Can we talk openly about photography trends?
I feel like I’m always hearing:
“Ewww, my client wants me to do [SPOT COLOR/DINOSAUR/OTHER] edits.”
“What new PRESETS should I buy?”
“I can’t believe she put a baby in THAT?”
“How did I ever think that [PRESET/INSTAGRAM FILTER] looked good?”
“Milk baths are [AMAZING/GROSS]”
“Are those TRAIN TRACKS?”
It’s the good, the bad, the ugly, and the unsafe of photography trends. Many trends are followed by the masses only to be shunned a few years (or even months) later. One photography trend might have most of the industry in agreement while another is the subject of hot debates. And then – if you are new and don’t know that a particular trend has now become a faux pas – you might find yourself blasted in an open photography forum by a mob of people who forgot what it was like to just be starting out.
Well, let me tell you a little secret I’ve learned about photography trends: they come and go in cycles.
The super popular trends we are doing today may be the “selective color” of tomorrow and then who knows? The trend may come back in vogue in a decade. Spot coloring has been around for 50 years, at least. Double exposure has been around for over a century. But the popularity of these techniques rises, falls, and returns in new ways. Half those people who are blasting that “fauxtographer” for [insert photography trend of choice] have or will fall victim to a photography trend at some point in their career.
I fully admit it. I have participated in many a photography trend over my years doing this. Some were trends I really loved and others I jumped on for no reason other than I saw others doing it and I thought I should, too. In 2006, I was all about that selective color. By 2010, I was split-toning photos with yellow highlights and blue shadows. Now I process with a little matte, but even that is evolving in how I use it.
I’m totally willing to cop to it. I just have to look back and ask myself “Okay, did I do it well or poorly? What did I learn from that experience?” Instead of being embarrassed by the trends we followed that are no longer hip in the industry, we can embrace them as part of our growth and journey to where we are now.
So how do we avoid being photography trend victims in the future? Well, this is the reason some obsess over creating images that they consider “classic” and “timeless.” But even then we may be subconsciously following trends in our posing, our composition, the types of props we incorporate, or even the clothing we advise our clients to wear.
I want to experiment.
I want to be free to be creative.
I want my images to reflect the now.
I don’t want to constantly worry about what others think about the techniques I use or trends I might decide to follow or not follow.
So how can we do those things and still be true to ourselves and our work?
Here I’ve compiled some simple reminders for helping us own our work without being a “victim” to trends.
I don’t have to be afraid to take risks. Try new things.
The only way to learn, grow and become better at our art is to try new things. Why let someone else’s opinion of a technique prevent us from trying it? This is part of the growth process. We don’t have to put everything we try in the portfolio. We just have to get ourselves out there and learn new things so we can be better artists.
After I experiment with a photography trend, I will reflect on it and whether it’s right for me.
Does this technique work for my shooting style? Do I feel a connection with this type of work? Does it fit the vibe of my brand? Does it match the message I want to convey to my clients? For me, this means that I am currently on board with techniques like matte processing, prisming, free-lensing and in-camera double-exposure because these fit with my style and brand, but I still do them in moderation. There are other trends out there I enjoy, but they don’t fit my business. And conversely, the techniques that work for me may be a bad fit for you. Learning to be discriminate about the trendy techniques we use and committing to doing them well will set us apart by keeping us true to ourselves. When you find a trend that works for you, do it with purpose.
Just because a client asks me for something, doesn’t mean I have to do it.
I think the photography trend of wedding parties running away from dinosaurs is super awesome, but it doesn’t fit my style and brand so I don’t offer it. However, I once had a client ask for a fake snow effect even though that’s not something I normally like or offer. It was important to her and I figured out how to do it in a way that fit my style and was able to make a long time client happy. Some things to consider when evaluating client requests are: how it important it is to my client, am I okay with it potentially being out there with my name attached to it, and am I prepared to deal with requests from others to do the same thing if it’s not something I want to offer.
If a technique isn’t working for me, it’s okay to end it.
An on-going photography trend that I love [when other photographers do it] is the cake smash. Because I am primarily a family photographer, I thought that I needed to offer cake smashes because that was just what family photographers do. The problem was that the popular studio-style cake smashes don’t really fit my style or my brand. It finally occurred to me that just because I photograph families, does not mean I have to offer cake smashes. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with cake smashes. They just don’t work for me. So simple yet so profound. If something isn’t a fit for me, I don’t have to do it!
I will be kind to others even if I think their use of a technique is awful or dated.
In other words, I’m not going to be a jerk. This doesn’t mean I have to tell everyone I think their work is amazing if I think it needs help, but I want to be mindful of back to when I was a new photographer and what helped me. If someone is committing a photography faux pas, there’s no need to mob them with criticism. I just don’t understand why people gang up on each other about these things. Why should it matter if my fellow photographer loves using selective color or [insert faux pas technique of choice here]? Does his choice ultimately affect me? If that person asks me for CC, then I will take it as a compliment that they respect me and give them criticism that is actually constructive – like why is their use of a technique ineffective rather than just saying that I don’t like that technique. It will make us better photographers for it. Plus karma.
I will own my journey.
We are only victims if we don’t own it. Let’s not be ashamed of who we are or how we got here.