and that I’m not as good as them and it’s a load of bullshit I’m pushing on myself. Deep down I know I’m good at what I do and I know that their work isn’t the same as what I produce, but we don’t always see logic.
I’ve learned to use my feelings of inadequacy as a stepping stone to my creativity, but that probably goes back to my competitive nature. It may mean that I shoot an entire session with a lens that I normally wouldn’t use for portraits or that I focus on creating movement for gifs or motion blur. Basically anything out of my normal shooting style forces me to think outside of the box. You may want to try props, different lighting, or techniques to help with this, but I guarantee you come out of the session with less comparison.
4. Not Taking Care Of Myself
This is huge for me. I spent most of 2017 and 2018 in a depression hole. In early 2018 I decided enough was enough and decided that I would use my emotional state to create art, and I did, but I still wasn’t properly caring for myself. I walked around in a fog for almost a year and it didn’t get better until I left for Europe in late December.
I realized on that depression may have helped me fuel my creativeness (honestly it was that or just melt away) but feeling good was going to push it even further. Self care is not taking baths and using a face mask. It’s recognizing that you need to be putting good fuel into your body, it’s knowing that working out will make your brain work at a higher caliber, and it’s recognizing when you need to talk to someone about your mental health.
I can see now how really taking care of myself is going to push my work forward and make me a better photographer and boost my creativity. It’s been hard to get to this point, and I know it’s going to be a slippery slope for awhile but I am so excited about the possibilities in front of me now that my head is cleared.
Fear of failure. Fear of my photos not resonating with people. Fear of my photos being too weird. Fear that I’ll be compared to someone else. Fear that my clients won’t like creative images. Fear that I won’t book. Fear. Fear. Fear. All of the fear. All of the time. Because anxiety is the devil and it creates this fear in me (and others) that can be crippling sometimes.
The fear is always going to be there (for me anyways), and overcoming it is the biggest hurdle. Just posting in facebook groups can be scary, especially when we’re trying a new technique or doing something outside of the box. The best way to get over fear? Share the photos with the world. Receive feedback and then go from there.
6. Not Setting Clear Expectations
Like I said earlier, I can’t go into shoots with shots planned or I end up disappointed. This can become a problem when clients hire me and want some of those shots included and I don’t have the right environment or opportunities to create something unique for them. That doesn’t mean their session/wedding is worse or less important, and I hate that I may disappoint some of my clients by not being able to provide for them.
One of the best and easiest ways to tell people that they may not get a super cool composite or double exposure is to just be honest with them, that these happen under certain conditions. I always assure the ones who I ask that I am always looking for the opportunities and that I’ll make it happen if I’m able to.
Another way that I’m setting expectations that I have a nice little question in my contact form (thanks Robert Hill for the advice) that asks potential clients what sessions/weddings that they are most drawn to. It opens up the conversation and allows me to send them full galleries to set expectations of what types of images they’ll receive. If there are a lot of creative shots in that particular gallery I know I need to try a bit harder to make those happen.
7. Not Accepting My Mistakes
Obviously, this post is me accepting some of the mistakes I’ve made, will make, and that I’m currently making.
Early on I was arrogant and thought I was better than I was (like most new people) and would never accept that I had made a mistake. Whether that was with my settings, Lens choice, location, technique, etc etc. That’s not a sustainable way of creative thinking so I finally had to come to terms with that maybe I was making mistakes. That maybe I did need to slow down just a little and see how I could make these shots better.
It can be really hard to accept that we make mistakes in our work, but this is one of those things that is a MUST if we’re going to overcome hurdles and figure things out to make it better. For example, I recently was working on a new composite and thought it was perfect and ready so I sent it out to a group of friends. I immediately got feedback that it wasn’t as good as I thought and that it needed some changes. After working on it a bit more it ended up being much better and a photo that did really well with my audience.
8. Not Asking For Constructive Criticism
This basically goes hand in hand with not accepting my mistakes, but as I mentioned earlier, having a good group of people that I can ask if I’m off on an idea or headed in the right direction is one of the most helpful resources I have.
If I’m unsure about a photo I send it to one of my group texts or friends and ask if I can improve it in anyway or just scrap it all together. I know that the people I ask aren’t just going to tell me a photo is good to spare my feelings, and it’s so important that we have a circle within this industry that won’t lie to us. There have been a couple of photos I’ve deleted or adjusted because they saw things I had overlooked. If you don’t have a good support system right now, find one.
I found my friends through facebook groups, instagram, connections with other friends, and being somewhat active within my local community. I know it can be scary but you’ve got this. You don’t have to post in large groups for CC, mainly because some photographers are ridiculous in their advice.
9. Letting Social Media Determine My Worth
This should go without saying, but STOP LETTING LIKES DETERMINE YOUR WORTH. Social media is one of the worse things for our creativity and can really hinder us in our growth. There have been countless photos I’ve posted that I thought were gold and they ended up not doing well on instagram or facebook and it just made me feel so bad about myself and my work.
It took me a couple of years to love my own work and not letting how well it does in a facebook group matter to me. It can be really hard watching photos that you don’t connect with do better than what you’ve put your heart and soul into.
Post what you believe in and what you love and the followers will come. It isn’t about gaining instant success but building a base of people that really resonate with your work.
10. Not Finding Inspiration In Other Forms Of Art
If I’m only looking at other photographers work my work is going to start looking like theirs. Falling into the trap of only looking at other photographers is when you start to toe the fine line between inspiration vs. copying. I would much rather build a unique presence and find inspiration in movies, music, paintings, & nature. I love watching sci fi movies because I find a lot of inspiration in the colors, compositions, and love stories that aren’t cookie cutter. A really good example of the types of movies I find inspiration from are Upside Down (the main reason I started doing upside down double exposures back in 2017), Melancholia, Atonement, The Darjeeling Limited, and the new Sabrina on Netflix has been ruling me on lens usage and color.
I also really love going to museums and looking at paintings from years past and finding inspiration in their brush strokes, color usage, and composition. I love putting on music that I connect with that make me feel things. I love walking through the woods or hiking and seeing the natural beauty in nature. I love being in the city and seeing the way the shadows line up on buildings or the way the light comes through. I love reading dumb love stories or watching teeny bopper shows/movies.
There are just so many ways to find inspiration for your work, so if you’re finding yourself comparing yourself to other photographers or catching your work being a bit to similar to someone else’s branch out and start seeing other things around you. You can reach out to me for suggestions as well and I can hopefully point you in the right direction for finding what inspires you.