A Creative Push

For me, photography started off as a job, not a hobby. It doesn’t happen like that for everyone. I’ve more often heard stories of how the passion for photography came long before making it a profession. But, landing a photography position right out of college, and quite by accident, I didn’t have much time to dabble in the art of photography long enough to find what parts of it I was really passionate about. From the very start of my photographic experience, I not only had specific subject matter to shoot, I had a boss—and clients—to shoot for.

Luckily, I did love the world I found myself in, of brides, grooms, expectant mothers and babies. I took great pleasure and discovered deep satisfaction in being able to distill special moments and milestones for people through my lens. Getting paid to do it really was a dream opportunity for a recent graduate with a degree in art. I learned my way around my camera, the studio and the business—baptism-by-fire style—being thrown into high-stakes scenarios where there were no do-overs, long before the safety net of the digital camera LCD preview was available. Although it was intense at times, it was creatively challenging and totally inspiring.

Tens of thousands of event and family images later, my career has evolved into shooting subject matter of my own choice (my surroundings, my kids, my everyday life) for a different kind of work. My images are now used in my blog, my books, my classes or articles like this. Many of the clients I work with now don’t give me much by way of parameters, which leaves me to shoot what I’m drawn to shoot within the creatively loose confines of the assignment at hand. Shoot what you love in a way you love to shoot it. It’s a great freelance gig.

Even still, there have been times when I’ve been nudged into shooting differently than what or how I might normally shoot. I won’t deny that it can sometimes feel more like a push or even a shove than a nudge, but I’ve found that if I can keep an open mind, and lens, those types of challenges often yield some delightfully surprising results.

I can say this because as I look back on my body of work and identify some of my all-time favorite images in my collection, there are some that never would have been captured if it weren’t for being pushed past my comfort zone on a particular job or assignment. Even when I wasn’t that happy about it at the time—when I was prompted to go in a different or even difficult direction, worked long, late hours or traipsed over many miles to get to an unfamiliar location—I often made photographs that certainly surpassed what I would have created if I had stayed in my normal creative routine.

It has been an interesting observation. I’ll be the first to admit I can easily get into a photography “groove,” which can be an awesome thing, but I also now recognize that I can get stuck in that groove without even knowing it.

Although I do cherish the artistic freedom I’m given in much of my work, being on specific assignments or working with new and sometimes unexpected clients can push—or, in a more positive light, encourage—me to stretch past my creative comfort zones and shoot images that not only please the client, but excite me. Expanding my photographic creativity not only helps to redefine my photography career, but it also reignites my passion.

I was hired to shoot private parties that were being held at a number of the venues for the Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert tour. Events were nothing new for me, but concerts were. Beyond the “meet and greets,” I was also asked to capture highlights of the concert itself. Not having any experience in this type of photography was really intimidating at first, but I rented an amazing telephoto lens and challenged myself to capture the moments I felt would tell a great story for my client. The light, the color, the energy of this kind of experience was so electric, so intense, that I felt like a kid in a candy shop. Framing up and freezing the most expressive and evocative moments of the entire extravaganza was so invigorating! Everyone was happy with the final images, and although I haven’t sought any concert work since, this event (and the work that came from it) is something I’ll never forget.

Push Yourself

Not on a challenging photo assignment at the moment? Why not design a project for yourself that feels like you are? Here are a few DIY creative “pushes” that could inspire you and even elevate your end result.

Take An Opposite Approach. Shoot in a way that you don’t normally shoot and see what you might frame up.

Shoot A New Subject Matter. Look for a totally different subject than your norm. Never underestimate the power of a new muse.

Seek Out A New Location. Remove yourself from your usual stomping grounds and discover a new landscape to focus on.

Check Out Different Gear. Working with new gear can be a huge hurdle or a creative challenge. You never know what you might see through a new (or rented) lens.

Test Extreme Editing Tricks. Give yourself some playtime in the digital darkroom. Test and try new ways of enhancing your images.

Seek Inspiration From Others. Got a photographer who inspires you? Study their work and allow what they do to inspire what you’re doing.

Toss Out Expectations. When you make up your own creative project, there’s no one to please but yourself. Nothing is riding on it; just let yourself experiment.

Surprise Yourself. Give your new work a shot. Don’t make up your mind about it in one day. Set the work aside, and revisit it later. You may be surprised at how drawn you are to what you created after the passage of time.

Get Feedback. Share your work and your experience with friends, a photo community or even a client. Who knows what could come of it!

TRACEY CLARK is the founder of Shutter Sisters, a collaborative photo blog and thriving community of female photo enthusiasts, shuttersisters.com. Learn more about Tracey and her work at traceyclark.com.

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