Learning to Say Yes to the voices in your head

Occasionally, as photographers going about our day, we’ll see something and a voice will whisper “That’s a photo.” It might be an interesting person, a captivating view, or the perfect juxtaposition of objects. But often we don’t stop – we keep doing what we’re doing, or going where we’re going, all the while trying to dismiss the voice in our head that originally urged us to pick up the camera and get the shot. There are lots of reasons to not take that photo: We’re in a hurry trying to get somewhere else, or we’re tired, or the camera’s all the way over t-h-e-r-e.

A couple years ago while driving home from an exhausting, frustrating session at the studio I drove past this discarded grungy sofa out on the front lawn of an unassuming house. There was no sign but the couch screamed, “take me,” literally. I heard the voice in my head the instant I saw it but I shushed it and just kept driving – feeling almost annoyed that my “Create-o-matic” (the mechanism in me that generates all my ideas) had the nerve to pipe up when I was so whipped. I was just too tired to take another photo. I wanted to be home with a nice glass of wine and some brie.

I spent the next half mile mentally arguing with my Create-o-matic. The conversation went something like this:

Create-o-matic: Hey! Where you going lady? Hey – did you see that? That was a photo. Hey! Hey You! Are you listening to me?

Me: No. Shut up.

Create-o-matic: But, I’m tellin’ ya, that was a stock photo. I know one when I see one.

Me: No it wasn’t. That was an old sofa. A t-i-r-e-d old sofa. Sometimes you are wrong. Maybe you need to be re-calibrated.

Create-o-matic: Sheesh, you still whining about that slightly misguided portrait idea? Pfft, everyone has an off day. But you know I’m right this time. You just want me to be wrong so you can keep driving home. Fine. You weenie. You’re not the only one who’s had a long day. What do you think I was doing while you were working with those models all afternoon. Whatever. Just don’t blame me when…

Me: Enough!

I slammed the steering wheel with the palm of my hand and turned the car around. Grumbling. I grabbed the camera off the passenger seat and fired five or six frames of the sofa from different angles exactly as it presented itself. I didn’t touch it. Then got back in the car and resumed my journey toward now even more deserved wine and cheese, with a little satisfied grin pulling on my lips.

Listening to your inner creative whispers doesn’t guarantee you’ll get a worthwhile image, but not listening to it will definitely guarantee you won’t.

Epilogue: This one photograph of that ratty sofa has generated seven times the revenue of ALL the carefully planned images I had shot in the studio that day. It’s been on album covers and full page print ads. I laugh, mainly at myself, every time I see it. So learn to listen to your own Create-o-matic or the voice(s) in your head. If you think you see a photo, chances are there’s one there. Take it.