I don't mean hanging out of a car window untethered to get a shot of another moving car (although that sounds kind of fun). What I mean is don't be afraid to take your work in a direction previously unexplored. What's the worst that can happen?
Last year, I wrote an article where I talked about challenging my own fear of street photography while on a trip to the US. I took some risks and I was rewarded. Okay, so I did get mugged, but it had nothing to do with photographing anything or risk-taking. Yes, those gentlemen stole my camera, but in all honesty, it was just a freak occurrence and I'd go back to NYC in a heartbeat. But little did I know that a few months later, I would be writing about it on Fstoppers; and now, a few months later again, I'm making money off of some of the photos I had taken, all because I took some small but scary (to me, at least) risks.
How was I taking risks? I was crippled by the fear of judgment; the fear of being ridiculed or told that I was worthless; that I didn't deserve to be taking photos or writing about my experiences in a public forum. For years, this kind of thinking held me back, but little by little, I began to chip away at that negative self-talk. I kept taking these small risks, and each time I failed, I would poke myself in the leg: "nope, you're still alive." I came to the realization that if I really wanted to be good at this photography malarkey, I had to persevere through these failures. It took a while for me to become comfortable with who I am, and I sometimes still hate my work, but I recover from those bouts quicker, now. Nothing is permanent.
The first major step was deciding to turn pro, which is a whole other article, but the next big one for me was to start a blog. Although I found this so terrifying, I was determined to start it, because I needed generate more content to get traffic to my site. There was still this burning question, though: "who in the world would want to read my nonsensical musings?" Turns out, not many. But, I found the process to be extremely cathartic, and as a bonus, I didn't die! Amazing. So, I wrote a few more posts. Soon, I got the courage to apply to write for Fstoppers, and here I am.
More recently, I wanted to try a few things with some old images. It was completely different from what I've been doing, but I felt compelled to experiment. One thing that would have bothered me in the past was that fear of judgment I was talking about. These days, thankfully, the haters can go suck a bag of lemons. This doesn't mean that I've fostered some otherworldly hubris; it just means that I can distinguish between constructive criticism and destructive jerks. And what of this new direction I've taken? Well, I sold a couple of my new prints to some friends of mine, and now, because of the positive reaction thus far, I plan on selling more of them online. If it doesn't work out, so be it; I'll move on to the next project.
Oh, where did I take those photos? On my terrifying trip to the USA, of course.
I go through phases of feeling crap about my work and being fearful of treading on new ground. But I know now that that's all they are, phases. The dips are what really drive me. I think if I ever start to feel completely at ease with my work, that's when I should really start to worry.
Does fear of the unknown drive you? Does it hinder you? I'd love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.