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I have an automated email that gets sent to every person who purchases my latest book “Insights from the Creative Path | Find Meaning, Explore Your Vision.” It gets sent about 30 days after the initial purchase, and it asks “What are you struggling with the most in your photography?” As you can imagine I get lots of responses, and I answer every single one in detail, even if I don’t have an answer. I am backlogged at the moment, but I do enjoy answering and giving back in whatever way I can.

I plan to post a series of these questions and answers over the next few months, so here’s the first of many. I hope it helps you in some small way as well.

I struggle the most with trying to find my “style”, and composition. I like some landscapes, nature and some wildlife. But there are a lot of these type of photos out there, so I’m looking to be more creative with my photography to make it more salable. I am finding this extremely challenging. I am also thinking to tell the story of farming and agriculture past and present, including the old barns, windmills, implements, etc.
Thanks for the book, it has been helpful! I’m really trying to move from taking snapshots to creating images, and I am gaining with this!

Thanks for sending me your questions, always happy to help.

I totally understand where you are coming from – I have struggled with similar questions in both of my careers as a musician and photographer. Here are my suggestions based on personal experience, nothing more.

First, you really can’t make your work more salable, and at the same time develop your own “style.” These are two opposing forces that will always be in tension. That’s not to say that your images won’t sell, but ultimately they should be about what you care about, how you see the world, and what resonates with you as a photographer and human being. Otherwise, you’re just trying to make images that others will like, and that will eventually lead to a creative void. People will buy your work because they enjoy your vision, not because they like the “scene.” Again, the value you offer others is in your unique perspective – otherwise anyone with a decent camera can make a great picture of any scene.

Second, developing a vision and style requires that you place some limitations on yourself. Creativity needs focus, and by limiting the subjects you photograph, you will see them more deeply, more creatively, and move towards a deeper sense of vision.

Think about the things that move you emotionally; that resonate with you. This is how you develop a connection with the subject, and that is what others need to see. I’m not suggesting you stop photographing varied subjects, but simply be more deliberate when you do go out to photograph. Distraction is the enemy of creativity. So consider how you can eliminate visual or mental distractions so that you can really work on developing your photography in a way that is meaningful to yourself and others.

Thanks, Robert, your answer was VERY helpful! Years ago, my mother told me that if I get good enough at something, the people will come and find me. I guess that is another way to look at this! I am now inspired to continue on, and am continuing to take local photography workshops and classes, gathering all information I can, and I do get out there and make photos!

Glad it was helpful. I agree with your mother in respects to following and developing your vision. However, the reality is that regardless of how good your work is, no one will notice if you don’t promote it.

Promotion does not mean you have to be self-centered, arrogant or an egomaniac. Instead, be honest and humble about your conviction to share your work and your unique perspective. It takes time and experience to find the right balance, and it doesn’t feel natural at first. In fact, it’s one of the things I struggle with the most. But it can be done. There are lots of examples, but Ansel Adams comes to mind as someone who had to promote his work yet never let his ego damage his reputation.

A great book I highly recommend is Show Your Work by Austin Kleon which addresses this very topic.

Questions, comments or feedback, I’d love to hear from you!

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Robert, this is probably the most insightful response I’ve ever read to this question of salability, and the fact that following your own vision, being yourself, is in tension with that. Our friends the Hudson River Painters struggled with that long before we did! There’s no easy answer and we have to be aware of that and deal with it. Thank you for this (as always) thoughtful post. I believe I told you I read Kleon’s book at your suggestion and found it very helpful. Just to find the time to put it into practice as well as possible…!

  2. Style and composition, yes I struggle mightily with those. Always enjoy you insights.
    I would also like to know about how you like your new computer hardware, since I am contemplating an upgrade from my 5 yr old mac mini. I would especially like your opinion on the iMac 5K monitor vs your NEC. For a none professional who still looks for good quality, is the 5K monitor a good solution?

  3. Wow… this is a wonderful post. I connected with your answer on placing restrictions on our creativity. Those restrictions help in narrowing your limited energy and helping you create something — well hopefully amazing 🙂

    It has worked for me.

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