The Photographers Academy

Flexing that creative muscle

I’ve been a full-time equine portrait photographer for 13 years. I’m blessed with a full diary which sees me traveling the world on private commissions and have had many images published worldwide. I also run the Training Barn with the highly talented Emily Hancock, someone I still call my mentor as well as my side kick and friend. It was Emily who taught me the important of flexing that creative muscle.

Having established my business and a steady stream of clients one thing I neglected (a lot) was pushing and developing my creativity. The images I produced for my clients were always well received and I was making a good income from them.

Equine portrait photographer

Time taken out of shooting for a client, marketing or admin was wasted time, or so I thought. It was so indulgent without a clear objective, little did I know.

I’m going to be very open here, 6 years ago or so, the concept of creating images without a financial or portfolio gain was alien to me. I built my business from literality nothing. I had no savings and I had bills to pay that were solely my responsibility. The thought of going out and having a creative day or even weekend was complete madness, or so I thought.

If I were creating a fine art collection to sell afterwards then this would get scheduled in the diary. If I wanted to create a collection for an exhibition, then I got planning immediately. However, simply coming up with a concept, planning it out, finding the location, booking the models and shooting without a next step just wasn’t in my plan.

The problem with constantly shooting client job after client job is that you can’t experiment, and you get creative blindness. I used to try different poses or lighting conditions on shoots, but never too far as I wanted to ensure the results. Also, you never get any better, because you’re shooting the same collection albeit with slightly different locations.

We want to encourage every photographer to shoot for pleasure. Its builds skills with your camera, the settings, the ability to use all sorts of light and weather conditions. You also build a bank of poses in your head, locations to use and avoid. Backdrops that distract or enhance. You will also start seeing the shapes, lines and movement in horses, where do they look good and what pose makes them look downhill.

The aim, as an artist, is to evolve. Whether you’re a full-time equine photographer or a hobbyist we should all aim high, want more from yourself and get uncomfortable. The only way you can keep getting to the next level is through trial and error. I still come up with creative shoots and some of the images I take will never see the light of day, because they didn’t work. We cannot create the good without seeing the bad.

If I take a look at my work from 6 years ago, I can still be proud of those images and my clients still adore each and every one of them. However, I don’t want to be producing the exact same results 6 years later and without creative shoots this is what can happen. If you’re a professional photographer, you need to be known for your creativity and style.

Here’s why I think creative shoots or creative workshops are essential for all photographers, pro and hobbyist.

1.     Getting better and moving forward. On one of my creative shoots with my mentor she suggested I change one setting in my camera to see the results. I overexposed for half of my shoot and then under exposed for the second half. We then went through the resulting images and picked through what I liked and disliked from this change. It was then that I discovered my love of back lit images and using my over or under exposure to compensate.

Another discovery I made on a creative shoot was my signature walking away shot.

I lie down on my stomach, my f-stop is set to 2.8 and I photograph my subjects walking away and walking towards me. Such a simple change to my rhythm of shooting but again my clients love the images.

Many of the delegates who train with us now try this composition on our creative shoots together to add it to their pose list.

2.     By setting up or attending creative shoots / workshops you can be seen by a wider audience and talk about something else other than client work. Top, high end clients like to know they are commissioning an artist. Someone who views the world differently and is able to capture this. The only way you can do this is by practicing what it is you’re able to see and executing it for your clients.

3.     You can create and develop amazing new contacts on creative shoots. From models, mentors to recommended suppliers. The equine photography world is a very small one, so having cheerleaders in our corner helps a lot and many of these can be other equine photographers.

4.     Exposure for your business. Marketing is hard enough at the best of times, we need to be marketing ninjas these days to be really noticed. Magazine editorials, blog features or an article like this come from us pushing the boundaries and producing something a little different is essential. If you decided to go out on a snowy day and photograph the horses at a local yard then you could come up with something rather special. Maybe you go to your local magazines or even national magazines with a story of how you created the images? Clients understand you’re not going to be creating that exact moment with them, but they want to hire someone who inspires them.

5.     Keep developing those skills and evolve.  You will never reach your creative limit or finish learning. If you don’t change anything, you will always get, what you’ve always got.

Emily and I see many talented photographers come to us, frustrated with their image or editing results, blaming lack of talent, 9 times out of 10 it’s because they’re not shooting for creativity or pleasure.

It’s important to flex that creativity in your editing and processing of your images. In our Shoot, Shadow and Shine courses Emily and I put on 3 photoshoots over 2 days. We want to give our delegates space to try new techniques without the stress of a client. We also have an intensive 3hr editing session after the 3 photoshoots. Processing your images can either make or break their success.

We all progress so much through creative shoots that we have now created a 5-day retreat in Portugal to capture Lusitano horses. This Portuguese breed of horses move quite differently, and we have the added difference of Portuguese stables, landscapes, lighting and weather conditions.

Whether you’re a full-time photographer or a hobbyist its essential to work on those creative skills. Play with your ISO, f-stop, lighting, backdrops, models and locations. You never know what you’ll discover or improve on.

When you’re on workshops or courses you’ll also learn from the other photographers, not just the instructors. I remember when someone showed me the double exposure setting on my camera on a course, mind blown!

Being creative on shoots or workshops simply enhances your skills as a photographer. You’ll be able to come up with solutions for your clients if you have tricky lighting or location quickly and without it being a guess.

Lastly, don’t over think a creative shoot. It doesn’t need to be filled with artificial lighting, fog machines or elaborate costumes. 2 that come to mind of mine for example was shooting with one of my clients at sunset. We shot for maybe 20 minutes and I just played with the light.

Another creative shoot was a beach shoot BUT in the winter months with fog and overcast. It really made me stretch my imagination for the shots. My aim was to create a full set of images using just the beach and sand dunes.

Don’t disregard flexing that muscle! You are all worth it.

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Posted on

23rd February 2022