I've been feeling a bit in a creative rut. As a professional photographer this can happen sometimes. I love my job don't get me wrong, but sometimes It's easy to get in the habit of ONLY shooting for work, and forgetting why you got involved in photography in the first place. For me, photography was feeding a piece of the creative soul, tapping into part of myself that unleashed endless imagination. I missed that, and if you are missing that too then I highly encourage you to challenge yourself in a new way. Does it need to be the Ikea Challenge? Nope, just do something that seems slightly obscure to you, something that people will tip their heads to the side when you try to explain your crazy idea. Remember it's those crazy ideas that promote the most creativity! Now that I've completed not one but TWO Ikea Challenges which I've documented below, I am feeling more energized in my business. Just yesterday I felt inspired to try new creative techniques with a client, and it felt SO. DARN. GOOD. I didn't want the session to and it left me excited to do it again on the next one. I hope this blog post inspires, and gets you excited to step outside your own comfort zones. It's good for your soul, creative energy, spirit, mojo, or whatever your word is for it. It just feels great afterwards. With that, enjoy reading and watching the videos that were created documenting my Ikea Photo Challenge experience.
Ikea Challenge #1 (My trip with Sasha): So unless you're like me and are late to discover every fad, and cool trend, then you're probably already in-the-know about the recent viral photography challenge that swept the nation. "The Craft Store Photo Challenge" which began with one photographer and her idea to do a shoot in Hobby Lobby. The idea took off and a new trend was born, spreading to Michaels, Jo-Ann Fabrics, Home Depot's garden AND lighting departments, and pretty much any other craft store that would allow it. The goal was simple; create beautifully crafted images in botanical gardens.... I mean shopping isles that were so convincing, no one would be the wiser unless they were told what they were ACTUALLY looking at. Photographers across the nation flocked to their nearest craft store to try to create images that looked like an outdoor oasis or beautiful staged sets.
A few months ago, someone in one of the local photography Facebook groups I'm a member of suggested we all try out one of these challenges. I never got around to doing the first one, so when the Ikea Challenge was mentioned I thought... "Okay this sounds like it might be interesting" Another local photographer Sasha and I decided to go and we were fully expecting to have to go incognito but found that they really didn't mind us there at all. Now for the record and before you all go grab your camera and flock to your nearest Ikea, I will say that I later found out that corporate does NOT encourage this. I wont rat out the store I went to, but I will say that if you decide to go, try this at your own risk as each store may have it's own tolerance level. If you're inner rebel can't bring itself to break free and you don't want to risk it, you can safely go to Michaels Stores as they say bring it on and encourage it completely! See PetaPixels article here: Michaels: Yes, You Can Do That Portrait Challenge In Our Stores
Once we entered the store we grabbed a shopping cart, I was a bit nervous and I really didn't know what to expect. I hadn't been to an Ikea in a while, but looking at it from a photographers perspective changed my attitude from "I hate having to go through this maze, how do I get OUT, no really I want to leave, why must I go through the WHOLE store to exit?!" to "Ohhhhh, look at that room, look at that lighting, what a beautiful couch" and for the first time I wasn't in a rush to leave. We meandered through the store a bit overwhelmed with all of the options to work with. We stopped at elaborate bedroom setups, with very real looking LED windows, beautifully designed office spaces, kitchens, etc. We were like two kids in a candy store. Now to keep things simple I only packed my camera with one lens and popped in in my purse, where it remained in between shooting. We ended up spending about 3 hours (we couldn't believe it either!) taking photos of each other and I left feeling inspired. It was a fun creative exercise that I didn't know I needed until after I did it. Editing the images was fun and a bit of a challenge in itself! See the above video (don't forget to go fullscreen) showcasing some of our final images, then keep scrolling down to see my second trip to Ikea with Chelsea Northrup!
IKEA Challenge #2 (My trip with Chelsea): After seeing my Instagram story of my trip to Ikea, Chelsea Northrup, a photographer friend, reached out to me and said "Lets do it and make a video about it!" To me this was exciting, I was going to have another chance now that I knew what to expect the second time around, and bonus we'd get to share it with a greater audience since Chelsea has a successful YouTube channel educating photographers with her husband Tony. Sharing a video on their channel meant we'd get to potentially inspire a whole large group of photographers and that sounded fun! We met up in the parking lot and Chelsea pulled out two cameras one for capturing video and one for taking photos. Chelsea had the brilliant idea of bringing a GorillaPod which we used to attach the camera to the cart (there was NO hiding the cameras in purses this time!) I had been inspired by my first trip and was thinking ahead about what I might want to try to do this time without completely copying my first shoot. Just like the first trip we pushed a shopping car around and stopped at room setups that looked like they might make good portraits.
There's lots to think about when trying to compose an image here. For one, there are tags and signs EVERYWHERE so you need to also be thinking how easy or difficult it's going to be to photoshop them out. In many cases I temporarily moved or hid them from sight but that was not usually possible. Another thing to think about is the time of day you go to a place like this. Chelsea found that Google listed a little chart that shows the hours they were busiest, and lucky for us it said the time we chose was a relatively slow time for store traffic.
White balance is the other nightmare you're going to be dealing with here. There's a gazillion different light sources with varying temperatures and it's impossible to get it right in-camera. Trust me, on my first trip with Sasha I tried to get it in-camera but there was too much going on so I just said screw it and threw it in Auto WB and fixed it in post. I tried again a few times in Chelsea's shoot and ended up doing the same thing again, clearly not learning from my first time around. Lastly, you're pretty much confined to "natural light" unless you really want to draw more attention to yourself by bringing a flash, so a camera with good low-light capabilities is recommended. All those issues aside, my best piece of advice for a photo excursion like this is to try to look at things with fresh eyes. I've been in Ikea lots of times and even though I KNEW why I was there, sometimes I had to really take my time to look at things as potential backdrops or sets instead of my default look as "a shopper". Maybe even going once without your camera to plan ahead wouldn't be a bad idea.
Having completed two successful challenges (They inspired me to open my mind and be more creative so I'd say that's a success in my book!) I am looking forward to taking my camera into new, unusual locations, and continuing to challenge myself. Who knows maybe I'll blog about it! Oh and remember that video I told you about? The whole reason Chelsea contacted me in the first place? Look no further! Below you will find not only that video but another little bonus video showcasing Chelseas images BEFORE I retouched them, side by side with the "afters", keep scrolling past that to see all the final retouched images of Chelsea Enjoy!
*there are several affiliate links within this blog