Keep calm

Discover how to cope with the pressures of photography without losing your passion

At the end of every Mastering Portrait Photography podcast, I remind listeners “to be kind to yourself”. If I’m honest, the reminder is aimed at myself as much as anybody else. I constantly 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 important to be kind to yourself. Here are three tips to help you (and me) to stay passionate about what we do:

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. 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. On a commissioned shoot, there’s almost always a compromise – a brief, an expectation, a limitation – around which the images must be created. Perhaps the client only wants happy, high key images, but what I was visualizing was dark and moody.

That’s why I love creating resources for

Yes, there’s often a brief or a structure, but there’s also time to play around and experiment. We have a model available for a half or full day, and I get time to create the photograph that appeared in my mind’s eye when I first met him or her. I’ve created some of my favourite images this way. On these 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.

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. “This will be fun,” I muttered under my breath, as I paused at the threshold and took in the lashing rain.

“You’re going to love it,” my wife Sarah told me, “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 send-off made all the difference to my mood that day.

As a social photographer specializing in weddings and portraits, it’s my job to bring bags of energy and enthusiasm to every shoot. I will do that every time, 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 glass of wine.

Learn how to take criticism

“Compared to the way you shot last year,” my mentor told me, “these are crap.” This was his summary after an intense critique of my most recent portfolio of work.

Making a living from photography is no easy game, and that’s why it’s important to be kind to yourself

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 kick in the balls.

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 realized it was the latter, and I started to look at each image with his eyes. I acted on his feedback and my images became stronger. When he praised images in the next portfolio I showed him (although still with a fair amount of critique), I knew the praise was sincere. He’s still my mentor to this day.

Enter competitions, submit your portfolio for qualifications and seek critique wherever you can. These all provide you with 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 already – completely invaluable.

N-Photo Magazine

This article is adapted from my article in issue 107 of N-Photo Magazine,

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 helpful guides and step-by-step tutorials.

If, like me, you’re a Nikon user, please do support the magazine and think about subscribing!

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