Insider Tips with Emily Welz: Creative Direction
Updated: Jan 29
A large influence definitely comes from art, specifically from painters, illustrators, and other fashion photographers. I spent a lot of time pouring over big portfolio art books as a kid and in university. Now I spend time on the internet combing for images and curating photos that inspire me. There are endless amount of inspiring photographers out there whose work I adore! One of my all time favourites would have to be Tim Walker, for his sense of whimsy and storytelling. Stories have such a way to evoke multiple images and possibilities. I think if we ever find ourselves stuck, we can look at the old myths and themes that come up again and again in history and see how these stories can be retold or re-invented through a fresh lens. I think to find inspiration, you have to be open to letting go of reason and let imagination take over.
My process to bringing a concept to life is quite playful and spontaneous. Sometimes I will draw out rough sketches that set the scene of what kind of images I want to capture. Having sketches or photo references are super helpful during a shoot, as I can often get excited and my brain flies in different directions, and these images will remind me to stay on track. If I am pushed for time, I will write out a list of what I want to shoot, very clearly, with bullet points that may include alternative things to shoot. Often, if I am working with someone on a project, I will ask them for inspiration--drawing from their experience and combining what I know, as sharing ideas can make a concept even stronger. I would say I am quite experimental on set as well. I invite people that I am photographing not to be scared to make goofy faces or use a prop that might be silly. I feel this can help get rid of any stiffness. Since I model as well, I find that feeling comfortable with the photographer who is shooting me makes such a difference in how much life there is in a photo.
When working with a team, I think attentive listening is super important and also making sure everyone has their turn to speak. There needs to be a safe space created where people can voice their ideas, feel appreciated for their ideas, and feel okay to give constructive criticism that focuses on growth and not competition. Some people are naturally more talkative or confident in their ability to speak their mind. But some people are shy; they have ideas, but they may feel scared that their ideas are "dumb" or not worthy of being announced. So I think it's really important to create a nurturing and safe environment when collaborating and being mindful if you are taking too much space or not enough space.
Listen to your vision. Listen to others feedback and ideas too, but try to stay true to your vision. You may work with people who don't understand or value your vision and that is fine; not everyone will like your style and you just have to collaborate with people who are on your same wavelength.
I'm honestly still figuring out exactly what creative direction means. Some people started asking if I do that and I started embracing it, and hopefully I'm on the right road! I can be lazy and unfocused with bad time management skills. But I also get so excited about creative ideas. Because I do photography, modelling, writing, visual arts, and set design, creative directing just came organically. Unlike photography, I think getting paid to be a creative director can take longer to achieve, at least in my experience. You have to be willing to share your best ideas again and again, before you notice a style developing that you can share. If you find you have dope ideas, don't be scared to reach out to other people whose work you admire to collaborate.