Don’t Let Fear Stop You from Making the Best Photos of Your Life

Forget awards and honors. Your best photos are the ones only you could have made.
Are you ready to tell the stories only you can tell? (Featuring: KATE THOMPSON)


Some of you have won serious awards: Best of Fancypants, Gold Medal YippeeDooDah, All-Around Awesomesauce.

Most of you are like Most of Us. You’re a really good photographer. Your clients are really happy with everything you deliver. And you make a really satisfactory income doing work you really love.

But award-winning? Nah. Not unless you count that participation ribbon you earned from your sophomore year photography club.

You should know: the problem isn’t with your work. Consider, for a moment, that maybe the problem lies with the industry, and its narrow definition of “the best photos.” And that maybe it’s time for you to let go of that industry standard. Maybe it’s time to start telling the stories only you can tell.

Don't Let Fear Stop You from Making the Best Photos of Your LIfe
Photos by Kate Thompson

Together, we’re going to forge a storytelling template that grants each of you – each of us – permission to make the best photos of our lives; the photos only we can make.


“The documentarian in me strives to tell the truth with photography, but also recognizes that a photo can never represent reality.”

– Kate Thompson


Tell Your Story

Richmond, Virginia, photographer Kate Thompson photographs food, spaces, products, and portraits, as well as weddings and families. Kate also creates with her design studio, and co-organizes The Family Narrative.

As a professional photographer hired to document others’ stories, Kate recognizes that there is no way to photograph a story without bias. Her mere presence influences the moment, and the final image will always bear her impression, though her face is never seen.

Don't Let Fear Stop You from Making the Best Photos of Your LIfe
Photos by Kate Thompson

This is the beauty of telling your story. Not only is your impression expected; it is desired. The story is yours, and without your bias, your perspective, and your unique telling, the final photos may as well be snapshots from an utter stranger.

Stop waiting for someone else to wander in and find your story compelling enough to document. This is your job. Get to it.


“The telling of human stories comes with a bias, and things are what you make of them.” 

– Kate Thompson


Don't Let Fear Stop You from Making the Best Photos of Your LIfe
Photo by Kate Thompson

Be Present For Imperfect Experiences

“What people are ashamed of usually makes a good story,” wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald. The same can be said of compelling photos. Our best photos resonate with something that is more than pretty, more than technically perfect, and certainly more than award-winning.

Gather the folks you love for a meal, and revel in the strange and imperfect moments before you. The faces across from you, the laughter beside you, the tension wafting from one end of the table, the love sifting from the other end: these are stories. You could tell them literally and directly, with crisp pictures of people and moments. Or you could pull back and photograph the the story’s side dishes: the crumbly cakes and pies, the mashed potatoes and gravy, the lumpy oranges in the centerpiece, the linen napkins, the chipped china.

Every little detail carries with it a piece of your history. Be present with it. It will not return.

Don't Let Fear Stop You from Making the Best Photos of Your LIfe
Photos by Kate Thompson

“What initially causes me to click the shutter is the lusty trifecta of moment, light, and composition. What propels me to keep shooting is my connection with the subject and the environment.”

– Kate Thompson


Don’t Be Afraid of Your Own Voice

Do you remember the first time you ever heard your recorded voice? Recall how shocking that was, realizing how differently you sound to those on the outside than inside your own head? For me, it was like meeting my Outside Self for the first time. I’d lived with my Inside Self for a lifetime, but my Outside Self was brand new, and I wasn’t sure I cared for her.

We carry our Outside Selves around ad nauseam, so we may as well become friends.

Don't Let Fear Stop You from Making the Best Photos of Your LIfe
Photos by Kate Thompson

“Storytelling requires plenty of time observing the subject. Plenty of alone time. Self-awareness, reflection, quiet. A diet rich in reading and reflection. Oh, and my camera.”

– Kate Thompson


When you’re telling your own storyyou are the subject. Whether you’re expressly seen in the photograph, or merely implicated as the artist, you must be at peace – in love, even – with your Full Self: the Inside and the Outside.

Approach your story with vulnerability, and you’ll be greeted in kind – perhaps rough and raw, or tender and open, or raucous and joyful. Whatever you find in that clear, honest space: tell that story. Don’t be afraid of it.

Don't Let Fear Stop You from Making the Best Photos of Your LIfe
Photos by Kate Thompson

Choose a word that evokes anxiety, frustration, or hesitation within you. Use that word to fill in the blank here, and tell yourself:

A story with

    ____________________

is still worth telling.


Don't Let Fear Stop You from Making the Best Photos of Your Life
Photos by Kate Thompson

Look, Listen, and Let It Go

“To me, photography is an art of observation,” said Elliott Erwitt. “It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place. I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see, and everything to do with the way you see them.”

In mindfulness, there are six core skills. The first three are:

  1. Observe. Notice without trying to alter or control.
  2. Describe: Use words to define precisely (and only) what you see or experience.
  3. Participate: Be present in your experience.
Don't Let Fear Stop You from Making the Best Photos of Your LIfe
Photo by Kate Thompson

These first three skills truly benefit you when accompanied by the final three skills:

  1. Non-judgmentally. Instead of “This photo is awful,” try, “This photo is underexposed, so I will be unable to print it.” Be non-judgmental by tempering your feelings with facts.
  2. One-mindfully. Do one thing at a time. Be present. #FocusOnWhatMattersMost
  3. Effectively. Define your goal, and work to eliminate behaviors and patterns that distract from that goal.

When you approach your story mindfully, you’ll be gentler to others, kinder to yourself, and freer with your creativity. The best photos cannot emerge from a place of constriction and withdrawal.

Don't Let Fear Stop You from Making the Best Photos of Your LIfe
Photos by Kate Thompson

“It takes an immense amount of time to tell a human story. It takes loads of patience, returning to a person or space, sitting with, and listening.”

– Kate Thompson


Focus On What Matters Most… To You

Will your story matter to the rest of the world? Probably not.

Will the experiences that most impact your life also dramatically impact the lives of other? It’s unlikely.

Will the best photos you ever make win awards and end up on magazine covers? Don’t hold your breath.

Don't Let Fear Stop You from Making the Best Photos of Your LIfe
Photographs by and of Kate Thompson at home with her baby.

When you choose to Focus On What Matters Most, you choose yourself. You choose your family, your friends, your pets, your business, your home, your adventures. By focusing on what matters most to you, you choose to live the life you were meant to live.

And we think that’s better than any magazine cover or industry award you could ever receive.


“If you want to Focus On What Matters Most, you have to be self-aware, be open to failure, and listen to others. And try to make the world a better place by being kind, attentive, and curious.”

– Kate Thompson


Written by ANNE SIMONE | Featuring KATE THOMPSON (also at BETTY CLICKER and on INSTAGRAM)


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