The Answers Come from Within - Business Coach #4

Thoughts on creating unique work and a personal style

In my previous Business Coach, I asked you to think about what kind of work you’d love to shoot if money was no object. As I've alluded before, this exercise may seem impractical, but in reality, the opposite is true. In order for you to know what path to take, you must first have some understanding of where you're going and why. Once you've come up with some answers, I’ll provide you with the practical tools to help get you there.

Ultimately, the direction I want to point you in is towards creating a body of work that reflects your own personal vision of the world and how you fit into it. The manifestation of this vision is what we generally refer to as personal style. Having a style that is recognizable, unique and emotionally powerful is your best bet for continuing photographic success.

At this point, many of you may be thinking, “I’ve got a personal style. This doesn’t really apply to me.” I get it. I’ve worked with enough photographers and even felt this myself so I’ve heard this sentiment expressed many, many times. The reality is that yes, most photographers probably do have some consistent way of working, but it’s more likely than not just habits formed over time - not the deeper, more significant of form style that I’m going to push you to develop.

Most photographers have a style in that they use a particular lens, pose people a certain way, use a particular light source in a specific way, and apply similar post-processing techniques to their images. That’s fine and even important, but it barely scratches the surface of what’s necessary to creating work that’s truly unique and heartfelt.

If Money Were No Object...
I previously asked you to think about work that you would love to do if money were no object, the work that you would love to create in your heart of hearts. The reason I asked this is because once you understand and accept the work that is truly heartfelt, then you open yourself up to creating work that is authentically you. ("Just be you!")

Let’s face it, there’s no one out there just like you. So the more your work reflects who you are and what your inner-self desires, the less your work will look like anyone else’s. To put this in perspective, think of yourself as a singer. Singers sing the same notes and often the same songs as each other, but no two singers sound alike. Great singers are immediately recognizable once we hear their voices.

Granted, it’s tougher for us since we all shoot either Canon or Nikon - but ultimately my goal as a photographers is for someone to think “That’s a John Mireles photo!” without ever having to look at my photo credit.

So, in order for our work to reflect who we are as unique individuals, it’s important for us understand who we are and what makes us tick. Thus, the process of developing personal vision is really a process of understanding one’s self. I’ll repeat this in bold for dramatic affect:

The process of developing personal vision is really a process of understanding one’s self.

Did the ground shake under your feet? Perhaps it didn’t, but what I’m presenting to you is a major paradigm change. Instead of looking outside of you to find the answers to your success, I’m suggesting that you look inward. Instead of constantly trying to copy the look of others and learn how all the photographic rockstars create their work, your goal should be to understand who you are as a person.

As Michelle McNally, photo editor for the New York Times, suggested to a young photographer interested in working for the newspaper:

The most important work a young photographer can do is existential. You must figure out what kind of photographer you want to be, what do you want to say and how are you going to do it better (different) than others have done before you. 

Here are some existential questions to consider:
What do you love?
What do you fear?
What is the pain you’ve suffered?
What gives you great joy?
What inspires you?
What are the challenges you’ve overcome?

By exploring the answers to these questions, you open yourself to a huge world of subject matter and, most importantly, the ability to connect with others who can relate to your experience. Photography can - should - be the voice that we use to share our most heartfelt emotions with the world. Do that and you will have no shortage of people beating a path to your door.

As we go forward, I’ll show you just how I've put everything I’ve talked about here into practice. All this introspection does lead to some serious business as we’ll see. Stay tuned!

John Mireles
Photographer's Toolkit

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