by guest contributor Nicola Toon
I truly believe that, as artists one of the most empowering endeavors that we will make are the ones that force us to feel afraid. You know what I mean – throwing ourselves under a bus, putting ourselves into a situation that makes our hearts race and our palms just a wee bit sweaty. It’s that fear of the unknown that sharpens the mind and keeps us on our toes. Keeps us fresh.
I like to think of myself as a versatile photographer. My focus is on families and children and I can deliver on a number of looks that my client might have in mind. Outdoor, lifestyle, styled sessions, sets. I think versatility is important I do pride myself on it.
No matter what the type of session though, I am nervous going in. If I ever find myself heading to a shoot and I don’t feel nervous – it’s in that instant that I know something has to change. I never want to feel too at ease about what I’m doing because it’s in that moment that I will fail. I never want to be on a road to comfort ville where I end up shooting on autopilot and producing images that I don’t love. Epic Fail.
Here’s a little secret…My biggest fear has always been being too boring. A shoot always has to have something extra right? A field of dandelions, cherry blossoms, a beautiful home…a pony. So recently, in the spirit of letting go of the familiar, I faced my fear and did a shoot in the raw. I’m not talking about an image file with a wide colour gamut. I’m referring to shooting in a way that left me painfully exposed. No props to hide behind, no gorgeous backlit landscape to fall back on, no fluff, no puff and no stuff.
I agreed to do an entire family session entirely on a bed. The whole shoot was done in, on and around a white bed, with white bedding in a white room. There was nowhere to hide, just the clients, my camera, a bed and me. It was certainly a session that would push me to my limits as a photographer. I would spend the next two hours with this family. The session was intimate and the blank canvas of the room definitely sharpened my mind. I found that without any other visual distractions I was really forced to connect with my clients. They looked to me for more direction and I had to deliver. There would be nothing in the images but them and the essence of who they are would really have to shine.
I found this exercise absolutely exhilarating. It was scary, for sure, but since the concept was foreign to me I found myself putting in 150%. I considered the session before it happened, put myself there. Envisioned what I would do. How I would have them engage, what would be natural for them to be doing? After all, the bed would have to belong. It was the only other character in my play and it needed to make sense. Posing was definitely a big part of the equation. The session would be about connection, emotion and should be playful and soulful, but since those are not natural states for anyone to be in with a camera in their face, the onus was on me to ensure that the message was communicated loud and clear.
I found that I loved every frame from that session. It was a journey that I needed to take. A ‘naked’ shoot that forced me to think and to go somewhere I never really wanted to go in the first place. The reality is that we never know what a shoot will throw our way so we need to be fluid and have the ability to take it as it comes.
I conquered my fear that day in the white walls of that room. Did it make me a better photographer? No, probably not. But what it did was force me to think in a place that makes me squirm and that is always a great place to end up if you want to grow.
“Courage is the power to let go of the familiar.” – Raymond Lindquist
Definitely words to live by in an industry where we need to be on our toes. I encourage each of you to dig deep and find your fear and shoot it. It will enlighten you, educate you and ensure you avoid a one way ticket to comfort-ville.
About Nicola Toon: I am a Mother of three. I love my children, my husband, my wiener dogs and my Canon. I find the smell of wet sand nostalgic, I don’t drink enough water and I occasionally enjoy a good big mac. I love life – and I love seeing life through my lens.