Force yourself to improve and expand your skillset. Try taking (or giving yourself) an assignment outside of your specialty.

My favorite subject has always been nature. The more tranquil and farther removed from anything touched by man the better. If you ever saw me with a camera in hand odds were that it wasn’t pointed at a person. I’ve just never been that excited about having people in my pictures (and that hasn’t really changed.) What’s wrong with that? Nothing, I thought… until recently.

Making the jump to the D700 changed some things for me. One of those things is that it’s harder to walk by a camera you haven’t used in a few days and not think twice about it, especially when it costs more than your last few vehicles combined. One of the promises I made to myself (or maybe better said, the way I talked myself into that kind of expense) is that I would shoot more pictures more often and head into a direction where the camera could pay for itself. The problem is, of course, that the money to be made in photography is mostly made by taking pictures of… people.

I starting working out exactly how I would go about getting a gig shooting people. The realization that I kept coming back to was that I didn’t really know how to shoot people well. I had done some Santa shoots in the past, but those are pretty much no-brainers. Most parents are going to buy whatever the cheapest set you offer is as long as the picture is good enough for the grandparents to recognize the kid. I had also done some shots for friends for various social networking sites, but again, taking a shot of your friend that they’ll put on a website isn’t really a measure of greatness.

It was around this time that some friends were kicking off a group called Kids In The Valley, Adventuring (KIVA for short), a group that encourages parents to take their kids outside and do things like hiking, trail cleanups, etc. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to go get the practice that I needed but still be in the setting that I enjoyed, so I went along with them one weekend… and I’m very glad I did.

[Side note: Kids are great for learning to take people photos. For one, they’re always goofy looking no matter what, so when you end up with a goofy expression it seems normal. Second, they’re used to people taking pictures of them all the time… at their birthday parties, holidays, sports, etc… so they hardly even notice one more camera in their face (try following random adults around in the woods with a camera and see if you can spot the difference.)]

I attended as many of their events as I could, doing my best to learn a new trick or technique before the next one. Over the course of a few months I found that I was getting the hang of taking photos of people. Not just in the technical and creative aspects, but I was getting better at talking to the people I was shooting as well.

The other benefit I saw is probably best described as cross-training. Many of the things I picked up while shooting people has helped to advance other areas of my photography. So while a sunset over a stretch of beach that few humans have ever been to is definitely still my favorite subject, I’m pretty sure that hanging around with a bunch of kids has made me better able to capture it.

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