Finding your 'voice' as a photographer

The title of this blog makes me cringe. Finding your voice? Jeez. I’ll admit It’s a bit overblown but it does sum it up for me & I do realise you might have your hands over your mouth right now trying not to gag, but you get my drift and I’ll move swiftly on!

I suspect this film in 1977 played a large part of my seeing life a bit differently and more cinematic

I suspect this film in 1977 played a large part of my seeing life a bit differently and more cinematic

So my passion for portraits came from ... god knows where. Very possibly my dads love of film and us going to the cinema a lot as kids. Life just seemed better cinematic to me then, and I've always loved watching people. Not like a stalker/Hannibal Lecter kind of thing, but as an observer. I could sit and watch people for hours (in a non creepy way).

Like everything in life, we understand some subjects more in depth than other subjects, and we also know deeper subsets of that subject more than other parts of them. On the whole, anything you get into can be picked up and used without too much hassle. It’s life 101. Once we start learning a really broad subject, it can be pretty easy for the reasons why we started to learn them to become a bit muddied. As if we've become so over loaded with the multitudes of options, we can become almost stymied by it all. And this is where we can get a bit de-railed. If you are anything like me, you try and learn everything because it’s the only way you can understand what you are trying to do. And rarely does that work out well for me.

I have always loved portrait photography and always first as an appreciator. But I was a bit too scared to try and shoot portraits and I was honestly intimidated by lighting and all of the daunting aspects of it that just made my head hurt!! A light metre? What kind of high tech witchcraft is that! It wasn't for me, it was all a bit too scary, so when I picked up a camera, I’d taken portraits off the table in my head already. It was for people far better than I. *Know your place

So, I loved portrait photography but I’d just have to do the other things I liked to see and try and learn. City-scapes and street photography. I was something else I loved in photography and that in my mind was just so much easier. So I'd trek out with my gear at 5am and capture parts of London as it woke up, and below are some of the shots I took. It was pretty solitary on the whole, but I enjoyed it and was always excited to get home and see what I could scratch out of what I’d shot!

Turns out like anything though, the deeper you get into something, the deeper it becomes. Learning long exposures, ND filters, getting equipment to work, working out when tides when out, sunsets, etc, etc. It was a lifelong rabbit hole that I hadn’t appreciated would be so deep.

Then a good friend bought some studio lights, and I thought "Yes! I can learn portraits with them!" And then they promptly stopped doing it after I invested in a load of Elinchrom gear, so it left me trying to figure it out myself (and that is another story). 

 What I’ve subsequently realised is that I tried to shoot everything that fell under the umbrella of studio lighting. The target idea of shooting portraits become enveloped entirely in all studio lighting in my thinking then. Headshots, full length, etc, etc everything. It was like being in a sweet shop and someone telling you that you can eat what you want so then you run around eating everything, and then feel tired, restless and unsatisfied and ultimately confused about what you want. My work was a mess and it had no real coherence or definable style as such (which I can now see looking back at it). 

So eventually this thing that I didn’t quite grasp hit me as a deep dissatisfaction. When I should have just been shooting portraits I was being a jack of all trades and master of none. And I hated it. Nothing really worked for me. I'd learnt lots of different lighting techniques but nothing sated me creatively. Then one Christmas soon after I was bought a book by Annie Liebovitz. Even though it was the usual kind of mayhem at Christmas of running around seeing family, etc, my mind was sufficiently rested and I had managed to clear myself of a number of negative people and situations in my life. It kicked in exactly what I needed to see and be inspired by. The only daunting thing was learning the style I wanted to shoot! I had stood back from the maelstrom of my confusion over what I really wanted to get out of studio lighting, which was in fact to take portraits of people that they would like and that would sate me creatively.

Ultimately, I’d managed to confuse myself with too many options and everyone telling me what I should be shooting, etc. Real character driven portraiture is what I wanted to shoot and what I felt passionate about shooting I just got into my own head.  It's what makes me grin now while I'm working in the studio, and editing the shots afterwards. I found my passion, and I found what I wanted to shoot. 

 So, ‘Know your place’. No one can tell you where that is. Only you can know that. Just because you aren’t there yet doesn’t mean you won’t be. Your place is a marker on a map. You can pick it up and move it.