Letting Your Photographic Style Evolve

This is the time of year when photographers go to all the conventions, workshops and programs in the hope of starting their new year off right by advancing their knowledge and in turn advancing their business.  I too still go to the conventions and programs to keep learning and advancing my knowledge.  The best and brightest in any profession continue their education after their traditional education is over.

While the idea of going to conventions and workshops gets every photographer excited, the experience of listening to what the speakers have to say can cause some inner conflict.  I was recently at SPA (Senior Portrait Artists) a senior convention that pushes Senior Portraiture to the fashion extreme.  They have the best senior photographers from around the country letting their creativity fly.  While I was at this convention, I heard a senior photographer who was at SPA for the first time sum it well, “I like the fashion look of all these photographs, but if I took photos like these in my studio they wouldn’t sell!”  And guess what, he is probably Right!

It is a speakers job to engage his/her audience with what is possible, not necessarily what is practical.  First of all speakers and anyone is has tried to educate photographers realizes that the creative aspect of photography is what sells to the audience.  A good example of this are my books.  The most important book I have ever written for a photographer to make it in this profession is “Success in Portrait Photography”, but each year this book has one of the lowest sales figures of any of my books, while the rating and reviews are very high.  My best-selling books are on lighting and posing, the more creative sides of our business.

Another factor adding to the inner conflict of learning is the difference between the regions these photographers work and how that affects the tastes and preferences of your market.  Years ago I had gone to various senior conventions and seen all the speakers photographing high school seniors in the swim wear.  While we had done water polo team members in their swimsuits it was done to showcase their sport not to showcase their body.  So against my better judgment I photographed some of our senior models in their swimsuits (with parent approval and presences).  The reaction was just what I thought it would be.  Parents, grandparents and even seniors were somewhat shocked by the fact a 17-year-old girl would want to be photographed in a swimsuit and I do business in California where we are supposed to be so open-minded.  I hate to be closed-minded, maybe there is a huge swimsuit photo market in some state, but I have my suspicions that these portraits were done to appeal to photographers and not sell to clients.  But the point is, I tried it.

I had the same feeling the first year I went to SPA as the photographer I overheard this year.  I loved what I saw, but I knew it wouldn’t sell.  By the end of the first convention, I was frustrated.  My wife kept telling me I had to do more work like we had seen and I saw images that were taken as eye-candy to photographers and not always flattering to the client.  Finally I saw an image that explained my frustration.  It was a young woman kneeling down with her leg and foot extended out toward the camera and the photographer was using an extreme wide-angle lens.  The effect and the image was stunning….Looking at it as a photographer.  Putting myself into the mindset of the client however, I noticed that while the distortion made her leg look longer (a good thing) it also made her feet (which weren’t a size 5 in the first place) look huge.  Can you tell me how many women would buy a portrait that made their feet look big?

The idea of going to these show isn’t to do exactly what the speakers say, it’s to get you to think of how you can take what they are showing you and merge what can work with what you already know.  In our studio, I don’t shoot straight fashion like I see as SPA, because I (and my clients) see it shot for the look of the image and not always to flatter a less than perfect client.  I did however start using the fashion idea to make the style of portrait I have developed evolve into something better.  My images are more alive, my style is more youthful.  Evolving your style isn’t about doing things just like the speaker but having an open mind and allowing the good ideas merge with your current style to take “Your Work” to another level.


~ by jeffsmithbooks on February 1, 2010.

One Response to “Letting Your Photographic Style Evolve”

  1. Jeff, this is one of the best commentaries on programs/conventions/conferences that I’ve ever read because it is SO TRUE! I recall hearing “if you do this, you’ll make $$$” but thinking that I knew that it would never fly in my area, I felt like a nimrod because it should work due to what the speaker was saying. Great post! I love it!


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