Secrets of the Super Photographer: How to be original when it’s all been done before.

I knew yesterday’s blog post “Competition, Copyright, and Copycats: How nice girls deal with scumbags”  would be a HOT HOT HOT one.  Boy was it ever!  I loved seeing all of your comments and shares.  Thank you!  And when you click “like”, I do a happy dance!  If you keep it up I might just do my happy dance over on the new YouTube Chanel.

One question I saw yesterday however made me feel sad 🙁 *sniff sniff*, so I wanted to address it today.  I don’t ever want my blog posts to make you feel defeated.  I want to help you realize your own potential for greatness!

So you asked, “Heidi, is looking at other photographers for inspiration before a shoot WRONG?  What if our clients request certain shots of us?  How can we be original when it has all been done before?”

These are excellent questions grasshoppers!  Now you are thinking!


First, I love looking at all of the yummy visual inspiration of other photographers out there.  It’s delicious.  And Pinterest?  It is like crack for the A.D.D. artist.  You start out looking for children’s party decorations and end up with 3 recipes, a new spring wardrobe, 5 post-its of affirmational quotes on your mirror, and a diehard plan for a great summer ass.  I’m all for it!

I also don’t mind when clients bring in shot ideas from Pinterest.  I actually enjoy and encourage it because it helps me get to know their style.  Often our non-photographer clients don’t know how to put what they are looking for into words.  They don’t speak our language of “creamy bokeh” and “the golden hour.”  Having a body of work to look at can give you valuable insight into their aesthetic taste.  As a retail portrait photographer, my job is to give my clients a session that is perfect for their style and home.  I’m not shooting for me in my studio work, I’m shooting for them!

Here is the very important caveat!  This is the whole shebang people!  You have to FORGET EVERYTHING YOU’VE SEEN when it comes time to click the shutter.

Let me tell you a little story about myself that may help illuminate the subject.

This is the story of my worst shoot ever.

It was a maternity session and mom-to-be was very detail oriented.  She had a huge shot list for me, all compiled from other photographers she had seen.  This is not completely unusual, but for some reason, I felt a bit stronghanded into meeting these expectations for her. Many of the images were not things I typically did, nor could I humanly accomplish in an hour of shooting time.  It wasn’t her fault, it was mine, because I didn’t manage her expectations in the first place.  That is the point where I should have said: “These give me a great idea of your style, and we’ll start with your favorite look and then go with the flow.  The most beautiful portraits happen when your own unique beauty shines through, so we set up with an idea of your style in mind and then let the session unfold naturally.  Trust that I will pose you how you look most beautiful, which I’m sure this photographer did with their client!”.

But I didn’t.

Instead I sheepishly said “Okay, we’ll see how many of these we can get done during your session” and I proceeded to shoot down the whole shot list.  I felt rushed.  I felt uninspired.  The usual “Heidi” that shows up at a shoot and gets her groove on was out to lunch… or hiding under the covers.  When I uploaded the images to my computer I hated them.  My work fell completely flat.  Why?  Because I lost myself.  I let my client take me over (my fault, not hers).  While my head worked hard to recreate each shot, the voice of the artist in me was completely silenced.  After that shoot I promised I would never compromise myself again in that way.

These days, I still work with clients to help bring their vision to life.  I love checking out their shot lists and inspiration boards.  I love gathering my own inspiration.  Let’s face it, especially when it comes to studio photography, it’s hard to break outside the box of what has been done before.

The good news is, no matter what backdrop, pose, or wardrobe you choose, there is only one person on earth who has your unique vision… and that is YOU.  And, there is only one person on earth who has the unique personality you’ve been hired to capture, and that is your client!  If you can focus on connecting those two things, originality will shine through in every shot you take!

So that super-awful maternity shoot that still makes me cringe was actually a good thing.  It taught me that no matter how many things inspire you, when it comes to creating any piece of original artwork, you have to create from your own authentic voice and vision.  The feeling and the connection that you put into your work has to come from you.  For me, the only way to do that is to tell my noisy brain and all of it’s lists to take a hike so that I can hear the voice of my own intuition.

The truth is, clients are not just hiring you for a particular set.  And if they are (BREAKING NEWS) your work is missing something.  They are hiring you to capture the intangible.  Love.  So, now that you know all of the secrets of the universe, gather your inspiration, set up your sets, and then tell your brain to take a hike.  Go get your one-of-a-kind, Super Photographer groove on!



Are you picking up what I’m putting down?  Did my creepy self-portraits totally weird you out?  Are you inspired to get your groove on?  I want to hear from you in the comments below!  Please leave me some love and share away!


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13 Responses

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you for admitting your worst maternity photo session. I had one like that a few months ago. Although I ended up getting some great shots, I really didn’t like how she had come with several pages of Pinterest photos and wanted to do every.single.pose like the ones in each of those Pinterest pictures. I felt like she didn’t trust me enough to come up with my own vision and poses. I did manage to still do my own thang between doing those wretched Pinterest copycat photos to please her, so it wasn’t a total loss, but I vowed that I will not do that again and from now on I will let my clients know that they are free to show me Pinterest photos to show me what they would like, but I am not about to copy each photo. They hire me for me and my vision–not 20 other photographers. Thanks again for showing us that you are human too.

  2. Amy

    I can totally relate to your maternity shoot experience. And I completely agree that the answer is to forget about everything you’ve seen online or in print when it comes to the actual shoot. When I’m focused on matching or recreating some other vision (even my own past shoots), I’m not actually SEEING what’s happening in front of me. And isn’t that the best part of photography? Actually seeing the world. I love your work, and thank you so much for sharing all that you do.

  3. Michaela

    You’re posts the past two days literally changed my whole outlook of my business. I’m a local photographer in Cranston too and you’re basically my idol. (not joking, i’ve actually been star struck lol!) Recently i’ve been in a rut and i’ve been craving a change. I’ve realized I need to find my true style and not what’s been successful for others! These posts really opened my eyes.

  4. Hello 🙂 I love this post. It is nice to know that other people have bad days too. I absolutely love photography. It is my passion. My schedule is already crazy busy with a full time job and kids, but I always make time for photography, even if it means 5 shots of espresso to get me to 2am for photo edits. When I started really taking aim at wanting photography to be a big part in my life, I had remember coming across your site. It was the very first one that actually inspired me to be a better me. To be creative. And to not give up, even when you have bad days. There have been a couple shoots I have been discouraged about, even though the client is happy, when I look at some of the sessions, I think I could have done so much better. Confidence is huge, and sometimes like you said, it’s out to lunch. Please keep these posts coming, I will definitely continue to read them 🙂 You and your team rock!!! xo!

  5. That´s really true… I love your post and your work. I´ve got my inspiration and good ideas during the conversations with clients and especially during the shoot. But if parents or exactly women got so much precises ideas for photos…I´m really don´t have much fun. It´s not me, it´s not my inpspired work… and it´s difficult to find in accordance with the clients for these expectations. Fortunately I don´t have many such special clients. Thank you so much for this post. Daniela

  6. You rock! Love these articles and your writing style just makes me sit here and giggle, so much truth and experience behind the lines . . . your self portraits are the BEST, please don’t stop!

  7. Great post Heidi, thanks for sharing! It was great to read your experience of a shoot gone sideways and know we all can have them. Thanks for the encouragement 🙂

  8. Your past two blog posts have been inspiring! I’m not in the photography biz but as fellow business owner I have had these experiences where outside forces consume you and it is nice to know that I’m not crazy and other people have felt the same way. The moral is to be the BEST UNIQUE YOU!

  9. Heidi, you are ON IT!!! I feel like every post leaves me wanting more & more! I’ve always admired your work, but seriously, I am admiring these honest posts as well!! You are such a sigh of relief in this industry! Keep it coming girlfriend!!!

  10. Pingback : FAQ Friday! Cameras, lenses, dogs, babies, creativity and fear. Phew! » Heidi Hope Photography Workshops

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