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I don’t floss every day. I still use the word “rad” as an adjective and not in the cool retro way, but in the I-don’t-have-another-word-for-it way. The driving speed limit and I have a love/hate relationship. And I have been known, on particularly hard days, to let my kids eat cookies for breakfast and ice cream for dinner. These are all terrible habits that I need to work on. My “bad” photography habits though, the ones that people say you shouldn’t do or should just get over already, those are actually helping me. They might be helping you too. Here are five habits, that most people would say are things we should move past, and why I think you shouldn’t.
By day, I’m a photographer. By night, I’m a psychotherapist. Well, sometimes it’s opposite. Point is: there are a few basic lessons that work in both of my jobs. One of them is not trying to own someone else’s reaction. If I tell you that it’s sunny out and that upsets you, there is nothing I can do about that. I could have told you different, but providing it was actually sunny, I would have been lying. Your reaction is yours. Just like if I try to have a portrait client do something the way I would do it and it doesn’t work, they are not to blame. If I tell them a joke to make them relax and smile that they don’t think it is funny, I can’t force them have to have an authentically positive reaction.
One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned as a photographer is to know when to let something go. If you are fussing with a shot, be it portrait, landscape, food, whatever, and it’s just not working out like you want it to, let it go. Chances are if you are struggling that hard to get the shot, even if you do get it, you won’t like it. Patience is one thing, but pestering is another; by grasping so tightly to a specific concept, you are setting your expectations far beyond what is logically possible. In life and in photography.
Ask any one of my clients and they will tell you that I’m fun, but I take a while to return finished images. They will also tell you that I’m flaky about emails, never answer my phone, and happily scream and yell and laugh way more than needed on a photo shoot. There’s not a lot a I can do about being a loud talker and easily excitable, and so long as there is text I’m just not going to answer my phone unless I have to. But I make no apologizes for taking a while to edit shoots. I mean, I do apologize every single time to my clients, but I know it will never get better. I am not able to force editing.
Unlike data entry for example, I am just not able to just sit at my desk and do it nonstop until it’s done. I need to be in the mindset to do it, and once I start I’m really only good for an hour or two before I realize I’m just not producing quality work anymore. Being the extremely flakey artist that I am, this mindset sometimes comes at 10 a.m. in the morning and sometimes at three, in the morning. When my insomnia truly kicks in, and my husband isn’t all that interested in talking about our feelings and hopes and dreams. The flip side of this coin: I have never given a portrait client images that I’m not completely proud of. When I deliver images to a client (extremely later than I said I would), I feel that they are truly the best of my abilities and completely indicative of my style. I feel my photography is worth the wait and I’m proud of that. Don’t push it just to be timely. No one recommends a photographer because they turn-around images really fast – they recommend the photographer that produces the best work.
“Chimping” is the fine art of checking the back of your digital camera after every shot. It’s obnoxious and time-consuming and what it will show you is the difference between a dream shoot and having to redo the whole thing. Don’t check every time, but do check – often. You can’t count on chimping to give you amazingly accurate results – a screen that small is showing you much too sharp of an image than it will actually end up being. But it will show you is if your settings are off. It will show you if you are not in as good of a spot as you think. There is no embarrassment in it and there is nothing wrong with taking a minute to readjust.
I have to assume that when NASA puts astronauts in a space shuttle, they give them a few minutes to get everything adjusted how they want. Most photography situations are in constant motion – the sun is always going up or down, the people are always moving, the food is always – slipping? (I’m not sure. I don’t do food photography. But I would assume there are struggles.) The world moves, and as photographers we have to constantly double check to see that we are moving with it. When you are viewing the world from a lens, it’s a good idea to make sure the lens is seeing it the way your eyeballs are.
The first time I ever photographed a child (for portfolio building), I didn’t have a memory card in. I shot for 30 minutes, thinking I was getting cute stuff and I happened to try and chimp and it said “no CF card” because at that point, I hadn’t learned the setting where my camera doesn’t shoot without a card (learn this setting!). I was mortified but didn’t want the clients to think I had just wasted their time so I just wrapped it up and went home. To this day, they don’t know as I just told them I was unhappy with the shots and gave them a new session. Ten years later and I still check to make sure that I have cards, an extra battery, lollipops and my camera a solid 20 times before I leave my house. I have been known to use the opportunity of a red stoplight to check my bag a 21st time. You know, just in case. I have never forgotten anything I couldn’t shoot without. But I have also never gotten past being nervous before every shoot. It doesn’t matter if I am photographing one of my dearest clients that I have photographed ten times before or if I have been hired by a national publication to shoot a celebrity – I arrive nervous as all get out. Eventually I forget to be nervous and I start being myself and it works out. But being nervous is good. Nerves mean you want to do a good job and you are humble about your talent. Don’t ever stop being nervous.
I’ve written before about my various attempts at real estate photography, product photography, and landscape photography. I’m terrible at all of them. Not only do I not have the right equipment for any of those, I don’t have the right eyeballs, the right personality, or the right style. A few years ago I decided to only photograph people, no matter what money I was offered to shoot something else, or what friend needed a favor. Earlier this year, I specified even more that I don’t do weddings, though those generally involve people, they just aren’t for me at this time in my life (I’m still holding on to the dream that a dog wedding job is in my future though). I am a portrait photographer. It’s where I shine and it’s how my clients know me. It’s my one trick.
There is nothing to be ashamed about when not being the jack of all trades. If you love shooting landscape and that is your true passion, you are a landscape photographer. You may moonlight, by taking the occasional family portrait for a friend, and that’s fine. However sticking with your passion will keep photography interesting, fun, and your spirits high. There is no worse feeling than having done a poor job and when you take on jobs that are out of your wheelhouse, you bash your own confidence. Challenge yourself, but stay true to your passion as well.
A photograph is more art and intuition than process and procedure. Above all else, make the images you take your own. You can read a thousand different articles offering ideas and information, but take those only as suggestions in the hope of beginning and strengthening your own creative process. Photography is a form of expression and as such, is only interesting when you are exploring your own personal style and challenging yourself with your natural skills and ability. If your bad habits are working for you, don’t give them up.