Getting ahead of yourself (and others)

Now a lot of people often ask me “what drives you in your shots” or “how do you keep yourself motivated”.
Well when you see these images I hope that is clear…


First of all I love strong colors (like red) but most of all I love things a bit more extreme and with Nadine you’re on the right path of course. Now to keep myself motivated and creative I actually always follow my own advise, “whatever you shoot, always make it interesting, always try to stretch your boundaries” what I mean with this is that one should always try to improve oneself, always push for that little bit more than with the previous shoot. Even although these shots are “just” taken during a workshop I always aim to shoot at least 3-4 portfolio worthy images during the workshops, I think that as soon as I start seeing workshops as work I would loose interest.

Nadine Februari 8 2013-125-Edit
Now when you would translate this to your own work I think it’s very important to NOT be stuck in “known” and “proven” setups, and this is something that I see in a lot of studios, the photographers will place their lights in position A or B, and even pose the models all the same. Recently we did a family shoot and I heard a story that was very striking in this area, they went to a photographer and where shot exactly the same way as all the families that were shown in the show room, exactly the same light, the same pose, the same look etc.

Nadine Februari 8 2013-93-Edit


Now for a professional photostudio this could be a right way to work, if people like it and it sells it makes the money needed….. however I see the same thing in a lot of portfolios I review and I strongly believe that this is not the way to go. When I preview or portfolio I would love to see different looks, or in other words a representation of what a photographer can do, not proof that they can replicate the same idea over and over again. Now the problem with this is, is that it’s often not so easy to spot yourself, I’ve talked to many photographers who think they shoot different images in every shoot, but when I looked at the portfolio it was actually all the same, the only thing that changed were the models, the clothing and the backgrounds. And I have to be honest it is very hard to prevent this from happening, so I’m gonna give you some tips which (I hope) can help you to break the habit and go ahead.

Nadine Februari 8 2013-114-Edit1. Check your portfolio carefully
One of the things that often happens is that a photographer is stuck with one sort of composition, let’s say always in portrait mode showing the top of the head. This might work for one image, but an other image could be much better in landscape mode or cropped more aggressively. A good portfolio should contain different compositions, crops etc. show the viewer you know to draw the attention of the viewer to the point you want it to go. Also make your portfolio versatile, you don’t need 10 portraits to prove you can shoot a good portrait, choose your top 2-3 portraits and only include these.


2. Push the envelope
During shoots photographers often fall back to the known setups…… don’t.
Try to change your lights to the opposite site, aim them up or down more, don’t be afraid to experiment. Photography is painting with light if you always paint the same way there is no art. I would almost compare it to a painter that paints your walls and house and an artist painter. As soon as your photography starts repeating the same lightsetups over and over again the work will become boring, and don’t get me wrong it could be a great style or great look but when you’ve done it a few times…. well try something else. I don’t say that you can never do it again but let’s say you’ve done 3-4 shoots with your favorite setup force yourself to not use that setup for at least 2-3 weeks (unless you need it commercially for some shoots), this way you will not only build your styles but it will also make the “proven/favorite” setup better for the simple reason that if you get back to it after a while you will look at it with fresh eyes and refine the quality.


3. Find the challenge in work
A big part of my work is teaching workshops and one could think that I do the workshops the same way over and over again because it works… well you couldn’t be more wrong. For me the challenge of a good workshop is to shoot images that will end up in my portfolio, but I also use the workshops to experiment with new light setups (especially in the advanced series), this will often mean that I use setups I never used before. One of the questions that you probably ask is “doesn’t it ever go wrong”… well yeah but nobody will notice… for the simple reason that I don’t see light as a fixed setup, if I use a setup and it doesn’t work there is always a solution that is very close to the chosen setup that will work, finding that position of light or your own angle is for me the challenge that keeps me going and keep me interested in what I do. In your own shoots you could for example try to fix your lights in a position where you think “this will never work” and now try just as long until you get a shot which makes you go “wow it does work”.


4. Being flexible means being flexible..
Sound weird right?
Well actually it’s not so weird.
What I mean with this is that if you “train” yourself in using lightsources in different setups over and over again you will very soon find out that you start forgetting about light setups but start to think about “light as vision”, now this is a bit hard to explain but let me try.


When you are flexible with your light setups and are not afraid to experiment you will very soon find out that you will become a very flexible photographer with situations and lighting solutions for it, one of my prime examples for this is for example Joe McNally, this is a photographer that I think will never find a situation where he cannot deliver at least something that is fit for publication. I’ve seen Joe on stage many times and it’s fun to see that he will think of creative (and often impressive) lighting solutions on the spot . But I also see many other people shoot and struggle as soon as they have to work with a different strobe than what they normally use. So if you train yourself to be flexible with light setups you will become a very flexible photographer when it comes to situations and before you know it you will start “seeing the light” and see light only as a tool to tell your story, and this will mean that light becomes something you can shape and manipulate the way you want instead of that light manipulates you.


5. Models and team
Very very important, and I can’t stress this enough.
The right model with the right clothing and the right makeup can make a shoot so much more interesting. And it’s very important to start realizing this. When you look at the images in this blogpost you will probably not realize that they were actually lit very simple, one gridded striplight on the model and one large light source to add a little bit of light to the lower parts of the dress and sides of the model, an incredibly simple lightsetup but because of the styling, color and pose the images are much more appealing than if the model would be wearing jeans and a tanktop. So make sure to give a lot of attention to this vital part of a shoot.


Getting ahead is not something that will happen overnight, it’s a combination of many things, and some people will “get it” overnight and start working on it, some people will look at their own work and don’t see “it”, this is why I always advise to do a GOOD portfolio review by someone you trust and from who you can take harsh critique and work on it once every year (or more) . Often you can become “blind” for your own work and need someone to “open up your eyes”.


As extra information, these images were shot during yesterdays workshop with Nadine and were the first images shot in our new studio.
If you’re interested in a good portfolio review check the education menu on this blog and book a portfolio review, it can really help you to break through barriers you see or don’t see.