Monday, December 31, 2012

A few words before I close this chapter OR What I learned as a professional wedding photographer

Does this qualify as the obligatory posting to bid 2012 farewell? Perhaps.

So... my now finished Christmas and soon-to-be finished NYE and New Year's day celebrations have gone very well despite the fact that I have spent the last handful of days post-processing my very last wedding jobs of my now numbered days as a professional photographer. I will be electronically delivering 1202 polished images to some very excited newlyweds in hours (because it take hours to upload 1202 images!) and days ago I delivered over 700 images to another excited newlywed couple. Both had weddings in October and November and I had no idea (when I booked them and later shot them) that they would be my last hurrahs of professional wedding photography.

I would say that such a finale has been sweet or even bittersweet but neither of those apply for my photography work. A word more appropriate is probably for the experience of post-processing and delivering everything is more like "bitter." This might seems like an exaggeration but really? It's been this for me as I have sat here chained to my laptop while my husband awaits me (and my time patiently and faithfully) and my daughter eagerly bounces around me also vying for my attention. If you thought the life of a wedding photographer was glamorous, well... I am here to tell you that in my experience it has been far from glamorous.

While some might suspect the non-glamorous part of my photography career has to do with the fact that I am bad at photography and so I am spending copious amounts of time post-processing to fix all of the ways I am bad, that's not the case at all. I will assert to you that I am reasonably (and seasonably) skilled in the way of photography both as an art and as a professional business owner. But... if there is one thing I have learned this year that has largely informed my decision to retire after 12 years of unreasonably great success? It's this...

People are (far) more important than things.

Don't get me wrong. Being a professional photographer has afforded me a great deal in my life: enormous amounts of respect and accolades from others (fellow photographers, artists, and clients alike), the most lucrative source of supplemental income that anybody could ever imagine in all of their wildest dreams, a constant outlet for me to express myself in visually creative ways as well as be affirmed as a WORKING and SUCCESSFUL visual artist in a field of the arts that is everything including bloated and saturated with those who are either fighting to get in the game, stay in the game, and not get kicked out the the game. (The game meaning the professional photography field.)

But, like I said above, photography is a "thing" to me a much as any other "thing" in my life and though it's taken me such a huge amount of my life (and career) to realize it, I am not ashamed to admit it. Definitely it's not a "thing" to so many others but for me? It is just that. It's not a passion though I definitely did approach it as an art form but for the most part? It was a business. IT WAS BUSINESS. Which means it wasn't personal (to me).

I have mentored and consulted with countless fledgling photographers and seasoned professionals of the field/trade for a while now as everyone is always interested in knowing what my "secrets" are. You know what? If secrets means things that I keep from people and purposefully don't share in an effort to ensure that I am more successful than them, I don't have any. I have always told and ALWAYS shared the things that I have brought me the success that I have been so blessed to receive and very obviously and openly enjoy. I am TERRIBLE at keeping secrets. (AWFUL.) (I am worse even at lying! Why? Because I am a visual artist and NOT a performance artist. *shrug*)

On all of those notes and for the purposes of me giving one last thing back to the world of professional photography that has given me SO much that I am walking away from it with my heart and hands full, here are some of the things (for the sake of prosperity) that you (or someone you might know) might consider to be helpful for the purposes of establishing yourself in the business of photography.
  • Your camera doesn't matter as much as you think... I'm serious. It doesn't matter how big or technically capable your camera is. If you can't use the camera? It will end up being the most expensive mistake you ever make in the professional career that you are working so hard to have in the first place. Canon or Nikon? Who cares. Seriously. It's the six inches behind the camera that matters most. You want to repeat something to yourself? Repeat THAT instead.
  • ... But since can't get along without a camera anyway, don't ever buy anything more than what you can afford before you shoot any pictures (for anybody including yourself). Buy used equipment. RESEARCH equipment before you buy any of it - camera bodies, lenses, fancy bags, etc. etc. etc. If you really are a gear head though? Sink your time and energy (and ultimately your funds) into lenses before the most new-fangled camera body. Don't assume that the infamous L-series lenses will automatically guarantee you an immovable place and foundation amongst the "best of the best" of the photographers that you so seek to emulate. Just like a computer is never as able as the person using it, the camera and its lenses will never take jaw-dropping and stop-and-stare images without someone behind it knowing where to aim it, how to make adjustments within its system AND when you should hit that shutter button.
  • You are never better than the last worst picture that is in your portfolio. This means that the best picture you have taken is likely the one that you probably haven't taken yet. Similar to what English teachers say to their students about falling in love with rough drafts? Don't fall so completely in love with a recent "BEST. SHOT. EVER." that you stop rising to the challenge to take more of shots that are even better than that one. Basically, put your ego aside "big shot" and realize that there are always more shots to be taken to be the "sharp shooter" that you want to be known as to begin with.
  • You can always learn something from the others you are working aside or competing for business against. When you don't build others (around you) up, you will ultimately and indirectly end up tearing the world around you apart. The art of photography is about finding the composition that already exists in the world around you. When you spend your time sitting high up on your "mountain" with the best camera that YOUR money could buy convincing yourself that nobody could sit on the mountain with you and nobody can have a bigger camera than you? Well... you automatically devalue what is really important in any field of the arts (read: talent) that others will end up establishing and having more of while you are so busy feeding your insatiable ego.
  • Study as many other mediums of visual art as possible and it will automatically strengthen (and set apart!) your work in ways that can never be quantified except when people start being willing to pay you upwards of $350/hour for your time and talent. It's fine to be self-taught at the art of photography for a while but be willing to acknowledge that you can't possibly know it all an never learn anything from others. Be open to learning from what others already know and this includes those who are a different type of artist than you - graphic designers, painters, sculptors, architects, etc. etc. etc. Those photographers out there who think that success with their work comes from just knowing the technical functions of a camera are WRONG. Learn about color theory, visual armatures within artwork that uphold and STRENGTHEN composition, how to use space and contrast to show balance of different kinds, and how the emotions and perspectives of photographers (and other visual artists) can inform their pictures in ways that make images worth the thousands of words that that ol' adage says they are and always have been.
  • Never forget that in order for you to be a photography business owner, you MUST treat your art form like the business that it is. There is a reason why photographers (and other artists) end up being called "starving." It's because they insist upon trying to call what they do a business but then treating it totally like an art form justifiable and defensible only because they are the artists! Being "starving" is not as cool as it might seem. Take a business course or two OR align yourself with someone else who has found succcess much of what you seek. They will give you advice and steering in ways that you probably never considered in the first place and if you abide by what they say? You will likely end up in a place that you never could have dreamed you could end up in the first place. (This means you will find great success!)
And... I guess? That about covers it for me. I know this is hardly what you come for when you visit this blog but I feel like it's relevant to a certain degree with what seek to do here which is to encourage (and support) others to dream of what they can do with their art and creativity, contemplate and ponder how they can do what they dream about, and (ultimately) CREATE all that they have dreamed of to begin with and then worked so hard to work to be able to really make something out of nothing.

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