Are You Truly Ready?

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Challenging Yourself is Not for the Faint of Heart
by
Chris Fritchie

Ever have that feeling that your work looks the same day after day? Ever watch print competition and instantly know whose work that is? I’m pretty certain when judges see my Santa images or composites, they know it’s me. I see certain images from other makers come up and there is no doubt I know who the maker is. Well…what if you challenged yourself to completely shock the judges and your peers by creating work that is completely outside your comfort zone and style. Talk about scary!

Even though I was having some fantastic success with a few of my images I knew the judges at Dallas PPA could instantly tell when one of my images was entered. So this year I decided to have a little fun! What I didn’t realize was the amazing benefit I’d get from it! I had no idea how it would change my business goals and give me more opportunity to do what I really love… creating images that mean something.

So, if you want to see what you are made of and to find opportunities you didn’t even know existed… then do it!

As I write this article I’m celebrating a truly exciting and scary moment. Just yesterday, I met with a new client who had seen my 2nd Place GIA image from last year and asked if I would be willing to create something for his family. His wife is battling pancreatic cancer and he wants to create an epic image, an image he is calling her “legacy image.” He wanted to tell a powerful story that would capture her heart, her soul, her commitment to family, and her fight.

We met. Some tears were shed and we both loved the concept we came up with. No, it’s not the highest paying job I’ve done but it very well could be the most important piece I’ll ever create. I would not have had the confidence or the skill set had I not gone through this process. So how did I get to this place…better yet..how can you?

I think it was early 2019, I was watching print competition in Wichita Falls. Before the judging, I was very confident and excited about my chances of doing well. Oh, boy… was that an awakening! It was after this lackluster performance that I realized it was time to really sit down and take a look at my work and what I perceived as “good.” We should never put our self-worth into the hands of a few judges… art is art, after all. In this revealing moment though, the comments I heard over and over made it clear that if I wanted to succeed in print competition and earn my degrees, I was going to have to look deep into myself and find out where I could improve. Even so, all I could think about at that moment, I’ll be honest, was winning. Boy, did I have a lot to learn!

It was that day my journey truly began. My personal goal was to earn my Master Artist and Master Photography degree in two years… in just three IPC events. Sure it was stretch goal…well the final day of IPC this year…I shed tears. I had accomplished my goals! How? Well I had to look deep inside myself and give my all…but..is that enough?

The process has been intense. I’ve worked hard at times and have been totally frustrated at other times and, honestly, lost all confidence in my work. Then, a little over a year ago, I asked Richard Sturdevant to be my mentor and paid him for private instruction. This was ideal since we were in a pandemic. Richard and I are close friends so that made it tough. I learn differently than he teaches. The process really tested both of us and, admittedly, I was NOT a good student. Like many others, I struggled with other issues during the pandemic and I shut down. What truly helped was having someone to hold me accountable and someone to push me. What we decided was that I had to almost start completely over in my thinking about creating an image. I had to slow down and learn to start at the beginning and not the end. Help came from some other sources as well including Sandra Pearce and Amber Damour and Mark Weber.

So what do I do now that I’m starting over? Why should you care? Self reflection is one of the most underrated skills we can have in our own growth. I’ve learned you really need to look at your work and truly be able to admit what is good and what could be better.

Fellow photographers can be our best inspiration. Amber Damour is someone who has taken the industry by storm. She is a member of Dallas PPA and we love the banter about print competition and love the friendly little rivalry we have. She is an amazing confidant who allows me to question myself and to vent to someone when I’m frustrated. Amber entered print competition in 2020 for the first time, she went Diamond! Well…she just did it again, she went Diamond this year! We all need an Amber! I shared with her my idea and it was really a simple one. I wanted to create images this year and enter them where the judges and other members would have no clue they were mine. I wanted to truly test myself! That’s when the real journey began!

Let’s look at 3 of the mages I created…when I wrote this article the images were being judged at IPC. Fortunately there was still time for me to update this article as all 3 images merited and went Image Excellence!

“Brand New Lover” was a terribly fun image to create! I sat through Sandra Pearce’s pre-con class at virtual Imaging USA last year and loved her simplicity. I knew I could combine some of her techniques along with what Richard was teaching me, so I reached out to Sandra and she truly helped me with using the mixer brush in a different way.

In this piece I wanted to have a fun and powerful story but, more importantly, I wanted it to look completely different than anything I’ve done in the past. The image was originally going to be a simple parrot painting and I even made a round trip to a zoo to photograph parrots. It was while watching these birds interact that the “Brand New Lover” idea came about. I recalled watching a movie on Disney+ and felt I wanted to do something a little more cartoonish.

The necessary items for creating the image were in Adobe Stock, so the journey began. The first step was to learn to paint and create something out of almost nothing. The texture on the feathers took me four days to figure out. Once it clicked, I knew I had it. In this image, there was no chance I could “start at the end.” It involved thinking like an artist and building layers. The leaves were painted by hand and it took three days of doing one leaf to figure out how to make them have dimension and shape using light and dark. Sandra had pointed out that “light brings things forward and black pushes things away.” This simple thought has been one of the most powerful techniques I’ve added to create dimension. Richard is an absolute master at doing this although his technique is completely different than Sandra’s. Richard taught me to use the history brush in “screen mode” to lighten and in “multiply mode” to darken. Using this simple process with various brushes was a game changer! This simple technique taught me to create amazing detail.

“Brand New Lover” also taught me to think like an artist and not a photographer. It was an incredible journey and was rewarded with a 97 at Dallas PPA, the highest scoring image this year at that point. What surprised and shocked me the most was it was awarded Top Artist Image at TPPA this year.. my third year in a row to receive this honor! Well…this image was the image that earned me my Master Artist Degree this year!

The image “Ménage à trois” began as somewhat of a joke between Amber and myself. In Dallas, we have an amazing artist who does amazing flower images. Those of us who do portraits always joke about how flowers don’t talk and don’t move but they score so well. OK…let’s do a flower!

Following the same concept as “Brand New Lover,” I wondered what would happen if the three flowers fell in love. I knew I needed to tell a story, but had a hard time wrapping my mind around that concept when looking at flower images. I would have to think like an artist and create an image showing flowers in a manner which they really didn’t grow.

Painting the flower itself was relatively simple, only because Richard had showed me how to create depth and detail in our lessons. He also taught me how to create texture with a dodge and burn technique that I used on the “Brand New Lover” image and every image since then! The hard part was intertwining the stems, I rebuilt them seven or eight times, but it worked! This image tested many of the techniques and new way of thinking and it went Texcellence at TPPA and was sealed in Districts. That’s right, it went Imaging Excellence at IPC!

“There’s a New Sheriff in Town” is the last image I want to share. The image was created for TPPA and I thought it would do well in my artist case. Again, this one really tested my thinking process as I used mostly stock images. I also challenged myself to do something that Richard has really been pushing me to do… not to use a single plug-in to create my images. Previously, I had been relying on Topaz to create some styling. But all three of these images did not utilize any plug-in filters. They all were done with my own developing techniques.

This image really represented everything I’ve wanted to create. I wanted to tell a strong story and to create an image like an artist. My new process and techniques allowed me to rework this image 18 times before it was done! I love composites but always struggled getting them to the next level. For IPC, I completely redid this image again because my skills had improved even more since it was originally made. BAM! This image went Imaging Excellence as well!

What I hope you get from me sharing is don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone. Stop attending workshops and listening to speakers and not doing anything about it. Get out there and find something to create that no one will recognize as yours! Why use the same old same old techniques?

So, if you want to see what you are made of and to find opportunities you didn’t even know existed… then do it! Get out of your own way and put in the necessary work to get better… not better at what you already know how to do, but to learn an entirely new process. I’m excited and anxious to continue this journey, all because I made an effort to get out of my own way and test myself. Try it. When all is said and done, you will make a better you.

Chris Fritchie is a photographer and Texas School Instructor from McKinney, Texas. His work has now qualified him for his Master of Photography and Master Artist degree in just over two years. He has over 15 years experience shooting editorial with over 150 magazine covers and thousands of published images. He and his lovely wife, Lori, will be teaching a class on “The Complete Kids Program… The Magic of Santa and More” at the 2022 Texas School of Professional Photography. Learn more about Chris and his work at: www.ChrisFritchieStudios.com.