Photographers: Stop Trying So Hard

Photographers: Stop Trying So Hard

I’m not going to lie, sometimes I feel like photographers try too hard. Don’t get me wrong, we all need to try to improve ourselves, and that I completely agree with. It’s a new year, and with that comes new challenges and new opportunities for us to better ourselves as creatives. Challenges aren’t supposed to be easy, and are certainly supposed to push you to step outside your comfy little box. 

That being said, for 2016, I want to challenge you to:

Stop trying to make a good first impression

Guys and gals: be personable, but not too talkative. Don’t go over the top and overwhelm the subject you are shooting with too much information about yourself. Don’t ask them too many questions about themselves either. Some friendly banter at the beginning of the shoot is fantastic, but cut to the chase. You both know what you are there to do. You don’t need to try so hard to make a good impression. The person you are shooting, be it model or client, has already seen your work and agreed to work with you. They are there to shoot, not be your next best friend. Making your subject at ease: yes! Talking their ear off in an effort to make a good first impression: nope!

Stop relying on a mood board

In my opinion, one of the hardest things for any artist or photographer to overcome is trusting ourselves. Sure, it is nice to have a mood board that is cholk-full of pretty Pinterest images, but many times, true art comes from within. This year, I want you to trust yourself. Put your phone and all of those pictures down and go out there and shoot what inspires you.

Stop beating yourself up over location scouting

Unless you are scouting epic locations for the next “Star Wars” film, you can give it a break. If you want a grand location, there are probably only so many of those in your area, and you probably know about most. Challenge yourself this year by going with the flow. Explore your area. Shoot what you come across. Don’t plan a thing and see where the spirit moves you.

Stop worrying about gear

Grab your sibling, BFF, or model friend and go out and shoot. Don’t worry about if you are shooting at the perfect “golden hour.” Don’t worry about the sun. Shoot in rain, fog, snow, direct sun, and cloudy days. Don’t worry about bringing flashes or tons of gear. So what if that is how you normally shoot, this is a challenge! Maybe try shooting fashion using natural light at noon on a rainy day. There are many ways to go about achieving good photography.

Amateurs worry about equipment. Professionals worry about money. Masters worry about light. I just take pictures...

— Vernon Trent

Stop shooting for others

When people notice stellar photographers, or are inspired by their work, it is namely because that artist shoots for themselves. It is great to be inspired by others, but don’t channel that inspiration into mimicking them exactly. Let it be just that: simply inspiration. Top photographers believe in themselves and believe in their work. I challenge you to stop thinking about what other people say. Stop listening to the naysayers who tell you to diversify your portfolio, sign with an agency, or try a new shooting style. Create and inspire yourself to create better art.

Stop making it all about the money

Remember why you are there and why you are in the industry. Many people fall into the “it’s all about money” trap. Of course, each and every one of us professional photographers needs to pay the bills, but don’t sacrifice your art. I have known a few too many money-hungry photographers who would focus on just the monetary aspect of the industry, and then would get upset when their peers would progress more artistically while they were stuck in the same rut. If you make this mistake, you may become monetarily rich, but your creative vision and growth will be stifled. Make making art the love of your life. Put it first and foremost, above anything else. Put making money second.

This 2016, I challenge you to be an artist, not simply a photographer. Let me know in the comments what you plan to do in the new year to grow as a creative.

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22 Comments

Tom Lew's picture

Nice read! The stop making it about the money resonated with me. I have a full time work from home job that pays the rent so I've dedicated Jan and Feb of this year to shooting as much as possible but only the stuff I want to shoot.. and worrying about people hiring me or paid gigs till after Im satisfied with my port

Jason Gaskins's picture

I agree with most of these, but don't necessarily agree with your first point. Yes, don't be a suck up and talk just to talk, but being talkative or wanting to get to know a person during a shoot is NOT a bad thing or something people shouldn't do. Some of my closest friends that I have are people that were once just clients/models, but because I treated them like a person and not just a shooting subject we formed relationships beyond photographer/client/model. In fact, usually some of the best shots I get come in those "in-between" moments when you are just chatting with the person during the shoot, because they let their guard down and become more natural/comfortable. You don't get those types of images by just saying a few things, and then "cut to the chase".

TJ Drysdale's picture

Absolutely!!! Talking to a person during a shoot is great, just don't beat yourself up over it and try to hard! Let things flow naturally :) sounds like you have the right idea!

Hugh Tull's picture

This was the best line that i took to heart last year and I much happier! I tell my assistant this all the time.

"When people notice stellar photographers, or are inspired by their work, it is namely because that artist shoots for themselves. It is great to be inspired by others, but don’t channel that inspiration into mimicking them exactly. Let it be just that: simply inspiration. Top photographers believe in themselves and believe in their work. I challenge you to stop thinking about what other people say. Stop listening to the naysayers who tell you to diversify your portfolio, sign with an agency, or try a new shooting style. Create and inspire yourself to create better art."

Prefers Film's picture

Great article. I still think I have the best gig, because my business model is not about getting paid for my photos, it's about getting paid to play outdoors and take photos, as well as shoot products.

Jason McNeil's picture

Well written. Thank you for this.

Dana Goldstein's picture

So I have to assume that this is intended for when it's just you and a camera, shooting ONLY for yourself, because otherwise:
• You would have to get a sense of what your subject needs in terms of conversation to loosen up;
• Your team might be very interested in having a mood board so they can do their jobs well, which doesn't include peering inside your brain;
• Your clients might be pretty pissed off when your shoot is shut down by a police office because you didn't bother to do the research to find out you needed a permit at this location;
• They would also not be thrilled if you don't have the proper equipment to get the required shots;
• Or if you decided you wanted to shoot whatever you felt like instead of to the brief of the job; and
• Oh, right, it's paying your rent.

I get your intentions here, and I know it's is coming from a good place, but I feel like this article is part of a growing problem on this site in particular.

F-stoppers, you could be a bridge to those entering this industry, to reinforce that this is a BUSINESS with standards and practices, that has protocols that have been developed over time for good reasons. Instead this is one in a series of recent articles (like the 'use Instagram as your website' nonsense) that seems to be encouraging the most unprofessional instincts. Very irresponsible. There are enough unprofessional photographers taking money already, without your guides to being even more so.

Tyler Newcomb's picture

I think that this article is a very good resource for people trying to improve themselves. This is clearly written for the people on this website who care about their artistic abilities and the improvement of themselves as photographers and artists. Your title, saying that you assume this is written for "shooting ONLY for yourself," is connotative of the idea that you think poorly of people who shoot only for themselves, as if they are less skilled or developed. In reality, however, I think that often times photographers such as yourself who (I'm assuming) take portraits for a living are more susceptible to be corrupted by the industry (photography for work would be industry; a business would be an individual organization that is a part of the photography industry) and lose their passion for photography, improving themselves, and creativity.

As for the 'Instagram as your website' "nonsense," as you say; the article has a good point. Believe it or not, nowadays people are exponentially more likely to see your work on social media (especially Instagram) than on your website. They are also rarely going to check your website every day, despite how much they may anticipate your next photo. Instagram, on the other hand, would allow them to see, say, a photo or two of yours every day they check in. No, it should not 'replace' a website, but rather supplement it fantastically.

Finally, your closing "There are enough unprofessional photographers taking money already, without your guides to being even more so" not only lacks correct English grammar, but also insinuates that you yourself lack this creativity and passion, and are therefore so worried about losing money to the new photographers in this ever-changing industry, that you must come on to this great article and comment about how it is ruining the photography industry.

Oh, one more thing;
As for the "standards and practices" and the "protocols that have been developed over time for good reasons," I would be willing to bet that you are a photographer as afraid to break the composition rules such as the rule of thirds as you are the standard, monotonous, mundane, and dated business practices of the photo industry.

Dana Goldstein's picture

It's so cute of you to have taken so much time out of your day to write that response. I bet you're really into those little thumbs and hearts, too, aren't ya? Guess what? I actually don't much care if a million people heart a picture on Instagram, if none of them are in a position to hire me. And the people in a position to hire, expect a website. Also a plan for while you're on the job. And yeah these sentence fragments are there just to annoy your grammarian gremlins.

TJ Drysdale's picture

Tyler, I checked out your profile, and saw you are a young teen. I want to wish you all the best on your photography journey and thank you for your words of wisdom!

Tyler Newcomb's picture

Thank you! I plan to improve my skills and produce art. If you have any advice, it would be more than welcome. Cheers

Dan Ostergren's picture

I don't think this site should only cater to the professionals. Articles that reinforce doing something for the love and the art of it should be just as welcome on this site because not all of us are doing this to get paid or to get hired. I come to this site for inspiration, not to be bombarded only with articles that reinforce that I must be making money in order to be respected or remembered as a photographer.

TJ Drysdale's picture

I agree! Fstoppers is for the Photogrpahy community, not just for people who want to make money. The community welcomes artists for whatever their reason is!

aaronbratkovics's picture

Money is important. Pre-production/having a plan is very important.

Great article!

Prefers Film's picture

I find it amusing that people take an article like this so literally.

Have a sound business plan and follow best practices if you want to succeed. But escape those rigid routines once in a while to keep your creativity from stagnating.

Anonymous's picture

I think you are the only one that got the point of this post!

Paulo Macedo's picture

"It is great to be inspired by others, but don’t channel that inspiration into mimicking them exactly."
Don't get me wrong here, one of my great inspirations is Dani Diamond, he's great. But it's getting on my nerve on how often people mimick his work and even watermark, since he made his RGG EDU tutorial. People please, use the stuff he teaches, when i mean Dani i mean Michael W. aswell, use the knowledge and apply to your own way of working, make your own path. And yes, stop thinking and do it for the pleasure of the thing, take the information you have, apply it without thinking, have fun doing it.
I myself am guilty of pursuing "perfect shots" and most of the time i can't do them, because i spend way too much time thinking about location, light and gear and lose focus on the things around me.
As for the first topic of the article, yes, it is bad to share too much info with your clients, just be polite, it's enough.

Bobby Griffin's picture

Yikes...artist can be the most fickle of people. Beautiful article. I believe the heart of a photographer should be first and foremost an artist. Ironic that we of all people can lose perspective. Conforming to norms is not what artist do. Did you fall in love with photography because you could make money at it? Following our intuition and seeking our creative force in what we do should keep us up...not worrying about where our next client is coming from. If we are so worried about defining what it means to be a professional photographer that we forget about what it means to be an artist, please go be an accountant.

Cheers to you Mr. Drysdale. Your photos show your love for what you do. Thank you for your inspiration. Cheers to all of those who get hired because someone loved your work. If anyone reading this can honestly say that you would still take photographs and better your craft if you stopped getting paid for it...may you rule the photography world.

TJ Drysdale's picture

Thank you for this comment. You have inspired me today and your words are beautiful! I am glad you are out there still making art!! <3

Tyler Newcomb's picture

Great points and well written comment. Completely agree

ohnOMon Photo's picture

All well stated points!! Thanks for stripping all the noise away and making it about the photo itself. Happy 2016 TJ. -JP

Andrew Haimerl's picture

Great article! Hope life is good in Tampa!