Tyler’s Tips Episode 33: Work with what you’ve got!


Welcome to Tyler’s Tips. Today I’m going to talk about working with what you’ve got.

So, work with what you’ve got. One of the things that we tend to do as photographers, but anybody creative has the potential to fall into this trap, and that is that we stop seeing the things that are around us that are really cool and really interesting. Because we see them all the time.

So, I want to show you guys a couple of examples of times when I happened to get lucky enough to see past that, and I was able to utilize some things in my everyday environment to create some fun photos, some really cool ones I’m very happy with. They didn’t start out with that idea, though. It’s like, I had to sort of stumble my way into it to figure it out. So, hopefully this exercise will save you some stumbling.

The first one I’m going to show you … well, they’re both actually, they’re very similar stories. Two different shoots, but I set out to do food shoots twice. Self-produced, I love shooting food, and I tend to play around with it now and again in the studio.

One time, I had purchased this big block of cheese, and I was like, “I think this will be awesome. I’ve got this cool slab of marble. Let’s do a really need food shot.” You know, neat food shoot, a series of images, based around this giant wedge of Parmesan cheese. And started playing around with it in the studio and realized, ugh, nothing’s happening. I tried a bunch of different things, I just wasn’t feeling it. I didn’t create any photos I was excited about.

And I was hanging out with my assistant, Kyle, at the time, and he and I were chatting, and I was scratching my chin, going “What are we going to do? This isn’t working.”

And I happen to look out the studio window, and I have chickens, and they live right outside these windows here. I saw a chicken, and I said, “What do you think? Should we go ahead and just grab a chicken and put it on the cheese? I bet that would be funny. Let’s try it.”

Kyle gave me a look like, eh, I don’t know what you’re thinking, dude, that sounds like bad idea.

I’m like, “All right, let’s go!” I didn’t listen to Kyle. Most of the time I listen to Kyle, but I’m glad I didn’t this time.

Anyways, I grabbed a chicken, which makes it sound easy. Chickens don’t tend to like to be grabbed. But once you pick them up, they totally chill out and are really almost cuddly. Chickens are very interesting animals. Anyways, brought the chicken into the studio, and we created this image, which is an image I think is super fun.

Another interesting quirk about at least this chicken is every time the strobe popped, the chicken would turn its head slightly. Just like an experienced model will pose and shift for every shot. It was amazing to watch. Quite the talented chicken.

Anyways, here we are, and this photo, which I really like, is the result of utilizing something that I had on hand, that was just sitting right in front of me all this time. I never thought to put a chicken in a photo. They’re here all the time, and how fun is that?

So, anyways, there’s an example. Things in your environment can often be the source of really compelling imagery for a couple reasons. One is, you know it well. Like, I know chickens well enough because we’ve had chickens here, we’ve raised them for years. So, I know how to work with chickens, and I know what you can ask a chicken to do reasonably, and what you can’t ask a chicken to do reasonably. I mean, up to a point. I don’t have a lot of experience doing photo shoots with them, but I knew which one to pick up, I knew which one was going to let me pick it up and was pretty mellow, and isn’t going to freak out when I bring it into the studio. So, as an example.

Another reason that working with what you know can be so successful is, it’s just right there, like you don’t have to do anything! All you have to do is walk outside, pick up a chicken, and walk back in. That sounds obvious and simple, but so often, we come up with these elaborate ideas for photos or photo shoots, and it requires a lot of logistics and sometimes money to just get all the pieces in place to do a photo shoot. So, if you can do that with stuff lying around your yard, you saved yourself a lot of trouble, and sometimes a lot of money, too. So, something to think about.

Another quick example, another failed food shoot. I went to the grocery store and I bought a bunch of huge steaks. I had this vision for a food photo that was like a big tower of meat, like raw meat. I don’t know what I was thinking. The photo totally didn’t work. It was just a little gross, honestly. I love steak, but the photo didn’t work.

But, here I was with this big stack of meat, and my old dog, Roscoe, who sadly is no longer with us, but he was in the studio, and of course, very interested in what we were shooting, and finally it dawned on me, “Wait a second. Let’s put Roscoe in the photo with the stack of meat.” Because he was an incredibly well-behaved dog, in some ways. In other ways, he was a handful. But, he was incredibly well-behaved. I could ask him to sit and stay still, and he would just stay there, even with a stack of meat a few inches from his nose.

Which is super impressive, and it took a photo shoot that basically set this all up for me to even think of it, but I knew this about my dog. I knew that he would sit there and, if I told him to, not eat the meat. Which is amazing. Like, that’s a really unique thing for a dog to be able to do. And to take a photo of it, there we go, we got a really interesting photo that has lots of tension in it. It’s super fun. I love it.

That would never have happened had Roscoe not just wandered into the studio while we were shooting the sort of failed photo of the stack of meat.

So, anyways, the point here with this tip is to hopefully help you jump past the struggles that I’ve had with this, which is, I almost have to trip over it, it feels like sometimes, to utilize the things that are right around me. I’m trying to get better at it, and I try to be aware of this, but it’s hard. I think it’s hard for all of us.

Hopefully, this was a helpful tip. As always, thank you for your time. If you have any ideas or questions that you’d like me to discuss in a future episode, just drop me a line and I’ll work it in. Until next time.