Thursday, August 4, 2011

Being Honest With Yourself Pays In Photography

"Wow! you are a photographer!?! That is such a cool job! Do you shoot weddings!?! Can you shoot my head shots!?! Have you photographed any famous people!?!" These are all questions we have heard as photographers as the spectrum of our profession is so wide.

Many of us love making cooing noises to catch a baby's precious smile in front of the lens, or have chosen to fill our weekends with great events to create gorgeous shots. Some of us may even prefer to make portraits of camera-shy executives for the cover of regional magazines on ticking deadlines. These may all be very exciting photographic scenarios to some, but could send other photographers packing.

We all have different personalities, varying passions, and our own distinct view of the world surrounding us. This makes the world of photography wonderfully vast where we can all find success. The key is discovering your special path while being honest with yourself, figuring out your strengths and weaknesses, and finding a way to pursue and create a career that you truly love.

Musician Butch Walker

What kind of photography you are interested in... let's be honest... what you are good at ?

I know, I know, you imagine being a celebrity rock star photographer or the next Nigel Barker shooting a fabulous "top model" that may introduce you to your next date, but come on, it's never gonna work if you suffer from severe bouts of "star struck" syndrome or "I want to date all of my subjects" syndrome. However, if you are in full control of your urge to ask for autographs or can simply admire the beauty of your subjects from behind the lens, you might want to start working towards that "high profile photographer" dream. Regardless, it will always take a ton of hard work and dedication. Making sure you are being realistic about what your personality offers the genre of photography you wish to enter will give you a head start. Remember, grumpy old dudes don't make the best Sears Portrait Studio photographers, and those who suffer from social anxieties may find more success shooting landscape or still life ;)

Don't know what type of photographer you want to be or even where to start? Research the web for ideas, it is vast with inspiration. Work with/assist a wide range of photographers to figure out where your strengths are, and how you envision yourself working. This is exactly how I found my passion for editorial portraiture. Take their criticism openly, they have experience under their belts and have been at it much longer. Learning and working through your mistakes with their guidance is invaluable.

Chocolatier Kristen Hard of Cacao


Get to know yourself as a photographer. What are your limitations and how can you work past them?

Once you get a better idea of where you want to go with your work it's really important to be aware of your technical and creative limitations. There is definitely a learning curve in bringing these aspects of your work together, and finding a balance is key. Having the best ideas will not matter if you cannot execute them technically. Photographers who are drawn to the more technical qualities of photography may struggle with the conceptual side and vice versa. Knowing which side of the fence you fall on will help you to make a conscious effort to improve your work, allowing you to constantly challenge yourself.

How do you know which side of the fence you are on?

If you constantly feel as if the ideas in your head are not translating into your work you may need to brush up on some technical skills. Any photo you can imagine in your minds eye can be created once you build up your technical arsenal. Knowing which tools to use and how to use them is integral in creating any image.

On the other hand, you may feel you have a handle on the tech aspects but you find other peoples' photos are much more interesting or engaging. Regardless of your limitations, begin challenging yourself! Give yourself assignments that will force your growth as a photographer.

A great technical self assignment could be to research inspiring images and begin to break them down technically. Really look at the image and its light sources. Investigate its possible lighting scenarios, and create an exercise in which you work to replicate the image. Ted Sabrese is a NYC photographer I used to work with in my days of assisting. Not only is he a great photographer, he has a great blog, Guess the Lighting, dedicated to these types of personal assignments. Books, websites, and other photographers are also great sources for technical information.

"Creativity" exercises will help you to come out of the cerebral side of your brain to nurture the creative side. This could be as simple as committing to a weekly activity that inspires you. Check out  local galleries, design blogs, musicians, and other artists to keep your juices flowing. You could also make a deeper commitment by engaging in a long term personal photo project. Something that excites you and allows you to think outside of the box or forces you to approach your photographs differently. Years ago, I began a 365 project where I committed to take a different picture in a different way every day for a year. This actually led me to create a photo documentary called the Atlanta Creatives Project that has since blossomed into an arts nonprofit known as The Creatives Project (TCP). It is very important to remain inspired and to push yourself creatively. Personal projects help to develop your distinct voice while allowing room for experimentation.

You owe it to yourself to work towards creating a balance of technique, inspiration, and concept allowing you to create some of your strongest, most meaningful images. Take the bull by its horns and shoot shoot shoot, experiment, read, research, and compile inspiration to fuel your flame!

Baker Jonathan St. Hilaire

Know when to ask for help and/or guidance.

Understanding your limitations and then breaking through to the other side is not an easy task and can be a bit intimidating. The constant advancements in photographic technology only add to the pressure. Even when you feel like you have mastered a particular technique or piece of equipment, there is a huge chance that it will change. Knowing the basics is one thing, and knowing when to ask for help is another.

Maintaining a group of peers who you can go to for help or even criticism is priceless and will truly aid in your progress. The truth is, you will never know everything there is to know about photography and there will always be someone who knows more or is "better" than you, so get a head start and reach out. If you ever went to art school you probably miss the part of school you hated the most... I know I do! Critiques were always so nerve racking but the constructive criticism really did help to push my work to new levels. Having others to respond to your work is critical in your growth as it's really difficult to view your own work with fresh eyes. Think about how may thousands of dollars a year are spent on focus groups that simply critique new products or concepts. It's a process that works!

There are many local and national photography organizations that already provide this type of platform (see our list of photo associations here). Once you seek these groups out it will be much easier to connect to other photographers on a one on one level. We all have something valuable to share, so don't feel shy about building new relationships. Engaging in conversations about photography can only improve your work. I personally look forward to connecting with photographers whose work I admire as their opinions are very valuable to me, however, I also rely on other "creative" types for similar criticism. In the beginning you will find other peoples criticism extremely helpful (if you let it be). As you grow, you will find that your own critical voice is strengthened and your aesthetic/conceptual decisions become more intuitive. You may begin to notice that over time critiques seem less critical and more supportive of the choices you have made with your work. For me, editing is a perfect example. When I first began taking photos it was always so difficult to narrow down my final selects. I would often ask others for advice and dig even deeper asking them why those images were more poignant. Over the years my critical eye has been trained and editing is now second nature. Practice does make perfect, but practicing with others in this particular case is a must. Remember most "know-it-alls" don't evolve, are difficult to work with, and they don't get rehired.

In short, honesty is the best policy. Be honest with yourself, be open with others, and witness the transformation of you and your work.

Artist Fahamu Pecou


Bio: Neda Abghari is a photographer, an educator, an arts advocate, and a native to Atlanta. Drawn to a creative culture that is often overlooked, Neda has always sought ways to use photography to connect individuals and foster a sense of community. After living and working in NYC, she returned to Atlanta and founded The Creatives Project (TCP). TCP began as a personal photo-documentary project, capturing over 70 intimate portraits of creative individuals nationwide. It has since blossomed into a nonprofit, arts advocacy organization, delivering much-needed education and outreach programs to the Atlanta community. Neda loves taking portraits as much as she loves the arts and her sweet southern Atlanta home.

Neda's clients include Atlanta Magazine, Details Magazine, Miami Magazine, New York Magazine, TimeOut New York, Universal Republic, WARP, and Wind Up Records.


Links:
www.nedaabghari.com
www.thecreativesproject.org


all photos © Neda Abghari