Just Keep Shooting: A Note To Beginning Photographers
“Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… It remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.”
— Aaron Siskind
I always see posts on social media shaming new photographers, making them feel incompetent and silly for wanting to get into this industry. Sure, it is already over saturated… and sure, it seems like everyone and their mom is now a photographer to make an easy buck.. Which, of course, I understand why it bothers other seasoned photographers out there when this goes on all the time in their area. I mean, let’s be honest here, it completely sucks being undercut by someone charging not even enough to pay taxes. But does it really mean that we should shun all newbies out there?
I will admit, when I first started out years ago I was that person, trying to dip my feet into this enormous pool of an industry and jumped on the shaming bandwagon. I thought I knew it all; I wasn’t humble about others, I would openly talk bad about people starting out to my friends, etc. Boy, did I learn that is not the attitude to have when it comes to being an artist. What did tearing down other people ever do to help me? It did absolutely nothing. It didn’t help my skills grow, it didn’t help my composition or my lighting improve, and it sure didn’t help me feel better about my own work. Instead it did the opposite; it put me into a slump that took me nearly 5 years to pull myself out of.
It’s not worth it.
So take my advice, and hopefully someone will learn from the mistakes that I once made. In a world where people can hide behind a computer screen and type whatever they want just to tear someone else down to make them feel better about themselves, don’t be that person.I’m a strong believer in community over competition when it comes to the arts and I have been so lucky to have been able to become friends with so many other creatives out there with the same viewpoint as me, though it took me a knock in the head to realize it at first. Honestly, focusing only on what you are doing and how to improve yourself might be the best and easiest way to finding your own success. It’s hard, I know, but when we seek the gratification of others what does that really do for our work? It doesn’t make it ours anymore… it makes it theirs.
So what if the industry gets you down? What do you do when you feel like quitting?
Be like Dory…
Just keep shooting.
Shoot for you and your clients, not for what the Facebook group world deems is what is in right now. Sure there are lots of photography fads and styles going on, that doesn’t mean you have to fit that mold. Be unique, be yourself, and when you stop trying to fit into what others say is how you should shoot and edit, you will notice yourself becoming much happier with your work. It takes time and patience, lots and lots of patience I should say, to do this. (At least for me it did. We’re talking those 5 years I mentioned before.) But, in the end it is worth it.
Left: 2010 | Right: 2017
“Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.”
- Henri Cartier-Bresson
The more you shoot, the better you will get. It rarely happens overnight. Those photographers that you and I idolize have spent years working and perfecting their work. They still are getting better each day as well. Just like you will. Keep shooting, you will get where you want to be, but give it time. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and like all great things, hard work and determination will aid in your success. I keep all of my old sessions so I can see how far I have come since I first picked up my first DSLR in 2010. I still have all the images I took from the many years before that as well, they all hold a place in my heart and a trophy in my growth.
Left: 2015 | Right: 2017
It’s okay to say NO.
I always try to tell new photographers that it took me years to find out what I wanted to photograph, and in that time I experimented with all types of photography. I kept what I liked, and I stopped offering what I didn’t. It is okay to say no to things you are not comfortable with. In the beginning we all find ourselves saying yes to every client we get, every opportunity we get. Experimenting is good, play with shooting styles, editing and processing. Find what just clicks with you and feels right. Not everything will. I started in weddings, hated them, but have slowly after the years began to love them again. The opposite was with studio portraits, I used to love them, but I have found in my growth, that I grew out of that love, and it’s okay. There is a reason why not everyone does everything and it is okay to not offer certain sessions, and it is okay to only offer them as well.
Specializing isn’t bad. The quote “A Jack of all trades..” comes to mind. What people don’t often realize is that it is only half the quote. “…but a Master in none” is the rest. Specializing means you get to devote all of your time and energy into perfecting just one type of session. When you offer so many types of sessions, it doesn’t give you the opportunity to fully develop all of the different genres, which is perfectly fine as well. I like being able to do different things, which is why I don’t specialize, but I also know that my skills in a certain area might not be as well established as someone that only does those types of sessions. It is kind of a give and take scenario. I say no to many session types, whether it is because I am not comfortable photographing that type of session, or because the liabilities of it are more than I care to deal with. I’m okay with saying no, but it took me a while to get there.
Over the years, I have learned that not everything is my niche, and in the end it helped me focus on what I loved to do and make that type of photography better. (TL: 2010, TR: 2015, BL: 2016, BR: 2017)
Be mindful of your presence
We were all in your shoes once, we all were trying to figure out how to do things and stay afloat in a market that has such a wide and vast population. Be kind, be open to learn, be yourself above anything else. It is so easy to fall into the crowd, but stand out. Be unique, be creative, and take beautiful photos. Be honest, don’t undercut one another, and ask for help when you need it. Others will more than likely help someone who is humble and thoughtful over someone who is self-absorbed and catty. How you carry yourself will impact you a lot in this community, so always be mindful of that.
I cannot stress enough how you should not talk bad about others, your clients, or anything that can impact your business badly on social media. Even the “private” groups are not private. In a time when there are people out there that purposely try to hurt one another’s business by screen shotting and sending posts about a client to them don’t be the one that has it happen to them. It can permanently damage any work you have done. Vent to your significant other, best friend, or fellow colleague in person, but avoid posting in groups of thousands of members. You never know who knows who, and it’s a small world on the internet.
Stop focusing on what others say.
With the internet being brought up, I can’t say enough to not take things said to heart. I can’t tell you how many times I have had someone say something negative to me, my process, or about my work. Whether is it because I am priced too high for a client, or another photographer saying I shouldn’t be doing this because it is not up to their standards, or just because someone might have had a bad day. It is hard to just say to let it go, because as an artist, our work is near and dear to us. So I get it, it hurts like hell when people just tear into your art. I say take everything with a grain of salt in this industry, but salt still burns at times, even the best of photographers have someone that hates their work. If I would have let those other photographers get the best of me years ago when they said something, I would not have become the artist I am today. I used to be so focused on making other photographers happy with my work by posting in groups and seeking approval, it ended up hurting my process more than it helped. When I finally stopped caring what others thought of my work and simply photographed because I loved it, I noticed a change in everything I did. My work improved in trifolds, I stopped hating everything that came out of my camera, and I began to love what I did again, it didn’t seem like another day at the torture chamber. (That’s what I called my day job).
Left: 2017 | Right: 2016
Photography is simply objective, not everyone is going to think and like the same things, it’s okay to not like someone else’s work and vice versa, but be respectful about it. It’s okay to give criticism when asked; I have many photographers that ask me my opinion of their images. Instead of telling them what I would do, I focus on the general things to improve, like lighting and white balance. Mainly, because it is not my place to impose my style and editing techniques on to them, and secondly, because I want them to strive to be their own version of a photographer, not mine. We all put in our time and effort, and sometimes literally blood into our sessions. So, I always try to take that into consideration when offering criticism.
Sure, my work is something that others might not like, but I don’t make it for them. I make it for myself. I love photography, I always have. The day I stop is the day I am doing something wrong.