Brandy Kiger is a photojournalist and wedding photographer based in Bellingham, Washington. She specializes in honest, documentary photography, is completely addicted to coffee, loves rainy days and is a wannabe runner.
When I was small, nothing satisfied me more than spending time with my 96-color Crayola set (with the built-in sharpener) and a stack of blank paper. I would meticulously sharpen the molded wax to a point, sit on the linoleum in my grandmother’s kitchen or curl up next to her coffee table while she watched her soaps and scribble away. I could go for hours as long as the paper was blank, ideas spilling out of my head in robin’s egg blue and wild strawberry. Coloring books bored me and I couldn’t get lost in their pages like some children do. Five minutes and I was done. I’m not sure how many half-heartedly started coloring books there were during my childhood years. I just remember that at some point my parents made a decision to no longer buy them for me. And that was fine. I wanted to create my own world from my own design, and I was obstinate about it. I was an artist, and I wanted what I worked on to be mine.
While none of my rudimentary drawings will ever be considered masterpieces or hang in a gallery other than on my grandmother’s refrigerator, I learned an important thing from all those years spent with my Crayolas and paper – as an artist, you can’t color inside someone else’s lines and remain content. Sure, they are good places to start, to get an idea for composition and layout, and maybe even ideas as to where to go next, but ultimately, you’ll reach the last page and then what? You have a book full of prettily colored pages, but nothing original or unique to show for your time. And then, where does your vision come from?
I left my crayons and pens and pencils behind and picked up a camera when I was in college. I found my passion as an artist then, and I’ve been working at it ever since. I’ve spent time studying others’ work, pushing my own limits and finding my own vision for my career. And, as I’ve grown in my new medium, I’ve found that there are two things you need to continue to move forward as an artist: time and freedom. Both can be difficult to manage and obtain, but both are crucial to your growth and creativity.
Sometimes as photographers we get caught up in spending all our time maintaining websites, cataloging files, and reaching out to clients that we forget why we do what we do in the first place. We forget that we are artists first and business people second. And that’s when our creativity begins to die. Ruts happen. We lose sight of our vision. We keep going straight when maybe we should have taken a left or right; anything to pull us off the beaten path; and we end up with lost vision.
That’s where the time factor comes in. Once you’re out of school, out of that environment that focuses you and challenges you, you’re on your own and it’s hard. It’s essential that you make your growth as an artist a priority over the growth of your business, because if you don’t, neither will survive. Business relies on being fresh, being appealing to your audience. So it’s essential that you make time for yourself, make time for your art, to try and be a better photographer tomorrow than you are today. And, you’re going to have to fight to make time to explore your art, to push yourself, because no one else is going to do it for you, and there will always, always, always be something else that needs to be done right that minute trying to steal you away. So, be firm with yourself, and stick to it. For me, that means giving myself an assignment and then following through on it (that last part is critical). I even make sure someone else holds me accountable if I think I’m going to struggle with completing it. It doesn’t matter what you do, it just matters that you make time for you and your camera to hang out without business being the objective. Consider it quality time for your art.
And then, give yourself permission to fail. This is one of the greatest things I’ve learned as an artist, and I’m still learning it. Too often we take ourselves too seriously as artists, but in reality it’s okay to completely screw it up. To miss the point. To end up with something completely, outrageously different than what you had thought you would. In fact, that might be exactly what you want to happen. Exactly what you need to happen. It might revolutionize your entire vision, or it might just kickstart you out of that rut you’ve worked your way into. What’s that saying? Rome wasn’t built in a day? Well, neither were Pulitzers won on the first frame or shutter click. Trial and error is key to developing your style, to finding who you are as a photographer. You’re going to go through a lot of memory cards and/or rolls of film before you know who you are as an artist, and it will take just as many, if not double or triple that, to maintain and progress your vision. So don’t be afraid. Just roll with it, and if it doesn’t turn out right the first twenty times, try once more and see what happens.
To be honest, I’m not great at either of these things yet. In fact, more often than not, I fail. But I keep trying and I think that is nearly as important as actually doing it. I want to be better at what I do and I want my vision to be huge for the future, so I push forward, making time to play and giving myself permission to color outside the lines, even if I don’t end up with what I intended. Art is, after all, a process, not a product. So take your blank page and run with it.
PS: Feeling a little stale? Here are a few suggestions to jumpstart you into some quality time with your camera:
· 30-day photo challenge – Take a new photo with your camera every day & SHARE it.
· Use a setting on your camera that you’ve never used before – learn it and then commit yourself to using only that setting for a week
· Begin a personal project – Find something that you are passionate about, and structure a project around it
· If you’re a people photographer (seniors, weddings, portraits), do a series on still lifes or landscapes, and vice-versa
· Join a photography group
· Find something ordinary in your home (a coffee cup, a bottle, a necklace) and find a way to photograph it beautifully.