As this year draws to a close and new one gets underway it’s a good time to take stock, assess where you’re at and whether you have moved on as a photographer or just sat in your comfort zone.
It’s very easy for all of us to find a formula or genre that works for us and just stick to it, ignoring all other styles of photography and sadly reaching a plateau of creativity.
I find myself struggling for inspiration at times, much the same as any creative person, it’s hard to keep the energy and creativity going all the time. I get stale, bored and tired.
What about you, ask yourself this simple question – Are you still shooting the same subjects in the same way as you did last year, or the year before?
If you answered yes, or maybe – and lets face it we all shoot to our strengths or inside our comfort zone. Then perhaps a little photographic self help is called for?
I don’t do New Year’s resolutions as I normally fail by January 3rd, but I do set goals and challenges for myself. I never say I’m giving up this or that but I challenge myself to try something new. These challenges take the form of projects or workshops in different genres of photography that terrify me.
A project can be invigorating, challenging and frustrating but do it, even if you do just one in the year try it, you will be surprised at how a simple project can open your eyes further in your preferred genre of photography.
If you challenge yourself in any aspect of your life you will get more out of it. By removing the security blanket and stepping outside of your comfort zone magic will happen, maybe not immediately but it will come, it always does. Try it, you won’t like it, it’ll feel like you are wearing your shoes on the wrong feet but you will benefit from it.
Now don’t think I’m talking about a 365, 52 or 12 shots a year project, I personally find those too much, and instead of inspiring me they have a negative effect on me.
I hate shooting people, street or portraits, it’s a confidence thing. So at the beginning of 2016 I vowed to myself that I would shoot a set of portraits to force myself into confronting my fear of talking to strangers and taking their picture.
I’ll freely admit that this idea had a few stalled starts and almost didn’t happen but I did get there in the end.
My project eventually actually came out of joke during a Light and Land workshop in Cuba, a street artist did a portrait of one of our clients, he gave her a few coins for the drawing. Shortly afterwards as a joke I took a picture of her skulking in a by a wall sketching her next victim, I printed the image from my Fujifilm X-T2 via my phone to my little Instax SP-2 printer – it produces an instant print, about the size of a credit card. The huge smile that crossed her face when I gave her the image really touched me and I knew that was how I would shoot my project.
For the next ten days or so I stopped interesting people took their portraits and then gave them prints, they instantly got excited and started showing their friends, the laughter and joy they all shared was incredibly inspiring and gave me the confidence to approach random strangers and shoot in a way I have never done before.
In a strange way it reinforced why I am a photographer, because i get great joy from taking pictures and sharing them with other people. Yes I pontificated over asking people – my Spanish is poor, my self confidence low, I always worry about being annoying or appearing rude. But somehow the anticipation of sharing those tiny photographs helped me overcome the fear.
Whatever project you choose the key is to set a challenge that tests you, however to make it a success set yourself some rules.
Be disciplined about the shoots. Perhaps write yourself a brief and list your ideas for it, imagine that you have to deliver the images to your worst critic – YOU!
If it goes wrong don’t give up, talk to other photographers you know, ask for their help if you are struggling. Also share your thoughts and fears with a friend in your club, perhaps make it a club challenge too, certainly it makes a great talking point.
Don’t worry if others don’t like it or understand your motivation for it, that really doesn’t matter, you don’t even need to share it with the world.
The most important thing to remember is that photography is fun, you should be able to look back admit (with hindsight) that you have enjoyed the challenge and improved as photographer.