As a studio owner I am privileged to see many different photographers working in my studio space. I have a chance to observe their individual working styles and to see what results in success. Over the past couple years I have noticed some rather interesting trends. Let me give you some insider tips after observing how some of the top photographers work.
I want to start off by saying that the difference between a photographer you perceive as “great” and yourself often comes down to some very small details. I opened up my first studio space nearly 2 years ago, and in that time I have had hundreds of photographers passing through my doors. I have had the opportunity to meet photographers of all skill levels. For some of them my studio will be their first ever in studio experience. I walk them through the entire process and even show them how to use the equipment. Then on the flip side you have the ultra experienced photographers that jet set around the world and pass through my studio for a day or two while doing massive international campaigns.
Skill levels around here really run the gamut. I remember when I first opened up my studio to the public I expected to find those in the upper echelons to have some sort of secret knowledge or natural ability that would be plainly visible. Even though I have some moderate success in my own photography career I still have those that I look up to and idolize. After being on various sets however, including some of my idols, it became very obvious that there were no big secrets. What I ended up finding instead was an interesting trend in personality traits among those who performed well in the industry.
Lets take a look at three personality traits which I have found to appear in most successful photographers.
Communication on set is vital when it comes to creating strong work. You have to know how to quickly build rapport with a group of people, that in some cases, you have never met before. Getting everyone on set comfortable is crucial for a productive and creative work environment. You can see in these behind the scenes images of me and model Dane Halo as we take time to chat and giggle before taking pictures.
Of all the traits I have noticed this one sticks out the most. Comfort is the name of the game. The best photographers I have observed are the ones who have this uncanny ability to relax their subject to a point of complete indifference. The person who is being photographed no longer feels that anyone in the room is judging them and that if they do something silly people will only laugh with them, not at them.
I have seen a lot of photographers struggle with that level of communication and unfortunately the results are often less than expected because of it. If there is any air of awkwardness or tension it will show through in the image. Models and subjects that are in a complete state of comfort are much easier to direct and pull looks out of. They also translate as much more confident and happy overall in their images.
In some really worst case scenarios I have actually seen some photographers lose complete control of their set when they were not effectively able to communicate with their models. The models ended up taking control and directing everything.
If you are finding yourself struggling with images where models seem uncomfortable, if you have a hard time pulling looks, or if you are losing control on set, evaluate your communication as that is often where the problem lies.
Conceptualizing is in essence the planning process. Before you even come into the studio you should have an idea of what you want to shoot and how you will achieve it. This doesn't need to be a plan that you can't deviate from, and often times you will have to improvise on set, but having a framework within which to work is crucial to developing a strong look and a cohesive message.
For years this was my biggest issue, and it pains me to watch others going through the same thing. Many photographers create images without putting any thought into the concept. They simply show up and shoot whatever is in front of them. This kind of spontaneous shooting can be refreshing, and a neat challenge once in a while, but if you are looking to create work that has some production value you will need to put some thought into it before hand.
I see many photographers comparing their work to that of the pro's and they wonder why they seem to be missing the mark. Even if they have solid technical ability and a good rapport with the model, something will seem a bit off when looking at the final image. That something is the lack of pre-planning.
Getting the right pose, the right styling, the right palette, the right model, and every other aspect of your image just perfect takes a lot of planning. There may potentially be a circumstance where everything aligns just right and it all happens to work, but is that the kind of chance you really want to take? If you plan to turn photography into a career, thats not the kind of chance paying clients will want to take. Clients have to know that you not only come with experience but the ability to pre-plan their entire production.
The pro's know this and will often have entire mood boards created, they will have carefully picked their teams to play to everyone's strong suit, and they will even go so far as to pre-light their sets the day before. The less you leave to chance the better.
When starting out in photography a lot of people will try and find a style that works for them as quickly as they can. While it is good to have a defining style often times people end up using it as a crutch. They rely on that one particular style to carry them and they will literally beat the horse dead. I can't tell you the amount of times that I see photographers come to my studio and no matter what the concept is, they will use the exact same light setup on every set. It is always some light setup they learned, got comfortable with, and stuck to because it worked. Rarely do they venture outside of these parameters.
The really great photographers are the ones that take chances and experiment with different setups. They are not afraid to try new things and to expand their repertoire. These photographers come into the studio and they light with purpose. They understand that ever model, every mood, and every setting is unique. They all require different lighting to bring out the intended vision.
They don't always succeed but by pushing themselves to try new things they are developing a greater understanding about how things work. Maybe they get a better feel for a particular modifier. Maybe they try new color palettes in their styling. Maybe they play with new textures. Maybe they try new focal lengths or angles. Whatever it is that they are exploring, it is always something, and that is the important thing. The greats never stop learning. The greats are not afraid of failure.