Your muse will reveal itself to you, if you take the time to listen. Let your camera be your compass.
Today’s technology makes the creation of a photograph a trivial thing. With the rapid improvement of cameras within mobile devices in the last decade, we are rarely without the ability to take photographs of the minutiae of our daily lives. We can share images with others with the tap of a button, and the feedback in the form of likes and comments is addictive. With the trivialization of photography in an age of selfies, latte art, sunsets, and vintage color filters (all of which I love, if I’m being honest), some of the heart and art of the craft seems to be getting lost. As a photographer, do you take the time to identify and understand what really excites you when you find it in front of your lens? If not, do you wish to start?
“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” — Maya Angelou
Have your camera with you whenever possible, and don’t wait.
When my first daughter was a little over a year old, there was a beautiful field of soybeans that we passed every day on the way home from her daycare. It shone like bronze in the early evening light, and it would be easy and safe for me to take a few photos of her there. I stalled for a few weeks, never making the time to prioritize it, even though I thought about it every single day as we drove past. I finally managed to take her there one evening in late October, and I got some lovely shots of her in the glowing early sunset light. She also had a ball.
Two days later, the field was harvested, and gone. I’d almost missed the opportunity. To date, the photos my daughter and I captured that day remain some of my favorites. Photography captures moments, and moments don’t keep. Be ready.
One of the many benefits of digital photography is the ability to take multiple photos of the same subject, with little to no additional cost. My favorite and most commonly photographed subject is my children, and frequently, for every ten mediocre photos I take of them, I get one that is particularly touching, funny, or charming. Persistence is key; don’t stop until you’ve got the image you want. An added benefit of shooting a lot is that occasionally, a rare gem will appear when you weren’t expecting it.
What makes you happy?
“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” ― Anaïs Nin
When I got my first DSLR camera in 2006, all I wanted to do was take macro shots of flowers. I was fascinated with how detailed the images were — almost like the camera was acting as a microscope. Eventually, I moved toward photographing people, and in 2010, I started my own photography business. I devoured countless articles about how a professional portfolio should be focused, concise, and should only include images that are demonstrative of the product that you’re trying to sell. That by all means, you should never include personal photography with your professional work. I felt like the value of the countless beautiful flower photos I’d taken previously had been diminished, yet I still heeded the advice. I scaled back on photographing plants in favor of photographing people, and I felt a distinct creative void in doing so.
Now, I photograph whatever moves me and excites me, and if it doesn’t fit inside of anyone else’s box, so be it. Your photography is exactly that: yours. If your repertoire includes kitten portraits and monster truck event photography, do your thing. Perhaps you’re only interested in taking candid street photography. Maybe you love a good flower macro as much as I do, or you’re beginning a new love affair with wedding photography. Your muse will reveal itself to you, if you take the time to listen. Let your camera be your compass.
“Look and think before opening the shutter. The heart and mind are the true lens of the camera.” – Yousuf Karsh
Have a clear vision.
When your shutter snaps, are you creating a photo that has an intention? Are you taking a photo of something, or about something? Knowing the story that you’re trying to tell with the image will help you create a better photograph. Perhaps you will take photos both of and about your subjects. Maybe you discover that you prefer your photos to tell stories exclusively. What excites you?
Look at the delicious brownies in the top photo above. Photos of a subject expose details and are inherently descriptive in nature. The detailed texture of the brownie and simplicity of the composition make the viewer feel as though they can almost smell the cocoa, taste the gooey chocolate, or remember their favorite aunt’s famous recipe.
The bottom photo tells a story. On the evening I took this, my children had spent a full day on the sand, in the sun. We had dinner in a restaurant overlooking the beach, and I spent most of the night managing the needs of an overtired one-month-old. My oldest had a considerable amount of ketchup on her new white gauze blouse. There were tantrums, and there was whining. Everyone was sweaty and sunburned, and no children wanted to eat the food we’d ordered. Other diners were obviously (and rightfully) annoyed. It was the kind of chaos that only comes with having three kids under four years old. But the sunset that evening was too good to pass up; it was cotton candy on a perfect canvas. So we went to the sand after dinner, and my previously cantankerous three-year-old metamorphosed into a quiet little mermaid, breathing in the salt and calm of the sea. This image, for me, evokes the relief and peace that we all felt in that moment. It tells a story.
Stop the comparison.
“Comparison is the death of joy.” – Mark Twain
I’m guilty of it. With the internet serving as a worldwide photo gallery, it is difficult to resist looking at others’ work and thinking, “I’ll never be as good as them.” Pinterest is awash with board after board of photography inspiration, posing ideas for portraiture, and camera advice; even I have one. Seasoned photobloggers with stunning image after image in their portfolio can be a tempting example to aspire to. But photography style is as individual as the person pressing the shutter, and comparing oneself to a different photographer serves no purpose other than to derail creativity. Experience is, by its very nature, something that comes only with time. If you find yourself more hindered than helped by viewing another photographer’s work, consider disconnecting from them temporarily. Instead, get behind your camera and find who you are as an artist. Your images will eventually show you.