June 10, 2016

My Process: Crafting a Vision for Photography

Education - Photographers

I’m going to share about my process. As some of you may have read, a while back I wrote a blog post about my journey with VSCO Film. I started using VSCO when I first got into portraiture photography, and I bought it specifically to help edit the first engagement shoot I ever shot.

That was about two years ago and a lot has happened and changed since then. It’s a pretty arduous task trying to find your voice and vision, especially in processing photos. I think processing photos is one of the things that people either rely on too heavily or care too little about. It’s tough to find a happy medium.

My process is more than just my processing—it’s more of my workflow and why I choose to color-grade the way that I do. First of all—I don’t think color-grading is something that just happens—if it does, I think, almost necessarily, there is a lack of investment into the Process. For a while, especially when I was primarily using VSCO, color-grading was somewhat of a necessary evil. I had to do it, but it was never consistent. It seemed like every time I photographed a session it was a random grasping at the wind through my pile of presets to find one that made the photos look a little better. I firmly believe that the shot is way more important than the processing—however, I do think that having a consistent process is really essential to creating a consistent brand—and if you know me, you know that branding and identity are some of the things that really get me excited.

Here’s an example. The following shots from this past year, while not poorly done, in my opinion, are rather inconsistent with each other and with my ideal direction of where my process and brand were going.


Not terrible right? Perhaps—but also they weren’t up to the standards of where I was truly trying to take my images.

That brought me right back to square one. I wasn’t pulling my vision from anywhere. So I went back through all the things that have inspired me over the years—cinema, music, photography. I talked to other photographers and realized that, while I love the work of a lot of other photographers, I had no desire to process my photos or to have my photos look like theirs. I wanted my own vision.

Some of the things that really inspired me were the short film Everyday by Gustav Johansson, the stormy Icelandic weather, and the songs The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades is Out to Get Us! and Casimir Pulaski Day from Sufjan Steven’s album Illinois. While those mediums are all very, very different–the emotion, the pitch, the story that embodies those things–those are were I found companionship in the vision that I was trying to craft. Ultimately, I don’t want to simply be a photographer–I want to be a storyteller. For me, to find a craft and vision that is true to my sense of story, I needed to look beyond photography into other stories that were leaving a footprint on my work.

When I close my eyes, turn on those songs or the audio from Everyday—I can picture my work in exactly the form I want it to embody. Chock full of emotion, depth, meaning. It’s this sense of wonder I’ve had as an artist when I realize that, while my art is still developing, the final product has my fingerprint in it.

It took me months to finally come upon something that I really felt like I could stamp onto my photos and that it would carry over my voice and vision. It’s a work in progress, but this exercise took me outside of simply photography as an inspiration point, and brought me to a place where I could incorporate my vision—how I see the world—into my photos.

I know it’s ethereal, but this is coming from a guy who, as a thirteen year old boy, growing up in rural Illinois, would hop on my bike and ride for hours and hours listening to Further Seems Forever and sitting in piles of leaves, singing to myself. I would sit for hours writing stories and trying to convey my emotions in a way I could process them all. What can I say? I was a sensitive kid.

But those things are part of me. So, for me to develop photos that are in tune with emotion and a sense of transcendence—that’s what makes my vision come alive. Here is one of the images that, when I saw it finished, absolutely captured my vision and brand.


I don’t want to get into my actual processing here (sliders, points, etc.) but I do want to get the conversation going about processing, vision, and using your voice—past and present—to create a voice in your photography. I do, however, want to get the conversation started about processing and creating a brand. I don’t think everyone’s processing needs to be different, but I do think that it’s easy to tell when someone has put time and energy into their process–it stands out.

I think a lot of photographers are intimidated by the approach and the work that it takes to truly develop a process and style that is unique to you. It takes work, and a heck of a lot of it.

But it’s out there. Trust me, it’s worth it.