Go Pro Series Episode 9 | Keep Calm!

At the end of every one of my Mastering Portrait Photography podcasts, I remind my subscribers to be kind to themselves.

If I’m honest, the reminder is aimed squarely at myself as much as anybody else. I regularly analyse the things I’ve said, the things I do and my photography. When you create photos as a hobby, there’s no pressure at all. If you think the pictures you take are great, you’re right. After all, you’re taking them for your own pleasure. But once you introduce money into the equation, that changes.

Making a living from photography is no easy game, and that’s why it’s essential to be kind to yourself. Here are three tips to help you (and me!) stay passionate about what we do.

1. Know Why You’re Doing It.

What led you to photography in the first place? Perhaps you loved learning about light; maybe you enjoy working with people; perhaps you were drawn to the creation of art. Whatever your motivation for stepping into the world of photography, keep returning to what you love about it and make time to create images for yourself.

I’m at my happiest when I have the opportunity to create the kind of image that forms in my head after I meet someone. 

Creating commercial imagery – as with any commissioned work – is a necessary compromise between the brief, the client’s expectations, the constraints of both time and budget and your own ideas and ambition. Maybe that’s the joy of it, but all too often it can feel stifling and limiting.

Perhaps the client wants happy, high key images, but what I was visualising was dark and moody. Ah, the compromise of the creative!

That’s one reason for always finding time to shoot images for your own enjoyment. Of course, there may still be a brief or a structure as you develop your ideas, but there’s also time to play around and experiment. 

I’ve created some of my favourite images this way. On personal shoots, I’m photographing someone for the sake of creating a beautiful portrait, rather than making a picture that I’m hoping someone will buy from me.

2. Choose The Company of Positive People 

That doesn’t mean spending time with people who will only tell you one side of the story, or who are only there to prop up your ego. But instead, make sure that you choose people who will be a catalyst for your energy and not detract from it.

For example, I was recently on my way out of the studio doors for an outdoor shoot that could not be rearranged. 

As I stood at our studio door, gauging the near-horizontal rain, I admit I was less than enamoured with the prospect. “This will be fun,” I muttered through my chattering teeth.

“You’re going to love it,” my wife Sarah told me with a big grin, “The clients are lovely people who are always great company, and there’s a glass of wine waiting for you when you get back. Have a good day!” 

That simple send-off made all the difference to my mood and, given creativity is more about how you feel than any other factor, it made all the difference to the final images too! 

As a social photographer specialising in weddings and portraits, my job is to bring bags of energy and enthusiasm to every shoot. Every time, I will do that no matter how I feel, but it’s always a little easier when someone else has done the same for me. 

Everything feels smoother, I feel calmer and return home on a high… And to a very welcome glass of wine – though it took a while to stop the shivering so my quivering hands could hold the glass!

3. Learn To Take Criticism

“Compared to the way you shot last year,” my mentor told me, “these are crap.” 

This was his brutal – if accurate – summary after an intense critique of my most recent portfolio of work.

I’d left a high-paying consultancy job in the city to try my hand at photography full-time after friends of friends started booking me for shoots. They had been impressed after seeing the quality of my early images, and the commissions snowballed from there. I won ‘Panel of the Year’ for my Licentiate Qualification with the Master Photographers Association and already had my first awards under my belt.

I was on a roll and looking forward to the future. When I got this feedback from my mentor, it was like a sudden punch in the gut.

For a few days, I sulked. I decided to give it all up to go back to the city. I was no good at photography, after all. But then I calmed down and looked at the intent behind my mentor’s feedback. Was he saying that to hurt me? Or because he knew I could do better?

I realised it was the latter, and I started to look at each image through his eyes. I acted on his feedback and my photography advanced. When he praised the photos in my subsequent work (although, admittedly, still with a fair quantity of critique), I knew his praise was sincere.

He is still my mentor to this day.

Enter competitions, submit your portfolio for qualifications and seek critique wherever you can. These all provide opportunities to create new images, improve your skills and get some honest feedback.

Each year, compare your work against previous years. Even if you don’t win the competition or pass that qualification level, you’ll still get a valuable prize: the ability to see how far you’ve come. And without seeing your progress, how can you figure where you’re headed?

N-Photo Magazine

This article first appeared in N-Photo Magazine, issue 107.

N-Photo is the only magazine devoted to Nikon photographers. Brimming with expert advice, product tests, tips and tricks, plus beautiful images to inspire your next session, you’ll be motivated to get creative with your photography and learn brand new skills with every issue of N-Photo magazine. Packed full of interviews and masterclasses with award-winning photographers, you will discover how to shoot great pictures, as well as enhance any imagery using Adobe Photoshop and other popular tools with the helpful guides and step-by-step tutorials.

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