I’m guilty. I still do it. I’ve been a semi-professional photographer for about two years now and I’m still wondering, “Why can’t my shots look like THAT?”
It’s both a good thing and a bad thing in my mind. There’s nothing wrong with seeing someone else’s work and being inspired. In fact, that’s a great thing. How often do we struggle, as artists, for a nudge to produce something fresh and new? As a wedding and portrait photographer, those moments are limited. I don’t want to say that I phone it in at weddings and just do the same thing every time, but there’s something to be said for following a tried and true method that works 70% of the time, all the time.
Yes, every wedding is different. For one I’ll use three flashes on separate lightstands all around the dance floor, pointed towards the center and for another I’ll just use one placed on my camera that’s being bounced off of the ceilings and walls. And you know what? My brides and grooms love them all! Part of that is because I actually know what the hell I’m doing (who’d have thunk?) and the other is because I’m experienced enough to know what environment calls for which set up. The differences in each setting are what allow me to do different things and get different results. My experimentation is a result of adapting to what I’m being given.
The challenge is when I go online and see these mind-blowing images from the top wedding photographers and wonder, “What am I doing that’s keeping me from producing similar images?”
I’ve heard from several other photographers that looking at other people’s work will only make you hate your own. That’s true, but it also denies you a measuring stick. I want to know how I stack up to the rest of the market, to know if I’m competitive or just another friend with a gifted entry level DSLR claiming, “I have a camera which means I’m a pro! Now pay me!” I truly believe that competition is a good thing. It challenges me to be a better photographer every day.
I think the biggest shift from amateur to professional, from scared-shitless to confident is when the question of “Why can’t I shoot images like that?!” changes to, “WOW! I want to figure out how to do that!” I can shoot anything. I can even shoot it well. The desire to put in hours of research, learning, and practicing, which ultimately leads to the execution is what defines that success.
I’m still somewhere in the middle, honestly. And I think it’s a matter of accepting who I am as a photographer and what my style is. And getting better at posing. Ahem. I don’t shoot all those little details, and I don’t do the posed artistic shots (usually). I’m a documentary style photographer - I try to reduce my presence so that the day can move along unencumbered. I want to capture candid moments, those real emotions and expressions that tell stories. A posed shot will look great, but a candid shot will inspire so much more when you look back decades from now.
There are a lot of images that I just love, but they’re not anywhere close to what or how I shoot. When I pick up my camera, I’m not looking to recreate those images, I’m trying to create my own. There’s always been this sequence where I take the picture and love it, go to my computer and like it, then edit it and hate it. So either I need to majorly up my game with Lightroom and Photoshop, or I need to take better pictures straight out of the camera. I think the perfect harmony will come when I’m taking images that are, well, mine and I can do the post processing work to push them that much further.
The past few weekends I had two engagement shoots that I’m really in love with. The couples were amazing and the lighting was just perfect. The cherry on top was that I’m still loving my images 2 and 3 weeks later. I think the difference was that when I took them and when I looked at them on my computer, I knew I had struck gold. My post processing consisted of getting rid of stray hairs, fine tuning white balance, and making the horizons level. That’s a serious win in my book. Now I’m gonna carry that over.
My cousin’s wedding is this weekend. I feel like I just got some great warm up work in and now I’m ready for the big one. I can’t freaking wait.