Photography. Why did you start taking photos? What do you hope to get from the act of being a “photographer”?
The first question is easy to answer for most of us. You may have bought a camera to capture your child’s first step. It could have been because you needed to grab some extra credits in college and though photography would be an easy kick to your GPA. Maybe you picked up a National Geographic as a child and were drawn in by the pictures?
The second question is often a lot harder to answer, as some of you may not even consider yourself a photographer. Chances are if you’re reading this article, you’ve visited this site before, you own a camera and take a lot of pictures. In that case, label or not, you’re a photographer. So what is it that you hope to gain? Do you want fame, money, a chance to leave your mark on the world? Could it be that you just want to take pictures of those special moments and have them to look back on, to show to your children and grandchildren?
Every time I look up there is someone making the jump from hobbyist to professional. People are buying canned photography websites, printing business cards, and trying to make that leap, trying to make money off their hobby. I admit, I’ve done it. I’ve done the website thing, printed business cards, done a few sessions for people in my neighborhood. It’s gone nowhere. The reason, well, I think it’s because it all feels fake, it feels forced and it isn’t who I am.
Who doesn’t want to turn their hobby into a full time gig? Who doesn’t want to make money doing the thing that they love?
In a perfect world we’d all be doing what we love, living happily off the benefits of our labor. In the real world life is hard, money can be tough to come by and we all need to make ends meet. The truth is, the photography business is over saturated with both good and bad photographers. I’ve seen the joy in the face of a person when I give them a print or they see their images on the screen for the first time. It’s gratifying to know that as photographers we can bring so much joy to someone, give them something to look at and remember the good times, the weddings, the childhoods, families all smiling into the camera.
I don’t pursue it professionally because I don’t think I’m good enough. I don’t think I can deliver what a client wants, as it isn’t my style to go out and force a photo. I’m just not comfortable doing it. Event photography isn’t my thing and I know for a fact that there are people out there better suited for it. I’ve done it, and still do from time to time to breach the “comfort zone”, but the more I try it the less I like it. I know my limits, know what I can and can’t do well, and try to accept that.
If people want a great wedding photographer, or an awesome kid photographer, I can recommend some of the best I’ve ever met. Local people that do a fantastic job. If something interesting falls in my lap however, I jump on it.
This weekend I’m actually shooting a wedding. I shot one other wedding, for a friend, over twelve years ago but nothing I’ve done since. Looking back at everything I just said I may sound like a hypocrite but there is a reason why I’m shooting this, a reason I jumped on it. The people getting married want something different, they don’t want the cookie cutter wedding photos, they don’t care for formal pictures or crystal clear images. They want film, angles, blur… they want something I believe I can deliver. The reason I jumped on this opportunity is because it allows me to approach the event how I approach anything else, I can take my time and capture the night the way I capture everything else. I plan on mixing it up, using both film and digital. I even plan on busting out the Holga and shooting a few rolls of distorted out of focus goodness.
Let’s put aside the money and art nonsense for a minute…
I wanted to talk about something else before I end this, I wanted to mention free photography. Some people frown on offering photography for free. The “professionals” will say that you are eating up their profits or taking money out of their pockets. I say, “Bull Shit!” When I attended the OneLight workshop, Zack Arias wisely said that there are photographers at all levels and clients in each level. There are the $100 weddings to the $20,000 weddings, and the same is true in any form of photography. If you can book a client at $25 then it’s money in your pocket, and less likely that the client would have paid any more for it, because either they can’t afford it or because why pass on a $25 price tag.
The same rings true what it comes to $0. If you can shoot something you want to shoot, something that you enjoy and think you can benefit from, and afford to do it for nothing… then it’s worth it. It’s especially worth it if we are talking something for charity, something to give back to your community. The best experience I’ve had yet as a photographer was doing Help Portrait last year. I took a day, went out with a team of local people and shot portraits in a homeless shelter and a woman’s shelter. You’ll never see those photos, not a single one. We shot the images, printed them on-site, handed them to the person or family, then deleted the images off our computers.
It wasn’t about the money, it wasn’t about building a portfolio, it wasn’t even about getting pictures to post on Flickr for comments. It was about the people we were taking pictures of. It was about seeing their faces when you gave them a photo, some whom have never had a portrait of themselves, or their children, ever. I can’t wait to do it again this year, you should do it too!
So, what’s my point?
The point is I needed to write an article. The point is these are the things that have been on my mind. I’ve been thinking a lot about my photography, what it means to me, what I want to get out of it. I’ve been watching people try to make that leap into the realm of “professional/semi-professional” money making photographer. I’ve tried it briefly, I’ve decided it isn’t for me.
The point is, do what you love! It doesn’t matter if it’s for money or for fun. It doesn’t matter if it’s self portraits, kittens and bokeh. It doesn’t matter if you love shooting flowers, bugs, weddings, children, or models. It doesn’t matter if you are shooting with film or digital. It doesn’t matter if you shoot a Nikon, a Canon, a Hasselblad, your iPhone, or even a one time use Micky Mouse disposable camera.
What matters is that you are photographing what you love and doing it in a way that makes you happy. What matters is YOU!