As a longtime HeARTs Speak member and professional pet photographer, people often ask me about the mysterious and sometimes elusive path to finding and establishing a clear creative style and voice for their work. Often, my initial reaction is “Geez, I have no idea! I am still searching for it myself!”
And then, when I started to really consider it, I realized, “you know, I think I HAVE finally stopped searching!” I think I am now content with the direction I am going, and happily following the flow.
So, how did I get here? Here are a few of the steps I took on my personal creative journey that helped me refine my aesthetic and start producing consistent, cohesive photographs.
CONTINUALLY CHALLENGE YOURSELF AND KEEP LEARNING
I cannot tell you how many times I changed my mind about “what I wanted to be” as a photographer. Initially, I wanted to be the very best action photographer in my area. No one in my community was specializing in action photography at the time I started, so I sought out my first mentor, and that’s what we worked on.
And then, I changed my mind and thought, “MAN, no one is doing a great job of studio photography here!” So, I sought out my next mentors and polished my skills in a studio setting. Right now I’m obsessed with mastering the technique of photographing dogs in snow (since I have snow 70% of the year here in Canada!).
Once I realized that there was a service I wanted to offer, or a certain client I wanted to cater to, I would figure out what I needed to learn in order to successfully offer that service. Take nuggets away from your mentors and apply them to your business and photography style in a way that makes them your own.
Mentors always work best for me because I feel you get a lot of private tutelage, and are free (and encouraged!) to focus on whatever moves you. I find that I learn much faster with this style of teaching.
The more you learn, the more you grasp what you want to be, and sometimes more importantly, what you don’t want to be! And with each technical skill you master, the more your style will grow and evolve. Continuing to challenge yourself and constantly learning is a very important step in finding your style.
Another really fun way to challenge yourself is to find a “52 Weeks” project to join. The premise of these projects is to have a challenge presented to you each week, and everyone in your group puts their own spin on the photo they share. I found when I was first finding my style that these projects kept me thinking and testing the limits of my creativity. It was a great way to feel challenged without too many constrictions while also enjoying friendly feedback and encouragement from peers.
CONNECT WITH OTHER PHOTOGRAPHY PROFESSIONALS ONLINE
I think we are all very eager to connect with other like-minded professionals; both in an effort to learn and be inspired, and also to network and get to know other people that “get” this special niche of pet photography we’ve chosen to pursue.
Take some time to seek out and join photography forums and groups online that focus on positivity and learning (they don’t have to be pet specific). Once you find a few groups you love, ask lots of questions. Put your work up for critique and be prepared to hear it. Be open to the opinions of all people with varying skill levels. Remember, you don’t have to take everything you hear to heart. Take what you need, and leave the rest.
Always be grateful to anyone willing to take time out of his or her busy schedule to help! A simple thank you goes a long way, and thoughtful networking could pay dividends in the future.
BEING AUTHENTIC WILL BRING YOU SUCCESS
Many people don’t know this about me, but I am a big time introvert. This is one of the major reasons I love animals so much. They don’t ask questions or require immediate answers. I don’t have to make small talk with them, and they don’t require me to be “on”.
Most of the information out there available to pet photographers caters to an entirely different type of person than me. And after many years of working outside my comfort zone, I finally decided to go against the grain of what everyone else was doing and just do what makes me happy.
And guess what happened? It worked! I started to feel happy again. No more stressing about in-person sales sessions, no more spending endless hours helping clients decide on what they wanted to order, and no more talking on the phone. That’s right – I hate talking on the phone, and I very rarely do anymore!
In person sales and pre-consult sessions were not enjoyable for me. So, why was I doing them? Being a ‘custom’ photographer was not suited to the authentic me.
If there are aspects of your business that make you cringe, find other ways to offer your services that will allow you to work comfortably. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing; it won’t work for you if you are always feeling like you want to throw in the towel.
When you are you, the one thing no one else can be, you find others like you – or more accurately, they find you! And when they find you, you are the only one they want to work with because you ‘get’ them.
PARTING WORDS OF WISDOM
For better or worse, finding your style is a purely personal journey; one that takes different amounts of time and energy dependent on the individual, and it often can’t be hurried. It begins with a step onto a path that may seem overgrown or intimidating at first, but there’s always that small light at the end — and you’ll see it get bigger and brighter if you stay the course.
Focusing on perfecting the style or business plan of another photographer will not work. Finding the things that make you happy and then acquiring the tools needed to pursue those things is what works. And it will lead you to finding your very own personal style, helping your business become an accurate reflection of your uniqueness!
Do you have a favorite forum, Facebook group, or 52 Weeks project you would like to share? Do you have a mentor or workshop that made a big difference in your style? Share them in the comments!