The Side Hustle Side Quest

March 27, 2024
4 min read

In video games, there’s the concept of a side quest: a smaller, mini task in the midst of the game’s larger storyline. While sometimes the side quest is simply just a game, oftentimes it hides clues to beating the game entirely: secret items, hidden skills, unlockable powers.

Real life career paths can also have side quests. Perhaps involving less fishing mini games and pizza delivery, they can still offer valuable lessons, skills, and experiences for you to take with you, no matter what you journey on to down the line.

Personally, outside of my role as art director here at SB&A, I’ve been working as a photographer for a few years now.

Tangential to design, photography shares some overlap, but also has its own needs and capabilities. I’ve found pursuing this different creative space has sharpened my existing design chops. But it’s also given me newer skills I likely wouldn’t have had as much success developing if I hadn’t tried photography.

Design 101

Design, art direction, and photography share common principles; the rule of thirds, focal points, color theory, etc. The things that make photos look good are the same things that make posters and digital ads and logos look good. 

Photography has offered me a way to continue practicing following (and breaking!) these rules through a different medium. It allows me an avenue to experiment with contrasting colors, with blending modes, or with composition without the fear of losing legibility. With the extra practice, I’m able to bring that to my work at SB&A to push my work further.

Improving Instincts

A lot of design relies on having a good eye: knowing instinctively what looks good and what doesn’t. But with graphic design and art direction, there’s more time to refine and fix missteps. You have the ability to try something – a type pairing, a color combination, a certain layout – and change it if it’s not working. 

Photography gives you a lot less time, especially in a candid setting like a concert or the street. You have to compose an image in a fraction of the time you could take on a digital design, and successfully capture it, all before the subject moves. Practicing with a camera instead of a mouse has helped me hone the eye needed to be an efficient art director. It’s also helped me learn to trust my gut more, to know where to look and when to press the shutter for the perfect shot.

An Effective Anxiety-Buster

While design and direction can often be done in solitude, or remotely, photography requires your active attendance. And you’re very rarely alone–there’s dozens of others fighting for the same prime spot, the same perfect shot.

As a very short young woman, I’m not the most advantaged in the field. I stand a head below most people in a crowd, photography is significantly male dominated, and there’s a lot of people who believe the only way to secure their spot is to keep others out.

I’ve had to learn to speak up for myself, to ask for what I want, to defend my work. I’ve had to elbow my way, literally and metaphorically, to where I want to be. Because if you don’t work for it, you don’t get the shot. There’s no work-around. If I hadn’t branched out from art direction, I fear this may have been a lesson I learned far too late.

Getting into photography has made me more confident in myself, and more confident in taking up space. Previously, I always felt like I could let my work and my work ethic speak for me, and that if I didn’t succeed it was simply because I didn’t deserve to. 

Having gotten my experience in a far more cut-throat environment, I’ve learned you can’t let other people decide what you earn and when. There’s a quote I heard once from Tina Fey, at a speech she gave at my university: “If they’re not opening the front door for you, then find a basement window to crawl through.” Photography has given me more practice finding that basement window, instead of waiting for the front door to open. And that confidence is something I am able to carry beyond the photography side quest, and into the main storyline of the rest of my career. 

© 2024 Soubriet Byrne & Associates, Inc.