I am a firm believer that personal creative shoots are key to photographers growing and pushing themselves forward with their skills. The key to getting better isn’t buying more expensive equipment or binge watching online tutorials. It is getting out there, getting your hands dirty, and using the equipment you have to get the image you see in your mind through trial and error. You can experiment here and there in a shoot for a client, but you still must produce the images the client is after, so too much experimentation during a paid shoot is not a great idea. For this reason, starting a personal project, or scheduling a trade shoot with another local creative is almost always the better option. During a personal creative shoot, you have the entire shoot to experiment with every aspect of your image, and you don’t have to worry about screwing up – you can plan on screwing up.
However, there are good ways and bad ways to experiment, and if you want to get the most out of your personal creative shoots, be that better images or more experience, then you should make sure and consider the following things when planning it out.
Experimenting With Purpose
The first and biggest thing you should do before jumping into a personal shoot is to have a goal for your experimentation. You need to ask yourself what you want to get out of the shoot. Are you trying to get better with manipulating natural light? Maybe looking to work on your composition? Need some practice with layering? These, or any other goal you may have, are just as valid as any other, but you should think about it and identify what it is before you plan your shoot, and most definitely before you show up for it.
If you don’t have a goal in mind then your experimentation just becomes random mindless image taking, and while that may be good for a nice shot here or there, it will not be helping you grow and address your shortcomings as a photographer. If you have a goal in mind, you can focus your experiments on aspects of the shoot that will be best suited to help you address these concerns.
Keep It Simple, Keep It Focused
If you really want to increase your growth, then you will want to focus your experimentation during a shoot on one aspect of your photography. Everything else should be as similar to how you normally do things as possible. This way, when you do something right, you can be assured it was because of the experiment you just did, rather than one of many other things it could be if experimenting with multiple things at once.
It’s the scientific method people: keep everything as consistent as possible expect your intended variable.
Focus On Your Failures As Much Or More Than Your Wins
If you are being creative and experimenting then you will no doubt fail from time to time. You may even fail more often than you don’t. But this is not something to be discouraged by because every failure is an opportunity to learn about what you did wrong and provide you with the experience you need to fix it in the future.
So rather than deleting all of your failures after you cull your shoot, go over them with a fine tooth comb, and analyze them. If the mistakes are obvious, take note of them. If they are not, then take more time to really look at the image and find what bothers you about it – then make note of that and how you could have avoided it at the shoot.
This will give you a roadmap for what to adjust at your next creative shoot to give you better results.
Get Constructive Critique From Those You Trust
Another valuable tool is getting feedback from other photographers whom you trust. I don’t mean to go to some random forum or facebook group. In those scenarios you don’t know who you are getting feedback from. Maybe the person who hates your image has no idea what you were going for, your previous skill, or has no experience with that genre of photography at all.
You should reach out to a friend or two and have them give you some honest feedback on how you did at the shoot. If you combine this with the analysis of your failures, you should have a pretty good roadmap on how to improve for the next shoot.
Shoot As Often As Possible
Finally, shoot for yourself and your creative mind as often as possible. The more often you are flexing your photographer skills, the easier it will come to you during important paid shoots. This is something many photographers overlook. They use their gear a few times a month and wonder why they never get any better. Then the excited photographer who has time, shoots multiple times per week, is always practicing and growing and getting better, and these photographer’s complain and wonder how these inexperienced so and so’s are getting all this work.
It’s because they know their gear like the back of their hand, and are sharp with both their technical photography skills and their creative minds. So don’t be the bum who never uses their gear and always complains about sucking. Use it as often as you can, shooting whatever you can and utilize the tips I mentioned above.
Do so and you will be on the path to better photography.