THE GREAT MOTIVATOR
Embrace change to boost creativity, learn new skills and live life
Spring is more poignant this year than perhaps ever before. After a long winter, Europe is experiencing a physical and metaphorical rebirth. While nature flourishes, Covid-19 restrictions have begun to relax. The day-to-day monotony of the past year is beginning to splinter, it’s an uplifting reminder that change – big or small – can be positive. In fact, many creatives consider it a necessity.
Automotive photographer Amy Shore believes photography invites change. “‘How can I shoot this car differently to all of the car shots I’ve seen so far?’ That was my first thought on my [first] paid car shoot,” she says. “It’s not often I have full control over a shoot or situation, and I love that it enforces change from me.”
But Amy’s belief in change goes beyond photography, it’s an integral part of her outlook on life. “We are here for such a short flicker of a moment in time. Why waste it by refusing to step outside our comfort zone and not giving change a go?”, she says. And indeed stepping outside of her comfort zone set Amy on the path to becoming a car and motorbike photographer.
She was destined to become a full-time wedding photographer, but a couple of chance car-related gigs altered her career path forever. “It was the most positive change of my career. Never in my life did I imagine doing the job I do now. Let alone loving it as much as I do,” Amy says. “Shooting cars was the change that set me off into a life I never would have imagined, but it was everything I hoped for, from the travel to the people to the images I capture in the new situations I’m thrown into.”
Joel Marklund is chief photographer at sports photo agency Bildbyrån, which boasts the largest sports photography archive in Scandinavia. But just like Amy, he didn’t set out to focus on his current specialism. “I never thought I would get hooked on shooting sports, but the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing changed the way I saw sports photography. I discovered there was so much that could be included in this field of photography.”
From football to fencing and sprinting to slalom, Joel’s subjects are constantly changing and that’s extremely important to him. “I need the variation and challenges different sports and assignments present,” he says. “It is good to know your sport in detail, but after a while you will have a hard time not repeating yourself.”
Joel’s work was affected by the coronavirus pandemic as sporting calendars ground to a halt. But even during this period of change, he was able to find positives that influenced his photography: “2020 was a rough year, but it also allowed me to stop and reflect on myself and my work. I transitioned to shooting news again. I’m glad I was able to do it in these difficult times.”
Sports photography is known to be technically demanding. Fast subjects require lightning-fast autofocus systems and speedy burst shooting, and the timely manner in which shots need to be delivered means a camera’s ability to transfer images is equally as important. Advancements in Nikon cameras have changed Joel’s shooting experience: “The auto-focus technology together with high ISO improvements has changed the way sports photographers work, enabling us to shoot in worse lighting conditions.”
The Nikon D3 is over a decade old, but that’s the first camera Joel cites as being a game-changer, with later iterations building on the full-frame DSLR’s legacy: “With later cameras, workflow has improved a lot, especially as today we transmit nearly every picture straight from the camera to remote editors. The pace is on a totally different level, everything needs to be live rather than the next day. I’m sure the next leap in technology to change the way sports photographers work will come from mirrorless systems.”
“I always have that drive to push my craft as much as I can”
The move to mirrorless has already changed how food photographer Donna Crous operates. She was drawn to the Nikon Z 7 because of its smaller, lighter body, but soon discovered other advantages. “The electronic viewfinder has had the biggest impact for me,” she says. “Being able to instantly see any camera settings change through the viewfinder before I shoot is a huge advantage.” The camera’s low-light capabilities and significant increase in autofocus points betters her D850 too. “The ability to shoot good-quality images in lower light extends my day as I’m reliant on natural light in my studio,” she says.
Another item of kit that’s had an impact on Donna’s workflow is continuous lighting. She used to work exclusively with natural light, but that all changed during a Nikon School workshop that she was leading. “I was teaching a food photography workshop and because I was working in a basement during a shorter autumn’s day the light started to disappear early.”
Nikon School training manager Neil Freeman stepped in with a solution – several Rotolight continuous LED lights – and Donna still uses them now. “I’ve found that an extra boost of light onto my main subject helps it to stand out,”she says. “I also use it with pouring or motion shots to increase my shutter speed, and a good quality set of LED lights allows me to change the kelvin value to either mimic the natural light for fill lighting or to change the colour temperature of my white balance.”
Most photographers seek change to propel their career forward, but it can prove difficult to stay motivated when positive change is elusive. Donna knows firsthand what it’s like to feel stuck in a rut and how quickly things can alter: “I’ll never forget the biggest day in my career. I started the morning feeling totally disheartened, uncreative and dejected. No matter who I contacted or what I put on social media, I didn’t get a response back with any work. My husband told me the cliché that if I loved what I was doing, then I should continue doing it for myself.”
Later that day, author Dr Karen S Lee got in touch with Donna to say she wanted her to photograph food for her latest cookbook. “I submitted ten of my portfolio images to her editor for approval, and by the time I went to bed that night I had signed the contract to shoot her book.”
A big break can bring with it a whole host of smaller changes. The work of beauty and fashion photographer Marie Bärsch has been featured in Vogue, Elle, and Harper’s Bazaar, but for Marie photography was originally a hobby and the transition to working as a professional meant plenty of change. “Once you get into commercial photography, every client will ask for something you haven’t done before,” she says. “Being comfortable with that and being ready to adept within a few moments is super important.” She also explains how new challenges and changes can attract new clients: “When it comes to self-marketing it’s important to always come up with new things so you can present yourself in different ways to new and existing clients.”
But change is so much more to Marie than a good business decision, it fuels the photography fire. “I think comfort zones kill your creativity. [Change] is super important to me, since I get easily bored when shooting only specific things. I’m also always trying to make the next shoot much better than the one before, so I always have that drive to push my craft as much as I can.”
A change that’s become more prevalent is the increasingly blurred lines between photographer and filmmaker. More photographers are introducing video into their workflow, something internationally acclaimed photographer Pieter Ten Hoopen has observed when teaching his students: “For a lot of photographers it’s a step for them to make, from still to moving pictures. They realise that it gives extra input in their careers.”
Pieter has been incorporating film into his projects since 2013, a change he made to broaden his storytelling repertoire. “For me, it was a creative boost to start filming. I started when I was working on a book in the US, as the pictures were not enough for that body of work.” But beyond the advantages of working in another medium, Pieter thinks technology has made filmmaking more accessible to photographers. “You needed quite a lot of kit to film, it was expensive. But now you buy a very good camera, such as Nikon’s cameras, and you have the ability to create very high-quality film.”
Change is a fundamental part of photography and filmmaking. It can prevent stagnation and spark creativity, deliver new challenges and encourage growth, and redefine what camera technology is capable of. Blossoming spring landscapes are a reminder that change is inevitable – embrace it.