Being a photographer is so much bigger than practicing lighting techniques, being up-to-date on the newest and most powerful gear, or knowing what post-production actions are best for you. All those things are wonderful parts of the puzzle but being a photographer is so much more. We all have similar hurdles to clear before we feel comfortable calling ourselves “photographers”. Here is some advice of how conquer those hurdles.
Don’t Give Up
Sounds obvious, right? It’s really easy to throw in the towel when we get frustrated. Not being able to create what you envision in your head is the time when most people to the right and left of you decide that photography isn’t for them because the work isn’t as good as their ambition.
To quote Ira Glass of This American Life: “It’s [your work] trying to be good, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. Do a lot of work. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close the gap and your work will be as good as your ambitions. It’s gonna take awhile and it’s normal, you’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
Have Other Interests
The better and more popular your photography becomes the more people will want to work with you. This is great, right? It will also begin to feel more like real work. Often a creative person’s expression is also their therapy. Have other hobbies to offset your hard work as a photographer, whether it is learning to bake bread, detailing cars, or writing. Any creative task will generate more inspiration for your true love of photography.
Stay Up to Date on Your Gear (But don’t drive yourself mad keeping up with the latest trends.)
To progress in any profession it’s important that you are using gear that allows you a polished, finished look. It is common knowledge that photography gear is expensive, which is why BorrowLenses rents it out! The overhead to run a photography business is daunting. Don’t let the money deter you from your dreams. Find out what type of gear works best for your needs instead of buying what works for somebody else.
Some of my most successful friends have created a niche market in photography and they only own one, or maybe two, great lenses. That may not work for everyone – some subjects demand more gear – but the point is to keep it simple and start from humble beginnings. Make sure you are thoughtful about what you are choosing to spend your money on and only buy what you will consistently use. Slow and steady wins this race.
Find a Mentor
Finding a mentor is advice I hear over and over again. Mentors are few and far between, however. They need to be willing to share their industry knowledge with you, have the time to foster and nurture a relationship, and be someone who you look up to and want to emulate (but not copy). Mentors can be found in the most unassuming people, some of who have nothing to do with photography but have a great outlook on life, are out-of-the box thinkers, or have superb networking skills. These people can be found impromptu and last for a weekend, or sought out and last for a lifetime. The important part is to keep your eyes and ears open for the next Obi-wan who is willing to share some wisdom and remember to pay it forward when it is your turn.
Be a Lifelong Learner
I have made the mistake of exhausting myself by endlessly shooting and editing work that had no final purpose. But by shooting a lot I had found the subject matter I love and it helped define my style. However, there came a day when I realized I had stopped learning. My work stopped progressing and became stale to me. What I learned from that experience is that I had to stop doing what I was doing and change course.
My advice: continue to challenge yourself within your medium by shooting the exact opposite of what you like to shoot. You may not stick with it forever and return back to the subject matter you love but I guarantee it will bring a fresh perspective to your work. Study the greats like Irving Penn and also follow the newbies and see what they are doing. The wheel has been made, learn from it, and help contribute to its forward momentum by pushing yourself.
Have a Mantra
Embarking on new photography projects require a certain amount of confidence whether it is for a passion project that pushes you to work outside your comfort zone or shooting something you haven’t had a lot of experience with for a client. You have ultimate power of the outcome by practicing mind over matter. What I say to myself any time I have a wince of uncertainty is this: “You’re a badass”. It’s simple (if dramatic) but it helps me get over those hurdles every time. Develop your mantra.
Photography is not as simple as picking up a camera and setting your camera to “auto”. Your craft has to be honed by countless failures to find what works best for you and nurtured by outside creative influences. It is your responsibility to understand your needs as a photographer and decide what gear you absolutely can not live without, but don’t forget to reward yourself with the occasional splurge.
Find people whose work you love and send them an email or handwritten note (bonus points) – you never know which one of them will respond in like kindness and drop you a few pointers or perhaps become your new best friend. If ever your photography begins to feel like an automated process, change it up! Make happy accidents that will help your craft progress. And last but not least, be your biggest cheerleader.