Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t written a blog post in nearly three months. Trust me, not a day has gone by that I haven’t reminded myself of that very fact. But the past few months have been transformative for me, both personally and professionally, and I wanted time to process the things I’ve learned so that I could distill them into a blog post that hopefully gives you some clear insight on what it’s like trying to balance art, business, and self-fulfillment.
For the past year, I’ve poured my energy into becoming a better photographer. Sometime late last year, it became clear to me that I couldn’t realistically expect to maintain my blog, grow my photography business, and work a full-time job at a university. Something had to give. Because photography and my day job both provided more immediate opportunities for income, I decided I would direct my energy towards those two things while taking a short hiatus from writing.
Since first picking up a camera I poured myself into becoming a better photographer. I spent countless hours reading and posting on different forums, practicing retouching, and watching tutorials. And of course, I hustled endlessly doing photoshoots as often as I could. I’ve sent out hundreds of emails and messages in the last year alone setting up shoots. All of my hard work didn’t go unnoticed. Last year, things slowly started to come together. People started to notice my work. I began to get referrals and inquiries. I even received a few emails from photographers asking me for tips and pointers on how to shoot and edit.
But while photography has been gratifying (and profitable), I’ve come to a crossroad with how I approach my craft. Lately I feel like I’ve gone against the very principles that I espouse so passionately in this blog: Choose yourself. Create art. Tell a story. Make an impact. Stand out.
As a portrait and editorial photographer, it’s entirely too easy to find yourself following industry trends. In the photography world, one of those trends is photography scantily clad models. It makes for a visually pleasing photograph, so it gets noticed. As an artist, getting noticed not only validates you, it gets you paid too. But it’s gotten to the point where I feel like I’m getting noticed for the wrong reasons — like many people appreciate the subjects of my photographs far more than the photograph as a whole.
A friend of mine demonstrated an example of this with his own work recently. He showed me two photographs: an iPhone snapshot of a young model wearing a bikini on a beach, and a professionally edited photo of the same model, this time just showing her face, sporting elaborate editorial makeup. The iPhone snapshot received nearly 50% more likes. The editorial portrait — with its studio lighting, makeup services, and post-processing — probably involved ten times more effort and intentionality, but it was easily eclipsed.
Of course, we cannot and should not base the success of our work on social media likes. But that’s not the point. The point is I felt like I was heading down a path towards something I wanted no part of. I didn’t want to create images based on what I think some modeling agency would like, or what my followers would most likely comment on. That’s the very opposite of choosing myself and standing out with my work.
Doing photography had begun to feel mechanical. I was trying to turn an otherwise artistic process into something mechanical and formulaic. There was no difference between today’s photo from yesterday’s. I might have been getting better as a photographer from a technical standpoint, but artistically — I wasn’t. I’ve written before about doing art for the right reasons. None of this felt right.
It’s too easy to produce something that elicits a mere double-tap on someone’s phone, only to be completely forgotten about. I want to create long-lasting impact on the world that I know I’m capable of. It’s far more rewarding to be intentional with your art. To tell a story that resonates. To make something worth remembering.
I haven’t gotten there yet, but I will. I’m not giving up photography, just reevaluating what exactly I want to do with it. Remember: If you’re not heading in the direction you want to go, it’s never too late to change course.