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Tips & Tricks

Quitting Your Day Job: Stop Overthinking The Creative Process

By Chris Nachtwey on October 8th 2014

This is a un-sugarcoated look into what life is really like when you walk away from the steady paycheck and enter the world of being self employed. I will be sharing my experiences, thoughts, and anything else that comes my way as I navigate the waters of being a full-time photographer. I also hope to interview other full-time photographers to share their experiences with you as well. To see the rest of the articles in the series, click here.

Stop Overthinking The Creative Process

I don’t know about you, but when I was starting out, I would overthink everything about the creative process. I would overthink the location, my settings, my lighting, and posing. As time has gone on and I’m shooting for paying clients on a regular basis, I have decided to take a step back and not overthink the creative process. What I have found is by taking a step back and not overthinking, I’ve been able to create better images and connect with my clients on a more personal level.



It might be that I’m finally at a level of experience where I’m comfortable enough to know that I don’t need to overthink to create images my clients and I love, but I don’t think that’s the case. I think by not overthinking the creative process, I’ve allowed myself to have a clear head and focus on what’s important and that’s making a better connection with my clients. With that, I create better images.

Three Tips To Stop Overthinking The Creative Process

1. Focus On Getting To Know Your Client

For me, the biggest step in stopping my willingness to overthink the creative process was to get to know my clients better. I always meet with my clients in person or have a chat on the phone before any wedding or session with me. I want to get to know who they are, what they do, etc. and want them to get to know me as well. Connecting with my clients on a personal level, allows them to be more comfortable in front of the camera. It also allows me to be relaxed knowing that my clients and I know more about each other than just that I’m going to photograph their wedding or make portraits of them.

When I was first starting out, I was so darn focused on the creative process that I know for a fact I was not connecting with my clients, and in turn, the images I was creating felt a little cold. They were good and all, but the expressions and overall feel to them felt like they were missing my client’s true personality. I challenge you to really get to know your clients. If you do, I promise you will be more relaxed photographing them, and capture better expression and moments with them.


2. Don’t Fret About Your Gear So Much

Gear, gear, gear!! Photographers love to talk about it, compare it, and fight about what you should and should not use. Here is a little inside tip: the average wedding or portrait client could careless if you create a portrait with a 85mm lens or 35mm lens, they just want great images that have great expressions and capture the essence that is them. I’m at the point in my career where I honestly could careless what gear I’m using to create my images. I do care a little, I need to have good glass, and camera bodies I know can do the job, but honestly, I care more about creating great images that my clients love. I can create a portrait with a 85mm or 24-70mm lens. I could careless about strobes on location; I prefer a speedlight or two and shoot through umbrellas. Oh and full frame or crop sensor cameras? Honestly, I’m so over that argument; they are both capable of doing a great job.

The moment I started to worry less about what gear I was using and started just using what I had, I started to create better images. My head was clear of worrying about the gear I had at my disposal and I focused on composition, client interaction, and working with my clients to make them look their best. I’ve never been a gear head. I know there are a lot out there, but while you argue about how you should have used a studio strobe instead of a speedlight to light that portrait, I will be worrying about how I capture better expressions from my clients. Don’t focus on the gear that much, by stopping that habit it will instantly begin to prevent you from overthinking the creative process.



3. Stop Trying To Control Everything

Stop trying to control everything about a wedding day or portrait session. Some things are just out of your control. By cluttering your brain with thoughts that you have no control over it will cause you to overthink the creative process. When I started to not focus on things like, Will we have enough time to capture all of the bridal prep? or Will the light will be just perfect at a certain location? I actually started to create better work. I freed myself from the anxiety of situations or locations that were out of my control. I try my best to put my client and I in the best situations possible, but hey, things change. Go with the flow, move on, and just work with what you have.

For example, I was recently shooting at a very popular park to have portraits, engagement, and wedding photos taken chosen by my clients. I ran into a problem when my clients and I arrived. The main area everyone loves to create photographs in had a full wedding ceremony going on. There was very little hope that we would be able to make any photographs in that area. I didn’t fret about it; I told my clients we would move to another part of the park that honestly had better light, and more privacy. As the wedding was ending, we were able to go back to the main area and create a few quick images and then went back to the other area.

The old me would have stressed out, thinking the session was ruined because we could not shoot in the normal area, but the new me focused on putting my clients in an area where I could just focus on them vs. worrying about not being able to use the main area. The end result, my creative process was not affected and I created some of my best work to date.



Overthinking the creative process is very easy to do, but you need to do your best to stop it. Focus on getting to know your client, don’t worry about what gear your using as much, and stop stressing over the things you have no control over. If you start to do these things, I promise your true creative side will start to come out, and you will probably start to create some of your best work. That’s what happened to me.

Till next time, keep shooting, building your business, and embrace the hustle!

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Chris Nachtwey is a full-time wedding and portrait photographer based in Connecticut. He is the founder and creator of 35to220 a website dedicated to showcasing the best film photography in the world. Chris loves to hear from readers, feel free to drop him a line via the contact page on his website! You can see his work here: Chris Nachtwey Photography

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Nikos Delhanidis

    making sense. well said.

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  2. Stan Rogers

    While this is great advice at any level, Chris, I honestly believe you are underestimating (wildly) the degree to which “the photography is already done”, so to speak. It’s something I’ve noticed over the (many) years — people who are perfectly capable of making really nice pictures with something that barely qualifies as a camera (think Brownies, Instamatics, disposables and smartphone cameras) suddenly become little more than a sophisticated accessory when they pick up a “serious” camera. It’s all about managing the little details and not making mistakes. It’s all about juggling settings and focal lengths and “stuff” on the one hand, and compositional and posing recipes (DO NOT use more than a quarter-teaspoon of salt!!!!) on the other. There’s a lot of “photography” going on, even when your pictures, well, suck.

    There comes a point where, no matter how sophisticated and wide-ranging your array of photographic tools is, it really has become a Brownie again. The “photography” is something that just happens, and you can concentrate on taking (or making) pictures instead. That will happen before you realise it, often without you noticing that it has happened. It’s not UNTIL you realise it, though, that you can relax into the real world. The photography is already done; there are people to capture.

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  3. Clare Havill

    Great article Chris, I have a family portrait session in a few weeks I was worry about. However I’m going to take your advise and go with a flow and not try to over control the session.

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  4. Holly Gratton

    This article was perfect and just what I needed! Very inspiring and such a relief. Thank you so much for writing it!

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