The Creative Mama » inspiring art, encouraging women

Words of Inspiration

Today, I want to share some words from someone who inspired and encouraged me from the very beginning.  But first let me share a bit of our story…

When I started photography, I never really felt that I fit in, especially within the photography forum I regularly visited and participated in. I was never a popular one; I would post something and if I was lucky, I would get one comment. I felt that my work was different and I just couldn’t grasp my head around everything…wondering why? Why didn’t anyone like my work? Was I on the right path?

And then, eight months after I began photography, I attended Cheryl Jacob Nicolai’s workshop and part of the workshop was a portfolio review. I was scared to death! I prefaced the review with, “I know my work is different than everyone else’s” and apologized. She reviewed my portfolio and shared with me that it was okay to be me.  That it was okay to be different. To just keep doing what I’m doing and not worry about anyone else.  She reassured me that MY path was the right track. And…that’s exactly what I did. Here I am, five years later, proud to be different (not only photography, but life in general).

Words Every Aspiring Photographer Should Know

Style is a voice, not a prop or an action. If you can buy it, borrow it, download it, or steal it, it is not a style. Don’t look outward for your style; look inward.

Know your stuff. Luck is a nice thing, but a terrifying thing to rely on. It’s like money; you only have it when you don’t need it.

Never apologize for your own sense of beauty. Nobody can tell you what you should love. Do what you do brazenly and unapologetically. You cannot build your sense of aesthetics on a consensus.

Say no. Say it often. It may be difficult, but you owe it to yourself and your clients. Turn down jobs that don’t fit you, say no to overbooking yourself. You are no good to anyone when you’re stressed and anxious.

Learn to say “I’m a photographer” out loud with a straight face. If you can’t say it and believe it, you can’t expect anyone else to, either.

You cannot specialize in everything.

Know your style before you hang out your shingle. If you don’t, your clients will dictate your style to you. That makes you nothing more than a picture taker. Changing your style later will force you to start all over again, and that’s tough.

Accept critique, but don’t apply it blindly. Just because someone said it does not make it so. Critiques are opinions, nothing more. Consider the advice, consider the perspective of the advice giver, consider your style and what you want to convey in your work. Implement only what makes sense to implement. That doesn’t not make you ungrateful, it makes you independent.

Leave room for yourself to grow and evolve. It may seem like a good idea to call your business “Precious Chubby Tootsies”….but what happens when you decide you love to photograph seniors? Or boudoir?

Remember that if your work looks like everyone else’s, there’s no reason for a client to book you instead of someone else. Unless you’re cheaper. And nobody wants to be known as “the cheaper photographer”.

Gimmicks and merchandise will come and go, but honest photography is never outdated.

It’s easier to focus on buying that next piece of equipment than it is to accept that you should be able to create great work with what you’ve got. Buying stuff is a convenient and expensive distraction. Spend money on equipment ONLY when you’ve outgrown your current equipment and you’re being limited by it.

Learn that people photography is about people, not about photography. Great portraits are a side effect of a strong human connection.

Never forget why you started taking pictures in the first place. Excellent technique is a great tool, but a terrible end product. The best thing your technique can do is not call attention to itself.

Never compare your journey with someone else’s. It’s a marathon with no finish line. Someone else may start out faster than you, may seem to progress more quickly than you, but every runner has his own pace. Your journey is your journey, not a competition. You will never “arrive”. No one ever does.

Embrace frustration. It pushes you to learn and grow, broadens your horizons, and lights a fire under you when your work has gone cold. Nothing is more dangerous to an artist than complacence.

– Cheryl Jacobs Nicolai

I hope that you love Cheryl’s words as much as I do.  And always remember to embrace your differences; it’s what makes you you and your photography special.

After graduating college, Deb Schwedhelm spent 10 years as a Registered Nurse in the Air Force. It wasn’t until she left the military that her career as a photographer began. In 2006, Deb decided to pursue her dream — she purchased a DSLR camera, began teaching herself photography and never looked back. Whether commissioned portrait sessions, commercial assignments or her ongoing personal projects, Deb always remains true to herself and her artistic vision. Deb is married to a U.S. Naval Officer and is the mother to three incredible children, who are often the subjects of her photographic work. She is currently based in Tampa, Florida. Her work can be viewed on her website, and her inspirational photoblog can be found here as well.

About Deb


After graduating college, Deb spent 10 years as a Registered Nurse in the Air Force. It wasn’t until she left the military that her career as a photographer began. In 2006, Deb decided to pursue her dream — she purchased a DSLR camera, began teaching herself photography and never looked back. Whether commissioned portrait sessions, commercial assignments or her ongoing personal projects, Deb always remains true to herself and her artistic vision. Deb is married to a U.S. Naval Officer and is the mother to three incredible children, who are often the subjects of her photographic work. She is currently based in Tampa, Florida.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/pages/Fond-Memories-Photography/119600151445547 Dana McKinney

    This is absolutely amazing and fits my style just perfectly. It fits my creativity and it sounds as if it had been written just for me. I am going to print this to keep with me for reference when I am feeling overwhelmed. Thank you so much…….

  • http://therancherswifesphotography.com The Rancher’s Wife Kate

    lovely just lovely…I’m going to print this off to remember.

  • http://www.AcclaimedPhoto.com Kerri Kirshner

    What a beautiful article! What inspiration you just gave me to keep on keepin on!

  • Julie P

    All those things are what I need to hear every day! Thank you!

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  • http://www.marievioletphotography.com marie violet osborn

    Thank you for writing this amazing article and sharing your photog wisdom, I like many others feel like I’ve been walking a similar path, and I’m happy to say that I have finally begun to find my photo style and I’m running with it! your a True inspiration…. thank u!!!

  • http://www.eglebphotography.blogspot.com Egle B

    Thanks for sharing. Words of wisdom we should all remember at times. I personally would like to stick them to my desktop!

  • Gigi

    So inspiring! I have also felt somewhat pressured to go pro even though I feel in “my journey” that I am not ready. So eye opening as I realize that everyone progresses at their own pace. Each journey is different. Thank you for sharing!

  • http://michaellehallphotography.com Michaelle

    First of all, let me tell you that this is my first visit to your website. I absolutely love your work here and this post in particular. I am now following you on Facebook and I have subscribed to your feed.

    I’m a full time nurse, and a part-time photographer. I love being inspired by other artists such as yourself!

    Thank you!

  • http://www.ashleyperryphotography.com Ashley

    WOW…This is so beautifully written. Just what I needed today! Thank you for sharing.

  • http://www.atomicpetportraits.com Ashley Hart

    Deb, thanks for sharing these inspiring words! Also, your work is absolutely beautiful! Some of your images are so ethereal and almost haunting. Glad you stuck with your style.

  • http://tinstarphoto.com Dana Perkins

    Thank you for this kick to the booty and reassurance to my heart. What beautiful words of wisdom…

  • http://oliviacraig.blogspot.com Olivia

    Thank you so much! That is EXACTLY what I needed to hear right now. It is so hard not to compare yourself with everyone, when you don’t necessarily want what everyone else has. Thank you.

  • http://boogaboojones.typepad.com/boogaboojones/2010/12/love-and-all-that-good-stuff.html Jennifer

    I love this post. I wrote about similar doubts a few months ago, only as a writer, not a photographer. The guidance Cheryl Jacobs Nicolai offered can be applied to so many aspects of life, not just photography. Love it.

  • http://boogaboojones.typepad.com/boogaboojones Jennifer

    I love this post. I wrote about similar doubts a few months ago, only as a writer, not a photographer. The guidance Cheryl Jacobs Nicolai offered can be applied to so many aspects of life, not just photography. Love it.

    <a href="http://boogaboojones.typepad.com/boogaboojones/2010/12/love-and-all-that-good-stuff.html

  • Tabitha

    Amazing post – thank you for sharing that. It seems that many of us needed to read it :)

  • http://lifeineden.wordpress.com Life in Eden

    yes, yes, YES. Different is good. I’m just finding my way down this road and often feel I have to have it all figured out. It’s good to remember that growth and change are bound to come.

  • http://www.angelapapalas.com/blog Angie

    Thank you, thank you for these words – Cheryl’s and yours! I hung out my shingle too early, and discovered these truths right away. I am grateful.

  • Kellie

    that made my day! will be printing and reading daily. thanks for sharing such words of wisdom.

  • http://www.nduranphotography.wordpress.com Norelis

    Oh geez, thank you for this. I often feel I’m not good enough, ’cause I don’t get ‘enough’ comments, or inquiries sometimes. I just doubt my work and art a lot.

    But yea, this is MY work, MY art. There are going to be people who don’t like it. That’s fine. They don’t have to. There are also going to be people who love it. At the end of the day, I have to feel ok with what I’m producing, for myself. If I’m content with it all, it shows in my work, and my life :)

    Thanks again!

  • http://www.courtneylindbergphotography.com Courtney Lindberg

    SOOOOOOOOO needed! Thank you!

  • http://amyshertzerphotography.com Amy

    Thank you for sharing those wonderful words of wisdom as well as your story. Your work is beautiful and moving. I especially love your last image of the girl on the beach–simply stunning and mesmerizing!

  • Jen

    Thank you so much. I really needed to hear this.

  • http://www.mychaosmybliss.com Cecily R

    THAT was wonderful. Thank you!

  • http://jenniferbrussphotography.com Jen

    Wonderful post. Thank you for sharing these pearls of wisdom.

  • http://ellingsenphotoblog.com/ Trude

    Thank you so much for sharing this! The best thing I’ve found to keep in mind is definitely that everybody is at a different stage, so comparing is pointless. Remember you were once a beginner too!

  • http://www.kforsythphotography.com karen f

    wonderful, deb! this is so true…you are such a strong and talented artist with a truly unique “voice”…you inspire me to stay true to myself.

  • http://www.angiewarren.com ang

    i. adore. you.

    <3

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  • Deb

    thanks so very much for all the kind comments!!

    @donna, feel free to share on your blog. just be sure to give credit and link back, to all mentioned in your post.

  • http://www.sweetpeoplephotography.com elyse

    I am going to wallpaper my office with these words- seriously!

  • http://www.donnaharrisphotography.com donna harris

    Wow. I have never been so encouraged and inspired.
    Thank you. How do I go about properly reposting this and possibly sharing this on my own blog?

  • http://www.kelseyandersonphotography.com kelsey {las vegas wedding photographer}

    Love this!! TFS!

  • http://simplyshaunaphotography.com Shauna

    Thank you for all of these wonderful reminders… this post came to me at the perfect time. Thanks again Deb xo

  • http://hannahmayophotography.com/blog Hannah

    What a beautiful post, Deb- so full of wisdom. In my own journey as a photographer I have needed to be reminded often to follow my own path.

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  • http://www.the-snowflake.com heather mckay bowes

    It has been a while since I have seen CJ’s words. They really are words to live by, not only in your art but in life. So many photographers feel more comfortable following trends but then there is nothing different, nothing which sets them apart. In the end they run out of love for the craft because it starts to feel all wrong. I remember what stuck in my head from CJ’s workshop, and that is to show what you want to sell, and to have faith in it. ((which reminds me that I still need to shake up my portfolio ;-)). Always inspired by your work Deb! XO

  • Melody

    Thank you so much. I needed that.

  • http://feonafotography.typepad.com/life-documented/ feona

    gawd i love Deb and what wonderful words, just what i needed to hear comming out of a rut

  • http://www.tytiahabingphotography.com Tytia

    Love your images, always, and love this post! Just what I needed to hear.

  • http://www.thefindingofme.com tracy

    oh thank you so much for these beautiful words of encouragement Deb! this has started my day off in a wonderful way…

  • http://minutestomemories-shari.blogspot.com/ ~Shari

    I am so that person she is talking about. I could put myself in every situtation (except the workshop).

    Thanks~ Thanks for letting me know… I really am – just me!

  • http://www.picturesbywhitney.com Whitney

    I’ve been taking pictures all my life, but I just recently started my own business- as a photographer. I really needed to read this article. Thank you so much!