don’t lose the lesson

“It’s really smokey in here… are those flames coming out of the stand mixer?”   

When moving into editorial and commercial photography, I needed a really good portfolio (see previous post). Really I needed an amazing portfolio!  Which meant some self-produced projects.  Right out of the gate I knew exactly what style I wanted to shoot and how I wanted my commercial work to look and feel.  It was going to be epic environmental portraits of people in rolling landscapes, cozy little boat docks and gorgeous indoor spaces all-a-glow in warm, soft, expensive light. (***cough, Annie Leibovitz, cough***)

The only problem was I’m not Annie Leibovitz (for the record, she may be my all-time favorite photographer), AND the images I was making in my self-produced shoots weren’t very satisfying.  OK, so that’s two problems.

I had the realization around self-produced shoot number eight that I wasn’t loving the images I was making and at this point I was feeling completely and totally defeated.  I’d worked so hard and so long and I didn’t love the style.  So do I scrap everything and start over or do I continue on with a style that I know I don’t love?  It was a tough place to be in after putting forth so much effort.

Right the in the middle of my very exclusive, party of one, by invite only, pity-party, it hit me.  

“Don’t lose the lesson.”  

I don’t remember exactly where I heard that saying the first time, maybe in my late teens while in the army, maybe while in college in Tennessee.  Who knows?  What I take away from this little nugget of wisdom is that I’ll make mistakes (and I’m REALLY good at making them) and I can either wallow in self-defeat or I can take a step back, examine the situation and learn all I can from it.  No need to let a good fail go to waste! 

So that’s what I did, I sat down and examined all the shoots I did up to that point in excruciating detail.  Everything from what went right, what went wrong, how the models were found, the collaboration with the hair and make-up team, location scouting and so on.  I paid special attention to the technical details on each shoot; lighting, camera position, environment… everything.  What I found was I actually did a lot of things right, and on a few of those shoots I found the style I was after buried deep in there.  The one thing that ended up being the most important part of this whole process, defining a shooting style was there the entire time.  Hiding in the midst of my failed errr... self-produced learning opportunities.  

I’ll say it again, don’t lose the lesson.  :) 

Granted I’m not going to use most of what I shot in those early personal projects but now I had a solid clear vision of what I wanted for the future and that was well worth all that time and effort!

Here’s a little behind the scenes of one of those shoots I learned a lot from.  The final image is fine but it’s not the image I had in my head.  Maybe I’ll re-shoot it one day.  :)