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Mar 21, 2013

If Your First Photography Style Fails, Try Another

Photography Style 1 Didn’t Work, Try Another

Napoleon Hill wrote: When defeat comes, accept it as a signal that your plans are not sound, rebuild those plans, and set sail once more towards your coveted goal” (Think and Grow Rich p.83)

Perhaps you have not found the success in your photography career you hoped for? People aren’t wowed by your images. It’s so easy (as an artist) to take this perceived failure very personally. Perhaps we shouldn’t be so attached to our photographic style? Why not try another style?

Your photography style has got you here but what got you here will not get you there!

Please don’t be offended: look at the transition in Picasso’s style. The Picasso we know of now had a very different style when he started. What if he had never changed that?

There is a story of fashion photographer Mario Testino and how for years he would tenaciously “bug” the staff of Vogue. They would hide from him when they heard he was coming! Finally an art director told him that he needed to find a style that would make him recognizable (“And so the “Testino woman” was born—confident, warm-blooded, and very in touch with her sexuality.”).

I was attached to a “safe” style for the first 5 or so years of my photography career. I finally realized that this style would not get me to the next level so I searched for a new style. As much as this sounds like a hermit crab leaving it’s home for another shell, once I settled on a style I loved that was it. The transition was surprisingly easy. A quantum leap… not bit by bit. As Anthony Robbins writes: change can happen in an instant!

Some advice from a friend of mine who has a NYC Photo Rep and is shooting covers and editorial all over:

“I and all the successful photographers I know start learning by copying outright. Even when you copy an image, it never looks the same as your own style creeps into it. But it helps a lot to really concentrate on what the light is doing, how exactly the model is posed, the depth of field, etc… once you take a really hard look at these things and try to replicate it, your own style and strengths will show through, from which you can build from.

I also keep a file on different poses to put people into, and a folder for different types of light I see and like.

Practice what is unfamiliar to you. Push yourself. It is amazing what comes out of mistakes.”

You Forgot the Passion!

In Charles Baxter’s short story a teacher finally admonishes a supposed child protege musician:

“Thousands of notes and you hit all of them. You only forgot one thing.”
“What?”
“The passion!” he roared. “You forgot the passion! You always forget it! Where is it? You never bring it with you! Never! I listen to you and think of a robot playing! A smart robot, but a robot! No passion!” (Harmony of the World by Charles Baxter)

Isn’t this especially true of photography? We can take technically perfect photos with just the right exposure but they are BORING!

Near the end of the story the musician admits: “Do you want to hear what my piano teacher once said?” I asked. “He said I wasn’t enough of a fanatic. He said that to be one of the great ones you have to be a tiny bit crazy. Touched.”

Read what iconic photographer Herb Ritts says about shooting a portrait: “For me, a portrait is something from which you feel the person, their inner quality, what it is that makes them who they are. For instance, in the hand of the Dalai Lama donning his prayer beads in the window light; you feel his spirituality, his sense of presence. Frequently, the most interesting people to photograph are elderly. George Wallace, Bukowski, William Burroughs, Rauschenberg, Mandela. They’ve lived their lives. It’s all in their face, and it shows.”

So next time you see a successful photographer and mutter to yourself: I could do better -LOOK AGAIN. Does she/he have the passion that you don’t? Probably!

So how are you going to create your style as a photographer?

Bruce Weber is known for the way he photographs men.Mario Testino is known for the way he photographs… well EVERY magazine cover and fashion editorial out there! My point is you recognize great photographers by looking at their men or women.  You also recognize greats from the style of their photos. Think of the late Herb Ritts or Ellen Von Unwerth.

I used to spend hours in bookstores looking at Italian Vogue and Paris Vogue. I would occasionally buy a $20 copy to pour over later.  You don’t have to do that anymore. There are numerous blogs on the web dedicated to fashion photos. You can see my list here that is constantly updated via a RSS Reader (which I recommend you have). The reader makes it simple to follow numerous blogs and see all the new posts.

Spend 20-30 minutes a day looking at these and other blogs. Start marking the shots you are drawn to -or saving them into an “inspiration folder” for reference. Alternatively print them out and put them on a vision board. Now you will have the beginnings of a style that you love and it will influence and eventually define you as a photographer.

Another great thing to do is get a folder and start collecting in it magazine pages that inspire you. This can be used for reference on photo shoots and to convey your vision to models and other potential collaborators. Allure is a great magazine to start with. Also the Victoria’s Secret Catalog has the best photographers, models and poses for models in its free catalogs (your new posing guide)!

I used to take boring photos. That’s just the truth.

The prestigious Brooks Institute of Photography had taught me technical skills but my photos were still missing passion and emotion and that’s where the gap in income was.

Tony Robbins says that the questions you ask yourself determine your destiny: You should ask yourself: Do I like my photos? Do I like my style? What can I do to improve my photography?

I used to have an index card that I kept on the dashboard of my car that
stated “I will find a unique personal style and a way of photographing
women to look sexy and beautiful”

I left the “how” up to my brain. I looked at the card daily for what seemed like months.

During one personal photo shoot (you should be doing personal work btw) I
finally snapped! I was on the beach photographing a swimsuit model with a
bunch of gawkers nearby. The photos were very average and I know she
thought so too.

I suddenly declared to her “Let’s go somewhere else!” I didn’t know where!

Then the moment came: I ended up photographing her in a field with back  light flowing through the shot. She loved the results, so did I and so did her agent. Something had clicked and my personal style was discovered.  I’d like to believe I would not have found my style unless I had asked myself “how” on a continuous basis!

Nora Salem

–You can learn from my successes and mistakes in photography:

My ebook The Recession Proof Photographer is now available on Amazon!

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    John Priddy

    Jason has always approached his life with passion for all things creative. He has an edge that others can only hope to emulate. His integrity & professionalism are paramount to is approach. Great article Jason…lets see more!

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    CJ

    From the newsletter yesterday:

    “When I founded Phlearn and started making daily videos we made no money. In fact I was loosing money at a rapid rate. After a year of making free videos I had lost about $40,000 of my personal money. Did I think about giving up then? Every day. Every damn day. My life had become one big existential crisis and I felt like I was drowning. Literally the only thing keeping me going were self help books and my mother.”

    Dude, you are so talented as a photographer and artist, but for real – you come off as such a drama queen so many times in your free vids and your blog posts.

    Did you forget that angel Avery that used to be in every single Phlearn video you posted? I have a feeling she put up with a bunch of drama/tantrums and helped keep you afloat during your “crisis days”. I know you aren’t with her anymore, but maybe show some appreciation? She was a big reason many of us watched in the early days while you were learning how to make your vids – funny, interested in the topic, and a great model for your shows. (Now if she was drowning you then I apologize in advance – I just cannot see that as being possible though, especially at the start of your journey on here)

    Anyway, happy birthday!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I love the site but wish you would focus on training and stop the drama!

    Good luck with year 3 and thanks for the 20% off – just wish we could have a 50% coupon like the good days.

    Peace.