What advice would I give a new photographer? Well, I'd like to pass along the best advice I ever received when I was just starting out. The source was John Loengard, a brilliant photographer and author, who was the picture editor for Life Magazine. I had just shown him my nascent portfolio, and he'd said some nice things. But I was confused. Should I shoot pictures like the ones I saw in magazines and ads, or should I shoot some ideas I had in my head, or what? I just wanted to be a success; I wanted my pictures to be in the magazines and ads.
He said, "Well, if you shoot pictures like the ones you see, you'll probably do just fine. You'll get work, and get busy, and have a good career, and in ten years I won't know which work is yours." He paused, and raised his exceptionally bushy eyebrows. "But if you shoot what you can't help but shoot, well, those will be your best pictures, because they come naturally to you. And people will respond to them because they're your best pictures, and hire you to shoot more of them. And since you can't help but shoot 'em anyway, they'll come real easily and you won't have to second-guess your clients, and you'll produce more of your best work, and so on. This process will repeat itself, and in ten years, you'll see in hindsight that you will have developed a style. And I'll be able to identify which pictures are yours."
You can't aim for a style; you can only see it in hindsight. If you try to develop it, then it's probably a technique, not a style. A technique is something someone else could do and come up with a reasonably similar result. But a style is like your fingerprints, like your DNA. It's uniquely yours. It's probably already there. You just have to shoot a lot of pictures to give it a chance to show up.
So that's my advice. That, and this: Be nice to people. People you shoot, people you work with, your clients, your assistants, everyone. And work hard. And never blow off an assignment. Every assignment is an opportunity to make the picture of your life. You just never know. So show up every time with your full game.
In May of 2009, after years of knowing each other, but never getting any quality time together, I had the honor to work with Gregory for three solid weeks doing live portfolio reviews of the graduating class of Hallmark Institute. It was an amazing experience and the start of a friendship I cherish.
Gregory is a phenomenal artist, teacher and author. His book, "50 Portraits" is stunning and reflects his unmatched passion for capturing the human spirit.
If he's on the platform of any workshop or convention you're headed to, run don't walk to grab a seat. You'll never be disappointed!
If you want to see more of his work, check out his website or better yet, just buy his book! It's the perfect addition to every photographer's library and is in stock at Amazon right now. Just click on the book cover on the left to see more of his images!
Images copyright Gregory Heisler. All rights reserved.
Check out "Why?" one of the most popular features on the SCU Blog. It's a very simple concept - one image, one artist and one short sound bite. Each artist shares what makes the image one of their most favorite. We're over 100 artists featured since the project started. Click on the link above and you can scroll through all of the episodes to date.