Finding your photographic strenghts

A couple of year’s back I was involved in some management training sessions. We discussed the concept of “playing to our strengths” as described by Marcus Buckingham. To paraphrase part of Buckingham’s teaching, trying to turn our weaknesses into strengths can be a waste of time; but it is where we often concentrate our efforts. However, if we focus in on our strengths, we can go from good to amazing. An interesting insight into how to identify your strengths is to ask the question “what energizes you?” When you perform a certain task, do you dread it in the lead up, feel stressed during, and feel exhausted after it is over? Or, do you feel anticipation in the lead up, excitement during the activity and a sense of wellbeing afterwards? According to Buckingham, if you feel the former, the activity is likely not what you are naturally good at. If it is the latter and that feeling of “I could do this all day” runs through you, then maybe you were just working to one of your strengths.

When I am out in the mountains and making landscape images, I certainly feel that energy. I know this is one of my strengths. I’m not fantastic at it yet, but it is something that stirs my soul and I am willing to practice the craft. Not all styles of photography are like that for me. I find some approaches and subject matter very difficult to get excited about. So, as I grow as a photographer and look for niches, I am taking this little test on as a benchmark. How did this make me feel? How’s my energy? Did I have so much fun I would do it all over again? How did the images move me when I was reviewing them afterwards? Really, let’s face it, who wants to spend hours practicing something that we really don’t like doing?

Two of my dear friends practice yoga regularly. They are avid and disciplined about their practice. I asked if I could photograph one of their morning practices. They happily agreed and so I showed up at the studio at 10 to 7 in the morning. I was not sure what I would find, but it was a path I wanted to look down. The studio was a reasonable size, but two of the walls were covered with mirrors. The lighting was all halogen bulbs. To add to the challenge, the lights were turned down to a low level to suit the meditative atmosphere of yoga. Not a great setup, but I could work with it. It turned out to be a fantastic session. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, learned a lot, and I managed not to break up the feeling of the practice with my camera. I even made some good images.

A few months later my friends asked me back to photograph another session, but this time with a larger but very skilled group. I took a little more control over the environment this time and kept the lights a little brighter, while always trying to be respectful of their practice. I also brought along my Nikon SB-600 flash on a stand to operate as a slave, with the on-camera flash as the master. It turned out to be a great session that produced some very pleasing images. And yes, when I walked out of the session I felt energized. There is something very special about photographing people doing something they are passionate about.

If you have anything to add, or stories of your own, please feel free to comment. thanks