I started this blog over the holidays, when I didn’t have any jobs going on, as a way to keep myself motivated to create and share when I wasn’t being paid to do so — to keep the gears moving and muscles from forgetting. Downtime, while being scary in the feast-or-famine world of commercial photography, shouldn’t automatically be interpreted as a negative. Giving your brain some time off to consider other things and relax & recharge is a positive. Even more so, however, is freeing yourself from the business-as-usual mindset. As a photographer of modest success over the last few years, I’ve been conscious of the urge to stay within my lane and not break things (jobs are happening so let’s give the people what they want and not experiment with new approaches). While I’ve always been a bit all over the place in regards to what subjects I like to shoot, I’ve also been afraid of falling into habits (good or bad ones) and not being able to change them a few years down the road.
This is an industry that loves to follow trends. It’s incredibly hard to forge a new path and convince the world they should like what you’re doing, so the more common approach is to emulate what already is working. That’s fine until you find that the trends have changed and you no longer know how to adjust or even recognize the need to change what you’re doing.
But that’s all big picture stuff and gets exhausting to consider.
Let’s focus on something smaller, something that I’ve tried to do regularly in my career and consider to be extremely helpful in my role as a commercial photographer. It’s simple: I continue to challenge myself. Big jobs with proper rates are great but you need a large crew to make it possible to capture the maximum amount of content in a day to justify your clients’ budgets. Decisions are outsourced (with your direction) to your teams of producers, stylists, lighting assistants, etc, etc, etc, as it’s simply not possible to do everything yourself in such a short amount of time. This is fine but can also be a recipe for stagnation in the longer term. My personal favorite way to keep myself balanced, grounded, and thinking fresh is to go out and shoot all by myself.
No assistants to help so I need to keep the gear load down or risk angering my aging body; no fancy lighting package so I need to think on the fly and combat often-terrible light conditions with limited tools (and learn which natural light conditions work best); no crew to help style so I need to consider available things I can use to help round out a shot; no producer to yell at me when we’re behind schedule so I need to keep moving fast in order to maximize content and not be shooting all day long; no benefit of owning a space so I need to shoot in “live” locations, be flexible and get creative or learn to be outgoing and incorporate people you aren’t paying to be there; no room full of agency and client opinions so I’m really only there to please myself and am therefore more able to experiment and take chances on things I’m not sure will work.
Finding commercial success is great but continuing to do the same things simply because people are giving you money to do them doesn’t lead to guaranteed happiness or evolution as an artist. That’s all stuff you need to actively work on no matter how successful you get.
So that’s what I do. I shoot for people I like but don’t necessarily have much or any money. I shoot for local bars & restaurants that have great style but not a huge budget. I shoot for myself while traveling and love looking at new locations from a photographer’s perspective. All of this work helps keep me on my toes and feel more comfortable when I’m on a big budget commercial set and everyone is looking at me for answers.
This doesn’t mean every time I go out and shoot some low budget photos I’ll end up with some great new portfolio work (although this is always the goal no matter what I’m shooting), but the act of doing it keeps the creative juices flowing and gives me new ideas and tricks to keep in the ole photographer tool belt, be it on the shooting or editing side of things.
Anyway, enough typin’, let’s get back to shootin’!
Above are some examples of recent one-man-band shoots I’ve done for some restaurant/bar friends Dorian’s, Good Measure, & Dante’s Tavern.