Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

"The Spell Book" featuring the incredibly talented Marsha Denlinger 

You know how you can spend years trying to find your photography style? Testing out different techniques and effects hoping that something will eventually evolve into your perfect aesthetic? For a while I was sort of in denial of "my thing." People started taking notice of my studio work and saying things like, "Hey friend, I like your style! You're a great composite photographer." To which my brain went, "No I'm not! Wait what? Am I? ... I have a style?" I was shooting in the studio because it was convenient (I live upstairs ... ), but I hadn't ever really thought of myself as a studio photographer. My photography upbringing had taken place in the woods and on aimless adventures with my mom's camera, so I just assumed my style was going to be found somewhere out in the wilderness. I guess I did take baby step towards "studio work" when I started to steal every light fixture in my parents' house (that wasn't attached to a wall) up to my room to shoot portraits of my friends.     

Let's say you've put in the work and found "your thing." (Feels pretty good, right?) Once you find it, don't fight it. Embrace it. You obviously enjoy it or you wouldn't have made enough pieces in that realm for a style to form. Just go with it, but go absolutely anywhere with it you'd like. Meaning, once you find your style it doesn't mean it should limit you. If you only ever shoot the same exact work, you'll never grow as an artist. If you get too comfortable you'll certainly make lots of wonderful images, but you might start to get bored and your heart may not be in it like it once was. You didn't always have that style, you had to try things and experiment to find it. So why would you ever stop searching?

Who's to say your true style isn't something totally different from the work you're doing now? Perhaps you just had to get through this phase to get to the next. Then that new style you develop isn't even your style either, maybe it's just the next "thing" you enjoy doing before the next! What I'm saying here people, is that our art evolves as we grow and we should never get too passive with our work.

Photoshop layers for

If you try something new and you hate it - well, no big deal. You don't even have to post it, but now you know that's definitely NOT your thing. Maybe you did try a new way of shooting and don't like the outcome, but you picked up a new technique while doing it that you can apply to your current style - sounds like a win to me. You don't have to stray too far from your current "thing" at all. Evolution is gradual. Just throw something new into the mix every now and then.

If you really enjoy shooting portraits, for example (which I obviously do; all my images have human/human-ish subjects), I'm not telling you to stop shooting people in order to grow, but try to think of a new way you've never shot people before. Whether that's using a new piece of equipment, shooting in a different type of location, or maybe something as simple as shooting more than one person in a frame can shake things up. Baby steps, people .... or crazy leaps if you feel like it. Don't think you can't turn the internet on its ass and do something unrecognizable and the polar opposite of what you normally do just for fun. There are no rules in art.

  (This is me setting up lights ... not proposing. Marsha is a super wonderful girl, but  I'm already taken !)

(This is me setting up lights ... not proposing. Marsha is a super wonderful girl, but I'm already taken!)

I've always felt that if I don't find myself feeling nervous about a shoot every once in a while, then I'm not challenging myself. A while back I wrote a post about the first time I really strayed from the studio. It was quite exhilarating. I was most definitely nervous and certainly learned a lot of things that I still use today. (Several things I used while shooting this new image, in fact!) I was still shooting the same sort of image I normally would, but I took a hop and a skip out of my comfort zone and ended up with one of my favorite pieces. Since that image, I've gotten pretty confident shooting outside the safety of the studio, so when Marsha invited me to an old Victorian mansion to shoot for an afternoon with a small group of crazy talented photographers, I felt it was time to mix things up again. 

before and after Photoshopping gif for The Spell Book

Obviously I'm super comfortable in the studio, and now that I've shot on location out in the great wide wilderness on many occasions, I'm pretty comfortable there too. I've added that to my photography tool belt, but what else had I never tried? Location lighting. I realized that I'd never brought flash with me to shoot on a location. It's a whole different ball game to light someone in an actual setting as opposed to on a seamless background in the studio so they can be clipped off and composited. It was time to bridge the gap between my comfort zone and the unknown. 

  I promise that the glorious mess behind me is not a mess at all, but in fact it's a mountain of random props and inspiration! .... Okay so it's also kind of a mess but we are artists leave us alone!

I promise that the glorious mess behind me is not a mess at all, but in fact it's a mountain of random props and inspiration! .... Okay so it's also kind of a mess but we are artists leave us alone!

At the studio I can pre-light things, I know exactly how everything connects, where all the equipment lives, and that no breakers are going to trip halfway through my shoot. I can have everything polished and comfortable before my model even steps foot in the building. However, for this shoot we only had a few hours to shoot in the mansion and several photographers all hoping to get some shots of the same models and to use the same rooms. I couldn't hog all the time with Marsha, so I knew I had to work relatively fast to get everything set up and to my liking. It definitely put the pressure on. The nerves and adrenaline were pumping and I felt fantastic. 

I met Marsha a while back, but we had yet to shoot together. (YAAYY FINALLY!) I had the idea for this image in my back pocket for a long time and once I took note of how fantastically long and gorgeous Marsha's hair was, I realized it was probably time to give the idea a shot. Then I saw that Brooke had brought her incredible huge flowing red dress with her and I knew I most definitely had to shoot this idea! (I was about to tell you what the note in my phone said about the idea, but it just describes the image I made verbatim.) It was so much fun to finally bring this image to life, and it was certainly exciting to have a small audience while shooting, tweaking my lighting, and capturing all the pieces I would need.   

A HUGE thanks to Kim Winey for lending her incredibly artistic eye to this project by way of capturing all of the behind the scenes pictures in this post! I just love them; she is so talented. :) Also thanks to my handy dandy assistants/dress flingers Benoît Barbé and Marsha's mom Sally

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