Inspire 2016 Speaker Michelle Turner - Taking Risks

In this series of blog posts, we are introducing the faculty at Inspire 2016. Today we’d like to introduce you to Michelle Turner who will be teaching Beautiful Light Anywhere: Finding and Creating Great Light 

I'm a risk-taker at heart-- I've always believed in that old adage "nothing ventured, nothing gained."  But while I believe in taking chances, I also know that I need to make sure that I'm satisfying the needs of my clients (and myself!) along the way.  After all, there are bills to be paid and clients that need to leave happy.  Every time my business has really grown, there have been risks.  I know that we have all felt this-- whether it was the decision to buy that first really expensive fixed aperture zoom lens, the decision to take your first solo wedding or the decision to go full time, risks are all around us and we need to meet them head-on.

It's the little risks that have shaped my business the most, though-- the everyday shooting risks that have pushed me to become a better photographer. Every time my style shifts slightly, I want to try a new pose, or I learn a new technique and put it into action in the field, there's a risk there.  What if it doesn't work?  What if the image I get isn't the image I had in mind?  What if my client hates it because I've deviated from my normal body of work?  We need to keep pushing ourselves to both grow and remain relevant in the industry, so how can we manage those risks?  Let's face it-- not every risk you take pays off.  But it's the risks that DO that can shape your business the most.  Here are some of the things that I do to make taking chances a bit less scary:

Create a low-pressure environment.  You wouldn't go out and run a marathon without a day of training, so don't place that kind of pressure on yourself when photographing, either.  I photograph my kids and family.  A lot.  :)  And while I do this so I can create a visual record/beautiful images of our family, it's also so that I can I can get comfortable with a new technique in a low-pressure situation before trying it with clients (a high-pressure situation).  When I wanted to create beautiful rain and snow images with off camera flash, I dragged my kids outside every time it rained or snowed for months.  By the time I took my first ocf-in-the-rain image with clients, I had practiced in several situations where I had the opportunity to troubleshoot.  Whether I am testing a new modifier, working with a new lens or light, or trying a new technique, I do the same-- if you don't have kids to torture in such a fashion, then use other family members, friends, or even models.  

Take the last five minutes of every shoot to take risks.  In the last five minutes of almost every shoot (commercial, portrait, and wedding) I'll take risks.  I've already captured everything I need to deliver a complete gallery and ensure that my clients are happy, so I use those last five minutes to try something new.  This could be a new pose/interaction, a new technique, or even a new piece of gear.  

Create redundancy to give yourself a net if you fall.  When I first started shooting mirrorless, I made sure that I was shooting it alongside my trusty DSLR.  Everything I shot with my Fuji, I also shot with my DSLR (with slightly different focal lengths).  I wanted to be sure that if things didn't turn out as I wanted them that I had redundancy built into the process and I wouldn't be disappointed with the shoot (and neither would my clients).  When I started shooting with off camera flash, I made sure that I was also shooting available light with a second camera.  As you gain confidence, you can rely on that safety net less and less, but it's always nice to have it in the beginning.

Don't be afraid to walk away.  If something isn't working on the day or a wedding or a commercial shoot, I'll try to troubleshoot it for a minute or two before I walk away from it and do something else.  I may come back to it later, but moving on will keep me (and my clients!) from becoming frustrated.  

Be honest.  If I tell my clients that I'm taking a risk, then I find that it takes the pressure off of me.  I'll end the session with a bit of honesty and say, "Hey, there's something that I want to try.  It may work, and if it does, it could be epic.  The rest of the session was awesome, so let's try this!"  That tells my client two things-- a) everything up to that point has been awesome and something I've loved, and b) I'm pushing the envelope for them. They appreciate the honesty-- I'm excited and they are excited, too.  If I start working and things just don't gel, I'll laugh at myself (I don't ever want my clients to think that the shot didn't work because of something they did or didn't do, because the responsibility to capture the shot is, after all, mine) and I'll just walk away from the image.  Because I've been honest with them, they don't expect to see it in their gallery but they aren't worried either-- I've already told them that we have a full gallery of great images they'll love.

Go back after the fact and examine why things worked (or why they didn't).  I try to take pullbacks for everything new that I try so that I can go back after the fact and critique if something didn't go exactly right.  That way I know what I need to change or keep an eye on the next time around.  This is especially important when I'm trying a new light-shaping technique, but it's also important when I'm testing a new lens or compositional technique.  It doesn't take much to move back a few paces and take a pullback image with a wider view of the scene, and these can be invaluable when you are analyzing the situation later.

Ultimately, the risks that you take now can help you create the images or the business of your dreams!  The path may not always be smooth, but with a few risks you can get there.