Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Keeping It Fresh

I had a beer the other night with a dear friend and fellow photographer. One of the things we touched on was personal work, the importance of it and how much it has helped both of us grow as artists. Check out this posting for more on the Importance of Personal Work. Expanding on the theme of personal work I want to talk about something that I struggle with as a photographer - The idea of constantly keeping my work fresh.

I go crazy if I don't have personal projects in the pipeline. And I panic at the idea of not constantly producing new work. As a photographer I think it is essential to consistently be producing new work, not least for ones own sense of creative well-being but to demonstrate, as I have said before, that you are a thriving artist. I get nervous when I look at my images and they have been on my website for too long. In response to those nerves I grab a piece of paper and start listing out all the shoots I want to do in the next two months. It makes me feel better....for a while. But it can be a struggle turning the list of ideas in to actual productions. One has to find the right location. Then there's the models or athletes. Scheduling dates. Monitoring the weather. The list goes on and on.

When I voiced these concerns to my friend over beer, he said "That's important. You should write about those concerns and frustrations." So in an attempt to provide some useful information I want to share four tips and a little insight into how I create my personal projects.

I've just about fallen asleep, conscious only of my coming rest and slumber when BAM! An idea comes out of no where and its amazing, I love it. I say to my self "Ok thats awesome, I'll deal with the details in the morning." If only. I spend the next hour trying to sleep but the idea is like a wet eel, slipping between all of my tired attempts to shut down my brain. I rise and I put pen to paper. I never forget a good idea, but I sure as hell can't get a winks sleep when my brain is on fire. So I write it down. And so should you. Make a list and keep it safe. I read once that if you write down your goals, hand write that is not tapping into a computer, that you are far more likely to achieve them. Seems stupid but deep down you know its true!

GEEKERY: I keep a spreadsheet of my ideas with categories like 'Creative Concept', 'Potential Talent', 'Locations' etc. It allows me to keep adding details and notes to the ideas as they evolve and it keeps my ideas organised so my brain can be freed of such administrative tasks. More room for being creative.

A lot of the projects I come up with are seasonal and require certain weather/climatic conditions to achieve. I can't shoot an endurance runner up in the alpine in May (even though it feels like spring at sea-level) because the snowpack is still solid. I can however shoot that cyclist video project. Timing is everything. But the ideas must be written down save forgetting them come July and the snow has melted!

Once you have your ideas you need to find your talent and more importantly find dates and schedules that align. This can be a nightmare. We are all busy people and personal work often relies upon those who are generous enough to donate their time. Patience, persistence and praise goes a long way. It is the little things in life that make a difference. Always treating your team with the utmost respect and consideration is so important.

It can be tough to keep on top of, especially when balancing personal projects with work, but I have a pretty consistent stream of personal projects in the pipeline. I keep the ideas on simmer so that when the time comes or the opportunity rises I turn up the heat and I can can quickly get them into production mode. This requires constantly ticking over on admin tasks like location scouting, monitoring schedules, developing the creative concepts so that you are ready to roll when conditions are right.

GEEKERY: I have a big, BIG calendar on my desk. It never closes and the sections for each day are big enough for me to make plenty of notes. It also shows me an entire month at a time. Seeing a month's worth of weeks is so helpful and again this is great for my brain.

3. PRE-, PRE- and PRE-

I dedicate a lot of time, pencil power and recycled paper to sketches and doodles. I like to preconceptualise a variety of images that I want from a shoot. I might not shoot all of them, circumstances during the shoot will certainly change them and others will end up looking shit once they move from my head to my sensor. But, having a series of sketches and doodles gives me a really solid frame work to enter any shoot with. I have mile markers I can check off and I have a sense of accomplishment as I move through the shoot.

I am always looking for potential shoot locations. The old, cliche that photographers see the world with a nice little frame around the edges. Well take that idea and every time your out think about the locations you find yourself in and how you could us that location for a shoot. Maybe its a heist shoot in an alley behind a bank, a great forest location for a child/parent moment or a gorgeous landscape. Keep a list!

It is really easy to get complacent with your preproduction and preparation for personal shoots. There is no client and you are the master of your shoot's destiny. Thing is, personal shoots are a great way to refine your craft and that also means refining your production skills. Being organised is not easy for many of us, practice makes perfect, so I use these shoots to nail down my skills and stay in good production-shape.

GEEKERY: Personal work is hands down the most important part of my creative process. PRE-, is so important for the success of any project. I'm sinking my own money, sometimes large sums of it, into these shoots and I can't afford to throw it away because I wasn't prepared.


Sometimes I procrastinate over the execution of my ideas because I am scared to death that after investing in all of the above it is going to hail stones the size of hedgehogs or rain all over my lighting gear. So I wait, and wait, and wait until the conditions are "perfect". Someone once said to me that there is never a perfect time to have a child. But once you do you wondered what an earth you were waiting for. There is never a perfect moment for anything in life, and even if there was such a thing most likely it would have been down to things way beyond our control.

GEEKERY: If you have a problem biting the bullet, find someone who you can be accountable to. A friend, a marketing consultant, a fellow photographer, your mum. Make yourself accountable to someone and stop the excuses.

Bite the bullet! You won't regret it, I promise.

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