Has anyone else noticed that finding the time to be purely creative is nearly impossible these days?
I'm imagining that many of you are nodding your heads in agreement with me right now. I'm nodding my head as I type this, which is an odd sensation in itself.
My buddy Nathan is unabashedly one of the most artistically stimulating people I've met. Years after the college spark has faded and we've picked up jobs in cramped offices, Nathan consistently makes time to be creative. That word, to him and I alike, is exceptionally vague; it includes crafting elaborate Halloween costumes or writing poetry or even cooking a new, highly detailed recipe. He plans whole nights around creative consumption, gathering friends to talk and make 'things,' to keep their minds churning in a forward motion.
It's unbelievably exciting to see people make time to step away from the drudgery of every day life and create something new. Out of all of my friends, many of whom proclaim they're 'artists,' Nathan is truly the only one that still makes such an amazing effort. Not for the sake of Instagram likes or others to fawn over his accomplishments, but entirely for himself. How rare is that these days?
These past 6 months have been tough. While the details of my desolation aren't important, the heart of the struggle is; how the hell do I work a 'creative' job (mainly as a wedding/portrait photographer) and still find time to make photography personal to me?
My job isn't about my needs. It's about the clients I work for. Sure, I hold a copyright to what I shoot and have some control over how images are presented, but it's not my day that I'm capturing. It's all theirs. It's their blood, sweat and tears. It's their families and friends, their dress, their tux, their cake, their everything. I show up, take pictures and then leave. They've spent months planning one day of their lives. I've spent a couple hours planning some shot ideas, location scouting and I'm good to go.
What all this boils down to is the utter lack of control I have over 75% of the images I'm taking right now. The other 25% aren't weddings, but many are still about client preferences over mine. So an insanely low percentage of photos I've taken in 2015 were entirely for me.
That sucks. There's probably a more eloquent way to state that fact, but give me a break - I'm tired pretty much all the time these days. Despite having wonderful clients who allow me to use my creative brain in fun ways, it's not their job to fulfill my artistic needs. My work and my personal life should stay separate, for a lot of good reasons - I don't want my vision colliding too heavily with the vision of my clients. (I preach this separation knowing full well that I'm dating a bartender I met at a wedding job this summer - whoops!).
These past two months, I've been fiercely trying to find a way to marry (wedding pun!) my photography job and my desperation for a creative outlet. While I'm not done coming up with an answer, and I don't think their truly is one, I've stumbled upon something that's been helping me a lot; EDITING gives me the control I need when I lack that control during photoshoots.
Many photographers out there are probably chuckling at me, thinking to yourselves, "Oh please, I could've told you that!" You've obviously never had to work on 5 wedding shoots at once with no assistant, had to process 10,000+ images and had to correctly remember each couple's preferences. All while working a legitimate office job to make ends meet. Let's just say it's emotionally draining, time consuming and not a hugely creative job. It's fast processing until 2am, sleeping for 5 hours, going to work and then coming home to do more of it. The next time you see me and I look tired, remember that I don't sleep that much these days.
So amidst the thousands of photos I'm processing for each wedding, I intentionally set aside 5 images. Five photos that I shot with a little more of me in them, that speak more towards my sensibilities than my clients. Not a lot, I know, but it's the right amount to keep me happy. When I get bored or frustrated during the long hours, I take one of those photos and I go editing-crazy. No batch processing or quick fixes in Lightroom, no prepackaged presets or fast actions in Photoshop - I take my freaking time. When I normally take 15 minutes on a wedding photo, I'll take 3 hours on one of these images. I treat them like they're 100% mine, I make all the choices I wish I could make and go full-on fierce with my editing styling. These photos still end up in the hands of my clients, but I feel a little more passion towards the end result.
For the non-wedding photographers, this concept might feel a little strange. When talking about this practice with a fellow photographer the other day, they asked, "Don't you want to treat all your wedding photos like that? Shouldn't you be passionate about all the images you're shooting?" The answer is an unequivocal "HELL NO." I just finished processing one of my recent weddings today and there are 400+ photos. Do the math in your head real quick; 400 images, 15 minutes on average for each photo, which comes out to 6000 minutes, ending up around 100 hours of work. ONE HUNDRED HOURS of editing. And when I say that's average, I mean it - a lot of photos take a lot longer than 15 minutes, so tack on another few hours for the more difficult images. I literally don't have time to be passionate and creative towards each photo. So I choose 5 (this usually ends up to be a larger number, but I always start out with 5). To me, that's a pretty good compromise.
For now, this practice is keeping me sane. I get to throw a little more me into my wedding photography, I get to hone my Photoshop skills and I get to send my clients some great final products that will hopefully end up on the phone screens of their friends and family.
There's a lot more work I need to do to keep my brain on track, creatively. I'm currently dating another freelancer and we've been talking a lot about this problem; how do you balance the need to make money with the want to create? By writing notes down for the book you're working on while you're on a lunch break. By snapping a photo of just the gorgeous scenery during a wedding shoot. By sketching doodles on the bottom of your legal pads. By skipping one freelance gig to photograph for a project you swore you'd still be working on.
Solutions are easy to come up with, it's doing them that seems to be hard.
Lots of love to all you creatives out there and good luck,