6 ways I facilitate my ‘Inner Yes’ and shoot for the rush

“Yet again, another wonderful post that reached straight in and shook my inner core” -Bri

How can you make portraits, landscapes or sports images that will move people deeply? Wait until the ‘inner YES’ tells you to hit the shutter. In the comments from my recent post on DPS called 5 ways to stop being a luck photographer {and start taking pictures on purpose}, there was a fabulous comment from a reader named Trip about waiting for the ‘inner YES’ before capturing a shot. He said:

This is something I learned this from my wife. When we met, I was the more technically experienced photographer. She asked me to teach her more about the technical side of shooting, and I happily did. But when we’d get back from shooting something together, I often felt  a more positive emotional reaction to her images than to mine. Hers may have been less technically predictable than mine, but they GRABBED me in ways mine didn’t. Often, standing side by side, we’d shoot the same subject, and her shots had more feeling. They touched me more.  Why?

I kept wondering what she knew that I didn’t know. I learned that I wasn’t always taking the time to wait until the moment when I felt real excitement about my subject. She did. If she doesn’t feel the rush, she doesn’t shoot.

I looked back over a few zillion of my shots and started thinking about what I was thinking and feeling when I took the very best shots.  And I learned.  Truly great images not only have to be technically on target, they require that the bloke or lass holding the camera feel excited about what they see when they look through the gear.  Your subject moves, changes expression, blows in the wind, has variable light flickering over them…wait until that moment when you feel a thrill in your heart … a sudden rush. This is your aesthetic sense saying NOW!!!  Its a part of you that knows when all the design elements of the image are just right to reach the human heart…THEN fire.

Wow. What more can I add to that? He said it all. The inner yes. Don’t shoot if you don’t feel the rush. This can apply to any genre of photography. For landscapes, wait until the light gives you a rush. Wait until the wind blows the trees and tells you !YES! For portraits, wait until the moment that little boy or girl looks deep into your lens and engages with your inner yes.

I only do a few sessions a month and this affords me time to really dedicate myself to the process necessary for me to provide unique portraits of each and every person I photograph. Here are six things I do before, during and after shooting that aid me in allowing my inner yes to guide the sessions:

  1. Before a session, I get to the location early. I look at the areas where I feel led to shoot based on the light, the poses I had envisioned. And I center myself.
  2. Anyone who knows me well will tell you that when I work – when I get into that zone – I turn inside out. I sink within myself and am often even incapable of carrying out anything that resembles a conversation. I find it so helpful to have an assistant who knows me well. Toyha is chatty, bright, brilliant. She knows me. She knows what I’m thinking. She’s authentic and real with kids. They trust her, they can tell that she’s not faking it. So while I’m centered, waiting to hear my inner yes, she gets the kids moving in the right direction, helps then with the poses we discussed before the session and knows just what to do to make it work when I am sometimes incapable of putting two words together.
  3. When I’m setting up a shot, I often get the child in place and then I look through the viewfinder while walking around him/her. I crouch down, get up high, walk around the perimeter. I just wait until something tells me ‘yes’. And then from that position, I talk to him/her, get some giggles going. Sometimes I just say, “it’s ok, don’t smile just look at me.” And then I wait for the awkward moment or expression to pass and wait until they are just looking. When we’re outside and no one else is there, I just sit and wait. We hear the birds, soak in the silence. And then, the instant my insides jump, I hit the shutter. It sounds like a long time, but it’s often not longer than 10 seconds.
  4. I don’t miss the moment because I make the moment. I don’t just go nuts shooting – I’m as methodical as I can be while working with children and this order facilitates a peace that gives me space to just feel it.
  5. When I’m sorting the images in Lightroom, from a one hour session there can be up to 150 shots. Out of those, I will end up with about 30 keepers for a paid session. For a session I’ve done just for me, I can whittle those down to 10, 5 or even just 2. I sit with one finger on the X, one on the right-arrow key. I arrow through the shots and unless something jumps inside me and tells me yes, I just hit X. X. X. When a shot makes me stop for a second, I keep it. I then delete the rejected shots and again, I go through the shots I just kept and I sort them the same way until I’ve gotten the shots down to the best of the best.
  6. And then, I start the process of editing. I start in Lightroom since I’m already there. I start by hovering over my favorite presets to see if anything jumps out at me and, again, makes me feel my inner yes. This is really important because whatever I choose here will guide the direction of the finished images. If I find something that makes me jump, I’ll go to other images and try that setting on it because I really feel it’s important to maintain consistency while editing a session.

Of course, there’s more to my workflow but this isn’t about that. In every step from preparation through shooting through editing, I don’t settle on anything until it makes my inner yes jump and thrills me.

In my life, I’ve never done anything unless I feel a passion for it. This can be good and bad, especially when mixed with business because when I have a session that doesn’t rock me, I can have a huge emotional low that, at times, has even made me want to quit. It can be hard to keep the momentum of thrill going when you shoot for a living, but in between sessions I do for a living, I plan sessions that I do just for me. Heck, even the sessions I do for money are for me. But to keep the momentum of forward motion, I plan sessions that I can handle every detail of just for the love of the game.

And it is a love for me. I truly love photography because it loved me first and continues to love me just when I need it the most.

  • Exsondra

    Thank you Elizabeth, I needed this, I understand the inner yes and the rush that comes when it hits! I just wish it would come more often, I think my insecurity’s get in the way sometimes and it prevents me from seeing what I love.

  • Wow! That is so well said and enlightening! Thank you!

  • I love this because I get it. I know that rush. I guess I might be doing something right be aide often I will have the camera up to my eye but not shoot because I am not wowed yet. ThAnk you for your ongoing informative posts.

  • Tammy

    Thank you! I am still learning and this is just what I needed right now! I’m excited to look through my camera tomorrow and find my yes moment!

  • Esther

    Thanks for another great post, Elizabeth. I love your blogs – so informative, so honest, and so easy to relate to!

  • your posts are amazing I learn so much from your blog…thank you for sharing your knowldege

  • bri

    Yet again, another wonderful post that reached straight in and shook my inner core :). Thank you for all you do!

  • I love this, thank you!

  • Very deep…and authentic. I will probably read your entire blog over the next few weeks. I’ve learned that photography is a mix of creative and spiritual. That inner yes is the spiritual.

  • georgia

     Elizabeth – when are you going to start doing seminars? Come to Yorkshire – your blog posts have me in awe, this was just what i needed to read. I would love to request more information on how you plan your shoot from start to finish, and how you keep the children engaged (my latest shoot was a 3 year old and a 10 month old and it was very tricky trying to get them on the ‘same page’ – the shots were intended to be of them together, and I was only saved in the last ten minutes with some amazingly cute pics of them both eating an apple each..but if that hadn’t have happened I don’t think i would get away with the shots from the rest of the shoot!). I try and be very casual about the kids routine and letting them do their own thing, i play with them and interact, but always have a niggling fear that i don’t want to disrupt anything too much. As i write this i think i know i just need to be more assertive and imaginitive! But i feel like anything i plan goes out the window when i get to the shoot!

  • elizabethhalford

    Hello Georgia! I’m thinking about going to Yorkshire in a couple weeks for some R&R but might open up some time if you want to meet and have a little pow-wow for an hour or two? I think this is a topic that needs to be spoken about in person and perhaps a bit in depth. You can see more about that here:

  • LE

    Love this perspective of the inner yes! I think this will definitely help me with the cull and just shooting in the hope that ill get a good shot. I like the way you work :) I also like your last paragraph and the bit about sitting silently waiting, like bird watching, waiting for that moment for the bird to emerge and show us their character and beauty!