How Fuji helped me out of my creative plateau as a professional photographer
I recently interviewed world renowned celebrity wedding and lifestyle photographer Mike Colon for an upcoming episode of the Sprouting Photographer podcast. Mike is an amazing photographer – his client list includes Usher, Jim Carrey, Mel Gibson, Grace Ormonde and Louis Vuitton among others. His work can be found in publications such as People, Us Weekly, Instyle, Rangefinder, Photo District News, American Photo, Shutterbug, as well as many of the Amherst Media and fine art photography books found in bookstores today. Mike knows his stuff, and one look at his website validates that he really is an outstanding photographer.
Mike is also a highly sought after speaker in the photography industry and teaches at all of the major photography conferences across the country and abroad. This is why I asked him to be on our podcast – to talk business!
One of the discussions that Mike and I get into in the podcast is the psychology of pricing for photographers. As you know, pricing is a topic that is near and dear to me – Rob and I wrote a book on the topic! I love Mike's purist approach to pricing, though – he explains how important it is that as you increase you prices, you must also simultaneously increase your photographic quality and your customer service. It kind of comes down to a “chicken or the egg” problem – do you produce better quality imagery and increase your customer service level and then increase your price to match? Or do you increase your price and then scramble to get your imagery and customer service up to the same level? You'll have to listen to the podcast (once it's live) to hear Mike's full answer.
Ultimately though, Mike suggests that it's a constant back-and-forth game. Raising one (image quality and customer service), raising the next (pricing) and then repeating back and forth. This is how Mike has reached the level that he is at now, where most of his wedding commissions are in the $15-20,000 range.
Let's talk about increasing your photographic quality. If you want to truly take your business to a new level, this is the next logical step – improving your photography. It's all great and well to want to improve your imagery, but how? And what if you've been shooting for a while and don't know where to go? What if you've hit a creative plateau?
What to do if you feel like you aren't growing as much as you would want to.
Sometimes photographers hit the “creative plateau” where they aren't growing as photographers as much as they once were when they were perhaps starting out. Their work is still great and they are happy with it, but they aren't improving or doing anything new. They are stagnant. They have plateaued. How do we break out of this “creative plateau” though? I would suggest that we need to look at other cases where plateau exists and learn from them, most notably, in the body building and personal fitness space.
According to this website, a training plateau is defined as:
A time when you are no longer progressing in your workouts. You may have simply stopped being able to add more weight to your sets, or perhaps you haven't gained any additional muscle in quite some time.
After researching all over the internet, there seems to be 4 common suggestions from body builders and trainers as to how to get over a plateau. Most suggest some version or combination of the following:
- Changing your routine
- Changing your frequency
- Plan a period of rest
- Trying a new technique/method of exercising
How to get overcome and get over a creative plateau.
Bringing this back into the photography space, let's explore how we can take advantage of the research that's gone into overcoming a plateau for body building and apply it to the creative plateau for photographers.
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Change your routine
Perhaps you could change what you're photographing. If you're a wedding photographer, try photographing something completely unrelated, like street photography. Sprouting Photographer content creator, Robert Nowell, recently went through this exercise himself. He went out with the class that he teaches at Mohawk College and had a day of street photography. The images he created were great, and it was an exercise in creative flexibility and inspiration.
Change your frequency
If you're a busy working photographer, you might be shooting for clients several times per week. Have you thought about changing up your frequency of shooting to breath new life into your work? What if you decided that you'd only shoot once per week for the next month or so? Would that help? Or maybe you need a push in the other direction – what if you made it an effort to get out and shoot more often for the next little while?
Plan a period of rest
If you're a wedding photographer, picture yourself in the middle of wedding season, when you are constantly go, go, go. We love photography, but sometimes when we need to take a break. Planning a period of rest isn't a bad thing. Take a vacation or take an intentionally planned period away from the camera so that you can refresh yourself and come back “at it” inspired.
Break your creative plateau – try something new or change your routine!
Try a new technique/method
There is so much photography education available in many different forms – workshops, online blogs, forums, Facebook groups, podcasts, videos, etc. Try diving into one specific piece of education or medium and learn something new. Try something different. Adapt a new technique or method of photographing. If you're used to shooting with available light, then why not try getting some studio strobes and trying them? If you're used to shooting with your 50mm f/1.2 lens, then why not try shooting only with a 14mm wide angle instead? It would be tough, but it'd be a great creative exercise that forces you to try something new and different.
What broke my plateau
I found myself in a place recently where I wasn't growing as a photographer anymore. I was very happy with my work, and my clients were beyond thrilled, but I wasn't doing anything new for me. I was in a creative plateau. What got me out of it? Well, first was David Beckstead (read the full story on my blog). Second was the Fuji mirrorless camera system.
David Beckstead – Master of composition, light and lines
David gave a full-day seminar at the Fall PPOC-Ontario convention, and spoke about learning to see creatively, composition and seeing light. The day after the convention, David hosted a private, intimate shooting-style workshop, and this is where the magic happened for me. David’s style is dynamic, energized, highly stylized and very dramatic. He creates “wow” images out of very bland or otherwise ordinary situations and he’s known in the industry for his ability to see light.
What inspired me the most though was his thought process. He is very analytical when looking at a scene and he creates an image because he wants to create an image. He is intentional – he comes up with the concept, the composition and the mood in his head before the camera even comes up to his eye. Watching his process and hearing this perspective was refreshing and inspiring.
David photographs B&W portraits with a Fuji X-E1, and to his own admission, this camera has made him slow down and think things through much more effectively. It’s almost a throw-back to the film days when you would choose to make a picture on a camera loaded with B&W film because you wanted to create a B&W image, as opposed to arbitrarily converting an image to B&W afterwards.
This is what impacted me the most. Be purposeful, be intentional and slow down. I went out and tried this new technique/method (tip #4 for breaking creative plateau, above) right away and haven't looked back since.
I have since been a Fuji shooter for 50% of my professional work, and 100% of my personal work, and my photography has a whole new passion behind it for me. I love everything about the Fuji camera system, from the image quality, the feel, and the mechanics of it to how it makes me think as a photographer. I have since been sponsored by Fuji as a Fuji X-Phototgrapher and am very honoured to be able to “spread the word” and help inspire other photographers to see differently.
Breaking your creative plateau
Some considerations for you
If you are in a creative plateau, how could you break out of it? We have explored some great ideas above, and while this certainly isn't meant to be a commercial for Fuji, I would definitely suggest that you experiment with equipment as one way of potentially breaking the mould. The mirrorless camera market is a great space to try something new right now with so many great (affordable) options out there. The Sony A7, the Panasonic GX7, the Olympus OM-D-EM-1, the Fuji X-T1, they're all great options. You may just discover a whole new approach to photography and the way you see light, lines and composition.
The business case for inspiration
Sprouting Photographer is an educational site for photographers all about business, so let's bring this around full-circle. As Mike Colon said in his upcoming podcast interview – in order to increase your price and your bottom line, you need to improve your imagery and your customer service. Really, this discussion has been all about that – improving your imagery by breaking out of your creative habits. If you can re-ignite your passion and be artistically inspired, then you are halfway there to being able to justifiably increase your prices! Seems simple, right? So get out there and get shooting, then!
What to do next
Determine if/where you are stuck, creatively. Where can you improve as a photographer and inject more passion?
Try changing your routine, changing your frequency or planning a rest period to break out of your creative plateau.
To inspire your creativity, try something new. Experiment with a new technique or piece of equipment.
Tie everything back to your client-work. Find new ways to shoot for your clients. Try new things. Enjoy your newfound passion!
I had the pleasure of interviewing David Beckstead for a recent episode of the Sprouting Photographer podcast. I invite you to check out the show notes and web-playback here or you can listen it to it in iTunes here.