Photography is commonly viewed as a solitary hobby, and for good reason. However, it can be quite good for photographers serious about getting better to work with others.
Why do we naturally isolate ourselves? I think this happens with most creatives. We fear others seeing works in progress; our babies can’t be shared until they’re perfect (but do we ever truly reach that point?). Perhaps we are embarrassed by unfinished or unedited pieces; maybe we worry others will judge our techniques. We fear critiques in general. What if they don’t like what we’re so proud of producing? Because photography is such a creative art, we are also possessive of our work – don’t share your secrets or they’ll steal your style.
Some of this is true. Some of it is not. Either way, experience has taught me we photographers have nothing to fear from working together.
As nerve-wracking as it may be, guidance while shooting can be quite valuable. Others can immediately recognize areas for improvement, with demonstration in the moment, instead of reconstructing how a photo was produced based solely on the finished product. This also allows you to learn good habits instead of acquiring bad habits you’ll later need to unlearn.
You can play off of each other, using ideas in the field and expanding upon angles and concepts you might have originally overlooked. Even when I’m shooting by myself, I’ll pay attention to other photographers nearby to see how they process the scene. You could be surprised how much you’ll learn from simple observation.
One of the most difficult lessons I’ve learned over the years is the painful blessing of critiques. Everyone shows off their work in the hopes that they’ll receive the ego stroke of high praise and wonder at the brilliance it took to create such a piece. This is true across all fields – art, writing, photography. Compliments build confidence and give you the little warm fuzzies. It’s addictive, which is why we overcome the fear of the alternative time and again.
However, you only grow from the critiques. No matter how gentle, they sting. Contrary to the cozy warmth of praise, critiques remind you that you aren’t perfect. But this is precisely why they are so useful: they remind you that you aren’t perfect. What a sad day, indeed, when I reach perfection and have nothing more to learn, nowhere else to grow.
Honest feedback on your work – particularly from someone more experienced in your field (a senpai? Sorry.. anime geek spilling through ^_^) – is the best way to identify the areas in which you are weakest and give you direction for improvement. Embrace the heck out of this; it is the most valuable tool in your arsenal.
A mentor of mine recently told me my photos tended to be too dark. I hadn’t even noticed. I now keep that in mind with every shot, and instantly – with the tiniest of changes – my pictures now have more character and depth. It was worth the brief hit to my ego.
I have also learned that sharing my tips on how I shoot in no way diminishes my creative edge. The beauty behind an art lies in the perspective. Put two photographers into the same spot with the same subject, and you will get two completely different sets of photos. True artists are powered by all of their life’s experiences that have led them to a particular moment in time. Even identical twins won’t have identical lives. Everyone sees the world around them in a unique light. Photographers can be inspired by each other and work off of each other’s ideas, but they’ll still publish portfolios colored with their own personalities.
Last week, a group of us went to Portland’s first annual Winter Light Festival on the East Esplanade, and I was fascinated to see how we each shot the exhibits.
The sunflower was the centerpiece of the show, picturesque and colorful, but we each had our take.
We also had fun with the “silent disco,” a place for music and dancing lights, and even when we all used the city as the backdrop, our individual styles shone through.
The paper airplanes were my favorite part. Ilona LaRue (studiolumiere.zenfolio.com) painted a panorama with them, Randy Johnson (flickr.com/whatdidyouexpect) highlighted the spotlight, and I focused on the shadows.
So many perspectives on the same subject! I saw a lot of cool ideas, things that will keep me thinking on future shoots, only adding to my creative palette.
When all is said and done, you have nothing to lose by working with others, aside from a bit of pride. Creatives can use a dose of humility every once in a while anyway. And when you’re not being humbled, you will instead find yourself educated, enlightened, challenged, and inspired. So get out there, and bring a friend with you.