Wether you’re new to the photography scene and struggling with the fear of failure, or you’re a seasoned pro who’s gotten in a repetitive groove, there’s one thing that can often bond those two together— stagnant creativity. It’s easy to find that safe spot where you know what you’re doing will work. You familiarize yourself with the lighting that is most comfortable, and keep the same handful of poses on mental rotation. You go for the outfits that hold the least amount of risk, or the locations that you know like the back of your hand. You continue to chase after the things you know will work in search of that emotional reward of finishing a job or a project and knowing you nailed it— because “technically” everything is absolutely perfect. You worked hard for that perfection! But where is the heart?
Remember when you first fell in love with photography? Remember the rush of having NO clue what you were doing and making it work anyway?
You didn’t know how to pose people, you didn’t have a “go-to” location, or a classic outfit style, or your favorite light— you just took whatever you could get your hands on and you’d run wild with it making magic with anything and everything. Sometimes things turned out, and sometimes they didn’t. But it didn’t matter, because there was no pressure for perfection because you didn’t KNOW what perfection was. It was all just play. A fun adventure. A guessing game of chance that made you fall in love.
Does this sound like you? Are you quietly whispering “yesssss” to your phone or your laptop as you’re reading this? Ok, well what would you say if I told you there is a way to break that repetitive cycle of perfection and fear of failure so you can FIND that heart of creativity again, shake up the stagnant waters, and bring curiosity and creative fulfillment back into your passion again…
It’s called a creative risk.
And I want to share with you 10 ways to eliminate the pressure to produce perfection and introduce play back into your work:
1.) RELEASE YOURSELF OF YOUR OWN PERSONAL EXPECTATIONS
Plan a time to shoot where you can throw all caution to the wind and just practice without the weight of expectations from clients, collab colleagues, or yourself. Even if you are a seasoned pro, there is ALWAYS something new to learn. If we stop learning, we stop growing.
When you go into the shoot, release yourself of ALL expectations about how you think the shoot should go, how you imagine the images will turn out, what you think the subject will think of the photos, exc… Accept that failure IS actually an option, and welcome it with open arms because it’s looking failure in the face that teaches us creative boldness.
2.) FIND A COUPLE OF CLOSE FRIENDS WHO YOU TRUST TO PHOTOGRAPH
Choose the people you feel comfortable creating with without ANY expectation. Find those who want to create with you purely for the fun of being with you, bringing a vision to life, and being a part of your journey— not just models who are looking for content for their portfolio. (The goal is to remove as much pressure to *produce* as possible).
Let them know the shoot is purely experimental practice and don’t guarantee any photos will come of it. When you’re doing a shoot like this, it’s best to not involve vendors like makeup, florals, stylists, exc… simply because there is no guarantee they will receive anything for their time/money/product (plus it eliminates more pressure from you to have something to give back to them in return for their time/product). Go into the shoot with zero expectations, have fun, try new things, and be willing to potentially leave with nothing. If you expect nothing will come of a shoot, you’re more likely to throw all caution to the wind and really get out of your comfort zone trying new things.
**If you want to REALLY eliminate any pressure, go to them or pick someone close by. Don’t ask someone to travel a far distance for your experimental project.
3.) DRESS YOUR MODEL IN AN OUTFIT THAT FEELS "OUT OF PLACE" for your style or the location you're shooting at. For me, my safe go-to is a white dress. It’s pretty, it’s dreamy, it’s neutral and goes with everything. Consider what sort of outfit feels safe for you— why do you normally lean into that style? How can you change things up and take a whole different outfit and MAKE it “your style”? The goal is to *shake up* what you're used to in hopes that it sparks new inspiration in you.
**Here's a few examples from a time I used an outfit outside of my comfort zone. I had originally put Joy in this cute fairy-esque gold princess dress. It was November though so it was cold and I had her keep her coat and shoes on while we scoped out the location. I quickly decided the furry orange coat and the keds added such a fun, casual twist to an otherwise very "magical" outfit. I loved how out of place and *pedestrian-like* the coat and sneakers felt-- It took me by surprise, sparked inspiration in me, and completely changed the feel of the images.
4.) SHOOT WITH LIGHTING THAT IS OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE
If you’re used to soft/even light, try harsh light and play with shadows and contrast. If you’re used to natural/sunlight, try another source of light like a ring light, pocket LED, Christmas lights, a lamp, candles, or my personal fave: a cheap reptile heat lamp. Play around with different light sources and explore what they do to your subject and how they change the look/feel of your photos.
5.) USE NEW ANGLES + PERSPECTIVES
Do you find you normally shoot with the same composition? The same focal length? The same angle? I know for me, I often get stuck just shooting straight on, but there’s sooooo many other angles out there I can use to add depth, complexity, and interest to an image. Shoot close up, shoot from afar. Photograph your subject from above them, from below them, from behind them, from the side, exc…
6.) SHOOT AT A NEW LOCATION There is nothing like the inspiration that comes with a FRESH location. It’s so easy to get stuck on shooting at the same spot until you’ve shot the heck out of the location and the drive to be creative is just no longer there.
Get out there and find something new! It doesn’t have to be anything crazy or elaborate— if you’re used to shooting at the same old field or forest, try jumping in the water at a creek, going to a new park, visit a greenhouse, go to your local neighborhood development, shoot on a friends farm, visit a cafe, utilize a random unexpected room in your home, think of a simple location you pass by every day and take on the challenge of looking at it in a new way— the possibility and potential is everywhere.
7.) BRING PROPS
Bring a prop that feels out of place for the location and see how you can photograph it with your subject in a way that adds interest, curiosity, and tells a story to the viewer. It doesn’t have to make sense— Just have fun with it! Some of my most favorite random props I've used have been a mailbox, umbrellas, a miniature white picket fence, a dollhouse, yarn, glass, a wooden ship, a mannequin, and a watering can. You don't have to spent a ton of money either! Just look around your home with fresh eyes and you'll find all sorts of treasures waiting to tell photographic stories.
8.) TRY NEW POSES
Do you have your typical 5-10 *go-to* poses? (My hand is raised!) Try photographing your subject in out of the ordinary, unconventional poses that are odd, interesting, and different. Find ways for your subject to interact with their surroundings, a prop, or their outfit, and allow new poses to flow from it. If your model is comfortable, give them the freedom to play and come up with their own ideas— you might just find the fresh perspective is what you needed. If you want to really challenge yourself, put your *safe* poses away for a little bit and try doing an entire shoot using ONLY odd/unconventional poses!
9.) TRY A STYLE OR TECHNIQUE THAT IS OUT OF THE ORDINARY FOR YOU This could be trying a new genre of photography or subject matter you don’t normally do (fashion, lifestyle, still life, couples, wildlife/nature, self portraiture, exc…) or a new technique (long exposures, night photography, motion blur, tilt shift, film, exc…)
10.) DO SOMETHING WEIRD.
Even if you are playing it pretty safe with a shoot (wether it’s a collaboration with a model or a paying client), at the end of the shoot when all the solid shots have been taken, do something weird. Shoot something that doesn’t make sense, or something that you think won’t work. Have your subject do something odd or unconventional wether it’s a weird pose, or an interaction with a prop or location, or something different with their outfit— and do it without any expectation that something will turn out.
Doing it at the end means there’s almost zero pressure because you’ve already got your solid shots out of the way. For me, some of my all time FAVORITE photos have happened at the end of the shoot when the pressure to produce perfection is gone. I know I’ve already gotten amazing shots for my client, and we have some time for experimental creativity— even if it’s just one shot.