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7 Pros Share How To Stay Inspired & Really Learn Photography

14 min read

Even experienced pros go to classes to learn photography skills and strategies. See who inspires the folks who inspire YOU – plus bonus recipes for success! (Featuring: MAKAYLA JADE HARRIS, THE HARRIS CO.)

Photographers attend WPPI and others conventions and workshops to learn photography skills, marketing techniques, business approaches – and of course to mingle with industry friends. (Cocktails, anyone?)

But what about the educators and exhibitors themselves? What do they get out of these events? Do they learn anything new?

We asked a handful of WPPI 2018’s movers and shakers what THEY learned at this year’s conference – and WOW, did they have a lot to share! I guess it’s true: no matter where you are in your journey, you can always find a new path to explore.

Black and white photo of bride and groom. Groom is kissing bride on forehead as her veil blows in the wind. By Harris & Co.

Learn Photography Critique & Portfolio-Building

As photographers, effectively critiquing our own work can be one of the most difficult parts of putting together a portfolio. But if we can’t differentiate the good from the great, our websites suffer, and our bookings suffer, too.

Attending the live judging of a print competition is a powerful way to learn photography critique, and become a better portfolio-builder!

“Watching the print competition judging is some of the best educational content available at WPPI. You can learn more in two days than you can in a half-dozen workshops.” – ROB GREER

Recipe for An Impactful Portfolio

Learn Photography: Recipe for An Impactful Portfolio

There are three important steps you can take right now to improve the quality of your portfolio.

#1: Murder Your Darlings

“Murder Your Darlings” is a writer’s phrase that means, “Suck it up, buttercup. It’s time to start using that delete key.”

The bottom line is this: there will be photos you love that simply aren’t your strongest images. You may feel attached to them because you:

  • know the back story
  • had a deep connection with the clients
  • worked really hard to make that particular photo

But if the photo is weakening your overall portfolio, it’s time to let it go.

LUKE EDMONSON – a competition moderator – was extremely helpful in explaining the judging process and probing the judges to elaborate on their decisions. I’ve already begun looking at my work in a totally different way, becoming more thoughtful about the lighting, composition, and purpose of my work.” – MAKAYLA JADE HARRIS, THE HARRIS CO.

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#2: Invite Feedback

Whether you’re entering your images into a print competition, or simply requesting a review from a trusted colleague, accepting honest, detailed feedback from other professionals is crucial to fine-tuning your body of work.

When you begin seeking feedback, prioritize feedback from artists whose aesthetic and values are similar to yours. If the viewer’s goals are drastically different from your own, their critique may lack some relevance.

Groom kisses bride in ballgown against stone wall. By Harris & Co.

#3: Focus On What Matters Most

Ask yourself:

  • What am I trying to accomplish with this portfolio/image?
  • Who am I trying to reach?
  • What am I trying to say?
  • Am I accomplishing my goals?

Your body of work should have focus and purpose. Define the story you’re trying to tell, and make sure your images contribute to that story.

Mother sees daughter in wedding dress for the first time. By Harris & Co.

Learn Photography Lighting & Storytelling

Why “lighting” and “storytelling” in the same topic? Because photography is nothing without light. And great photography is created through great storytelling.

Recipe for A Stronger Story

Learn Photography: Recipe for A Stronger Story

You want your photographs to be memorable and identifiable as yours. As you develop your focus, your one-of-a-kind voice will be evident in every image you make.

“My associate, Candace, attended TREVOR DAYLEY’s class, and she RAVED about it – as did everyone else! Trevor has such a clever way of teaching through story-telling, which helps his students really internalize his concepts.” – MAKAYLA JADE HARRIS, THE HARRIS CO.

Push your storytelling abilities to their limits starting NOW:

Engaged couple embracing and walking through Central Park. By Harris & Co.
Photos by THE HARRIS CO.

#1: Photograph Beyond the Moment

You know the feeling: you’re photographing an intimate moment, a carefully-composed portrait, or a powerful scene, and you NAIL the shot. You just know it. The photo you just took is perfect, and you take a quick peek at the back of your camera to assure yourself of your artistic prowess.

Next time you experience that, “Nailed it!” moment, don’t stop shooting.

Photograph beyond the moment. See what happens next. There’s always more to the story.

Couple embraces in Central Park archway as busker plays music. By Harris & Co.

#2: Seek A New Perspective

In your own work, seeking a new perspective is as simple is changing lenses, exploring new angles, and playing with unusual light.

It’s also helpful to follow select artists whose work motivates and inspires you – especially artists who are different from you. If all you do is surround yourself with work that looks a lot like your own, you won’t find much inspiration. But unfamiliar photographs challenge us, and can push us to create in powerful new ways.

Charmi Pena Website Homepage
CHARMI PENA‘s website

“My favorite experience was seeing CHARMI PEÑA speak for Nikon. During her talk she said, Chasing weird light made it so I wasn’t just taking pretty photos anymore. I could tell stories.’ Light is a big deal to me, but I’m striving to get more ‘real’ and less ‘pretty,’ so that sentence really hit home for me!” -Dave Shay, TÁVE

#3: Fill the Whole Frame

If you struggle with this one, all you can do is practice.

What does it mean to “fill the whole frame”? It means being aware of every single element you see through your camera lens, and intentionally, purposefully filling the frame from corner-to-corner.

Whether you’re filling it with “stuff” or filling it with negative space is entirely up to you. The goal is simply to make each and every image with full awareness.

Bride and groom process out of their garden ceremony surrounded by pink flowers and greenery. By Harris & Co.

Learn Photography Business Strategies

Artistry exists on a spectrum, like so many other aspects of our humanity. Some of us experience a comfortable blend of creativity and business acumen. But many of us live life with our right-brains fully engaged and our left-brains more-or-less muted.

Whether Business is your second language, or you’re the kind of creative who thinks Business = Boring, WPPI has classes to help you learn photography business strategies – and align the process with your unique creative style.

Recipe for A Better Business

Learn Photography: Recipe for a Better Photography Business

Smart business strategies incorporate three consistent elements that will never fail you!

#1: Know Your Numbers

If you don’t have a clear, thorough grasp on exactly how much money moves in and out of your business, you’re essentially playing Monopoly in the dark.

Take stock of your earnings and expenses, then make plans to expand accordingly.

“WPPI inspired us to boost our creative game at weddings, and, at the same time, expand our business into simpler genres. By offering our services to corporate event clients (for example), we’ll gain the financial freedom to be picky about our more creative projects!” – PHILLIP & EILEEN BLUME, THE BLUMES

Two grooms kissing in an open field. By Harris & Co.

#2: Outsource & Streamline

There’s no way around it: owning your own business is a LOT of work. It’s critical to prioritize your time and energy toward the work that matters most – and the work you do best.

Consider outsourcing and streamlining tasks that are inefficient, or that you simply don’t do well.

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  • Set your ShootProof galleries to AUTO ARCHIVE after expiration. They’ll be securely backed up in the cloud and available for reactivation at any time! (Archiving is FREE with Unlimited plans; only $1 / 25GB for other plans!)
  • Use ShootProof CONTRACTS to finalize bookings with easy online signatures. Simply copy and paste your existing contract into ShootProof, or purchase an attorney-drafted contract from the MARKETPLACE.
  • Choose ShootProof INVOICES to receive secure online payments for anything from phone orders to booking retainers!

“I learned a better way to reply to the age-old client question: ‘What are your prices?’ The answer? Record a personal video using LOOM and send it over!” – BEN HARTLEY, STYLE & STORY CREATIVE and SIX FIGURE PHOTOGRAPHY

Photo of bride through car window with tear on her cheek. By Harris & Co.

#3: Never Stop Learning

No matter how long you’ve been in the industry, you can always learn photography business strategies that are new and compelling!

Seek out top educators, influencers, and creatives who are making an impact. Not everything that works for them will work for you, but with enough of the right input, you’ll develop your own business approach that reflects your values and talents.

“If you’ve never heard EASTON REYNOLDS speak, you’re missing out. Easton can generate new business like a machine! Not only did we walk away with implementable strategies to grow our business, but the heartfelt stories and passion he has for the industry is unparalleled. We left feeling inspired, energized, and a little teary-eyed.” – MAKAYLA JADE HARRIS, THE HARRIS CO.

Lurey Photography Website

Learn Photography Community Concepts

“Who needs to LEARN photography community stuff?” you may be thinking.

Apparently we all do, because, despite the vast opportunities for community offered by our industry, there remain a lot of photographers who feel alone and lonely in their field.

“We learned that we are all in this together. So many photographers share common pain points – regardless of where they’re from. That’s why we as a company need to keep listening and evolving to help resolve those challenges.” – Chris Garbacz, Founder, STUDIO NINJA

Recipe for Connection & Community

Learn Photography: Recipe for Connection & Community

As business owners we’re uniquely positioned to make a direct impact on our communities. And as photographers, we have a perspective and a gift we can share in almost endless configurations.

SHAWN LEE’s incredible energy transforms a room, sucks you in, and makes you want to do more in your business to give back to your community.” – MAKAYLA JADE HARRIS, THE HARRIS CO.

#1: Show Love To See Love

You already know this. It’s not news to you, so I’m not going to elaborate. We’ll just remind you, and encourage you to go do it.

Bride and groom walk upstairs and pose on balcony. By Harris & Co.
Photos by THE HARRIS CO.

#2: Go Where Your People Are

Maybe you think you “should” be friends with other photographers, or that you “should” love attending photography conferences, or that you “should” surround yourself with other creatives at all times.

Forget the shoulds. (Therapists call this “‘shoulding’ all over yourself.”)

Give yourself the freedom to find your people – whoever they are. Find them, love them, give to them, and be embraced by them. You’ll learn more from folks you feel deeply connected to that you’ll ever learn from folks who make you feel out-of-place.

“I could go on for HOURS about the instructors, judges, exhibitors, and attendees who have impacted our business. We’ve met them in hallways, at foodcourts, waiting for Übers, at afterparties… The opportunities for connection are endless, and those connections fuel our business.” – MAKAYLA JADE HARRIS, THE HARRIS CO.

Bride and groom clasp hands in front of a tall brick wall. By Harris & Co.

#3: There’s Room At the Table for All of Us

It’s not a competition. Well, unless it’s the actual WPPI Print Competition, in which case, yeah, it’s a competition. But as far as life is concerned, there’s room at the table for everyone

Listen with grace. Share with compassion. And take action when you know you’ve been given a gem!

“We take tidbits of inspiration from everyone we meet, and roll them into a little ball we can put into play. Those tidbits are everywhere at WPPI, and they are GOLD. You just have to do something with them!” – MAKAYLA JADE HARRIS, THE HARRIS CO.

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The Secret Is Out…

The educators and exhibitors don’t know it all. In fact, they’re still seeking and learning, growing and exploring, hesitating and overcoming. That’s what makes them worth learning from.

What’s ONE thing you’ve already learned in 2018?

Join the conversation below!

Written by: ANNE SIMONE | Photographed by: THE HARRIS CO.


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