Friday, April 13, 2012

On Becoming a Photographer... A Response

I know, I know. If you’re in the industry, you’ve seen 18 posts like this already. There’s the “Be Nice Campaign” on one end of the spectrum and “You Are Not A Photographer” on the other. But all of this has come from the perspective of seasoned photogs. What about hearing from the little guy? What about hearing from a newbie like myself? Why don’t I take a moment to speak- not for all of us- but for myself at least- Still very much in the learning process, still on the outside looking in… because I think that if you get a say, so do I.

Don’t think that I haven’t noticed. Don’t think I’m oblivious of the bandwagon that photography is becoming. I see it at least once a month. One of my acquaintances upgrades from a point and shoot to a prosumer and all of a sudden thinks “hey, I’m pretty good at this! Look how much I’ve improved!” and conjures up a facebook fan page to start recruiting clients. Photo shoots for $50 bucks a pop? Sure why not!

I get it. You’re horrified. You’re annoyed that people are swooping in and producing mediocre, amateur work and making it look like sessions should always be priced that way- cheap. You’re afraid that when you tell people, “I’m a photographer,” they will have the audacity to think that YOU are one of those bandwagon jumpers. I know that, because even though I’m only a little over a year into this journey and YOU think I’m a bandwagon jumper, I have that same worry: That people won’t take me seriously because I have a small portfolio and I’m still learning, and I don’t have the fanciest equipment and I only offer CDs right now and because of all of that I can’t charge what I honestly think my talent will someday be worth. But all of that is hinged on one little word… YET…

I feel your pain because it’s my pain too. Some of your concerns are valid. But I think you’re worried about the wrong people. The folks who are starting up a business using their iPhones, editing in picnik, over-softening skin, and over-using spot color and vignettes probably aren’t going to last long anyway once they realize the real work that goes into managing a legitimate business- because from what I can tell, being a professional photographer is about 40% talent and 60% business management- much like any other business. No, those folks will be long gone when they start to lose sleep over correct exposure, filing taxes, branding, and establishing an online presence. Don’t even think twice about them. The people you really need to be worried about are newbies like me who WANT to put in the hard work and late nights to become a professional.

Here’s the thing, I don’t think of myself as a bandwagon jumper because I don’t plan to jump off once the road starts to get rocky. Personally, I waited six months before agreeing to do a shoot for a coworker’s daughter (seen here) and then another four or five before actually starting a fan page. I still don’t have a website, and I still offer only one very basic package at which I’m sure established photographers gasp in horror. I’m an amateur. For now, I charge amateur prices, but I work my tail off to offer professional work for those prices. And you know what? I really, honestly, from the bottom of my heart love photography and what it does for my soul and I want to learn as much as possible so that someday, I CAN charge what I’m worth.

See, some of us aren’t so bad. We’re doing our research on insurance and taxes and establishing a business the correct way. We’re learning our stuff so that eventually we can be actual competitors with the rest of you. Maybe part of the annoyance is actually the feeling of being threatened? I’m not sure… all I know that as an outsider stepping into this wildly exciting industry I saw a whole lot of mud-slinging and crawling all over each other to get to the top or tear someone else down. Lucky for me, I know a handful of extremely talented photogs who have been generous in their offers to help me learn the ropes. This has been absolutely invaluable in my photography journey and it’s something that I will never take for granted and I will never forget. In fact, when I finally learn enough that I think I actually might know a few things, I hope that I will have a chance to share the same knowledge.

I know, I know. I need to learn to crawl before I can walk and walk before I can run. And I’m trying. So never fear, my dear professionals. I’m not here to cheapen your industry. I’m here to learn it inside and out. I’m here to uphold the standards of artistry for which you have laid the foundation. I’m learning from YOU… but sometimes you’re not being very good examples.



Emily said...

bravo, Chelsea!! This was so well put. Thanks for stepping out there & sharing your thoughts:)
From one non-bandwagon amateur photog to another- Emily

Allie said...

I just had this conversation with someone on Friday -- how funny! I think it's great that you are taking your time to find your groove. As a consumer (and someone that knows "zip" about photography), it's sometimes difficult to filter through the wannabe's. I've been burned and over charged by over rated photographers and usually find my best pick is an amateur that truly loves the art!