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I like photographers. Some of my favorite people and closest friends are photographers. In general, I find us to be a likeable bunch: witty, intelligent, wildly attractive. I also find that we reside in a grey area where we aren’t quite regarded as artists. We are the redheaded stepchildren of the art world, and I can say that because I both am a redheaded stepchild and have a redheaded stepchild. Truth be known, she is the easiest kid of the bunch. She pulls no punches, just tells it like it is. Much like photography.
But we are artists! As much as any painter or sculptor, or person that is covered in bronze paint and stands as still as a statue on a street corner. Have you seen these people? My eyes water just thinking of the shower they have to take every night when they get home from work. I have always been grateful that photography is fairly low on the mess scale. So instead of showering off bronze paint for hours, or ceremoniously ridding the clay from our hands, here are six ways you can care for and nurture your creative artist soul.
When I get home from a long shoot, I always complain that my eyeballs hurt, and they do! It’s not that they are dry or that something is wrong with my vision, it’s just that after being on high alert for hours, my eyes are stressed out. So much so that I actually saw an eye doctor to make sure that I wasn’t going to need to have my eyeballs removed anytime soon. Do you know what the doctor told me? That I need to rest my eyes before and after a shoot just like a professional baseball pitcher would rest his arm before a game. For some reason having an actual doctor, with a high degree in medicine and lots of fancy initials after his name, telling me this, made me actually listen. I’ll save you the office visit; be good to your eyes. They are the only lenses you can’t replace.
Like many pros, I started photography as a hobby. I am the classic “MWAC” (Mother With A Camera), having a career that’s spanned a decade, but rooted from pictures I took of my own children, with a fancy camera I didn’t know how to operate at the time. My former mother-in-law told me I took nice pictures and I figured if she said that, considering that she hated everything else I did, they must be fairly good.
I then immersed myself in photography, reading every blog, shooting every single thing my kids did in hopes that it would be portfolio building. Photography was what I lived and breathed. It’s the only thing people knew about me, but it wasn’t enough. One day, pushed past the brink, frustrated and burnt-out, I sold all of my back-up equipment and extra lenses in a week and had convinced myself, and everyone else, that I was never going to do it professionally again. I kept my Canon 5D and 50mm f1.2L, thinking that I would want to take pictures of my kids someday with something other than the camera on my iPhone.
One outlet is not enough for the average creative person. You owe it to yourself, and to your photography, to be great at something else. Or to be really horrible at something else, but regularly try something else. I make chairs. I find old chairs in flea markets or on the side of the road with “free” signs and I bring them home, let them sit in my garage for months or longer, and then rehab them with new ideas and fresh materials. Sometimes I sell them, sometimes I give them away, and sometimes they turn out really awful and I put them out in my yard with a “free” sign. The point is that this gets out all of my creative energy, and when I am stuck in a photography rut, I make a chair. When a chair frustrates me, I grab my camera.
One of my first national publications only happened because I contacted a celebrity that lived a few hours away, who had just had a baby, and asked if I could take her pictures for free. I honestly thought she wouldn’t even respond, assuming she even got the email, because I did some crazy research to even find an email address that might be hers. Not only did she respond, and say yes, but she actually had two publications that were wanting to buy photos of her and her new family. There’s opportunity and there’s flat-out luck, and when you strike both you have a say in your own destiny.
I had been taking pictures professionally for four years, but this was my first huge break and having an international publishing gig, and continuous contacts, has opened doors for me, no doubt. Put every cliche about trying: not knowing until you do, you’ve got nothing to lose, etc., into a pot, and stir. It turns out our parents were right, and all of those silly sayings are true.
When I first became interested in portrait photography I was obsessed with this one photographer’s blog. Not just because her images were beautiful, but also because I loved her words. We had similar backgrounds and a similar style, and when she talked about her life outside of photography, I understood. When she shot images that were different, I got it. Had she sent me a note before study hall, oh how I would have checked every single box. The only thing keeping me from hanging out on her front lawn confessing my profound crush was about a thousand miles. I was infatuated; with her photographs, her business, her life, her success. I wanted it for myself. And because of the similarities, I found myself doing things the way she did, hoping for, and sometimes even assuming, the same outcomes. I wasted a great deal of time trying to align my path with hers and holding her work in a higher regard than my own.
A decade later and my business is, my by own account, every bit as successful as I thought hers seemed. But it is not the same. Until I realized that what worked for her wasn’t always going to work for me, and that perhaps her end goal was different than mine, I wasn’t in any way being inspired by her. My obsession with a woman I hadn’t even met at that point was my focus (and yes, I would later meet her, and boy what a disappointment that was, is best saved for another article). No one else’s tips, ideas, or work can be your focus. Be inspired, yes, but don’t let jealousy, or in my case, crazy obsession, get the best of you. Your images are yours, and they can be whatever in the world you want them to be, so long as you don’t run them through another photographer’s filter.
When you are a professional photographer, or perhaps just a really good photographer, it’s easy to put extra scrutiny on your everyday snapshots. The pictures you take on your cellphone or with a Polaroid or point-and-shoot – a pretty landscape, a funny face of a friend, the loaf of zucchini bread you just baked that came out of the oven poofy and golden brown. Those shots are easy to over-think, to obsess over, or to give too much time and attention to, and miss the very point of taking them.
I find myself checking the background when I take pictures of my cat. The world doesn’t need perfect pictures of my cat. I don’t need perfect pictures of my cat. The internet doesn’t even need perfect pictures of my cat (I checked). Let the snapshots be snapshots and view them completely different than your “work” so you don’t tire of doing the everyday picture taking that was likely what gave you a love of photography.
That’s what photography talent is – a gift. You have been entrusted to all its amazement whether you are just beginning, doing it professionally, or as a hobby that enables the creative piece of you to speak. You’re here on this very site, reading about photography, because photography calls to you in some way, due to your natural ability. Treat your gift with compassion, cut yourself some slack when needed, and allow yourself as many periods of rest as you do challenges. I was never a cheerleader and getting sappy kind of freaks me out, so when I say that you (yes, YOU) are a creative force to be reckoned with, you know I mean it.
What’s something you do to take care of your creative spirit?