Finding your voice

I recently got asked a series of questions from start up photog, Nick Murway.  Here is the second blog featuring his Q and my A. NM: Starting out, what's one thing you would say to do that's crazy important?

This is a tough question because I think the specifics are really different for everyone.  As you may have gathered from my last Q&A post, I am a big believer in the journey being the destination and being educated through mistakes.  Having said that, I think one of the most absolutely critical things to a photographer’s success is understanding who they truly are as a person and what their unique vision and voice as a photographer is. Trial and error can definitely be part of this process.

In my experience, just living life and being in touch with what gets you excited about a project have been good first steps. This should be seen as a career-long process, not something you can put in your one to three year goals and expect to have it hammered out by then.  Just as a photographer enjoys observing the world, those observation skills can be turned inside to see what makes you tick and what visual direction is going to make the most sense for you in your career.

Using my own career as an example, I started like many photographers do.  I fell in love with photography while travelling (not unique), and then went to art school to study photography (also not unique).  Along that path I also fell in love with photojournalism and worked as a photojournalist during several college internships and a few staff jobs shortly thereafter.  None of this was exceptionally differentiating by the time I started my freelance career in 2001.  But, over time, I started to look back at trends in my life and a few things stood out.

  • I always loved being in the moment watching people move around in their environments and mapping out possible shots that might unfold in front of me.
  • My photographic style thrives on chaotic situations or subject matter.
  • I really enjoyed long term and multiple picture projects that had a lot of details to organize and think through.
  • I was one of the only photographers at some of the papers I worked at who actually liked the challenge of shooting for the business sections.
  • I have always been an idea person, never really lacking for inspiration.

These are just a few things that helped me learn about myself, specialize my work and develop my vision.  They point directly to my ability to watch and relate to people and put them at ease, work well with corporate clients, and work with clients who value my creative input and process.  Both my photojournalism background and my love of production and details have made a perfect match of clients who need to create real looking, slice of life images with limited time frames, tricky schedules, and precise layout needs.  My people skills translate into directing people to look natural in a studio environment.

The point really is to get to know yourself over time and find out what skills you have beyond just point and click.  Then, you will be laying the foundation for what your brand of photography will eventually be.