It’s Your Responsibility to Challenge Yourself

determined-challenge-accepted-lAs I continue to grow and develop as a creative I’ve learned that it’s my responsibility to find ways to constantly and consistently challenge myself in some aspect. This is true for everyone who’s trying to make a living as a creative. This creative living business is really a game of survival.  Especially when you’re in that awkward career transition point of turning “professional.” The reality is that some jobs will get every fiber in your body pumped with adrenaline while others (bluntly speaking) are just there to help you keep the lights on and the belly full. And while you’re climbing that creative ladder the latter of jobs will be more common.

Initially when I was on  creatively unfulfilling gigs I’d zone out and frolic in whatever daydream world my mind was visiting. An inattentive version of me could still perform and get the shots adequately better than someone else on my level that was trying.

Thankfully I woke up from this terrible hibernation! Mental laziness cannot be tolerated!

As we grow our environment isn’t always going to provide us with the necessary obstacles that force us out of our comfort zones. You have to seek out the challenges yourself. And if you take a moment to reflect you’ll discover countless ways to improve ourselves. It’s a matter of whether or not you decide to recognize your own inadequacies and then take action to change them. For myself here are the primary areas that I’ve been able to challenge myself with.

Technical Skills

If a project I took on was relatively simple, let’s just say for example one subject against a white backdrop, I’d start to wonder if there was a better way to approach the shot. Anyone can photograph a person standing against a blank background. For all anyone care just throw the camera green automatic mode and push a button har har! So what could you do to make this common shot yours? For me I started to look at my technical approach to making this photo. Could I do anything different with lighting or camera/lens selection that would better serve the purpose of the final image? Maybe it would be being more specific in choosing how the light was diffused or how it fell on the subject. Or maybe I could change my perspective and the way I composed my images. Often times I’ll go back and study the works of the master photographers and try to dissect their artistic decisions.  Take for instance these two shots below from Richard Avedon and Terry Richardson.

Photography by Richard Avedon (left), Terry Richardson (right)
Photography by Richard Avedon (left), Terry Richardson (right)

Both are white background portraits, but all the little decisions made along the way resulted in drastically different photographs. One was shot with medium format, the other with 35mm. One has a light positioned slightly angled and above the subject, the other is from a direct flash. The little differences made in technical decisions added up to make acutely different portraits with different emotive messages while maintaining some similarities.

Communication

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A rare handful of individuals can be a sole author and do everything. I am not one of those and I truly believe that no one can achieve anything alone. With that said another avenue that I’ve sought to challenge myself is to better communicate among those I interact with. This challenge often fell in the way I communicate with my crew or with those I directed on set. To increase efficiency I’d find ways to better relay the shoot plan to my crew members. As a result this also opened doors to better understand their job from their shoes. For instance have you ever thought of how much work goes into prepping wardrobe? A stylist has to take the talent’s measurements, pull options from designers, put together outfits, steam everything, make sure everything looks good while worn, return everything, etc. etc. etc. For me if I could find ways to make the lives of my crew easier this would in return help me make a better product at the end of the day.

Same goes with directing. Though I may come off as an extrovert I’m actually extremely introverted. My entire life has been a challenge of learning to communicate in a way in which a message was clearly heard and understood. A big thing with photography is being able to quickly establish common ground almost immediately with the photo subject. This creates space to share vulnerabilities that results in a unique image.

Customer Service

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I don’t think many people touch on the idea of customer service in regards to how they can improve on photography. As much as we want to do it for the art at the end of the day making a living as a creative is just another job that requires working and servicing other people. When I was in school this was never taught to me [10 Things I Wished I Learned in Art School.] Nowadays I feel the bulk of my work happens before a camera is even touched. When I work with clients it’s often meetings, emails, and phone calls that I go through to figure out what they need from a shoot. From there a contract is drafted up, bids are made, invoices and deposits are collected, and shoot concepts are finalized. Because I much rather focus on creative I must find ways to efficiently and effectively service the client. This might mean delegating some responsibilities to a business manager, rep, lawyer, or producer. Or it could simply mean asking the right specific questions during preproduction. Sometimes a client won’t know how to communicate the shot they’re envisioning. It’s not that they don’t know what they want they just don’t know how to verbally explain it beyond the words of “creative,” “clean,” “pretty,” <<insert another common vague adjective.>> It’s my job then somehow get them to (metaphorically) paint the image for me. In post production maybe there’s a new software or technology that could simplify workflow and file delivery.

 

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