Your Comfort Zone Is Hurting Your Photography

In Photography by Jerad HillLeave a Comment

It is really easy to get comfortable with your photography style. Our natural desire as human beings is to find comfort. Once we feel that we are capturing decent photos, we start to learn less.

One of the most common statements made through the Ditch Auto – Start Shooting in Manual survey is that the course helped the student get out of their comfort zone.

I am going to be the first to admit to this cardinal sin of getting too comfortable. It happens after you start to get photography work as a professional. You start to get busy and there just isn’t time left to learn new techniques when you know what’s “tried and true” works for you. On top of that, you are busy editing photos and doing other work that has become part of your process of being a photographer.

My problem was that I jumped in too fast. My first year as a professional photographer was only my second year with a DSLR camera. I shot my first wedding within one year of owning my first DSLR. I was either that confident or that dumb. I was probably somewhere in between. At that time, I did the work to learn. I read books, went to workshops, watched Youtube videos, and I read blogs. This was 2005 so there was much less content than there is today.

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Photographing professionally for others will make you learn really fast. You can’t make mistakes, especially at weddings. You have to get it right the first time. However, once you are comfortable in your process, it’s easy to get stale.

In my early years as a photographer, I took on all of the jobs that came my way because more jobs meant more gear. It also meant I could pay my bills, but at that time photography was a side business for me. It allowed me to purchase more lenses and better cameras. I got caught up in the myth that better gear would take me to the next level as a photographer.

While there is something to be said about better photography equipment, it is only a means to an end. There are aspects of better equipment that make life easier. My first DSLR was the Canon 20D. There would be a guest at a wedding with a Canon 1Ds thinking they had one up on me because of their gear, only to find out that my photos were better than theirs.

You have to trade time for money, but you also have to trade time for improvement.

You can only learn so much on the job. You can learn to improve on a process you already know and you can learn from mistakes, but you can’t improve when you are in your comfort zone.

Whether you are paid to take photos or are taking them just for fun, you get comfortable. Unless you get lucky and end up shooting next to someone more experienced than you, you will continue to stay in your comfort zone. This means you will continue to use the knowledge you have while accepting your limitations. When I am on the job, I am the photographer. Nobody else is going to be there to show me a better way. When I am out shooting photos of my kids playing, it is very unlikely that I will find myself in a teaching moment.

In my experience, I have found that there are two ways I learn best. The first is by experience and the second is by taking some time to learn new techniques.

Learning by experience is pretty self-explanatory. You simply go take photos and by doing so, you learn. I taught myself how to shoot in manual mode by spending time with my camera and forcing myself not to use auto, even if I was not feeling confident in the moment. There were situations where I could not get the camera settings right the first few times, but I kept on trying until I nailed it. This style is trial-and-error. It’s a frustrating and time-consuming method of learning.

Learning new techniques takes time as well, but it takes you out of production mode and lets your mind stretch. When you take the time to learn something new, you have the time to invest in figuring it out. It is hard to watch a Youtube video on a technique and then go out and try it for the first time in a real life situation. I would never want to do that at a wedding. Whether you get to learn hands on at a workshop or you learn through an online video course, you need to practice the new methods you just found out about. Doing this will help you get faster and more precise. It will help you keep out of your comfort zone the next time you pick up your camera.

For years I would go to workshops and conferences to learn even the smallest detail by someone who was considered a master of it. I still do that today. Just last year I went to a two-day workshop on capturing audio for film. I still film a lot of weddings and you can never know too much about capturing audio.

The Comfort Zone is an “Auto” mentality

Ditching Auto means so much more than getting out of auto mode in your camera. It means being in manual mode mentally. When you are inside of your comfort zone, you are working in Auto Mode. The comfort zone is a series of habits, it’s something you don’t have to think about. It’s not opening up your aperture too much because you are afraid your photo might be out of focus. It’s not using alternative light sources because you are afraid of an underexposed shot.

There are some habits that are good. Backing up your photos is a good habit. Formatting your card in your camera before each shoot is a good habit. Not all forms of Auto are bad, but you do have to know when you are inside of your comfort zone and when it’s time to get out of it.

I challenge you to try something new. Order that light modifier you have had your eye on but are just too afraid to buy. Get outside of your box as a photographer and try shooting something that otherwise might scare you. There comes that moment when you try something and “get it” that you get inspired again and the flame comes back. Try to keep that flame from ever going out. Get out of your comfort zone and do something different.

What is in your comfort zone?

I shared with you some of what is in my comfort zone, I would love to hear what is in yours. Share in the comment section below.

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