It’s Good to Cringe

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Recently, a good friend and photographer showed me some images that he had shot a few years ago. He told me that he was cringing while putting together the couple’s album because they had waited three years before coming back with their selection and meantime his work had, in his eyes, improved a lot. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the images and the couple were clearly still very happy with them if they were investing in an album. Of course they were not the images he would shoot if he did their wedding today but I told him that I think it’s good to look back on your old work and cringe a little. It shows that you are progressing, evolving and developing.

When interviewed on Rock n Roll Bride, Jonas Peterson said “You will never find your style, your style will find you” and certainly ‘finding your style’ is one thing that a lot of photographers, artists and designers seem to struggle with, especially in the early days. However I believe that this constant quest to define and refine your style is one of the things that keeps us in a state of creativity. If we didn’t, our work would surely become stale and dated and we’d probably get very bored. I have been earning my living from taking photographs for over twenty years and I have yet to think “this is it… this is exactly how I’m going to shoot every picture from now on”. I go through phases of being in love with a certain lens, filter or technique but it is never the only way I shoot. By constantly playing and experimenting, learning rules and then breaking them, I’m forever progressing and changing. Any creative should grow with their craft and I very much see it as a journey. The path may be unknown at times but isn’t that all part of the adventure?

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When I look back at my older work, I don’t feel like I cringe but I do see things that I would do completely differently if were I to take that image today. For example the images illustrating this article are from the first wedding I shot on digital back in 2010 and I look at them now and think the processing could definitely be more subtle… I have never in that twenty years (first as a music photographer and then weddings) ever thought I have taken the perfect photograph. I very rarely leave a job thinking I totally nailed it. I also look at other people’s work all the time and think “I wish I had taken that image”. To me, it is all part of the process of remaining motivated and striving forward.

I think you should regularly cull your blog and website, removing work that is not really what you are about any more. You need to present your latest passions and obsessions as this is a great way of attracting the clients you really connect with and will enjoy working with. Organising your own shoots can be your chance to show these off too. They don’t have to be huge productions involving lots of other people or even be shot just to get featured somewhere. It could just be a simple idea with a friend modelling where you can practice your skills or try out some new ideas. We always do shoots at the Photography Farm and while they may be quite big productions (I like to get creative too!) the main reason for them is to encourage the attendees to push themselves and experiment. It’s the ideal time to do so as there is no client to please or brief to fulfil. New styles and genres are nearly always born out of experimentation.

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So instead of cringing when you look at your earlier work, take the time to reflect on how far you have come and see it for the achievement it is. Be excited to think where you could be in three years from now. Somewhere at the back of my mind, I do often wonder if I’ll ever feel that I have taken that perfect photograph. If that does happen though, what on earth would I do next?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lisa Devlin is a wedding photographer from Brighton and a regular contributor to The Green Room. She hosts the three-day long Photography Farm on a regular basis. The next Farm will be taking place from the 9th-11th July. Lisa is also currently taking bookings for Farm Elements, one or two day non-residential workshops taking place over the next few months in Cornwall, Bristol and Manchester. For enquiries or bookings email Lisa on lisa@devlinphotos.co.uk or call 01273231047.

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8 comments

  1. Stacy Browne

    Thank you Lisa, it is so interesting and comforting to read this! Great article.

  2. Very true – part of being creative is allowing your style to change and develop over the years. I do cringe a little when I look back through my old art school portfolios, but now and again I look back and find pieces of work or half-finished doodles that inspire me to develop something new, so I think it’s still worth archiving your old work sometimes.

  3. Love the quote from Jonas Peterson – made a note of that at Photograhy Farm and quote it myself now….

    Although I do cringe when I look at my designs from 6 years ago… just because some look so dated {the level of hand finishing} etc and its only in the past 12-18 months that my style has found me.

    Thanks for your always wise words lovely lady xo

  4. This is so true! It probably goes for anyone that does a subjective job. I don’t think my style has found me yet but when it does. I am sure it will still always get better and better. This post really does remind me that it all comes with time. Thanks for sharing!!

  5. I agree Lisa 😉 The unachievable quest is trying to produce the perfect photograph – some might get close, but part of the fun is in that unattainable goal!

    It’s also good to go out and shoot for the reason of experimentation. At paid jobs, fumbling around trying something new is always tricky – but styled shoots or, what I’m doing, contacting some of favourite past couples, gives a non-pressured opportunity to keep pushing yourself.

  6. Style was so elusive for me at the start of my business. I would always compare myself to other photographers who were almost always more experienced than me. It was making me miserable so I stopped looking and started focussing on doing the best I could instead of worrying about what my style was and how it measured up. Recently seeing my work off the screen in an exhibition I really could see a through line in my style. It was so satisfying.

  7. Fantastic post Lisa. As a fairly “new” photographer, I feel under a lot of pressure to find “my style” so it’s good to hear that may never happen and that it’s ok! I have taken many photographs over the years and there are probably only a handful that I can say I’m truly proud of. Even in the last year of running a business I can see how much my style is changing. I like what it’s developing in to and I’m excited to see what it will lead to in the future but, like you, I hope I never take the perfect photograph or reach my peak, I never want to stop learning!

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