Simplicity: Water and Stone in Sedona
Commercial assignments. Media marketing. Publication deadlines. Portrait session proofs enhancement and viewings. Print order fulfillment. Website updates. Image file uploads and archival. Client communications. Traveling. Planning, implementation, and follow-up.
Don’t panic. Take a deep breath. And remember to exhale.
As a photographer, sometimes we feel like it’s impossible to find the time to relax. After all, if we step away from our business how will we catch up when we come back to it? Finding time to work on personal projects becomes a distant dream as we commit to our creative service for others. How many times have you looked through your portfolio and realized that it has become the work you ARE doing, rather than the work you WANT TO do? You know what I’m talking about. Those passionate images that dance in your dreams…the ones that inspire everything you do. If you could just find the time to create them, you would be happier and your realized visions would have clients coming to you who were excited about the unique images you would create for them. Can’t FIND the time? Then pull out your cookie sheets and warm up the oven and MAKE the time.
Mustangs in the Mist
If you know exactly what your passion is and have already seen the images that are just waiting for you to come get them and bring them home, skip the next step. If, however, you are sure you love photography but have not discovered “the one door out of thousands” to go through, try this. This is a three hour exploration that may help you focus (pardon the pun) on the images that speak to you. Find a place that you are comfortable in that inspires you, with a good amount of diversity. The farmer’s market, the local zoo, a church, a park, etc. You’ll need your favorite camera and lens, a back-up battery and a good sized media card (or several rolls of film), and preferably an extra lens you are not as familiar with.
Skyscape in Tucson
For the first hour, photograph in the style you most love. For example if you enjoy your zoom lens over a wide angle, and if you have a preference for non-moving over action or people over buildings, that’s what you’ll concentrate on. Now, for one hour photograph without pausing to “think”. Move constantly, access every angle and look in every direction, then press the shutter whenever you see something that inspires you. Unlike your structured sessions, you are looking for quantity over quality. Restrain yourself from “chimping” (looking at your images on the back of your camera) by pretending you have film in your camera (if you are using a digital camera).
Your second hour will be very different and more challenging. You may continue to use the same camera/lens, but I suggest you change it up. Use a point and shoot instead of your SLR (or vice verse) and if you’ve been using a zoom to get those close-ups change to a wide angle. What you’ll be doing in the second hour is to continue to travel continually throughout your location and create a large quantity of images. The difference is that for this hour actively seek out what you would NOT normally photograph, even things that might “repel” you, in addition to very beautiful things that are not usual for you (IE: buildings instead of people, people instead of animals). If you like close-ups include the whole picture, exchange backlit for harsh contrast or full on sun, and try to find at least ten things you’ve never photographed. Challenge yourself! Again, don’t “think” while you fire off that shutter.
Crystal and Zeus: Personal Project
Once you get your images home, upload them ALL into one folder. If you used film, have your slides or negatives scanned and put on a CD so you can work with them this way. Now, give yourself one more hour. Phones off, TV and radio off, and no distractions. Just you and your images. You know how you flip through the channels on your TV? Quickly. Without thought. Looking for something to inspire you to spend your time looking at someone’s creation. A color or composition catches your eye and you stop there and check it out. That’s what you are going to do with your images. Open the folder in your favorite picture editing program and go through them as fast as you can, labeling the ones that catch your eye. Don’t really “look” and certainly don’t judge for content or quality. Let them choose you like a puppy in row of shelter kennels. Whatever ones call to you with their color, form, or that unmistakably un-identifiable charm, label them. When you are done, select all of your choices and move them into their own folder. Take 15 minutes out and go have a cup of tea or lie down and rest your eyes, something peaceful to get you out of the room after all that fast paced editing.
When you return, open your new folder and size the thumbnails so that you can fit as many as possible onto one page and still be able to view them comfortably. Hopefully you’ll see many images similar to what you normally photograph and equally important will be the ones unlike your “normal” photography. Scan them with your eyes and your heart, looking for ones that are evocative in aesthetics and emotion. Look for a theme that carries throughout them such as vivid colors, high action, deep calm, ecstatic joy, heart-wrenching sorrow. Find the passionate ones, ones that touch you strongly and move those into their own folder…as many as desire. Once you’ve created this folder of passionate images, open it and again size your thumbnails to fit on one page if possible.
Now, for the first time, you are going to evaluate what you see. All of the images up to this point were created and chosen based on the flow of emotion and aesthetics, with as little “thought” and regard to content as possible. Make one more folder and name it Passion. From your last folder of images choose only 20-25 images that are the strongest in color, contrast (low or high), clarity, composition, form, gesture, and content…those that inspire you mentally, spiritually, and emotionally….and move them into your Passion folder. Open up your new treasure box and size the images to fit on one page.
Using one sheet of paper, look at your images and write down words and phrases that best describe them. Are they warm or cold? Independent or connective? Joyful or sorrowful? Curves or angles? If they were a song, who would have been the songwriter and/or singer? Who would have written the visual poem of them? Pick a few and use their inspiration to write what could be the first sentence of a book. It is likely that you will find that many of these images are “you”. You will also find ones that open doors to places you’d forgotten or have never been before. Explore them, be-friend them, listen to them. These are your new mentors who will guide you in creating your passionate portfolio.
Splash: Water Blessing
To those of you who have known exactly what your passionate portfolio of images would look like if only you had the time to create it, join in here. For those who’ve traveled the path of the exploration discussed above and are inspired to do more, welcome to the ranks of dreamers. To make your dreams a reality and share your unique vision with the world, find a date on your calendar no more than two weeks from NOW and make an appointment for a Passionate Portfolio photography session of 1-3 hours. Within 24 hours, draw at least one story image and write down the details that will go into creating it. Think like a photo-journalist. Who, what, when, where, how? Within 48 hours after that, have everything planned out (people, location, animals, assistant, etc.). Over the next week , make a daily 15-20 minute block of time available to “dream” in a quiet place with no distractions. Close your eyes and see the images you’ll create. When your session comes, your planning will be the springboard for your dreams. Dive in and swim hard. Don’t hold back! Have faith in your personal vision and let it guide you. The resulting images may not look exactly as you had “planned”. That’s ok. The important thing is that you’ve created a space for preparation to meet opportunity. If you go with the flow, you might be surprised by better images than you had planned.
Try to plan and follow through with one Passionate Portfolio session a month. If that truly is a hardship, schedule them at least quarterly. You may find that your sessions of just a few hours inspire you to make more time available for them, especially when you see how your photography improves and your stress level goes down. When I have assignments in other states, I make sure to plan at least one day to work on a personal project. Also, on the way to and from local photography sessions, I gift myself with a little time before and after in case I see something to photograph. For example, coming home from an equine portrait session I photographed the Skyscape shown here. After a portrait session in Sedona, I photographed Simplicity (the rock and water), and on the way to a equine photography workshop I photographed Splash, a horse taking it’s first drink in the early morning light.
I’m excited to see what you create. How about you? Well, the gate’s open. Run toward your dreams!