My Biggest Photography (and Business) Lessons in 2021

Dec 30, 2021 | Creative Business, Creative Inspiration, Food Photography

Wow, it feels like I just finished writing the post on my top lessons from 2020! At the same time, there was so much that happened this year that I can’t even believe it all managed to fit in 12 months. It was my first full year in NYC, which brought a lot of big projects and challenges to me. I’ve been keeping up a consistent journaling habit, which has been immensely helpful for processing and learning from everything that I’ve encountered this year, and is definitely something I’ll be taking into 2022. The more I listen to podcasts, the more I learn that most high-achievers have a journaling practice, so consider that your bonus takeaway from this post 🙂

Last year I talked a lot about specific photography techniques that I learned throughout the year, but this time my list is a bit different. While my skills and vision as an artist definitely grew this year, a lot of my growth has come around mindset and business practices. These are some of the more difficult things to deal with as you grow as an entrepreneur, so I hope my list can help you bypass learning things the hard way and focus more on creating as only you can. So without further ado, here are some of my top takeaways from 2021.

Embrace the constraints.

You’ve probably heard me talk about this one a lot this year, because it’s something that I believe is relevant at every stage in an entrepreneurial or creative journey. There are always (ALWAYS) constraints to our work, and the circumstances are never ideal with unlimited resources. So if you’re fighting a small budget, small space, or lack of time… embrace it. These challenges just present themselves in new ways as you go further in your career, so making friends with them early on makes you more equipped to deal with a lifetime of constraints. I also find it helpful to make self-imposed constraints when practicing or doing test shoots, such as limiting props, color palette, etc, just to get even more comfortable solving problems as I go. As Seth Godin says, it’s our job to solve interesting problems, and problems always have constraints.

Your success relies on your ability to create attractive dreams of the future that others want to be a part of.

I hesitated to include this because it’s not necessarily a breakthrough that I had this year, but it is a way of re-framing marketing that I have found very helpful and actionable. It’s something you can take into all of your marketing materials and sales calls–are you doing this effectively?

I heard this on the Tim Ferris Show, and I’m pretty sure it was this episode, but I can’t find the exact reference. It’s a great podcast though, so I’d recommend listening to the whole thing!

My biggest photography lessons in 2021

Use non-traditional lighting modifiers.

It’s been a really long time since I shot with natural light–it’s just too fleeting and too difficult to manage in a small studio space. I used to believe the lie that artificial light always looked “artificial.” This can be true if someone isn’t pushing themselves enough or taking time to try different options. After many, many hours experimenting with modifiers and different set-ups, I’ve found a lot of solutions that allow me to use artificial lighting in a way that fits my style as a photographer (interesting shadow patterns, etc.)

A lot of what I use these days are non-traditional modifiers, such as plants or cardboard cutouts. Light is such a game-changer in food photographer and can be a great way to start carving out what your personal style is. Take this as your sign to experiment with new ways of filtering light, and see what you can create!

Stop styling your own Food.

This is another thing that I didn’t necessarily learn this year, but having completely stepped away from food styling (aside from writing and photographing my book) just reinforced to me all over again that food photography is better with a team, and that photographers have enough to do without pretending to be food stylists, too. If you’ve been flying solo in your photography work until this point, start bringing in a food stylist in the new year and watch how much better your work gets!

Do what drives you creatively; not what you think you should be doing.

It’s really easy to create work that we think brands will want to see, or to build businesses that we think will be impressive to others or make other people proud of us. It’s also easy to think that because you have a skill that you’re really good at, you need to use it, and it distracts from your zone of genius. This happened to me with my agency–I’m a great marketer and entrepreneur, but I’m a better artist, and running an agency model distracted me from doing my most creative work. So I stopped. I changed all of my branding back to just my name and have started working on personal projects that allow me to truly work in my zone of genius, making things that I am inspired by that reflect my unique creative vision.

Have a clear list of your values–you’ll need them to guide your own decision-making even more than you think.

Turns out, even the projects and opportunities that you hope and dream for often come with a catch. Without elaborating on it, my cookbook was one of those things. It was actually a really painful process that required me to consult my personal values many times to make sure I was making the right decisions and moving in the right direction. If I didn’t have my values to lean on, I easily would’ve been crushed under the weight of the tough choices that I had to make. There are countless other times where I’ve had to send hard emails or walk away from different projects, and knowing my values is the only way I was able to do so with clarity. If you take one thing from this list, let it be taking the time to write out 3-5 values that you will use to guide your personal work (and ultimately, your business) going forward, and elaborate on what they mean to you. And then, have the courage to hold those values consistently, whatever 2022 brings your way.

“There is no better measure of your values than how you spend your time.”
― Scott Belsky,

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Hey! I’m Moriah– a commercial and editorial food photographer and creative entrepreneur who is perpetually drinking coffee and covered in dog hair. I write this blog from New York City where I run my creative agency, The B Edit. I write this blog in the hopes that you can one day have your creative dream job, too!   

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