It’s digital: go crazy! How to make great photos by accident

by Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor on August 4, 2009

in This is Art

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

(Putting some thorough time in on Part 2 of the Your First Customer Series, so here’s some fresh reading while I’m dabbling in that project.)

There are two camps of professional photographers out there: the selective and thoroughly-planned, and the spray-and-prays.

I lean more toward the latter, although I’ll say that with time and experience, you can begin to combine the two styles effectively.

Whereas some portrait photographers like to set up and plan and micromanage every shot down to the last detail, I have enough ADHD in me to necessitate going hog wild while I’m shooting.

I’ll get my client into a general pose, or give them some posing instructions and turn them loose, then start shooting – as I see things I like, I’ll have them repeat them.

For example, if I’m shooting a senior outdoors I may have them lay back on tree or picnic table, have them arch their backs and turn their faces to me. I’ll start shooting, then ask for different expressions, different hand placement, etc. As they morph the pose to their own inspiration, I’ll grasp onto what they’re doing right in my eyes and encourage them to do more of it.

I tend to shoot 400 or more photos in a one-hour session, whether in the studio or out in the wild.

Grognards will tell you that shooting so many images is “amateur,” but I don’t think any method is amateur that results in photos your client loves and is willing to pay good money for. If you’re more meticulous, do more planning and setup; if you’re like me and love variety and faster rhythms, spray away.

Experiments make money

A sidebar to this concept of shooting like crazy to make great photos would be to experiment like a mad scientist.

Photography is definitely one of those artistic talents that benefits from experimentation, to ‘learn by doing.’

One of the best things about “not knowing any better,” in photography and in life, is that you can experiment freely. Want to shoot portraits at night by street light? Do it. Get a whim to do a family portrait with everyone upside down hanging from swings? Do it. Inspired to play with backlighting, unusual or wild posing, high fashion set and scene creation, want to go with a commercial feel, feel like putting everyone in sunglasses, can’t go another day without doing an entire shoot with a Star Wars theme, just have to shoot an entire senior session in the subject’s home? Do it.

It’s digital: go crazy!

Especially when you are early-on in your professional photography career, experiment and blow the doors off your self-imposed boundaries. If a photo stinks, throw it out without a second thought or if you like the idea, ponder (or ask advice on the forums) how you can do it better.

When you find something you love, and more importantly, your client loves it too, write it down and add it to your shot list – your list of must-shoots for every client.

Don’t sacrifice your basics, your ‘guaranteed’ salable photos, but definitely take time to experiment and play with fresh ideas and your own imagination while working with clients.

You’ll find that your artistic talents grow much faster, and you’ll create some truly unique and remarkable photos along the way. Those stylish images, along with a proven capacity for knocking down solid, quality portraits, will get you word of mouth, a healthy buzz, in your market.

A digital caveat

The only flipside to the spray-and-pray style of shooting is that you will wear out your camera faster than usual.

I experienced this with my Canon 40D, 20D, and original silver Digital Rebel. I’ve had to replace the shutter on each at $250 a pop. Each time the old salt behind the counter tells me, “You take too many pictures! Just because it’s digital doesn’t mean you can take so many pictures!”

His advice is well-taken, and as years go by, I’ve become better and better at being more selective in my shooting.

However, my style, my salable photos, are my bread and butter as a professional photographer. I have made back what I’ve spent in shutter replacements many, many times over.

Go with the flow and make your photos your way. Do what feels right to you, what you’ve learned gives you the best images you can make.

Next Steps

  • Experiment! On every single photo shoot, try something new or different or downright crazy. As always, check out the inspirational work of Flickr artists to keep your brain buzzing.
  • Brainstorm session: Close your eyes. Let your imagination explore visions and ideas for unique and interesting portraits of people. Write down every vision that comes to mind, every important detail, and who/what/where/when/how you would photograph each. File this in your Brainstorms folder.
  • There’s only more real-world advice, tips, and encouragement to come here on If you enjoy what you’re reading, please feel free to click the “Subscribe” link at the top of any page of this web site.
  • What preconceived notions or fears do you feel are holding you back from making fun, fantastic photos? Leave a comment below, e-mail me, or call or text me at 830-688-1564.

Similar Posts:

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Emma Powell November 4, 2009 at 9:30 am

Wow, finally someone not telling me I have to be a rock start photographer before I can even think about charging money! Someone telling me that I can charge just for what people order, with reasonable prices! Someone not making me feel guilty that I’m charging people money!!!

I would add a suggestion for a future article about pricing: INVOICES. I post my prices all over my blog, and I hand out invoice-style estimates to people upon booking, or at least after a shoot or at the ordering phase. They KNOW what my prices are, my real prices, and if I am offering a discount because I’m new, or they’re friends, I have a discount column right on the invoice. Then there’s never any awkward billing phase. They either order and pay, or they don’t, and since I started doing that my clients are never surprised by my prices or balk after ordering. In fact the discount makes them appreciate the bargain I’m offering w/o putting myself in the Sears league.

Wonderful stuff! Thanks for your “permission,” your encouragement, but mostly your real world concrete advice.


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor November 4, 2009 at 11:17 pm

Thank you for the kind words Emma! I’m glad you’re getting real value from the blog. Thank you also for the mention in the forums!

Your invoicing idea is a good one and a will make for a great future article. Any time you do use discounts as incentives, with clients or family or friends, an invoice featuring your regular prices and how much they’ve saved will make them realize the value they are receiving, regardless of what they’re actually paying. I know I enjoy reading that “You saved $xx.xx today” line on my Barnes & Noble receipt every time I use my member card. Makes me feel good for being a member – and your idea makes your clients feel good for being your customer.


Nallely February 15, 2010 at 12:33 am

Hi James, to answer the question about what fears I have from making fun photos I would have to say that sometimes I think too hard or try too hard to be original that I just go blank!! It’s frustrating! I look at other photographer’s work and get so inspired and pumped about taking pictures, but when I’m in the actual situation I go blank. I hope all this practice helps me find my “style”


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor February 18, 2010 at 12:05 am

Nallely, you’ve got the answer right there. Practice and learning your camera gear will help free you from mind-numbing frustration. I know what you’re talking about – you see great work, you feel it in your heart to go out and similarly do your best, but then the actual act becomes immediately overwhelming.

It’s like seeing a big jigsaw puzzle already put together, then someone takes it apart completely and hands it to you to recompose – with no accompanying direction. You look at a thousand tiny pieces of one big puzzle and don’t even know where to begin.

Recreating, or just imitating, really impressive photography is the same way. You see a great photo, but in attempting to do something similar, you find you don’t even know where to start.

Give yourself time and practice. The more you learn about camera use, lighting, Photoshop, and composition, the better you will be able to put those pieces together. Link to images you love in forums and ask for advice from other photographers on how to do something similar. There’s no shame in mimicking other work until you define your own style – you can’t go from John Doe to Henri Cartier Bresson overnight.

Your style will develop as you learn, practice, adopt, and shed different shooting and processing practices. Just like we as people are products of a lifetime of experiences, our art is the product of both who we are and what we have learned, and unlearned.

Kaizen my friend – little improvements each day. You’ll be where you want to be before you know it.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: