It's Worth Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone

It's Worth Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone

I think we all tend to figure out, one way or another, what works specifically for us as individual photographers. There are some styles that I simply don't shoot, some subjects that simply don't interest me, and elements that I simply would not put together for a shoot. I don't know about the rest of you, but I have many times found myself in a creative rut. You know, that mental state where you can think through the mechanics of most your shoots and it's just not as interesting as it has been in the past?

I discovered that has less to do with the styles that I tend to shoot most, and more to do with how many times I have put together shoots of similar styles recently. When they all start to feel like they're blending together and I'm not as excited to book more shoots, or as anxious to start processing the ones that have been shot, I know that I have hit that creative rut. For myself, I have found a relatively simple way to get out of that rut. I simply try to shoot something that is just not one of my go-to styles, or even better, I try to shoot something that I had never thought to try before.

nighttime portrait of a girl

Canon 5D Mark III | Zeiss 135mm f/2 Apo Sonnar T* ZE | 135mm • ƒ/2.0 • 1/6s • ISO 400

portrait of a girl at night with found light

Canon 5D Mark III | Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM | 85mm • ƒ/1.2 • 1/10s • ISO 400

The shots shared in this article are ones from just such a shoot. With this shoot I broke pretty much all the rules that I have set for myself when it comes to putting together shoots.

  • For starters, I didn't really plan it out. Most of my shoots involve weeks, if not months, of planning before the shoot actually occurs.
  • I also didn't worry about wardrobe that much. I told my model to wear whatever she wanted and pretty much let her just show up with whatever she felt like using. Most of the time wardrobe is one of those details that has taken time during the planning stages to dial in and have everything perfectly set for the shoot.
  • We shot at a time of day that I really hadn't ever put to use before. Sure, I've shot at night before, and sure I've even taken low light portraits before. But I always had a game plan for lighting and it usually involved a lot more equipment. For this shoot, I literally just showed up with my camera and a tripod. Which leads me to the next broken rule...
  • I used a tripod for portraits. I think I've only ever done that once before in my life. Yes, I know, there are likely plenty of other photographers who use tripods for portraiture all the time. But the point is that I don't! So it was out of the norm for me.
  • Lastly, we literally wandered around and just used whatever random light sources and posing areas that we could find. It is pretty unlike me to not have done some solid location scouting and to not have pre-planned pose spots and lighting conditions.

Realistically, I think the lesson that I learned over, and over again on this shoot was this: placing myself in a situation where problem solving is imperative is a situation that allows me to be truly creative. I didn't shoot near as many shots with this shoot as I typically do on what might constitute a regular shoot for me, but I am still 100 percent happy with what we did capture. I tried some compositions that were completely new to me. I tried some light that I'd never used before. We implemented several poses that I would have never thought to use before. Some of the shots turned out quite bad, but other shots turned out quite good. The bad shots taught me a lot, the good shots taught me even more, and the shoot as a whole was a very refreshing and eye opening experience.

If you ever find yourself in a similar creative rut, give the random shoot a try. Go nuts with it, really push yourself outside your comfort zone and try to do something that you would have never thought to do until that moment. What's the worst that can happen? The shoot ends up being a total bust, with no good shots? Who cares, that's what memory cards are for anyway; just erase the images and try again! Realistically, I think if the lesson were to be distilled down to a single phrase it would be “just go have some fun.” Your creativity will thank you.

Big thanks to my model, Tyree Shaw, for braving the cold and for waiting patiently while I figured out each shot.

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