Finding Your Creative Voice

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It’s been a long while and I’m quite overdue on some new educational material on here. I have been trying to do more BTS videos and work on new photography, but I wanted to take some time to touch on creativity and creating recognizable work.

If you know a little bit about my background, you’ll know that I have never taken a formal class on photography much like most photographers today. Where attending a school and getting formal training, a BFA degree, and assisting for years was the old guard, there is easier access to tools and information now that have made it possible for those of us passionate about photography to learn in less structured environments. I started out taking advantage of blogs, YouTube videos of Behind the Scenes on photo shoots, and even creativeLive later on. I always appreciate the photographers that took the time to get out there and share their knowledge with others who were just getting a start. When I first started to try and find some mentors locally, I had a lot of trouble getting that hands on experience even if it was just assisting a local portrait photographer. People can be very guarded about their methods and creative process and I never really got that, so I vowed that if I ever started to become more successful that I would be sure to give back and help teach. Last week I was finally given that opportunity at a local photography club here in Houston.

I had been in talks with the awesome people at The Houston Studio for a month or two about presenting at the workshop, and I honestly thought that it would just end at talks and possibly speaking in a year or so. 2 months later I was scrambling to put together something to speak about with about a week or so to pull it together. I scratched my head for a few days just trying to decide WHAT to speak on. Do you hit the basics? Basics of lighting? Retouching? Workflow? Lighting tools? Lens compression and how to choose a lens? Being a technical person, these were the thing that were coming to mind and I knew I would absolutely bore people to death explaining it. With the help and prodding of my lovely wife, I finally had an idea of what to speak on and I thought I would share just a little bit of that on the blog today: Finding Your Creative Voice.

I know what you’re thinking, “This is going to be a bunch of crap and philosophical stuff just like I’ve read in every self-help, instructional, or sales/business book I’ve ever picked up.” Well, hopefully not. I actually have some steps that I feel have helped me develop a creative style and keep a consistent voice. As a photographer I truly believe that this is one of the most difficult things you can possibly do. Everybody wants to shoot everything and try to be well rounded and capable at everything so they never really develop that style that speaks for them as an artist. Hell, I can’t even say that my own is fully developed, but at least I know what direction I want to go and how I want to continue to improve and strive towards reaching that goal and style.

So, without too much more random detail, here are a few quick steps that I feel have helped me establish a style and presence when I’m creating and shooting:

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These are examples of tear sheets that I created a few years ago to help drive my photography in terms of style, where I wanted to go, and who I wanted to emulate as I found my creative voice. These are old tear sheets and I try to keep these as living documents that are constantly changing and evolved, but they give you a sense of what you’re trying to develop by going through this exercise.

Step 1: Identify 5-7 photographers that you identify with, idolize, or try to replicate when you’re shooting your own work. Now pick 1 image from each of those photographers that truly speaks to you.

By doing this you’re going to start to see certain patterns, perspectives, styles, and themes that are common. You also create an awesome list of mentors that you SHOULD reach out to. Mentors are a powerful thing to have and if you can get even one of these photographers to stop and take a second to get to know you, you’re going to advance so much as a photographer so fast it’ll make peoples’ heads spin!

Now, take those 5-7 images and put them on a tear sheet either on paper or in Photoshop like I’ve done.

Step 2: We’re going to do the same thing with ads/shoots that you love. Find 5-7 ads, editorials, weddings, maternity, or whatever it is that you shoot. These should be representative of what you WANT to shoot. Not what you are shooting or what you think you can shoot but what you dream about shooting and love the style of. After you’ve identified them, do the same thing as above and create a tear sheet.

You now have 2 awesome tools to start looking at and identifying what your creative voice is. Study the images and the photographers and the brands that you’ve identified thoroughly and try to look at what key features are present across all of the images or most of the images? What’s repeated consistently? Start writing down those words. Writing them down is KEY. Try to sum it up in 5-7 words or adjectives that define the style you like. For example, are the images Cinematic, Heroic, Iconic, Dreamy, Romantic, Dark, Light, Epic, Dramatic, etc. Don’t worry about being specific because you want to reference these descriptors with everything you do. If you’re doing a shoot and it doesn’t identify with or lend itself to your descriptors then you need to rethink what you’re shooting.

Now, both of these documents should continue to be living documents. Don’t just create them once and never use them, really compare each and every photoshoot you take and make sure you’re working to keep that style. Always keep looking at new materials and creative outlets like magazines, movies, music, ads, blogs, etc. and keep collecting these things so you’re continually updating your tear sheets and your photography. Over time you’ll see a convergence and a style that solidifies who you are as a photographer and what your voice as an artist.

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