Shooting through elements to step out of your comfort zone

  • I never want to be bored with photography or dread booking work or heading to a session. What works for me to create beautiful work and push myself creatively is to add elements to my portraits.

When I was learning to shoot in manual, my boys were my subjects.

We were often home, no one to watch or judge what I wanted to try behind the lens.

Some of the images were a little weird, maybe soft focus or not always comfortable for the viewer. I didn’t know how to explain why I was drawn to them or why I was afraid to share those images.

When you are learning something new you are excited to share and see what people think. This also takes a lot of courage because creating images can be very personal.

You may only share images that are expected or make people smile. Not necessarily images that make people question, and wonder why?

In the beginning I was so caught up in learning the settings and creating what was “correct” that I lost that creative part of who I was – and why I enjoyed photography.

My hobby turned into my business and I was thrilled to have consistent clients and producing work that they cherished. It was technically correct, beautiful light, connections all of those things we work so hard to achieve.

I was creating safe work. My personal images was where I felt safe to push myself and try different things. I shared this work with small groups of artists that I trusted. They would ask me WHY was I not shooting this way with my client work. I didn’t have an answer.

Was I scared people would hate it? Did I think they would not want to book with me? Would they think I was a weirdo asking them to do something that might not even turn out?

I don’t think what I was experiencing is that different from many of you. We each need to figure out what works for us. Just another part of the journey.

I never want to be bored with photography or dread booking work or heading to a session. What works for me to create beautiful work and push myself creatively is to add elements to my portraits.

I had to consider what was I was drawn to in my own work and how to elevate it. I made a promise to myself to just try something different. Step out of my comfort zone and create for me.

Three elements that I am drawn to and love to incorporate in my own work is:

  • Light
  • Depth
  • Color

These are the elements that I seek out to create for myself and to create images for my clients in a fine art way.

Found elements

I love to incorporate found elements at the location we are shooting. Maybe it’s tall grass, weeds, leaves or flowers. Anything that I can use to catch the light, add color and depth to an image.

I never want to be bored with photography or dread booking work or heading to a session. What works for me to create beautiful work and push myself creatively is to add elements to my portraits.

Picking up weeds and asking my subject to hold them is a method of mine. Shooting with my Canon 35mm f/1.4 L lens allows me to get in close and use the lines from the weeds to create beautiful texture.

A simple, direct gaze portrait can be elevated by using something that adds to the sense of place where we were at that time.

I never want to be bored with photography or dread booking work or heading to a session. What works for me to create beautiful work and push myself creatively is to add elements to my portraits.

Here I used palm leaves to not only frame my subject, but add color and depth.

I never want to be bored with photography or dread booking work or heading to a session. What works for me to create beautiful work and push myself creatively is to add elements to my portraits.
I never want to be bored with photography or dread booking work or heading to a session. What works for me to create beautiful work and push myself creatively is to add elements to my portraits.

During my classes at Click Away I brought down a dried up palm leaf and used it to shield the sun and to create shadows. Two different looks created one right after the other.

I never want to be bored with photography or dread booking work or heading to a session. What works for me to create beautiful work and push myself creatively is to add elements to my portraits.
I never want to be bored with photography or dread booking work or heading to a session. What works for me to create beautiful work and push myself creatively is to add elements to my portraits.

For this series of portraits I used a piece of broken glass that was found on site where we were shooting. I just figured why not?

I never want to be bored with photography or dread booking work or heading to a session. What works for me to create beautiful work and push myself creatively is to add elements to my portraits.
I never want to be bored with photography or dread booking work or heading to a session. What works for me to create beautiful work and push myself creatively is to add elements to my portraits.

Personal elements

Another fun thing to try is using something that your subject brought with them. Maybe it’s a scarf, a hat or even just a piece of lace from their clothing.

Watch how the light passes through. Maybe it creates a pattern or adds texture, an additional layer to the image. Don’t forget you can use your subjects hair to shoot through as well!

This is a layer to the top of her skirt. I could see the light passing through as she played on the beach but wanted to do something with it that would be a little different. I asked if she could just lift it up and hold the top part over her face.

I never want to be bored with photography or dread booking work or heading to a session. What works for me to create beautiful work and push myself creatively is to add elements to my portraits.

This was shot through a piece of lace, just holding it in front of my lens. I felt like it added a dreamy effect that complimented the movement in her hair and backlight.

I never want to be bored with photography or dread booking work or heading to a session. What works for me to create beautiful work and push myself creatively is to add elements to my portraits.

For this image mom had brought with her a beautiful pink scarf. We created a bit of a tunnel while I held onto one end asking her to hold onto the other. The wind helped with the movement.

I never want to be bored with photography or dread booking work or heading to a session. What works for me to create beautiful work and push myself creatively is to add elements to my portraits.

Using lace from a scarf to create patterns as the sun passed through was fun here. This also helped block the strong light for her eyes and act as a reflector.

I never want to be bored with photography or dread booking work or heading to a session. What works for me to create beautiful work and push myself creatively is to add elements to my portraits.

Incorporating her hat to compose an image using shapes, shadows and lines.

I never want to be bored with photography or dread booking work or heading to a session. What works for me to create beautiful work and push myself creatively is to add elements to my portraits.
I never want to be bored with photography or dread booking work or heading to a session. What works for me to create beautiful work and push myself creatively is to add elements to my portraits.

Consider using your subjects hand, arms or hair.

I never want to be bored with photography or dread booking work or heading to a session. What works for me to create beautiful work and push myself creatively is to add elements to my portraits.

I’m always pulled by the movement from the wind. The way it lifts someone’s hair just perfectly or blows it crazy swirling around their face. Just waiting and anticipating that perfect moment.

I never want to be bored with photography or dread booking work or heading to a session. What works for me to create beautiful work and push myself creatively is to add elements to my portraits.
I never want to be bored with photography or dread booking work or heading to a session. What works for me to create beautiful work and push myself creatively is to add elements to my portraits.

Purchased elements

I don’t really shoot using props. But once in awhile I will come across something and think maybe it could work to shoot through!

I’ve bought things from the dollar section at Target or found items at the craft store. We walk around a lot during my sessions so the items need to be easily carried in my camera bag. If I get the idea to pull them out to use, they are easily accessible.

I found these dried bunny tails at a garden shop. I wanted them for my home but also in the back of my mind thought they would be cool to shoot through.

I never want to be bored with photography or dread booking work or heading to a session. What works for me to create beautiful work and push myself creatively is to add elements to my portraits.

Maybe fairy lights are a passing trend but man I think they are pretty! If you are bokeh obsessed, you should definitely buy a pack to play with

I never want to be bored with photography or dread booking work or heading to a session. What works for me to create beautiful work and push myself creatively is to add elements to my portraits.

Same pack of fairy lights here but I held the battery pack with my teeth and held out the string of lights in front of my Canon 70-200L. I love the result! Reminds me of light leaks on film.

I never want to be bored with photography or dread booking work or heading to a session. What works for me to create beautiful work and push myself creatively is to add elements to my portraits.

I wish I could take credit for being the first to pull out a pink slinky! But how fun is this to play with? I hold the slinky in one hand and stretch it across my camera lens.

I never want to be bored with photography or dread booking work or heading to a session. What works for me to create beautiful work and push myself creatively is to add elements to my portraits.

Using the light in a different way created this cool effect from the highlights on the slinky.

I never want to be bored with photography or dread booking work or heading to a session. What works for me to create beautiful work and push myself creatively is to add elements to my portraits.

If the color is too much, converting to black and white still gives a really great effect to the image.

Related: A surprising way to get beautiful sunflare in your photos

I never want to be bored with photography or dread booking work or heading to a session. What works for me to create beautiful work and push myself creatively is to add elements to my portraits.
I never want to be bored with photography or dread booking work or heading to a session. What works for me to create beautiful work and push myself creatively is to add elements to my portraits.

Are you ready to push yourself further the next time you are shooting?

You may love these ideas, or heck, you might think they look awful! I just ask that you don’t necessarily go with the first idea.

Take a moment to think about what it feels like at that time and how you want to capture your subject in that moment. Look around you, what could you use to add to your image?

Trust me, I try some crazy things and they don’t always turn out. But that’s okay. It’s fun to explore and who is going to know that it was a fail? Failing means you are pushing yourself to do something you didn’t think you could do.

I came across a quote that said, “If it’s uncomfortable, you’re growing.” Growing and constantly learning is one of my favorite things about photography.

So get out there and shoot through some weird stuff!

About the Author:

Kristin is a child and family photographer in the San Francisco Bay Area, known for her unique abilities in capturing light and mood. She believes in the wonder of connection, laughter and love in everyone.

12 Comments

  1. Mandy Daudel Jul 16 2018 at 7:06 pm - Reply

    A great article Kristin! I recognize some of those sweet faces. I am going to have to start
    thinking a little more about those items in the dollar bin – who knew they could become such
    cool props!

    • Kristin Jul 18 2018 at 10:48 am - Reply

      Thank you Mandy!! Dollar section never lets me down 😉

  2. Dana Ball Jul 17 2018 at 9:54 am - Reply

    Kristin, I love all of these. I especially love the direct gaze portrait shot through grass. So stunning! I don’t shoot for others often, but I totally relate to what you said about “shooting safe.” I’m trying to remind myself in every session to try something out of the box.

    • Kristin Jul 18 2018 at 12:48 pm - Reply

      Thanks Dana 🙂 I am strongly drawn to anonymity, but have been experimenting with direct gaze portraits as well. I think it’s awesome you are try something different each time you shoot!

  3. Tarah Jul 18 2018 at 11:23 am - Reply

    Kristin! I love all your tips and your article came at the perfect time for me read. Thanks for sharing your talent women!

    • Kristin Jul 18 2018 at 3:48 pm - Reply

      Thank you Tarah!

  4. Annmarie Kopey Jul 18 2018 at 3:23 pm - Reply

    Kristin! Great read and those first few paragraphs really hit home. Thank you for this!!!!!

    • Kristin Jul 29 2018 at 1:11 pm - Reply

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, thank you!

  5. Torrie Aug 04 2018 at 8:35 pm - Reply

    I absolutely love this! I totally get where you’re coming from when you talk about “safe” client work–I eventually had to get to the point where, in the last ten minutes (if I had willing, happy clients) where I asked them if they would be okay if I experimented a bit with them as models. And almost ALWAYS those are among my favorite shots!

    I’ve often shot through branches, leaves, flowers, etc., but you gave me so many concrete ideas in this post of how I can push my work a lot further. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    • Kristin Aug 05 2018 at 3:39 am - Reply

      Yes!! I believe the more you step out and say – hey, let’s try this – the easier it is to incorporate into your work flow. Then start sharing those images and your clients will want that from you!

  6. Cami Turpin Aug 13 2018 at 4:16 pm - Reply

    This is wonderful and I just LOVE the examples. I’ve got some new ideas already! Thank you!!

    • Kristin Aug 13 2018 at 5:00 pm - Reply

      awesome Cami! I’m glad you enjoyed it, and let me know!

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