Don't be a normie
We all know Brandon Woelfel.
Okay, maybe I shouldn’t assume that everyone knows Brandon Woelfel by name. But, upon looking at his social media feeds — or even a single photo of his — most Instagram users our age would recognize his style instantly. Saturated bubblegum colors, pretty girls posing by neon lights, bokeh polka-dotting the entire background, and all the other features of his portrait style have become very familiar in today’s photography community.
As a style becomes more popular, naturally, more people begin to emulate it. With Brandon Woelfel, I found this to be especially true. I cannot seem to get away from the luminous, colorful style when searching to discover more contemporary portrait photographers.
And, frankly? I’m tired of it.
Don’t get me wrong; Brandon Woelfel’s creative brand caught on for a reason, and his talent and work ethic are beyond question. His achievements are those of a rightfully respected artist. But why do so many photography accounts I stumble upon now look almost exactly like his? I do not follow multiple photographers on Instagram to see the exact same images over and over. In fact, I hope that each artist I follow brings something uniquely them to the table.
We don’t all need to be Brandon Woelfel.
Rather, I believe we should all be ourselves, to the most sincere degree possible. Which, funny enough, is one of the hardest things to do, especially in a creative field such as photography.
Now, I am by no means an omniscient part-artist, part-philosopher. But I have been in the same boat. Here are a few tips I follow when I’m stuck in an artist’s block:
Combine two styles
Take the colors of Woelfel and bring them to landscape photography. Take the grain from film photography and apply it to clean, digital images. Combinations immediately force you to step out of the norms of a particular approach. Plus, the two creative styles or facets you choose to combine would likely be different than the two your neighbor may combine, making that choice an act of originality in itself.
Alternatively, taking inspiration from sources completely outside of photography also adds an element of personality. Draw from rules of painting, try mixed media to quite literally add another layer to your art, or use ideas or techniques from completely different realms outside of art, like engineering or physical sciences.
Finally, you could collaborate with another artist! Morphing your two styles together could result in pieces neither of you would have thought of independently. One person could style while the other could shoot, or one person could choose the location and the other could edit the pictures. Possibilities are nearly endless.
Think about the why, not the what
Rather than thinking about a style in particular — portrait, landscape, etc. — think about why you are drawn to them in the first place. Why does it make you feel inspired? Is it the mood it creates, the image’s composition, the colors? Answer that question, and try to apply it to your particular style. For example, you can take the colors of a landscape shot and incorporate them into an editorial photograph, or draw inspiration from the facial expressions of a concert photo in portrait photography. Sometimes, the idea behind the photograph matters more than the content of the photo itself.
Try a dumb, crazy idea
Sometimes, I think of something absolutely absurd and share the idea with my friends, saying something like, “Oh my god, wouldn’t it be ABSOLUTELY NUTS if I just did a fashion editorial shoot with teacup pigs wearing my old American Girl doll’s clothes I have sitting in my closet? Ha ha, that would be crazy.”
But, why not try it?
Test one of those “what if” ideas, and see where it takes you. Do not be afraid of making mistakes or doing something “stupid.” Why limit your creative pursuits? You have no idea what actually might come of them.
What makes you as a person unique to begin with? How are you different from your friends, family, classmates, or that guy you passed in Trader Joe’s? How can you show that part of your personality through your photos? Not every photo has to be self-reflective — in fact, some of the most interesting photos push the photographers out of their comfort zones, becoming characters different from the artist themselves. However, in a creative rut, thinking about yourself is an easy place to start.
Additionally, be aware of your bias. Just because you do something similar to someone else does not mean it is not uniquely yours. Rather, attributing when appropriate and being sure not to copy others’ work exactly and on purpose, will help in the pursuit of originality.
Hopefully a few of these tips will help take you out of that frustrating period of artist’s block. Just remember: you are not Brandon Woelfel. You are yourself. Let your photos show that.