As much as I love being patronising occasionally, I’ll refrain from it today and try to stick to the constructive points I want to make. I may struggle but bare with me.
As a member of many photography groups and forums, I see different levels of photographers trying to get better at their craft, getting better at it, failing and picking themselves up. I won’t be talking about you folks. I would like to write about the small group of you that don’t. For various reasons you hang up the camera, and go off to get a “proper” job. Whatever it may be, enjoyable or not, this will pay the bills, without you trying to do the work, market the work, sell the work, get better at it and fight off the competition. It will be fixed a light in the tunnel each month, and it will give you the “security” you need.
Photography is hard. Being a good photographer is hard. Being a successful photographer is a goddamn mission. You can be an amazing artist, nailing your pixels each time, but when it comes to closing the sale, you will be there, crumbling like a five year old in front of strangers, and before you know it you are giving away all the digitals for the price of 1, and throwing a canvas in, whilst thanking the models for their business.
You can be a crap artist, using flat light like it’s going out of fashion, but having the ability to build a rapport with clients so well, they don’t care about the fact your photos are pixelated, because you are a chatty person, and very easy going, and before you know it, they are sending you all their family to photograph at £800 a session.
Would any of those scenarios make you a great photographer? No. You do need to be good at everything. Work on your SEO, learn how to blog and tag your images for the sneaky Google to find them, establish your target audience and learn how to engage with them. Keep your props up to date, evolve your style. Learn more about Photoshop. Improve your posing skills. Get better suppliers of your wall art and master the skill of seamless IPS. All this whilst you have another full time job as a parent, because in 95% of cases photography starts as a hobby that we develop in order to preserve the memories for our own babies.
Having two full time jobs is a right ball ache. If you were to ask anyone else whether they’d love to do it, they would tell you to get f***ed. Yet you want to do it.
Delivery drivers work certain hours, they drive and deliver. Restaurant workers work certain hours, they cook, or serve clients. Rarely both. Yet you chose this career, where you are the chef, the waitress, the business owner, the accountant and the cleaner all in one. And the better you get, the busier your restaurant gets. Sometimes you spread yourself too thinly and haven’t got the time to improve your skills and to learn how to market yourself successfully. One doesn’t exist without the other. You will struggle to sell shit, even when it’s covered in glitter, and even when you learn to produce gorgeous photos, that won’t be enough, if you cannot promote yourself.
You may be at this stage now, when you let it all get to you and overwhelm you. You cannot cope. There is no money, clients are not there, you are getting better but you don’t think you are good enough to charge what you need to charge in order to make this business viable. You are getting depressed, thinking about the inevitable job centre visit.
Photography is not for everyone. If you got into it thinking it’s an easy buck, pop a jacket on and get off to the job centre now. If you got into it, because you are willing to work your ass off for it from every angle, learn not only your camera settings but everything else to do with business, then stay with me.
Two years ago I decided I want to give this newborn photography malarkey a go. I had no idea what I was doing, but I had a brief look at Google results for newborn photography trainers, and Russ Jackson popped up. I loved his work, so signed up for the training. In the meantime I thought it would probably be useful to try and photograph at least one or two newborns, to see if this is really what I wanted to do with my life.
My poor daughter was my first victim. I had no clue what I was doing. I didn’t have Photoshop. I shot on a crop sensor, albeit with a 24-70mm, because this famous photographer I saw on YouTube (Ana Brandt) used it, so it must be good. I knew nothing about lighting and posing, but this is possibly why I had no fear. I was so clueless there was no failing. Anything would be great. And I thought my images were great. I really did.
I am sorry Eva. I wish I was better back then.
Then I asked my friends whether they knew anyone with newborn babies, and I found my first “proper model”.
I had no idea about my camera settings. At one point during the session, my fat finger pressed something and my focus point froze in the bottom left corner. I remember it like it was today, because together with my focus point, I froze. I could panic, or I could position the baby in a way that put his head in the bottom left corner. I didn’t know about recomposing. This session left me with 600 images, and only 8 in focus.
Then I decided to get some “studio lights”. I had no idea about the difference between strobe and continuous lighting, so got the cheap, continuous lights from eBay, with two softboxes, 40cm by 60cm each. Being a cheap, continuous light, it had zero power, so I put them both on the opposite sides of my baby. The yellow tinge that I saw in my camera would make an Easter duck jealous. Even on the auto setting, it was still a tea stained hell. But back then I didn’t realise that, and I thought the colour was gorgeous and warm.
Two weeks later I met Russ Jackson.
He did something really small, and he doesn’t even realise how much of an impact it had on my future. He looked at my terrible photos from my first session with a baby that was not my daughter, and he said “great attention to details, I see you straightened fingers, well done for your first session.” With this sentence he gave me hope and a little glimpse of light in the long tunnel I was about to travel through.
I never stopped investing in my development after that. There were times, when I had enough in my bank account to cover certain photography training, and paying for the said training would have left me with enough money to buy a can of pop and a sandwich when I get to the venue. Nothing else. I still went ahead and booked it.
None of this would have been possible without the continuous support of my husband and I appreciate this is not something we all have, but there will always be someone in your family, who will be able to look after your kids for a couple of days a year. Me and Shane have no immediate family around, so it’s only between us to make things work every day of the week, with Shane running his own business full time.
The journey I embarked on was possibly one of the most exciting things I have ever done on my own. I love it, because there is always something to learn. You can speed through it, you can take your time, you work at your own pace, and there are countless free resources you can use in order to improve your skills.
Unlike medicine, architecture, banking, this profession does not require a university degree in order to make it a success. It requires crazy level of determination, and self motivation. It requires you to believe in YOU, but also for you to be honest with yourselves. There will always be space for improvement. If you think you know it all and don’t have to learn anymore, that’s when you start to slip and go backwards.
It’s never easy for anyone. You are not the only person who struggles. It’s how you deal with the obstacles that defines whether you are going to succeed at this amazing “hobby” or not. Before you pop your camera on eBay and give your lenses away, just think about what you could have become, with another month or two of a bit of perseverance.