Every photographer wants to be creating their best work each time that they touch their camera, but the reality is that inspiration ebbs and flows. No photographer can consistently create their best work every time they shoot. As photographers, our goal is often to steadily improve by continually expanding our body of work. Sometimes, however, a shoot becomes magical as creativity and motivation climax into one of those images that you know will sit proudly in your portfolio for years to come.
By developing an understanding of how those magical moments of inspiration are created, we can take action to improve their frequency throughout our career.
Why is it that the words that we write for ourselves are always so much better than the words we write for others?
This quote was spoken by Sean Connery in the film "Finding Forrester" and was presumably written by the film’s writer, Mike Rich. The quote is obviously about writing, but I have always felt that it sends a powerful message to any creative professional.
For a photographer who has made a career of wielding a camera, the repetitive everyday grind of creating essentially the same photos over and over again can culminate in a sense of complacency towards the motivation to break out from those boundaries.
The day-to-day workload often leaves very little room for creative exploration or to pursue the creativity that truly feeds a creative soul. This process can be a great recipe for business growth, but it comes at the cost of artistic growth, which ironically ends up ultimately draining the value of the professional work.
By building the motivation to shatter the mundane of the everyday workload, a photographer can often find themselves enhancing the quality of their work, which ends up expanding the value of their business offering.
Personal Work for the Right Reasons
Recently, a model approached me about wanting to collaborate on some sort of conceptual creative shoot. When discussing ideas, her priority seemed to be all about choosing a concept that would best fill gaps within our respective portfolios. Her motivation for the shoot was about strengthening her professional portfolio.
This led me to thinking about how alien of a concept that was to me. Sure, I create work and put it in my portfolio, no doubt, but I don’t think I have ever considered my portfolio as the reason to shoot any creative personal work. The more I think about it, the more I think that such a mentality would morph personal work into being a chore in the same way that client work can be.
To this same end, I have also found anytime I work on an editorial that is created with the primary purpose of being submitted to magazines that there often is also a certain lack of “magic.” It's as if creativity is simmering rather than burning.
Instead, when contemplating creative work, I have always just thought about it in terms of wanting to create awesome images with awesome people based on an awesome concept. Whether I succeed or not or what the photos are for never really crosses my mind. Sometimes, I crash and burn; sometimes, I create my best work.
Personal Work With the Right People
A big part of building the motivation to create your best work is by being surrounded by a tremendous team who is able to constantly catalyze each other’s passion for the project and continually motivate each other to push past conventional boundaries.
Personally, I feel the strength of an amazing creative team dynamic is not only driven by choosing the right people, but also by building a relationship over time.
This becomes especially true with models. In the photography world, it can be quite natural to work with the same people over and over for all the other creative roles, but only shoot each model once. I almost always find that I’m able to create the best images with a model on our second or third shoot when we both know each other quite well.
Personal Work at the Right Time
State of mind can be tremendously influential on both the motivation and inspiration to create magnificent work. A great photographer can create consistently good work but even the best photographers have windows where they end up creating their magnum opus.
These windows of time can be quite different for each individual photographer and largely become about building your awareness of how your own mood and current situation can either be a muse or a burden.
For some, their mind becomes most motivated when happy. For others the fireworks start firing when they are in love. Others find that their best work is hidden in intense turmoil. By being aware of what frame of mind best inspires you, you can take action to place yourself in situations that will lead to it. (My condolences if you are someone whose work thrives on that intense turmoil.)
Just Do It!
Yup, I just quoted Nike! There is a lot of truth to be found in such a simple statement. The biggest barrier that is standing between you and creating your best work is a motivation to just get out and chase the work that you most want to create, even if you aren’t with the right people, even if it isn’t the right time.
Always be aware of all of the above so you can optimize and improve your situation, but never stop shooting because you are too busy holding your breath while waiting for the stars to align. Keep moving your work forward relentlessly. Fuel the obsession! In fact, do it now!