I once studied fine art photography at one of the most competitive art programs in the country. As students, we underwent daily series of grueling critiques about our work; why is it relevant or unique; how does the execution of the work reinforce the concept; and what made it specifically yours? I had a drive and passion for making art, and after graduation I moved to Spain to continue broadening my horizon. When I returned to the States I started photographing wedding and portraits, and I was able to make a decent living. After a few years of surviving the rush of a busy season and diving right into the next one, the curious art student I once was seemed have to slowly disappeared. The everyday grind of staying afloat in a sea of talented photographers and inspiring images, had led my business to become just that: a business. What I wish I knew then is that keeping your unique creative voice at the center of everything is key.
As photographers, we use the lens to tell stories, and it is a beautiful privilege and powerful tool to capture amazing moments that would otherwise go unnoticed. What sets us apart as artists, is that despite using the same tools, we tell these stories by using our own unique voice. I realized that by dedicating myself to please clients and being competitive in the market, I had stopped listening to my own. The voice that had driven me to break out of my comfort zone and dive into the unknown, had gotten quiet and put in the corner while I was too busy putting the business first.
It took quite some soul-searching, before I decided to make a radical change and go back to my roots of shooting analog film. Almost immediately, I felt the joy of composing each image with the utmost deliberation, I fell in love again with the magic of the grain, and eventually, the joy in my art. Frame by frame, I began to uncover my creative self again. By redirecting my voice at the center of it all- the art of photography and the business, everything has fallen back into place! I found myself having more time for inspiration and living life more deeply; and I’ve started to be satisfied with the work I’m making. By letting go of the preconceived notions what clients (or the industry) might expect, I’ve started attracting clients who really treasure my images. Those same art school questions ring frequently in my ears, and instead of listening to what I think I should be doing because the bloggers want this, or I think my clients want that; I’m using the best guide to determine the criteria to determine my next steps- my own voice.
Admittedly, this is a challenge each day, and I still try to conquer the fear and doubt of doing things because I have to; and instead listen to what I want to say through my work. How? Three tips that I’ve picked up along the way:
Tip #1 The comparison trap
Although it is important to be aware of what other creators in your field are doing, there is an inherent trap in looking at too much work because it influences us so heavily. There is no shame in being inspired by others, but there is the danger of becoming unoriginal when you forget to keep following your heart. It becomes a vicious cycle of looking at people’s amazing work, wanting to emulate others, and then being super disappointed when it falls flat. It’s so important to make your work, because no one else can do that!
Tip #2 Personal projects
The balance of keeping my voice ‘fresh’ is something that I try to recalibrate every few months or so, and personal projects can be the best tool for this. My husband (and second shooter) Thijs and I have made it a mission that when we travel, we connect with local industry professionals to collaborate on some kind of a shoot. Working in a different environment and with new team of people who have a completely fresh vision, has helped me tremendously to creatively think outside of my usual frame of mind. I also love shooting nature and landscapes, and bringing along my camera to new horizons is so refreshing.
Tip #3 Branch out
Another way of stimulating my creativity is by exploring completely different mediums. I love getting lost in the stories of films and movies, I read voraciously, and lately, I’ve been really into essential oils and candle making. I love being inspired by things outside of the photography field, and I find that when I come back to shooting, I see things just a little bit differently! Inspiration can come from anywhere, and I find that I do my best work when I’m rested and have an open mind.
Audra Wrisley is a Washington DC fine art wedding and lifestyle photographer. Her work is internationally publicized and recognized for its unique and dreamlike quality. With a love for analog film, Audra's aesthetic lies in the fusion of editorial photography mixed with an old world flair- melding her training on the New York City Fashion scene and her experiences living in Europe.
When you are finished with your photo session or wedding, do you feel a bit like that guy that was recently dragged off the airplane, semi-conscious and bleeding? Because that is basically what it feels like when you’ve lost control of your clients.
The good news is it doesn’t have to be that way. You just need to reclaim the power.