My pictures would be better only if I…

This sentence could be finished one of two ways.

The Easy Way : had a better equipment, traveled to an exotic place, knew people with connections, sucked up to others

The Hard Way : got closer, worried less, improved skills, pushed harder, dug deeper, broke rules, wasn’t timid, stopped rushing, took risks

Photographers, writers, painters, musicians all faces similar challenges: we like to think about the easy ways to improve, yet find it difficult to act on the hard ways.


Over the last few months I’ve learned a few things… some moments after getting laid off. Buckle up, ‘cause this is about as visual eclectic as it gets.

Think of this Top Ten list of how to take better pictures like giving broccoli to a 4-year-old. Or encouraging a college first year to continue doing pull-ups. Or telling an award-winning wedding photographer they don’t need a Leica M9. As we mature, the prescription for what is actually good for us, changes. (Rach, Dan, Otto, and Gino… you know what I mean).

Please, just don’t spit it out back it out if you don’t like it.

**** IMPORTANT: One lucky commenter will receive a $25 iTunes gift card by Friday, September 16, 2011 by 10pm MT. Details at the end of the post.

10. Dabble in an different genre of what you are used to. I chose documentary photography of the US military. Photographing a US Army change of command ceremony held at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, CO, represents a difference from my normal style of photography. The experience offered me a glimpse of US military traditions can be witnessed in the faces ages 18-23 year old that fight our battles. A reminder of how September 11 changed our lives forever. {read more about an Army change of command}wpid-fort_carson_change_of_command_03-2011-09-14-00-03.jpg

9. Think about how another artist would approach my genre. I focused on painting. While this is an actual photograph, I thought closely about how an impressionistic painter would think: composition, line, color, emotion. {read more the importance of de-focusing}wpid-unfocus_greece_9-2011-09-14-00-03.jpg

8. Look at my favorite masters. Ok, so while Norman Rockwell name isn’t also a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, he’s had a good thing going over his exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. {read more about behind-the-scenes technicals about re-creating a masterpiece}wpid-gossip-2011-09-14-00-03.jpg

7. Try something I may not like. Who knows, you might find it might tickle your fancy. While I’m no fan of the overly ‘fake’ looking HDR images which tend to give the technique a bad rap, I strived to create a “classy” effect that pushes the creative envelope. {read more about my thoughts on HDR photography}wpid-santorini_greece_hdr_wedding_photos_3-2011-09-14-00-03.jpg

6. Give back to my friends. Time, money, or a special portrait session gifts well. One of my favorite couples:wpid-temple_ryan_boulder_portrait_session_006-2011-09-14-00-03.jpg

5. Get educated and meet my mentors. Just do it, even if it means ending up in detention with Numnuts & The Strobist after getting schooled. Amanda Tipton (pictured left) and I grinned the.whole.time. {read more about the Flash Bus Tour and my review.}wpid-flashbus_tour_detention-2011-09-14-00-03.jpg

4. Break rules and conventions. I remind myself, staring down that dragon straight in the eye keeps me alive. {read more about lightpainting}wpid-lightpainting_bride_rocky_mountain_bride-2011-09-14-00-03.jpg

3. Share what I know. I learn 90% what I teach. {read more about how one light makes all the difference}wpid-single_flash_portrait_sesion-2011-09-14-00-03.jpg

2. Write and write more. I dislike writing (I really do). Yet pin-pointing specific goals with writing to help share, educate, inspire, and create is really what I’ve come to love about writing. As with anything, everything watched, improves…. this coming from a person who could type and re-type a blank blog post all day long 4 years ago yet had no problem writing an article published at National Geographic or a 152-page Geography MA thesis. However, writing 100+ published blog posts with 25,000+ words so far in 2011 (276 blog posts in less than 2.5 years…whew!!). I feel this process of reflection, analysis, articulating, and sharing has made me a more confident writer, communicator. It has helped me grow as a leader in the wedding photography industry. I like to think all of this has afforded me the opportunity to give back in the same way as my mentors. Yet, I have much to learn. {read more how Toastmasters makes for better communicators for life}wpid-kern-photoblogposts-2011-09-14-00-03.jpg

1. Follow my heart. At the end of the day, this is what matters most. I’m glad I did! {read more about our the actual engagement surprise, see photos from our engagement session with James Christianson, and read my thoughts on planning a wedding from the perspective of a wedding photographer}wpid-rj_krista_engagement_07-2011-09-14-00-03.jpg

While I’m buggered I didn’t get picked to speak at PartnerCon, I am grateful to have such a loyal blog followers. I slowly read each comment and am thankful for the 1,000+ comments so far in 2011. A simple comment goes a long way in my book and keeps me going. Big hugs, yall!

While this little list highlights some of the things I’ve learned, I encourage you to come up with you own. Answer by Friday, September 16 and get a $25 iTunes gift card to one lucky blog commenter!

Beloved Blog Readers: Right now, I want to hear your recommendations of how someone could specifically increase creativity in their work, commented below. Spread the love.

18 Responses to “My pictures would be better only if I…”

  1. Mark — September 14, 2011 @ 8:19 am (#)

    Great post R.J. It really gave me some food for thought. One thing that seems to run through and through is that you are not afraid to be yourself. Taking inspiration from others and adding the Kern flair! I would add that knowing yourself is right up there with following your heart. As always thanks so much for sharing. Keep it up.

  2. Amanda — September 14, 2011 @ 8:52 am (#)

    I think adults need to play more. We talked about this a bit yesterday, and I remembered a post my friends put up a little over a year ago about play- It’s all about letting go of your ego, I think.

    PS- That picture of the 4 of us cracks me up every time. Oh the body language.

  3. Kate Lyon — September 14, 2011 @ 9:02 am (#)

    My pictures would be better if I focused more on capturing MY vision. It’s something I’ve learned to do this year, but can always do more. Making photos how I see them appear, and not how I think someone else would capture them is the only way of putting my own stamp on them and truly making them represent me. My photos would also be better if I chose my focuses more intentionally. I tend to dabble in a lot of different trials, rather than digging deeply into a few at a time, giving each the time and dedication it truly deserves.

  4. James — September 14, 2011 @ 9:11 am (#)

    I don’t always do it on purpose but it never seems to fail that I am at my most creative when I am the most uncomfortable. That uneasiness forces me to think of ways to overcome and grow. It is a cycle that never ends, unless you can truly master everything this world has to offer.

  5. Rachel — September 14, 2011 @ 9:36 am (#)

    Always love reading your posts. Many things to thing about and put into practice. The other thing I would add is follow your gut. When I listen to the inner voice inside of me, it tends to lead me in the right direction. Both in my job and in my life (and goes right along with follow your heart).

  6. Nicole — September 14, 2011 @ 1:40 pm (#)

    I personally need to stop reading about photography and just DO IT. I find I get in these ruts where I just read and read and read and go nowhere. It is much better for my creativity to just put the iPad down, pick up my camera and shoot.

  7. Chanel — September 14, 2011 @ 2:01 pm (#)

    Another great post! I love the fact that you blog about so many different things with a foundation based on your photography. Much more interesting than the person that only post photos of one wedding or portrait session after the next 🙂

  8. Chung Nguyen — September 14, 2011 @ 6:48 pm (#)

    I find inspiration in reading, learning, doing with heavy emphasis on that last one. I always love your blog posts – so sharing. 🙂 P.S. I hope I don’t win – friggin’ HATE iTunes. 😛

  9. Amber Pierce — September 14, 2011 @ 10:29 pm (#)

    How someone could specifically increase creativity in their work, including me: by relating to the surroundings and identifying with the subjects (even the inanimate ones) through, specifically, becoming the subject. Photographers enjoy being behind the lens so much that often we forget what it’s like to be in front of it, taking direction and letting our guard down. Becoming a comfortable subject translates to taking more creative pictures that come from relating to the other side. I hope I take my own recommendation.

  10. Temple — September 14, 2011 @ 10:34 pm (#)

    RJ…I so love following all your posts. They are from the heart and filled with passion…but then again, that’s who you are. Keep taking risks, keep laughing and do everything with that beautiful smile! Life is good.

  11. Ric Cederholm — September 16, 2011 @ 9:11 am (#)

    Great posts. Like how you lay it all out. My pictures would be better if…..I think more about what my subjects wants to see rather than what I think will look cool (e.g., using cool flash techniques). I can also get too carried away about finding a great location instead of working with the location I am in. A great location can sometimes take focus away from the those you should be focusing on.

  12. Jeremy Martinez — September 16, 2011 @ 3:07 pm (#)

    I would be a better photographer, if I stopped trying to be a better photographer… huh… go figure!

  13. Alyssa — September 21, 2011 @ 11:05 pm (#)

    I have really enjoyed reading your latest blogs RJ! They are written very well and you can see the passion that you are feeling in life. So glad to see you happy! Hope we get to see you off this weekend friend!

  14. Desiree — October 8, 2011 @ 4:49 pm (#)

    I would be a better photographer if I had a photography project every month that was just my project. Not something I’m doing for a client, but something that I’m doing because I think it would be cool. Since I’ve gotten busy with clients, I’ve stopped playing with photography, and I miss it. This is how Anne Geddes made her big break, she started doing what she wanted to do. Teaching a local class is also a good idea that you have up there.

  15. Brooke Summer Photography — October 13, 2011 @ 10:26 am (#)

    There is a book that I found awhile back that really encourages my creativity photographically… it’s called the Digital Photographer’s Bucket List. It has a list of 100 photos to take before you die. Kind of morbid, but they’re little assignments that make you think about what these things mean to you. For instance, one of them is “The Ravages of Time.” Some of the examples are rusted vehicles or wrinkled hands. Time takes its toll on things, people, and everything around us, and what does it mean to you to define the ravages of time? It’s a challenge in thinking, and then capturing your own perspective.

    My own personal challenge is to get out from the overwhelming To-Do list and just be creative. Do what I like to do, what I want to do, what I’m passionate about. I’m so caught up in the how to do it that I don’t just do it, which is something that I’m struggling with and working towards. 🙂

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