HOW TO: Survive being creative – Step 7 and 8

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Step 7 – Concentrate on the things you love shooting!

Are you taking certain photos because you think you should, or because someone has told you to do it in a certain way? Are there elements of your photography that you don’t really like doing?

Often I am asked to look at people’s websites and portfolios, and it is usually very obvious which pictures they do not enjoy taking; they usually stand out from the rest. Most photographers start out agreeing to every job they are asked to do. This is understandable because at the beginning you feel you need to take every job you can to pay the bills! But this can soon become the thing that stops you succeeding – because you have a portfolio full of photos which don’t show a style, and you can become confused by too many different elements.

I was once shown a picture of a posed dancer against a white studio background. It was beautifully composed but the overall effect was a bit boring to be honest. The same photographer had some amazing travel and landscape pictures, and the picture of the dancer weakened his portfolio because it stood out from the rest, and just didn’t “fit”. When I questioned him about it, he said, “I hate that picture, but that’s how you’re supposed to do portraits isn’t it?” My answer was, “why don’t you take her outside and photograph her as if you had just come across her on your travels – ask her to dance through a field of long grass for example – you would enjoy the shoot far more and probably get much better results.”

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You are often judged by your worst piece of work – so if it’s not in your portfolio it will make everything else so much stronger. Many photographers show me whole shoots which still contain blinks, and blurred images which they haven’t thrown out. Be decisive – get rid of the stuff that you would never use, before you show it to anyone. Years ago, when I got all my pictures back from the lab as prints, I would immediately throw all the rubbish away, so I was only left with the good shots – and people used to say “that’s amazing – there isn’t a bad one among them” – of course there wasn’t – they were all in the bin!

It’s the same with shots which are really similar – if you take 10 shots of someone which are all very alike – put them all next to each other and eliminate the weaker ones, one by one, until you are left with 2 or 3 which are the best.

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Look at your work, and pick out the shots that you are really proud of; then look at the ones that you don’t like as much – what is it that separates these two types? If you struggle with some of your work it maybe because it’s not really “you”. Photography should be fun – if you find something difficult then you need to decide to really learn how to do that aspect, or accept it’s not working and do it differently.

Look at the shoots that make you excited and get you motivated and inspired, and make a conscious decision to put your energy into this type of work. Talk to photographers whose work excites you – find out how they learnt to do certain things. Start specialising and you will improve your photography much faster. You will attract the type of people that like those kinds of photographs, and then you can begin to get a name for yourself in this field.

There are lots of elements of photography that I hated when I first started, and I learnt to say no to them, because shooting stuff I don’t enjoy or find difficult to do just stresses me out, whereas the shoots I love, I just can’t get enough of! You might say – well it’s ok for you, you can pick and choose – but that’s not how it started… I used to do everything that came along from school photography to scar photography, and all it did was exhaust me because I was doing lots of boring shoots and getting very demotivated. When I decided to specialise in what I felt most passionate about, suddenly people saw me as the expert in this field and I got inundated with my favourite work, and it grew from there.

Be brave, have the confidence to follow the kind of photography you love – drop the elements you don’t like doing, use that extra time to develop your own style, and you will be amazed at what happens.

Step 8 – Free yourself to do what you’re good at

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If you’re in business on your own, you will know how it feels to be overwhelmed with admin! You start out as a photographer because you like taking pictures, and soon you become a secretary, accountant, bookkeeper, washer up and general dogs body, often with no time to get your camera out!

I remember the first year of my photography career as great fun, going out taking photos of people, and actually getting paid for it. But it soon turned into an overwhelming office job! I found I was doing 10% photography and 90% admin, and was drowning under a pile of invoices and wedding albums! But what can you do, when you can’t afford to get help?

The answer is that you CAN afford to get help – you just have to think about money differently. The first thing I did was to ask a friend to put together the albums for me (it was all mats and prints in those days!) – I paid her a fee, which I added on to the cost of my weddings – so it effectively cost me no more, and my business became much more efficient.

Once this huge job was out of the way, I then asked someone else to come in one day a month and do my bookkeeping. Now I was able to just throw every invoice in a tray and leave it to her once a month. It wasn’t really the book keeping that was difficult – it was looking at the pile mounting up in the corner, and worrying that I would have to do it, that took up all my time (and exhausted my creativity)! Actually, in a small business, it only takes one or two days a month to sort it out, once you have a system – and that’s what book keepers are for; they will pay for themselves in the end.

Imagine having more time to focus on your photography and network with potential clients – why not try asking your album company to design your albums for you? Many companies do this for a small fee, and you can still have an input into the design, but it’s great if someone does the initial layouts for you, and then you get the fun bit of tweaking and finalising it. If you do this, and get a bookkeeper, then you’ve freed up lots of time already, and paid for it in the extra clients you will get from having time to go out and get them!

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The biggest “admin” problem today is editing. This is the largest single time-filler known to photographers! Yes, we all love it, and yes it’s essential – but it’s just SO easy to get distracted and spend all day (and night!) on the computer. If you only shoot the occasional wedding, then creating a system with Lightroom should be all you need. However, if you want to run a full time wedding photography business, then sooner or later you may have to farm this work out, otherwise it may take over your life!

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Be selective about what you shoot

Change your life by shooting fewer pictures to start with! Digital cameras make us all trigger-happy! In the days of film you couldn’t afford to just fire off shots – you had to think about every image you took – and you should think this way too with digital cameras – because the more shots you take the more it costs you at the other end to sort them out – think of time as money – because that’s what it is! Crop in camera – and do everything you can when you shoot, to enable you to spend less time on your computer.

If you take photos for fun, and it fits in easily with your life and job, then you probably have time to sort out all your own images, and it’s all part of the fun of enjoying photography.

If, however, you are a busy wedding photographer, then you will know how much time it takes sorting and editing images – before you know it, it’s time to do the next wedding, and by September you’re overloaded with work. You need to get a system to enable you to speed up your workload, and as soon as you can, get someone to do some (or all) of the images for you.

Don’t wait until you can afford these things – or you never will – plan your business so you will be able to afford it. If it costs you £50 to have your albums designed for you, then you need to charge £50 more for the wedding. But because you are not sitting at your computer for 2 days, you will be able to spend that time making your service better, which in turn will help you to find people who will pay more for your work. It’s a chicken and egg situation and sometimes you just have to have the confidence to try it.

Get help = get a life!
Annabel x


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