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It takes a lot to hold my interest. Scratch that—it takes a lot to get my interest, then hold it, and finally (and especially) to keep it. This makes my dating life quite hard. And sometimes my relationship with photography even harder. And with less Happy Hours and coffee dates.
One bad shoot and I’m ready to sell my equipment and call it good. And go work at Starbucks, where there are benefits and free coffee and cool mandatory aprons. In my career that has spanned a decade, I have quit, retired, and ran away more times than Brett Farve. (This comparison really only makes sense if you live in the States, but if you don’t just imagine David Beckham retiring a bunch of times, changing his mind and coming back, and you get the general idea.)
I always come crawling back to photography. Like a moth to a flame. Or a crazy ex-girlfriend to your doorstep in the middle of the night, begging for another chance. Since I’m trying not to do that anymore (both the faux retirement and the crazy ex-girlfriend thing), I have come up with a couple of things that allow a little reset to my photography passion. Or a jolting wake-up call to remind me of exactly what I love about photography. Here are 5 of my favorites. My 6th favorite: completely freak-out and skip town in the middle of the night never to be heard from again, is pretty self-explanatory.
Not the kind where you take your camera with you for beach sunsets and lively Main Street scenes of locals. The kind where you go nowhere and your camera gets locked up safe and sound in a closet. It may sound extreme, but a good week (or two…..or three) away may be just what the doctor ordered. And what’s fair is fair: this means no Photoshop, no point and shoots, and no saying “if only I had my camera”. Instead you get to think: how cool that I am seeing this with my own eyes this time and not through a lens. I will permit an occasional cell phone photo, but only because if I make that off limits, you’ll just rebel anyway. A week or two away and you’ll crave photography again with rested eyes and fresh ideas.
This one is my go-to and not only recharges me, but almost always brings me back good energy in some form. There is no wrong way to do it—compassionately and with great tact, offer up your services to a family that is going through a rough time and may not be able to afford to document their lives at this time. Or call a non-profit service and brainstorm a way that you taking a few shots could help their efforts in marketing. Contact a nursing facility and ask if they would like you to donate an hour of your time on their next family day to photograph loved ones with people they don’t get to see often for free. Hospice organizations, humane societies and animal shelters, and wildlife rehabilitation centers are always thrilled when a photographer is willing and interested in donating their special skill set to their cause.
The photo above is an Executive Director of a homeless outreach program and one of her beloved clients. It has been featured in gallery shows, used for marketing collateral for their organization, and been auctioned for donation. I did not receive a penny in compensation for it, but what I did get out of it both personally and professionally is vast and grand and worth more than any fee I’ve ever charged.
I am fascinated by this cell phone “selfie” phenomenon on social media right now. And by “fascinated”, I mean terrified. I’m not a fan of the other side of the lens in the first place, but you can darn well bet I sure don’t want to be on that other side, blindly taking a self-portrait with a bad camera phone in a bar or a car or whatever. Not in a house, not with a mouse, not in a box, not with a fox. However (and I hope you said that “however” with a big giant sigh like I wrote it), not only can it be helpful to getting back in a solid mindset but beneficial in many other ways. I find that I seem to need a recent photo of myself often as a photographer. And, let’s be fair here; if I’m not willing to have my picture taken once in a while how can I justify asking others to let me take theirs? It’s a bit humbling, but also gives me new ideas to try when I’m on the other side.
The photo above (and also by my byline below) was taken by my 9 year old son. He is darling and thoughtful and creative and perfect and takes after me. Photography is just a basic part of our lives, so when I asked him to take a picture of me I could use professionally, it wasn’t that big of a deal to hand over two thousand dollars in equipment to a kid that had just used my hair dryer to try to power some Lego contraption he made. I ended up with a couple of pictures that I like very much, but more than that, I got a bit of confidence and a lovely reminder of how great it feels to look at a picture of yourself you like. I have the ability to do that for people. And sometimes I need a little smack in the face to remind myself to stop being a whiney brat and be grateful for my abilities. Or at the very least, to start renting out my kid.
This is a tough one for me, as I got into photography only because I like photographing people. If you asked me how to take a great picture of a sunset, I would likely try to tell you a very long story about sunsets in hopes that you forgot what we were talking about in the first place. I have zero interest in taking pictures that don’t involve people. But I do have a pretty fancy camera and more editing knowledge stored in my brain than song lyrics and that’s saying something. I also have a need to challenge myself.
For all I know, my best abilities lay in photographing bugs, but I’m never going to find that out if I don’t try. (But let’s just assume I don’t have any abilities in bug photography and move on, you know?) One time in a desperate attempt to detour a throwing-my-camera-out-the-window moment of frustration, I came across the picture above. Taken on vacation a few years ago in Oregon. And while the raw image is nothing that a true landscape photographer would even look twice at, a little editing and it’s become a photo I’m proud of. It hangs in my home as the only non-people image allowed to grace the walls and I smile every time I walk past it. It’s not fancy art. But it serves as a great reminder that I have a good eye.
I’m not what you would call a “self motivator”. I need things like deadlines and the promise of a cookie when I’m done to get me to actually finish a task. I actually have to utilize an app that keeps my internet frozen for set times just so my mind doesn’t wander a bit while I’m waiting for a word to come to me and then BAM: I just blew an hour on Pinterest looking at pulled pork recipes and I don’t even eat pork. When I find myself in a little photographic coma, I sometimes ask a friend to give me an assignment.
Maybe they need a picture of a yellow flower for their yellow flower bathroom. Maybe they want a picture of their house for a keepsake. Maybe they can’t think of anything either but know me well and are kind enough to lie to me and come up with something. Either way, getting an assignment from someone else feels important. It’s no longer about not feeling like shooting today; it’s about this friend needs this from me and I want to come through for them. And usually what happens in this little scenario is that I realize I take terrible flower pictures and I need to get back out there and take the kind of pictures I’m good at.
And just like that, I’m recharged, ready, and back in the saddle. Because to keep retiring gets exhausting.