My Advice for Aspiring Photographers
(I originally wrote and posted the following article a few years ago as a regular thread. As we now have a formal place for these articles, I've decided to give it a home here.)
What Every Aspiring Photographer Should Know
These are my thoughts, nothing more and nothing less.
I get asked all the time, during workshops, in e-mails, in private messages, what words of wisdom I would give to a new and aspiring photographer. Here’s my answer.
- Style is a voice, not a prop or an action. If you can buy it, borrow it, download it, or steal it, it is not a style. Don’t look outward for your style; look inward.
- Know your stuff. Luck is a nice thing, but a terrifying thing to rely on. It’s like money; you only have it when you don’t need it.
- Never apologize for your own sense of beauty. Nobody can tell you what you should love. Do what you do brazenly and unapologetically. You cannot build your sense of aesthetics on a concensus.
- Say no. Say it often. It may be difficult, but you owe it to yourself and your clients. Turn down jobs that don’t fit you, say no to overbooking yourself. You are no good to anyone when you’re stressed and anxious.
- Learn to say “I’m a photographer” out loud with a straight face. If you can’t say it and believe it, you can’t expect anyone else to, either.
- You cannot specialize in everything.
- You don’t have to go into business just because people tell you you should! And you don’t have to be full time and making an executive income to be successful. If you decide you want to be in business, set your limits before you begin.
- Know your style before you hang out your shingle. If you don’t, your clients will dictate your style to you. That makes you nothing more than a picture taker. Changing your style later will force you to start all over again, and that’s tough.
- Accept critique, but don’t apply it blindly. Just because someone said it does not make it so. Critiques are opinions, nothing more. Consider the advice, consider the perspective of the advice giver, consider your style and what you want to convey in your work. Implement only what makes sense to implement. That doesn’t not make you ungrateful, it makes you independent.
- Leave room for yourself to grow and evolve. It may seem like a good idea to call your business “Precious Chubby Tootsies”….but what happens when you decide you love to photograph seniors? Or boudoir?
- Remember that if your work looks like everyone else’s, there’s no reason for a client to book you instead of someone else. Unless you’re cheaper. And nobody wants to be known as “the cheaper photographer”.
- Gimmicks and merchandise will come and go, but honest photography is never outdated.
- It’s easier to focus on buying that next piece of equipment than it is to accept that you should be able to create great work with what you’ve got. Buying stuff is a convenient and expensive distraction. You need a decent camera, a decent lens, and a light meter. Until you can use those tools consistently and masterfully, don’t spend another dime. Spend money on equipment ONLY when you’ve outgrown your current equipment and you’re being limited by it. There are no magic bullets.
- Learn that people photography is about people, not about photography. Great portraits are a side effect of a strong human connection.
- Never forget why you started taking pictures in the first place. Excellent technique is a great tool, but a terrible end product. The best thing your technique can do is not call attention to itself. Never let your technique upstage your subject.
- Never compare your journey with someone else’s. It’s a marathon with no finish line. Someone else may start out faster than you, may seem to progress more quickly than you, but every runner has his own pace. Your journey is your journey, not a competition. You will never “arrive”. No one ever does.
- Embrace frustration. It pushes you to learn and grow, broadens your horizons, and lights a fire under you when your work has gone cold. Nothing is more dangerous to an artist than complacency.
This is great stuff Cheryl. You made some key points that I am struggling with in my own work and hearing another's perspective puts a whole new light on things. Thanks for opening my eyes.
Real men use Speed Graphics and flashbulbs.
Brilliant.... positively, absolutely, down-right brilliant! I really needed to hear these right now.... thanks!!
"So I am turning over a new leaf but the page is stuck". Diane Arbus
I'm with Valerie. I needed to hear some of these things right at this very moment, if only to reinforce my own thoughts about how to procede into the world as a "photographer". Thanks, Cheryl.
Originally Posted by Valerie
Tom, on Point Pelee, Canada
Ansel Adams had the Zone System... I'm working on the points
system. First I points it here, and then I points it there...
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"I, in humility, am willing to learn, when you, in humility, are ready to teach." Rusty Tripod
Originally Posted by Cheryl Jacobs
Wow, Cheryl. That's what I take away from it. And I consider myself far from an aspiring photographer. More a perspiring one.
I have all I need, gearwise, right now. I know, as a G. A. S. aholic, the first step to kicking the problem is admitting one has it. I might fill a focal length gap with a lens next February but I will focus on film, paper and chemistry and bunches of that and perfect what I do with what I do it with.
That is so cool, Cheryl. Thank you for posting that. Makes one re-evaluate one's own photography, regardless of skill level.
Last edited by Christopher Walrath; 07-29-2009 at 10:46 PM. Click to view previous post history.
Thanks and you're welcome! I still reread this myself from time to time when I start to get off track.
Very Nice. Definitely a good time to post this. Thank You