Tips + Techniques

Balancing Work and Play to Find Your Creative Style in Photography

December 13, 2019

By Chris Daniels

All Photos © Chris Daniels

When you commit to the creative life, it doesn’t take long before you hear people telling you to “find your voice,” “find your style,” and “find your niche.” These phrases and others similar to them are meant to be advice but are often stated passively and blasé, as if you could stop for milk on the way home and pick up a box of Your Very Own Unique Creative Voice while you’re at it. If only it were that simple. 

Why is it actually important to know one’s voice, and what the hell does that even mean? 

The importance of this voyage lies in both practicality and responsibility. Practically speaking, and from a marketing standpoint, it’s not enough to only know your field of photography. That’s because there are so many ways of shooting, and if I tell you I’m a portrait photographer and you’ve never seen my work, you will have no idea what it looks like, what it focuses on or what, if anything, makes it unique. 

I’ve spent time on my own journey toward understanding what my voice is, and because of that, I can tell you that my portrait work is above all things exploratory. That exploration often intersects with vulnerability, oddity and the occasional tongue-in-cheek humor. Looking back at my work, many of those qualities were always present, but it wasn’t until I took note of them that I could actually articulate and use them as a voice. 

If you can observe how you look at the world, then you can harness it. With this knowledge, you can show people precisely what makes you different from others in the same arena. Being able to stand out and knowing why you stand out is a very good thing in a very saturated market.

I also believe that each of us holds a certain amount of responsibility to share our perspectives with the world. Art is an enormous force in the progression of humanity, technology and the world at large. No two individuals see the same thing in precisely the same way. Those of us who use creativity to express how we see the world offer others a glimpse that they couldn’t otherwise have. It’s really incredible if you think about it. I will even be as bold to say that the world needs you to do this. The world needs your unique voice. 

But you have to find it first. 

If you’re still searching for your voice, I’d like to offer you some advice in hopes that it might help you hold your bearings and enjoy the trek. And don’t forget, it should be enjoyable.

I think I can boil the advice down to two simple instructions:

1. Play
2. Do the work

I know, it seems all too simple for something that feels so very complex. I’ll elaborate on each. 


There’s great intention behind starting with play before work. Play and work operate together, each one feeding the other, but play must inform the work before the cycle can begin.

Play as a child plays, with no regard for time or for the thoughts or judgments of others. Engage with that which brings you the joy of exploration. There is no right or wrong way. It’s not a test, and you can’t pass or fail. At the end  the day, creative joy is your only objective.

If you’re not sure where to begin, think about the last time you completely lost yourself in something and only realized it after you emerged from your own mind long enough to look at the time. 

Don’t Be Afraid to Take Creative Risks at Weddings

The reason that playing is so crucial in finding your voice is that this simple act of joy will begin to show you the intricacies and nuances of your voice that are already present. In time, you’ll come to have an intimate understanding of these little whispers that when compounded become a choir.

You cannot wait for the right job to come along to begin playing and exploring. Take your camera and whatever resources you have readily available and go make something just because you can. Just for fun.


You can’t wait for inspiration to strike. It may come on its own, but more often than not, inspiration is waiting on you to make the first move. 

Every photographer knows that taking photos is only a small fraction of being a photographer. This is especially true if it’s also your livelihood. If you’re like me, showing up for the shoot is easy; showing up for all other aspects of the job with the same tenacity, not so much. It doesn’t always come as naturally.

Here is where you will face what author Steven Pressfield refers to as “resistance.” It comes most commonly in the form of procrastination, or worse, in what I call “faux productivity.” You know what that is: It’s when you find yourself editing those extra photos, tinkering on your website, or anything else that is technically productive but isn’t what needs immediate attention. Fight the resistance and make yourself begin. Once you’ve started, it’s much easier to continue on.

So, how does work tie into play and your creative voice? Beyond taking care of what needs taking care of, teaching yourself to sit down and do your work clears your mind. The creative mind often needs this kind of discipline. Otherwise, it can become chaos up there. 

The Best Apps and Tools to Bump Up Your Brand Awareness

A clear mind means a more active and imaginative mind, which leaves more freedom to play and explore. Playing feeds our need to speak and express creatively. And so the cycle begins.

Remember that creativity itself is a voice. It’s a language and way of communicating. What makes you, you is already intact. Finding your own voice is to take notice of the subtle tones that already exist and then amplify them.

The only way you won’t find your voice is if you don’t look. It is not about what you uniquely do. It’s about who you uniquely are. You won’t find it overnight, and you may even do as I did and unknowingly run from the very voice you are chasing.

When work feels overwhelming, take some time to play. When you can’t find your creativity, sit down and do the work. 

Chris Daniels is a fine-art and portrait photographer, as well as a writer based in Seattle.