I am going to start this conversation with an immediate counterpoint. Having a specialty within photography is a good thing, a very good thing. Specializing in one aspect of imagery will help you define yourself both artistically and commercially. Clients want to hire a food photographer to shoot food and a fashion photographer to shoot fashion and on down the line. One of the aspects I like best about being an action sports and adventure travel photographer is that I get to shoot myriad subjects. Yet even though I get to shoot portraits, food, landscapes etc they need to be shot within a style that says “travel”.
Sometimes grinding away for months at time on your usual subjects can leave you tired and artistically flat. One of the best ways I know of to refresh yourself and start looking at photography differently is to step out of your normal routine and shoot a completely different subject. If you are a landscape photographer maybe try some portraiture, if you shoot sports maybe try your hand at macro and vice-versa.
Recently I was given an opportunity to step out of my own box and try my hand at a few new subjects. The Breckenridge Arts District contacted me to help them with a few projects including
- Document Breckenridge Public Art holdings
- Cover some Brecreate events
- Shoot portraits of local and visiting artists.
- Document some of the newly remodeled building on campus
These new subjects both challenged me and helped me to be a better photographer. I stepped out of my comfort zone and created some images I otherwise never would have. For example, the shots of the public art holdings had me puzzled. I wanted the images to stand out and not just be simple snapshots, but at the same time I did not want the photos be so outlandish that they would be more powerful than the art I was documenting. My solution was to use Sigma’s 24mm f1.4 Art, 35mm f1.4 Art, and 50mm f1.4 Art and shoot them close to wide open and with some off camera flash. This really separated the art from the background and truly highlighted the work.
The portraits were a great exercise too. My typical assignment work does call on me to shoot portraits, but usually they are more of the informal gritty type that outdoor publications seem to like. Now I would need to be able to do something more formal. I turned to Sigma’s 50mm f1.4 Art, 85mm f1.4, and even the 70-200mm f2.8, and shot them close to wide open using both natural and flash light. Not a big deal to a portrait photographer, but for and adventure photographer, this was certainly not what I was used to doing.
What did I get out of a new and different portfolio? Well for one thing I had a great time shooting for the Arts District, but I also got an editorial assignment out of it. Somewhat surprisingly an editor called that had seen some of the work and asked if I would be interested in a documentary style shoot for an upcoming article. Absolutely!
Moving outside your photographic genre is incredibly fun and artistically energizing. Next time you find yourself in a creative funk, don’t put down the camera just shoot a fresh subject! Use your lenses in a new way and try something completely different. Maybe you’ll land a new client and maybe not, but I guarantee the worst thing to happen is that you might just learn something about photography and about yourself!