Distinguishing Yourself as a Photographer in 2017
About a year and a half ago I looked at my work and realized it wasn't good—not in a self-loathing, angsty artist kind of way. It just wasn't good. That's not to say it was bad, either. It was mediocre. It was uncreative and full of clichés, indistinguishable from the thousands of other young, hipster-lookin' photographers.
I had previously attributed my relative lack of success to my location, my finances, and my lack of connections. Sure, being in a bigger city, having an extra $1M, or making some Great Connections® helps. But these were also convenient half-truths that allowed me to be a victim, rather than take responsibility and face a deeper truth: my work could be much better.
There were several core issues I identified, but one of the biggest ones was this: my work was completely unoriginal. This problem birthed a new rule of thumb:
Only create images you haven't seen before.
That's not to say every single element of the image needs to be completely unique. There's certainly a "too far" here. Rather, in each concept I try to include at least one element—be it the makeup, the styling, the location, the art direction or even the lighting—that I haven't seen before, especially if it's a test shoot and I have full creative control.
This rule excludes (but is not limited to) all of the following: white girls in American Apparel body suits on a bed. Hipsters in wide-brimmed hats on mountains. Pour-over coffee kits inside a tent whilst overlooking Yosemite. All-white coffee shops with concrete floors, a ceramic backsplash, and wooden tables with succulents on them. Blonde girls in crop tops, cut-off denim shorts, and a pair of white Chucks. A photo of Yosemite. A photo of the NYC skyline. People covered in Christmas lights. A living room bedecked in IKEA furniture. Simply put, anything you've already seen on Instagram.
These photos are fine. I still include some of them in my portfolio. I'm not saying to trash anything unoriginal, but I am saying the key to standing out (and subsequently getting work) is to make unique (but tasteful) images, rather than replicate trends.
A couple of my millennial peers are great at this. Harvey takes very unique portraits through her multi-media technique and Alex has some of the more creative edits I've seen on landscape images. I recommend checking them out for some inspiration.
Armed with this new rule as a foundation, I spent three days covering the interior of a Volvo in floral wallpaper for an unpaid test shoot, simple because I'd never seen that before. My friend Alison was amazingly creative with the makeup, which really elevated the shoot. I hope you like it.
Model: Leah with Freedom Models
Makeup: Alison Christian
Styling: Clare Hackwith
Assisting: Ian Mccue
Thanks to everyone on the team!