2014 was a year of change and challenges for me. Although the changes felt gradual as the year progressed, reflecting on them for this article reminds me of just how dramatic they turned out to be. These changes came about through a process of reflection, refocusing, refining, and rebuilding, and it’s ultimately an exercise that each professional photographer must, at one point, go through.
Toward the start of the year, I began preparations for my Photography & Retouching Course at RGG EDU, which forced me to think more critically and concretely about the technical skills that fashion photographers and retouchers need, but also the business and administrative aspects that are critical to success. Doing so, I was confronted with the fact that, in many cases, I hadn’t always followed through with the very advice I was advocating to others. I had two choices: carry on the way I am and take the easy way out, or confront the inconvenient truths and make changes that hurt in the short term, but bring benefits in the long term. With some hesitation, I chose the latter.
Up until this point, my work was somewhat scattered. While my focus was on fashion and portraiture, I still spent a great deal of time shooting travel, as well as architecture, and also split my time between photography, retouching, writing, and teaching. Although variety is the spice of life, the same adage doesn’t necessarily apply to photography. Each area was seemingly doing OK, but the sad reality is that each must be treated as its own business to reach its ultimate potential. I felt myself being pulled in too many directions and was unhappy with the way things were going as a whole. It’s human nature—giving something up is much more difficult than taking something else on. It was an exercise that came with its share of pain and anxiety, but as time passes, the sting has worn off and I feel gradually more content with the path I’ve taken.
I decided to focus on fashion, portraiture and teaching and, of course, carry on with occasional writing for articles such as this one. This meant that I had to remove more than 40 cherished travel, landscape, and architecture images from my portfolio, as well as give up the steady income source that was retouching. Rather than undergoing the painful step of gradually removing elements, I opted for a more swift approach by removing my entire website and building it from the ground up. A new layout, new content, a carefully selected and scrutinized set of categories and images—nothing was safe.
Refine and Rebuild
To make things even more difficult for myself, I eventually confronted a turning point (as far as the style of my photography and personal retouching were concerned). This ultimately led me to rethink a large chunk of my fashion, beauty, and portrait portfolio and bring about more change. With some time freed up as a result of the above adjustment, I embarked on a process of focused experimentation to explore various looks, styles, and genres to find out to what sort of aesthetic I gravitated. Within this experimentation, I promised myself that I wouldn’t play it safe and be content with failure. I knew that not everything would turn out; but that even money spent on failures was an investment in learning.
I went back to perfecting single-light setups, working with hard and cheap light sources, as well as expensive and elaborate ones. I began shooting medium format, slowed down my workflow, paid more attention to details, and forced myself to get things right in-camera. I stopped hiding my images and began sharing everything with my team through tethered capture. This process changed not only the way I shoot, but also the way I retouched. I began leaning toward a more natural look that remained both polished and raw, but still retained the original essence of my style, which revolved heavily around detail and contrast and depth.
While this sort of revelation is a blessing, it also creates a strong inner conflict. What does one do with years’ worth of past images that no longer feel inspiring or reflective of the work you do or want to be doing? For me, the solution was clear, but once again painful. I discarded over three quarters of my fashion, beauty, and portrait images and began rebuilding from scratch. Even though it felt like I had wiped away several years of work, I quickly realized that it’s the wrong way you think about it. The images may no longer be displayed for all to see, but their lessons are ingrained in every image I create today. With a plan in place, I rounded out the end of the year by shooting multiple editorials each week and have managed to rebuild what was lost. I’ve since created a portfolio that is consistent, focused, and cohesive, and one that I’m entirely proud of. None of this was easy and none of it was convenient, but sometimes what we need is a clean slate.
Onward into the New Year
So with all these changes made, what does that mean for 2015 and where do I go from here? While 2014 was the year of change, 2015 is the year of stability, targeting and expansion. Closing out 2014, despite the challenges of giving up so many things throughout the year, I find myself extremely content with the position I am now in. I’m happy with the work
I’m creating, and I have achieved a certain flow to my photography that’s allowed me to deliver a look that’s consistent, personally fulfilling, and commercially viable.
Having that confidence in my work has motivated me to put together a concrete marketing plan, as opposed to the haphazard and piecemeal approach that I’ve used to date. Because the Canadian market for commercial work is not the strongest, I’m also looking toward exploring new markets in Europe and the UK and growing beyond local constraints. I don’t expect this to be easy, and I imagine I’ll be changing course along the way, but if there’s one thing that 2014 has taught me, it’s to grow more comfortable with change. Sometimes gradual changes are all that’s needed, but consider whether gradual is really enough. Sometimes wiping away the past and rebuilding for the future is the only way to truly move forward.
Michael Woloszynowicz is an editorial fashion and beauty photographer from Toronto, Canada. He’s also a contributing writer at Fstoppers and an instructor at RGG EDU and Retouching Academy.