With the happy news, I reflected back on this past year. While the fear of worsening vision loomed overhead, I had stepped back and refocused my work. I refused to stop working and I'm glad I persevered. Had I just given up after getting diagnosed, I would have cheated myself out of so many wonderful discoveries and changes in my work.
The good thing about having the fear of losing my vision was that it forced me to focus on what I wanted to accomplish while I could. If I did lose my vision, I would not be able to do many of the things I wanted to do in photography. So I really cracked down in the last year and focused on what was important (besides the obvious family first).
What I did do over the past year was pace myself and became very selective of what I wanted to photograph.
Cut back on creative collaborations with models and other creatives: While I enjoy creating with a team, it took up a lot of my time and was turning into more of a chore. I won't spend a lot of time dwelling on the negative as I've had more good experiences than bad. However, the bad experiences sucked the joy out of collaborations. I didn't let those stop me, but I became smarter about my collaborations. I won't lie here. It was hard to stop, to say "no" to requests for collaborations, and to slow down. I didn't know what to do with myself. I had idle time now. I was used to filling my time with unfulfilling (a.k.a busy work) collaboration. Now I was forced to think and to be very particular about what I was going to create since I cut back to only a small number per year.
Client work: There was no reason to stop working. The diagnoses was no reason to just pack it all in and give up. I'm glad I didn't because I enjoy providing clients with high quality images for their use.
Volunteered with the Michigan Humane Society: I wanted to give back in a meaningful way. I wanted to provide my photography skills where they would help those who really needed my help.
Created more session options: I had started to squeeze in as many creative collaborations and client session in as I could. Overworking myself affected my creative collaborations, made me make poor choices in those collaborations, and left me drained. While I continued to provide for clients, I found I wasn't enjoying the client sessions as much because I felt rushed. So, I implemented a different session plan in order to give clients the time they need at their choice. If all you want is a quick headshot session for Linkedin, then you can book a session for 10 minutes and have a great image for your business profile. Or, if you need a full portfolio make over, you could book me for a half or full day and then you'll be able to relax and not feel rushed knowing that you have the right amount of time scheduled for you.
Hiked: I got back to nature. By cutting back on the creative collaborations, I become more creative. I realized I had lost touch with why I fell in love with photography. I had also lost control of my creative vision because I was trying to please too many people. So, I returned to nature: the reason I picked up photography in the first place. I used to hike regularly and wanted to share the beauty I saw when out in nature. I rediscovered my love of macro and landscape photography, but another thing happened. While enjoying nature and letting my mind wander, I began finding my creative vision again. Concepts started flowing.
Stepped away from social media: This one is no surprise as many of you have seen my vacillation between being on Facebook and leaving it. I left it for good and haven't looked back. Not only was it time consuming, it was stressful. Once again, there are tons of articles and advice out there on how to grow your social media. Follow these sets of rules to gain followers (ethically without paying for likes), etc. But what I finally decided is that while I like followers and feedback, it's not the most important thing to your art. Social media is a quick tap of the finger to like something and it never really grabs people's full attention. Your image is scrolled past and forgotten about in seconds. So, why knock yourself out for "likes." If your client is happy and you are happy, then you have really succeeded. Also, without being inundated with a million images a minute, rants, and negativity from the industry, and other such silliness and time wasters, I started to look inward for inspiration. Between the hikes and leaving Facebook, my next point evolved: I refined my style.
Refined my style: Now that I was looking inward, I was finally getting somewhere with my concepts. I was creating from the heart. I wasn't worried about what kind of image would get the most "likes," get approval from peers. or would attract the most clients. I was finding authenticity. I was being true to my own vision. And with that, my work got out of a rut and started to improve and evolve. I have been able to combine what is close to my heart and come up with my own style. The reality is that this was not easy at first. I floundered around for a while filling my newly found time with experiments until finally something made sense and really started to come together for me. What I found was I was so afraid of things not meeting approval that I stopped experimenting and making things that would get ripped apart by armchair critics. When you do that, you lose track of the artistic side of photography and your work becomes rote and predictable. Not to mention, it starts to look just like everyone else's work. Try this some time: go out and purposely break the rules...blow out those highlights if it fits your vision, don't follow the compositional rules if it makes sense to you and appeals to you to place your subject somewhere else in the frame, photograph your subject in harsh light in a creative way that pleases you...just do it for you. If you like it, then you succeeded. Art is personal and it should make you happy, not stressed.
Education: I have spent many hours this last year reading and taking classes because I believe we should never stop learning. Since I had cut back on mass producing collaborative work, I had the time to really learn more techniques and practice what I leaned.
So, while my vision returned, so did my creative vision. I encourage all of you to take some time away from the posturing on social media and look inward. Find what is meaningful to you, and then make it happen. I really believe that the best way to improve, is to be true to yourself.