HOW TO TUESDAY #7 - Finding Inspiration and Photographing Outside of Your Comfort Zone / by Zack Smith

I learned so much in the last year, doing research, visiting, and photographing the many talented artists that were featured in My Louisiana Muse. Not only did I get to photograph these Louisiana artists in their inspiring sacred spaces, I got to hear from the horses' mouths on what makes them "tick".

No other message rang louder than what musician Tommy Michot said about making Gumbo. Living in South Louisiana sometimes our greatest teachers are food. Tommy was recounting his days living in Utah and telling me that it was there, so far away from his hometown of Lafayette, that he learned to make his first gumbo. He recounted that being so far away from home made him adapt and learn the things that made him feel closer to home in a way. I feel the same way about photography. 

There are some weeks when I feel like I am in the circular whizzing treadmill of Bid, Proposal, Shoot, Edit, and Deliver.... Repeat, Rest, Repeat. This part of being a freelance photographer can wear on your soul and your creativity for sure! Now don't get me wrong, I find ways to be creative on the jobs I go for and the proposals I create and I do still feel in full control of my content and direction. But the grind wears on you! One technique I have used and often use is to "step outside the bubble".

In order to be able to step outside of the 'treadmill', I like to simplify my creative photographic approach on any given day. Here are several ways I change up my routine and find some creativity when life gets too much like the hamster:

1. One Lens. All Day. Try taking out just a fixed prime lens, like a 50mm or a 35mm and force yourself to document your day with one focal length. I find that by limiting my field of view, it forces me to find new ways to compose my story.

2. 'Feels Weird, Looks Good'. Try photographing subject matter which you don't normally shoot. If you are timid around people, ask a stranger to take their portrait. If you don't photograph landscapes, go on an "architecture walk" in the French Quarter and find some houses to photograph. It's funny the way new opportunities present themselves when you are "out of your bubble". (I often use 'feels weird looks good' when photographing portraits of people who aren't used to getting their picture taken. I can sense they are uneasy at times, and I say it....it really works, try it!)

3. Try New Editing Techniques. We all have a certain editing comfort zone we gravitate towards when putting the final creative touches to a photograph. Next time you are in front of some of your work, try a new edit - play around with some filters, clarity, and some contrast. When you shoot RAW you have no excuse NOT to experiment!

4. Put the Camera down and Pick Up a Book. I am a bonafide book reader. I love to read and I get so much inspiration from books. Books on artists, creativity, and non-fiction give me ideas that make me want to go and DO. Sometimes putting the camera down and picking up a book can lead to new projects or new insights on existing projects.

5. Go. See. Involve. Anywhere you live there is a gallery with some photography on the wall, a museum, or a great coffee shop exhibit. Art and photography are all around us even if we are not attuned to it in nature, someone else is. Spend a few hours at a museum or photography gallery or just pick up a photo book. I recently stopped by our friend Scott Edwards' gallery this week to pickup some early Christmas gifts. His new and used photography book collection is amazing. I had to buy some for myself!

These are just a few practices I use to mix up my status quo when the treadmill gets a little too monotonous. What are some tactics YOU employ to burst out of your Bubble??

Zack