As I reflect back on the past decade+ of my life and how photography fit into it, I can clearly see how many years I wasted trying to do things the way I was “supposed” to, the way experts instructed. The result wasn’t necessarily a mastery of photography, but rather, a stifling of everything that made me unique. I hope you’ll learn from my mistakes…
One of the earliest bits of advice I was given as I began pursuing photography back in 2009 was that I needed to focus on one genre, one specialty as it were. Over and over again, well meaning professionals, who only had their own experiences to draw on, taught through workshops and blog posts and YouTube videos that in order to be really good at something, you had to shoot that ONE thing. And showcase only that ONE thing.
For many years, I believed them. The trouble was that I was never happy in my work. After all, how many families can you photograph before all your images begin to look the same? Try as you might, creativity only goes so far when it comes to business. Because sometimes, the two are mutually exclusive.
Along with a dedicated genre, I heard over and over again that my images needed to have a consistent “style” so that clients knew what to expect from me. Managing expectation became the priority. And the limitation.
By following this advice, I set myself up for misery without even knowing it. I had my specific genre and my consistent style and I managed expectation so well that the only new clients who came my way were the ones who wanted images just like the last five sessions I’d shared.
Eventually, I burnt out. I wasn’t being challenged. I wasn’t inspired. I felt like a production line at a factory, turning out the same product day in and day out. I’d put my camera down for weeks at a time, unwilling to photograph even my own family.
Something had to give. So, I closed my portrait business. I decided to go against the advice of my peers and so called experts and operate as a freelancer, photographing whatever interested me. I don’t limit myself to a genre or even a specific editing style. Each client has their own aesthetic and my work reflects that. My job is to meet their needs and provide imagery that fits their branding or style, not my own.
For some clients, this means bright and colorful. For others, it’s deep and muted. When shooting just for myself, it’s most often black and white. I thrive on the change of pace each job offers and I have never been happier.
By all means, glean from the experts and professionals who have gone before you, but don’t hold fast to their words like doctrine. Just because it worked for them, doesn’t mean it will work for you. Follow the path that’s right for you, and if it doesn’t yet exist, forge your own.