On the discussion forums there is always background chatter about how to find your own style and make your photography better. The key to it all is passion.
When you see the work of a photographer who is passionate about the art, it’s obvious. It comes across as a total involvement, a total commitment, and a totally genuine attachment to their subject, process and presentation. The work oozes sincerity, as does the photographer when discussing the work.
This is why the images you create in order to please others, to satisfy a judge, or in the hope of making money can lack something—some soul, depth, or other intangibles that can elevate the image to a higher level of quality. When our motivations for a shot don’t come from our true passions, we will not infuse the work with a piece of our own soul, our own life force energy. And the photograph will be the lesser for it. People will sense it, even if they are not aware of what they are sensing.
Now of course there are photographers whose passion lies in satisfying the client. These photographers can take a shot that they would not do for themselves but still do so from a point of passion. The resulting image will have power and touch us. In professional photography it is essential to have this passion for pleasing the client, for not only meeting their needs, but exceeding them. Those who have this passion will succeed. Those who do not will struggle.
So if passion is the key, how do you find it? This is the million-dollar question and there is not a simple, single answer. Here are some pointers:
- What are you good at?
- What excites you?
- What do you dream about?
- What do you read about?
- What are you keen to talk about?
- What areas of your life seem to flow?
- What types of relationships seem to work the best?
The answers to any or all of the above can point you towards your passion. Similarly, answers to opposite questions (What bores you? What are you bad at?) will tell you what directions to avoid.
For example, unless I’m in a teaching role (which I am passionate about), my direct relationships with end consumers are sometimes challenging. Not painful always; these relationships just don’t flow well for me. So it is clear to me that I am better off working behind the scenes and with partners than in anything involving direct selling with the general public. Thus, I avoid things like wedding and portrait photography, preferring to work with web development and publishing.
But to answer the questions above with any sort of accuracy, you need a breadth of experience. So the first step is to widely explore, experiment, and try all sorts of things. This is one reason why many people only find their passion later in life. They need the experience first to work it all out.
It is also why a good education for children is critical in giving them an early start in life. A good education isn’t about how much information they can pack into their brains, but is more about the breadth of exposure they receive.
Passion can be very specific. When I look at the portfolios of photographers, I am often struck by how much of their work is workmanlike but not exceptional. In many cases, one subject, approach, or technique truly shines, but the rest of their work lacks something.
Sometimes, a portrait photographer might show me flower studies that really jump. Or, a product photographer might have abstract architectural pieces that are absolutely stunning. Finding the passion will improve all their photography but the passion will show through stronger in some areas than others.
If you have been shooting broadly for sometime, have a look through your entire body of work and pull out what you consider the strongest images. If you have people with excellent taste and visual skills in your life, ask them to identify your strongest work. You may find that all this work has a common thread that might point you to your passion.
In my case, despite the huge range of subject matter and approaches I have used over 35+ years of photography, people are consistently drawn to two types of images: my infrared landscapes or images made up of multiple images themselves, either through multiple exposure or collage. So for me, there seem to be two passions. The reality is that I am at my happiest creatively when doing either. So this tells me which areas I should concentrate on and push further.
Once you have identified your passion area(s) in photography, concentrate on developing those. Push these as far as you know how, then keep pushing them further as your mastery expands over time. You can do this while shooting other types of photography (including the stuff that pays the bills). But if you regularly devote some time to your passion area(s) you will be a happier, more creative person and you may ultimately achieve a real breakthrough in your passion area.
Life was meant to be passionate. Are you alive?