Photographer’s Ingredients for Creativity

Inspiration from Photographers

I have many different things that I use to keep me inspired and keep those creative juices flowing. One of the best ways to be inspired is from other photographer’s work. One of the photographers I have followed my entire career is William Albert Allard.

There are two things that I continue to learn from him. First I am really inspired by his vision and capturing moments. The thing that makes his work stand out from so many other photographers through the years was he was able to control the exposure in such a way to create a mood with his photos. He is one of the few photographers of his generation that spent most of his entire career shooting color.

When I think of his color photos I think of Allard shaving the exposure ever so slightly to make the reds richer or going the other way and making it more of a pastel.

One thing I admired most about the subjects of Allard’s camera was the dignity that is preserved. He often romanticized the characters and made them hero’s by the camera angle, the light and the moment he decided to capture for the audience.

When I started out I just thought I too would just pick up the camera and walk out the door and do the same images that he captured. Now I understand even more that William Allard had to get permission to capture those images. He didn’t use some technique to squeeze off a frame without them knowing he was there.

Allard wove himself into the fabric of their lives. Once I discovered this about his work I wanted to hear him speak and find out how he got that kind of access.

Recently I was inspired by Christopher Capozziello or as his friends call him “Capi”.  Capi decided to do a very personal and intimate story about his relationship with his twin brother Nick who has cerebral palsy. The result was a short film and book. The book The Distance Between Us is something I would recommend to any storyteller.

Willing to tell your own story like Capi did with his brother Nick really will help him going forward in my opinion for a few reasons. First it showed that he was willing to be vulnerable and transparent. You can tell he was careful to protect his brother, but at the same time looked for moments that would be appropriate to share that helped tell of the struggles not only for Nick for also for Capi himself.

Do I have the right to tell anyone’s story if I am unwilling to be as transparent as Capi?

Inspiration Gear

It is a very expensive way to get inspired, but I cannot dismiss this as a way to get those juices flowing. I know of photographers who for no other reason than frustrated that they have tried almost everything for inspiration to change over to a new camera system.

One of the primary driving factors of the mirrorless camera is many photographers are finding their present DSLR cameras limiting them in some way. One of the biggest factors is the weight of cameras. Bill Fortney, retired Nikon Rep, is using the Fuji system for this reason. Read his latest blog post Fuji X-System REPORT CARD – One Year In.

Carrying around a lot of heavy gear all day can keep you from wanting to shoot any more, so gear can help keep you inspired.

Inspiration Websites

I go to websites like Dave Black’s for inspiration. Dave is always trying to figure out ways to take his vision and capture it using light. He is always pushing the limits using high speed sync, painting with light and studying his subject to find those unique moments that he can capture that sets his work apart from the rest of the industry.

Inspiration from Subject Matter

Fuji X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 200, ƒ/2.8, 1/5

Taking my camera with me every where I go lets the places I visit help to inspire me. Whether I am in Lisbon, Portugal or in my hometown of Roswell, GA I take photos throughout my day.

Fuji X-E2, 55-200mm, ISO 5000, ƒ/3.6, 1/500

Sometimes the photos are just goofy and fun. This I took of us on a air boat in Jacksonville, Florida.

This is a cropped version of the photo below.

What does all this have in common?

Work is what it all has in common and it isn’t something that drops into your lap.

Inspiration comes from perspiration.

How to remain creative as a photographer

Studio Musicians

Professional artists are rarely satisfied with what they have produced. Ask a professional musician what of their work they feel like is just perfect for them and you will most likely hear nothing.

Pam Goldsmith is an emeritus winner of the ‘most valuable player’ award from the national academy of recording arts and sciences. Her viola playing has been heard on countless records, films and television shows. She is vice president of the American viola society and she also plays the viola d’amore. Her articles on the application of scholarly research to performance style have appeared in many journals.

Our family knows Pam because she was my brother-in-laws partner for more than 20 years. This spring our family is going to visit Pam.  Our daughter is looking forward to her first time meeting Pam and playing her viola for Pam.

The last time I was in LA I had dinner with Pam. This is when Pam shared how she was talking with her friends in the viola society and asking when was the last time they played something they liked. They all said they cannot think of one time.

Pam was listening to a piece of music on the radio and liked how the violist sounded. While listening she then heard a part of the music that gave it away–she was listening to herself. She said this was the first time she liked her work. It was by accident.

I could related to Pam’s comments as a photographer.

Portrait Photographers

Imagine being a school portrait photographer and trying to remain creative. Your photos all need to be similar so there is uniformity in the yearbook. To increase their sales these school photographers have been offering variations in addition to the traditional photo.  They now have costumes and props to help increase sales.

I am pretty sure that the initial reason for the offering came from a photographer feeling bored and looked for something to offer to keep their own sanity. They came up with some variations and then the sales went up.

For most of these photographers they send out order forms where the subjects must select what they want before they even are photographed.  This helps the photographers stay on schedule. It will not take long before you realize that there is very little room for different treatments.

Common Thread

What does the professional studio musician have in common with the professional studio photographer?

The musician and the photographer are both asked to do something that has been done to death.

The very best portrait photographers and musicians in the world are paid a great deal more than the rest of the musicians and photographers.  Why is there such a disparity between the studio musician playing on all the recordings for TV, movies and radio?  Why are some portrait photographers being paid insanely amounts of money for head shots and the rest of photographers are scrapping by?

Maybe the creativity edge is in the execution of the mundane rather than the unique.

I am an amateur trumpet player. I played in school and college in many different groups. All of these musicians enjoyed recordings of the musicians at the top of the profession. One of the groups many enjoy hearing in person is the White House United States Marine Band.

The band is known for impeccable execution of music.

Excellence is Execution and not Exploitation

photo by: Don Rutledge

My dear friend Don Rutledge’s photos make you always feel like the fly on the wall and you never feel like you are invading a personal space when you were not invited.

Take this photo of the young girl reading a book with the cats next to her. As you can tell she is awake and most likely aware of Don’s presence. You feel like you have been allowed by the subject into her personal space like a close friend.

Many photographer I see today go after the picture rather than the story. If they get right into you face and do so maybe when you are sleeping you can sense the lack of honor dignity and respect.

photo by: Don Rutledge

Don’s photos are not graphic gimmicks to pull you into the photo. They are straight forward and due to this approach the moments are so much more real and inviting to the viewer to join in the moment.

photo by: Don Rutledge

My favorite photo of all time by Don Rutledge is the Eskimo family in Alaska. You see the family as real people that even in the midst of extreme poverty you are not looking down on these people. You are enjoying a warm loving moment with a mother and her children welcoming guests to their home.

Think about it for a while, can you name just one other photo of an impoverished family where the honor, dignity and respect paid by the photographer has you enjoying them like this?  I find it so hard to think of any photos ever like this. I know they must, but they are rare.

Too many photographers are telling their stories and not the subjects. Let me show you how poor they are so you will feel sorry for them.

There is a powerful story where Jesus saw a widow give a mite at the temple for her offering. Jesus celebrated the giving not the poverty.  I think Don’s photos are as powerful as Jesus telling stories to teach us about the love of God.

Tips to remain creative

  • Who are the photos for? Are they for the photographer or the client? Keep your focus first on meeting your objective and be sure it isn’t focused on you.
  • Treat all your subjects with honor, dignity and respect–don’t exploit them
  • While you need to try new things to see what will help you tell stories better–be sure they are not just gimmicks. To make this photo will I be grabbing a fantastic graphic image at the expense of the subjects.
  • Shoot everything you do in a way that the people will want to invite you back. Be sure not just how you act while you are there is kind, but how the photos are used will be just as kind and respectful.
  • Spend your efforts in executing flawless technical, aesthetic and moments which help tell the subjects story in the most accurate and truthful way.
  • Be careful not to take the idiosyncrasies of a subject to make your photos stronger.

You will be surprised that doing the small things well takes a lot of creativity.  I think it takes more creativity to approach each job with the same enthusiasm you did when you first picked up the camera. While you may have done over a 100 portraits in a day, the person in front of you will be their first and only experience with you. Make this moment with them special as it was for you with the first person.

Freelance Photography is a Roller-coaster Ride

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida.

Do you feel like you need a vacation? 

Living life you will experience some ups and downs. One of the things that can make life difficult is thinking you are in control of everything.

We do need to exercise self-control and even this is difficult living life. When we loose self-control we realize there are often consequences to these moments.  However, you must be careful when experiencing a difficult time that it is not always the consequence of your actions.

I studied the concept of evil when I was in seminary. The basic thing I took away from this study was that God gave us the freedom of choice and due to that evil happens. Some of this evil is a moral evil due to people’s choices and other is natural evil which is things like natural disasters.

What I learned is that many times things happen due to someone else’s actions.  They drink and drive and I can end up dead due to their actions.

While we may choose to free fall ride at an amusement park, it isn’t so fun in life. Even knowing what you are riding can be scary because you are not sure when it will happen.

Reasons to just chill

Budgets: There are many times where everything is going well and the client has just been informed they have to make some cuts. There are many times that they do not communicate this to you. Sometimes the reason is they were just cut.

Timing: There are times that everything looks like you are being booked and then they say they need to wait.  Sometimes this waiting takes a very long time. You cannot make this move along by calling all the time. Actually this is where self-control is important. You might want to ask when would be an appropriate time to check-in with them again.

Personnel changes: While you have worked with a client for a long time, they get a promotion or go to another company. Sometimes this can be good and you end up with more work. However, the next person to take that job could have their own people they want to work with. This is not about you as much as it is about them.

Seasonal: There are times when clients will choose a direction for which you are not the best choice. They want a new look. While you maybe very flexible and able to even do what they are looking for, unless you have been showing them new work they will choose someone who is producing what they are looking for. I think of this as seasons in life.

You are not a super hero

There are times in your career where your client no longer is working with you, but against you. This is not a little bump in the road.

I had a client that was always wanting the lowest price and was letting invoices sit on their desk rather than passing them on to accounts payable. Because I was getting a fair amount of work from them I was doing everything I could to keep the client.

They were getting worse in paying me on time. I had to constantly remind them about not being paid. 3 to 6 months late was becoming the norm.

I was reading Best Business Practices for Photographers by John Harrington when I finally found what I thought was a good solution to my problem. I now put this paragraph on my invoices:

We are now building into the invoice the cost to repeatedly follow up with accounts payable departments on past due invoices, and float the cost of payment to our vendors, which require 30 days payment.  This is approximately 10%.  If payment is made within 30 days, you may deduct this amount.

The responses I was getting from those who were habitually late shocked me. Now mind you I was willing to be flexible on the 30 days and go to 45 days.

Some of these clients were saying why am I punishing them for a late payment. The ones crying the loudest were the ones wanting the lowest rates.

I could only think of two solutions to keep these clients. Either raise my rates to compensate for late payment in the base price or put this paragraph, which isn’t a late payment, but rather a discount to pay on time.

I am embarrassed to say that one of these clients I was work-for-hire contract. I signed their contract which stated they will pay in thirty days.

I did not have those super powers to make the relationship work, because they were not treating me with honor, dignity and respect.

What can you do?

Marketing: You must continue to market yourself. In those times it is slow you must increase your efforts to find new clients.

While going out and shooting new material to show clients is a good idea, do not fall into the trap of thinking this is the problem. More than likely the problem is your contact list needs to grow.

Shoot new material: You need to always grow in your craft. Try something new and even just going back and updating your portfolio so that the people in the photos look like their were shot in this century can help.

Take a vacation: Sometimes you need a break and even when things are tough financially. One of the best things to get out of a funk is a change of scenery. One of the best things ever told to me as a parent of a baby was when your baby is crying and nothing seems to calm them down–go to another room or outside. If it works for a crying baby, it should work for a crying freelancer.