Ansel Adams famously said, “A good photograph is knowing where to stand.”
I find myself coming back to that quote a lot. Not just as a photographer, but in life, I say to myself, “Why in the hell am I standing here? I should be standing over there!”
As photographers, our job is to observe and document. Wait, that is oversimplifying. We look at the world and we choose a way in which to convey what we ‘see’ to others. That better? Anyway, sometimes, we get so wrapped up in what we are seeing through our lens that we don’t stop and take a look at our surroundings.
Deep, I know. This whole thing is a metaphor for life, weddings, work in general… and this doesn’t just apply to photography. Whatever your profession, you need to take a time out and observe yourself and what you are doing.
If you have been working on weddings for a long time, you probably know what it is like to get into a ‘groove’. It isn’t hard to do, especially if you are working on 20…30… or more weddings a year. You just have to make sure the ‘groove’ doesn’t become a ‘rut’ where all of your work feels exactly the same. The same pictures if you’re a photographer, the same designs if you’re a stationer/cake maker/florist… because that is not good for you or your clients.
I was recently on a photojournalism assignment that included covering the opening of a gallery show by Courtney Love. There were at least half a dozen other photographers there, all waiting to get photos of Courtney when she came in. When she finally arrived, she began talking to one of the people there and gave the crew of photographers her ‘full back’. Some of them started shouting her name. “Courtney, over here! Courtney, this way! Courtney! Courtney!” No good. I could have either stood there with the gaggle of paparazzi or I could find somewhere else to stand. So I moved around a corner and got some fantastic shots of Ms. Love talking and gesturing, with no idea she was being photographed, with the gallery sign for her show in the frame as well.
None of the other photographers moved. Why? They were too busy looking through their lenses. They had done this sort of thing a hundred times before, found their spot and the world was only what they saw through their viewfinder.
If you want to grow (both your business and your art), you need to get outside of your ‘comfort zone’. You have to take chances! Wait, you are saying, “But Casey, how do I take chances when someone is paying me to perform a service for them? I am afraid I will screw up.” Well, normally you don’t take huge, previously unexplored chances when you are working on a paying job . For example, if you make cakes, you wouldn’t try to invent a new type of icing for a cake just before it gets sent off to a client’s event. If you come up with a new idea and try it out first. Practice. Hone this new skill or idea until you feel confident to try with an actual client.
“How do I come up with these ideas?”, you ask. You have to give yourself time to let your mind be open to inspiration and come up with new ideas. Trust me, I know time is your most valuable resource. You are running a business and you have many tasks to accomplish. Let yourself think! Turn off the computer. Stop checking Twitter. Don’t answer the phone. Take the blinders off! Just think for one hour, once a week… once every other week, even once a month! I say an hour because the first 20 minutes or so you will be thinking about all of the emails you have to respond to, or the phone calls you need to return, but trust me, spending that time thinking about how to solve a particular problem or come up with a new idea will be very rewarding. You are investing your time in your business! And you may not be rewarded during that hour, so don’t expect instant gratification. The thoughts that you have may take a while to percolate in your brain until the muse of inspiration turns on the light bulb over your head. But you lit the spark for thinking differently by taking the time and letting yourself be open to new ideas. And please remember, the first (and usually easiest) solution that comes to you might not be the best.
One of the wedding photos in my portfolio that always elicits a reaction from people is a shot of the bride and groom just as they leave the church and everyone in the crowd is taking a picture of them. Yes, I got the photo of them walking out, but then I looked around me and thought, “Everybody has a camera!” Did I stop and ponder how digital cameras have made everyone a photographer these days and be happy with the shot that I already had and move on to the next ‘task’? No. I went around behind the couple and got the picture of everyone taking THEIR picture because before that wedding I had thought long and hard about how telling the story of a wedding includes capturing what is happening around the bride and groom. I knew that was “the shot”. I was confident on where to stand.
I know it is easy to talk about ‘being confident’ and ‘just doing it.’ Believe me, I spent years trapped by my own fear of my ideas or work ‘not being good enough’. Once you learn to deal with your fear, there is an intense sense of freedom. Notice I didn’t say remove your fear or somehow banish it to another dimension. There will always be nagging little fears but I believe confidence is actually just a belief that you can deal with the problem and trusting your own skill, not an absence of fear. Absence of fear is foolhardiness. My greatest personal and professional growth came when I realized that being afraid was natural, because I was taking a risk.
When it comes to taking risks, it does not have to be a gigantic leap in a different direction, it could be a small step to the side. Or several small steps, taken gradually. When my wife and I met with a potential DJ for our own wedding, DJ Khan from 74 Events in New York, he gave us a sample CD of mixes he had made for weddings as well as disc of his ‘personal work’. Listening to the wedding mix, we knew he was very good as a wedding DJ. After listening to his personal CD, it was very clear he was also an artist. I went back to him and told him that we loved the mixes he put together, especially the mash-up of MIA’s “Paper Planes” with The Beastie Boys “Sabotage”. He told me, “Oh, I’m really glad you liked it. Just so you know, I wouldn’t do that at a wedding.” I replied, “Well, you’re going to need to do it at our wedding!” Your perspective is what makes you unique, and just maybe that is all you need to show your clients to stand apart from the rest of the pack. Don’t be afraid of your own vision. See where it takes you, even if it takes you there gradually.
Or perhaps you take a risk by doing something everyone else has been doing but in a slightly different way. Some friends, and clients of mine, are having a pop art themed wedding later this year and when they talked to the chef at their venue, Adam Kowalsky, they discussed incorporating this theme into their cake. He could have taken the easy road and put a giant “POW” on their cake or some Warhol “Marilyns”, but instead he came up with the idea to recreate a painting using miniature cupcakes – actually a very ‘pop art’ style of presentation. It is not a simple solution, but a sideways step in perspective to something the clients found far more interesting. I know that I am excited to see the finished product.
Something to keep in mind when you take risks is that you are going to make mistakes! Sometimes that great idea you had is actually a huge pile of crap. Move on to the next one. One of the best things about making mistakes is that you learn from them. Sometimes you make a mistake and something beautiful happens.
My flash didn’t fire in that picture. If it had, the photo just would not have been the same. I have a feeling a lot of great silhouette shots happened for the same reason. That ‘happy accident’ actually gave me ideas for future photos that I am going to take. New ideas formed due to a mistake. People who say they never make mistakes are lying.
You can play it safe if you want to, but I find a certain amount of ‘calculated danger’ reaps the highest rewards, and it gets people to notice what you do.
Sooner or later, most wedding professionals ask themselves, “How do I stand apart from the crowd?” Do they want to ‘be different’ in an effort to get more clients, more of the type of clients they want to deal with, or just to further their own personal ideology? Read that question carefully and you realize that it really means not standing in the crowd at all. It’s all about perspective. Stop for a moment, and take a look at yourself and your surroundings – are you standing in the right spot?
About the Author
Casey Fatchett is a wedding, event, and portrait photographer from New York City who travels wherever in the world his camera is needed. When not taking pictures, he dances like a lunatic to entertain his wife and wrangles their dog and cat. For bookings and inquiries you can contact Casey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 212.875.7599 or through his social media.