It’s been a while since I published something new on the blog. In part because after holidays I promised myself a short break from writing, and also in part because I was so busy on the business side. I haven’t been shooting as much lately, but when I do I have a total blast. A few weeks ago I spent three days shooting American Contemporary Ballet, the company with whom I spent the last two years capturing their rehearsals and performances.
I’ve been thinking lot about writing on shooting in series and importance of that.I think this photo collection below will be a very good example of that. In general, I see a lot of photographers capture everything they see and have no clear focus in the portfolio. Having focus is difficult, it means you need to say no, to be more selective, and to put yourself in a position where creating new interesting work is most difficult – shooting the same subject over and over.
1. Saying No and Being Selective
Discipline does not come easy to everyone. It’s a bit of a catch 22 when you hear you need to shoot as much as you can and also that you need to be selective. Personally, it was painful process when I went away from travel and just random photos captured and stored in my library to very focused subject matters. I went away from shooting everything to shooting 9 things. I also differentiated what I shoot for my blog. That was not easy either.
In many ways, you think there is a missed opportunity. What if this one photo you just didn’t take ended up on the cover of some book or magazine? It’s a stressful decision to make. It means you made a conscious choice that you only focus on certain things. Being selective is close to choosing a very niche profession. It means you’re investing all the talent and time you have in a single thing, or maybe a handful of subject matters. There is no such thing as being everything for everyone. I used to think this is not true, but the further I go on my career path, the more it is evident that success needs to have a focus.
When you shoot in series, you create boundaries for yourself. You limit what you shoot, you limit what your audiences will see. You show that you’re cophisticated enough to only do certain kind of work. So when you feel like you just want to shoot some random stuff, don’t put it up in your portfolio. Be selective.
2. Shooting Same Subject
My first real challenge of shooting the same subject was with the Shaper series. It’s always an almost identical small room, almost the same setup, and almost the same dim blue light. I was scared to do the first shoots because I had no confidence that I won’t bring home exactly the same photos over and over again. After about 5-7 shoots I noticed that actually I can focus on different things for each shoot. After another five shoots I started planning more and thinking about the 10 photos I want to bring for my portfolio. Usually from about 800 shot you’ll have 50 good ones and maybe 5-10 best ones.
I think at this point I have 32 separate Shaper shoots in my portfolio. I took it to the next level with ballet work, some of which you see here. It was the same process of building confidence with each shoot. None of the photos in my portfolio are staged, so all the prep I do is on my end: my movement, my position, my timing.
Shooting in series is an intimidating task at first. It does not feel good at first. It’s stressful and a bit scary at times. But after 4-5 years of shooting like this myself, I can say that this is exactly what every successful photographer is doing, both for personal growth and skills and for business side of photography as well.
3. Focused Portfolio
Now let’s talk about business. I know many of us might be good at portraits, travel, reportage, street, wedding, architecture, pets, maternity, product work, and so on. The problem is that if you have so many areas of work, nobody will have a clear idea on what exactly you do and who you are. Focused portfolio creates sort of a shortcut in the minds of your clients. They know that you’re in this one specific category. That to you they should come for these kinds of shoots. Focused portfolio also limits the number of other photographers you compete with. It also limits your marketing focus. You’re not trying to eat the whole pie, just a bit of it.
If this is not convincing enough, think of Ikea. Ikea has only 6% market share in its industry and is one of the most successful companies today. Let’s take wedding photography for example, last time I checked there were about 3 million weddings each year in the USA alone. And now imagine you were only shooting the weddings of tattoed couples, or maybe “hipsters” (think awesome vintage dress, Portland coast, candles on the beach, creative couple, and a bit of grainy faded look to th photos). Now you’re talking about a very certain kind of clients who browse certain websites, have their own subculture, and definitely have a pretty closed community where referrals can generate the majority of your business. All of a sudden you have a very focused marketing plan and you’re not poking holes in the wall.
When I shoot ballet, I am 100% me. I’ve already made a choice on what goes to my portfolio, what I show on socials, what I post on the blog, and what I shoot for the store. Ballet for me is a fantastic opportunity to be present in a perfect almost film like setting. And the best part is that now I am completely blended with the ballet company and dancers. There is no tension, no hiding of emotions or trying to look pretty. I am able to show real people in real settings, unfiltered and unstaged. To me this is priceless. Unless I had a focused portfolio in the first place, I would’ve never gotten this job. I was selected exactly because of how I curate my work. I will leave you with this thought..