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Photography Help: How to Get Inspired to Shoot Creatively


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Photography Help: How to Get Inspired to Shoot Creatively

“But it’s all right now, I learned my lesson well. You see, ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself.” Garden Party –Ricky Nelson

My path has taken me to a place where I get to meet a lot of photographers.  Most of the time it is in a workshop/mentoring session. When discussing photography as an occupation, I often here photographers use the words ‘burned out’, ‘tired’, ‘overloaded’, ‘frustrated.’ They are in a rut. Photographers are in situations where their clients are running the show… they aren’t shooting what inspires them or pushing their creative limits because they are afraid to leave their safe zone.

Staying in this safe zone though has turned their passion into plain old job.

At this point I have to ask… “What’s harder on you – Being bored & frustrated every day or maybe leaving behind a few clients (who don’t get you anyway) and feeling the rush of actually doing what you love?”

How to get inspired and enjoy photography again:

  • Stop taking paid clients for a period of time. Here is where I have to be honest… I did it too.  I spent two years pleasing the client.  I did shoots that I dreaded; I shot images that made me cringe. And it got me!  It got me more clients that wanted that exact same thing – photos in my comfort zone.  I burned out. I wanted to quit.  I wanted to put my camera in the closet and not look back.  So I did (well not the closet part… that was my saving grace).  I quit taking clients.  For a whole month I turned people away and I went back to what inspired me first… my kids.
  • Only work to please yourself. With this new found freedom of not trying to please anyone, I dove into my inspiration folders (little more on this later).  I picked shoot concepts that I had wanted to do and never had the confidence to ask a client to try.  I was having fun again.  I was falling in love with photography again.  I posted the shoots because I was so inspired and happy to be being a creative again.  And you know what happened?  People liked them.  People wanted those shoots for themselves.  A client asked me to shoot a concept for them.  The tide was about to turn…
  • Only show images that represent the type of shoots you want to do. I started by deleting every image off my website that wasn’t exactly what I wanted to be shooting.  I began really talking to clients when they called… did they want ME? or just pictures?  What were their interests?  What could I bring to the table that would make their shoot personalized for them (and inspiring for me)?

I am not going to sugar coat and say that I opened my calendar back up and my photography business has been a perfect place since.  I still took people that didn’t ‘fit’, I still wanted to slip into my safe zone out of the fear of failure and I still struggled to be secure in my vision.  You know what though?  By being patient and persistent I have finally come to a point where my job IS my passion again.  It makes my heart race and butterflies appear because I get so excited about what I get to do.  That is something that ‘safe’ will never do for you.

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So where do you begin?  Good question:

  • Inspiration folders. Something I have always done (comes from my interior design days of inspiration boards & tears) is keep a folder of ideas that strike me.  This can be an actual folder with real tears and samples pasted/taped/stapled in or it can be a folder on your computer (this is the route I have transitioned to). Here is how I organize mine…

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  • Organize ideas. I organize my ideas by both ‘shoots to do’ and ‘photography inspiration’.  ‘Shoots to do’ includes sub-folders that I throw ideas in for actual shoots that I am planning or have in the works.  I keep notes in there as ideas come to me, I take screen shots of wardrobe/props/add-ons that I need to make or buy and any other shoot related ideas.  ‘Photography inspiration’ are just images/ideas/thoughts that inspire me and I may or may not be able to use them for future shoots.  I sub-categorized this folder as it got too big to easily peruse (the categories are listed above).  I also use these folders to go through when clients call for shoots.  I have wardrobe & hair ideas I can forward them and I have ‘concept’ and story ideas that I can pull depending on their interests and hobbies.
  • Convincing the client. I know that the first time you approach a client with something outside of the normal portrait session it is a scary thing.  What if they think I’m crazy?  What if they do it and then it doesn’t even turn out?  Here is the simple solution… only make it about 15 minutes of your shoot.  They still get the safe stuff and you get to be the creative!  It gives you confidence bit by bit, it gives you the kind of images you want in your portfolio and it gives the client a taste of what they could really have.  It’s a complete win situation!
  • Developing your vision and styling the shoot. First I want to let you off the hook a bit… vision isn’t something you are going to figure out this afternoon or next week or maybe even next year.  It is a long haul… It is a cumulative effect… It is constantly evolving & growing and if this is something you want to stay in- it will hopefully be a fine tuning exercise that never ends. That being said… it is today that you should start noticing & noting what it is that excites you.  What catches your eye & inspires you to create?  What do you have a knack for?  What do you do outside of photography and can you use that skill to enhance your photography?  You can’t just shoot what other people shoot…  to have style you need to bring yourself to the table- YOU are the style. “If you want to make more interesting photographs, become a more interesting person.” – Jay Maisel
  • Collaborate. Another great idea, whether you are new to styling or have a thousand styled shoots under your belt, is to collaborate.  I cannot push my stance on this enough… having other inspiring, creative people around will bring on a whole new game.  It gives you an excuse to be creative and share your ideas.  It gives you someone to bounce ideas off of, to elaborate on your ideas so you can take them to another level.  Collaborators can be stylists, hair & make-up artist, other photographers, clothing stores/lines or even your most crafty friend.  Creating more resources to pull from and finding experts in other fields (ie: hair & make-up) will make the styling & creation of a shoot  come to a place where the visions in your head will have the best chance at becoming realty.
  • Take a chance. At the end of the day I would say most of us are here because we have an artistic vision that photography has given us the tool to express.  Life, money, time, clients… it can all start to muddy those visions.  With the right tools and the right plan of attack though, you can keep your vision clear.   Don’t wait for it- build the scaffolding by surrounding yourself & your work place with inspiration.  Give yourself permission to dream big & take a chance.

Shannon Sewell is a kids photographer based out of Portland OR.  She spends a lot of her time mentoring other photographers when she isn’t playing with kids in the studio.  For more info on her mentoring check out the info section on her blog.  And if you would like to start your portfolio off on the right foot join Millie and Shannon in Vegas for a kids shoot-out with 7 different sets!

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No Comments

  1. Janelle Rose on January 4, 2011 at 9:47 am

    Thank you so much for sharing this! This is exactly what I needed to hear today. I’m new to this business, but I’ve already experienced the frustration and burnout of clients who don’t understand my style (or care to, for that matter). This is such a great frame of mind with which to begin the new year. Thank you!!

  2. Betsy on January 4, 2011 at 9:57 am

    Awesome suggestions!! I agree with everything! Thank you!

  3. LondaElle on January 4, 2011 at 10:18 am

    Thanks for sharing this. I’ve been working on my inspiration folders for the last couple of years while I’ve been polishing up my photography skills. Like you, I have kept one on my computer but I also have a notebook of shots that came from magazines and catalogs. I need to organize mine like you have! When I’m doing a shoot, I will take “posing guides” I’ve printed from my inspiration folders to help me stay focused on what I want to do. I am hoping that by trying different things I will find my own creative voice and style.

  4. Haleigh Rohner on January 4, 2011 at 11:11 am

    Ahh! Shannon, you are my newest photog discovery, and your work rocks! 🙂 Your work is so stinkin’ awesome, and you just shared why… because you shoot what you love. I hope that I can be brave enough to get there some day 🙂 Thanks for your words!

  5. Harmonie on January 4, 2011 at 11:19 am

    YOU are a ROCK STAR! Shannon, i have always loved your style. Thank you for sharing all your ideas and suggestions. I would love to come to you one day. Maybe Vegas!

  6. Gina Stock on January 4, 2011 at 11:33 am

    Thanks so much for sharing! I love reading your blogs….so inspiring!

  7. kelli taylor on January 4, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    So much good information! Thanks for sharing Shannon!

  8. heather johnson photography on January 4, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    Thank you so much for this great post. Lots of ideas in here to implement–perfect timing as I am ready to build my business this year, and it will be great to start off on a foot that I can be creative with:)

  9. Eva Ricci Fine Art Photography on January 4, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    I could not agree with you more. I have been doing design for 20 years and I had lost my passion for it untill I discovered that doing my own art brought me a satisfaction I had forgotten I had. To be inspired is all we need. Thank you for reminding us and giving us some guidelines to be able to follow our dreams.Hugseva

  10. Tiffany on January 4, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    Thank you SO much for this post…I agree with Janelle, this is exactly what I needed to hear. Need to find myself again and my talent, I am so burned out after the fall season. Everyone wanting that family photo for their Christmas card, all in the same place with the same types of clothing. Oy! Need inspiration, as always MCP comes through ;0)

  11. Jen at Cabin Fever on January 4, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    I know you’re talking most specifically about sessions and people in this post, but for me, since I photograph landscapes and such mostly, to help with my creativity I am starting something new this year. I am using a random word generator every single day and then using that word and photographing something that has to do with that word. Every day. It forces me to have to look at a new subject that I normally wouldn’t photograph or an old subject in a new way.To see what the heck I am talking about… One Word. One Photo. Everyday

  12. Shauna Rudolph on January 6, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    Thank you so much for all you do!! Thanks so much for taking some of your precious time to help other photographers. I really appreciate all you do!! Thanks for helping me look at photography in a different way.

  13. Elena on January 7, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    I can so relate to this post. Thanks for the ideas!

  14. Sara Johnson on February 18, 2012 at 11:39 pm

    I am so happy that I read this! I started my business two years ago, as a fresh, part-time photographer. Still learning, still trying different things, but I don’t like the typical shoots. I don’t like direction. I enjoy shooting families as they are; not their posed portrait. I haven’t taken a photo shoot for a year. I didn’t actually close my business, but took down my website, and haven’t taken any clients. Mothers get so picky with their kids hair, if they are posed perfect, etc. I love to let kids play, take photos of families actually laughing, and hate sets. The photo posted below is the way I like to shoot kids. Just sitting back and letting them be in their own element. Now that I have read this, I have my own direction. I have inspiration to take clients again. Thank you! I enjoy your knowledge a great deal. 🙂

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