Taking Creative Risks With Your Photography

Taking Creative Risks With Your Photography

Throughout my very long photographic career, at every turn where I found a bit of success, there was one constant. There was always one thing that set me apart. And I’ll let you know right now it wasn’t talent. I had a modicum of talent but I was more proficient than talented. The thing I really had going for me was that I was fearless. I was willing to risk myself. I was willing to put my work out there for all to see and do so unapologetically. I was willing to say “…this is what I can do with a camera.” I was willing to be vulnerable and fierce all at the same time. I was willing to be ridiculed and judged and trolled. I was willing to be rejected. And rejected I was. Over and over and over. BUT there were just enough times where I was accepted, that it all worked out.

The fear of failure never stopped me. I guess I have always benefitted from the fact that I am too stupid to know I could fail! And that right there, folks. THAT is the difference.

Take a look at some of the people in the industry who’ve found success and whom I admire. People like Scott Kelby, Rick Sammon, Neil Leifer, Jay Dickman, Larry C. Price, Matthew Jordan Smith, Dixie Dixon, Jerry Ghionis, Joe McNally, Bob Davis, Tony Corbell, Clay Blackmore, David Hume Kennerly, and John Shaw (just to name a few — if I left you out it wasn’t on purpose I just have to get this article done on a deadline and my mind is mush.)

These people all found success because they had something to say. They had a point of view. And they were willing to stake out and own that ground, come what may.

In my own case, I found moderate success every time I made a move, but when I really hung it all out there to dry and said “screw it! This is what I want to do!” That is when things started to gel for me. In a way, every move I made during my career was one of those moments.

I started out photographing motor sports because someone offered to pay me to do it. It was my first real job. I did it for six years. I made $52.50 a week but I got to hang out with race car drivers — it was cool.

I then morphed to portraits and weddings because there was more money in that…way more money. I was not very good at weddings and portraits — especially when I first started, but I managed.

I then moved to “outdoor” photography, to include landscape and wildlife because my knees and back were shot from doing weddings. I was better at that than I was weddings, but still had room to grow.

I then started to specialize in JUST wildlife because I enjoyed it more. That was a turning point for me. Then things really started working.

And finally, after all that time and messing around, I gave up. I risked everything and said. “I am a bird photographer!” It’s what I really wanted to do all along. That was harder to do than it sounds.

Everyone I knew at the time said, “What? A bird photographer?” Their concern was well-founded! Why? Almost everyone needs a wedding photographer at one point in their life. Everyone probably needs a portrait photographer too, but few people NEED a bird photographer.

Now — it’s happened again. It’s different this time because the choice I made was triggered by failing medical health and old age. (And all the things that hitchhike with those two — like failing eyesight, hearing, etc.)

So once again, I made a move — this time to toy photography. Talk about ridicule — but hey — it’s okay. I am doing what I want to do and what I CAN do. It’s a kind of photography I can do inside my home studio. I don’t have to get on a plane (what a relief) or GO anywhere. I can do it right here at my house.

Frankly, just as when I made the move from wildlife to bird photography — I wish I’d made this move sooner because photographically speaking, I’m having the time of my life. I end all my articles with the phrase “Remember, toys are joy.” The reason I do that is simple. To me — and many others like me (yes — it turns out toy photography is actually “a thing…”) toys cause joy.

I’ve written here before about beginner’s mind. And I’ve written about seeing and being childlike with photography. It all holds true and is amplified by toy photography.

You may not realize it or see it or understand it or agree with it but to me — I am once again, doing some of my best work ever. It’s different because for the first time ever, I am just photographing things for fun. There’s no pursuit of money (although I have made a few dollars selling some prints.) Money is not the goal.

If there’s no money involved, what’s the metric? How do I know I am doing some of my best work ever? It’s just because I am becoming proficient and am able to reproduce what I see in my mind’s eye. That’s the metric.

While in the past I needed to make a living with my camera — I always had the desire to reproduce what I could pre-visualize. In toy photography, my ultimate goal is to see a story in my mind and then recreate it with one click of a camera shutter. And I am happy to report that’s starting to happen with some regularity.

Now remember — MY success metric isn’t tied to followers, or likes, or money. It’s tied to satisfying myself that I did a good job of reproducing a vision I had when the canvas was blank. Your success metric may be different, but either way — taking risks is the only way you’ll find your version of success. Of that I am certain.

In my own way and subject to my current physical limitations, my “success” these days comes— as it did before, because I have worked hard. I remain fearless and willing to risk myself and accept rejection, ridicule, etc.

Taking creative risks has always, always, always paid off for me. I think it will pay off for you too. No matter what subject or genre of photography YOU practice, be willing to be rejected. Stand your ground. Do the kind of photography YOU want to do. Tell the stories with your camera that matter to you. I can’t wait to see what you produce. I am — as always — rooting for you.

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