Combining a passion with a career is a daunting prospect. I don’t know a single photographer who entered the industry because they had a brilliant business plan; the journey to becoming a photographer is nearly always driven by the love for the art. Perhaps it’s because of this deeply personal drive that photographers often feel like they have so much to lose.
In recent years, I have had many people contact me in the hopes of receiving insight into becoming a photographer or seeking some words of wisdom to steer their career in the direction they want to go. At times I felt ill-equipped providing guidance because, for the most part, I am still on the journey to achieving my own dreams. However, I remember all too well being a fresh-faced 21 year old at the end of a photographic course desperately wondering what to do next. If you are searching for generic “shoot raw not jpeg” advice, then you are in the wrong place. I know some of these thoughts would have been a great help to me back then, so I hope they provide guidance for others.
5. Don’t aspire to become a great photographer; aim to be a great person.
When I finished studying, I started approaching who I considered to be some of the finest photographers in Melbourne. It took me a long time to realise I didn’t actually aspire to be like most of these people at all. Many of the highest end photographers I have met along the way have been little men with big egos; I invested way too much time and energy looking for their approval and acceptance.
Here is what I learnt: being a brilliant image maker doesn’t make you a good person. The photographers I admire most are great behind the camera but more importantly it is the strength of their character that inspires me. The James Nachtwey’s and Seabastao Salgado’s of this world are perfect examples of this. Taking this approach to your practice (and life) will pay dividends.
4. Know how to use your equipment; learn what it does, but remember that it’s not everything!
Having great equipment wont make you a good photographer. Unfortunately, questions about cameras, lenses, settings and file processing are the main types of advice I get asked for. If you want to be a professional photographer, you need to learn what your tools are and how to utilise them – but it’s only a small part of what we do.
More importantly, learn interpersonal skills. Listen to what clients want, have great communication skills, be reliable, passionate and creative with your work.
3. Keep your word, show up and always be on time!
It’s the most simple thing in the world, but one I can’t stress enough. I am constantly amazed at how little people value being punctual in this day and age. Be on time and stay true to your word. It’s not just about professionalism – it’s also about common courtesy.
2. Be adaptable
Change is inevitable. When I was studying photography, I was one of the last groups to learn the traditional process. Although the digital age was well and truly here in 2005, nobody could predict the changes that came with it. Unfortunately, over the years I have witnessed many photographers struggle to adapt to the way photography continues to change.
Just as importantly, be adaptable to your personal situation. Goals and values can seem set in stone, but things change with time.
1. Work for money, pursue photography because you love it
Learn how to separate the work you do to make a living and the work you do because you love it (this isn’t to say don’t enjoy your job!).
Most photographers I know (myself included) have to do all sorts of photographic work to pay the bills. This is mostly not the type of work we envisioned when dreaming of a career in photography. My bread and butter work for nearly a decade has been event photography- often undervalued, repetitive and long hours. For the most part, it’s something that doesn’t interest me creatively. There was a time when photography became purely about earning a living for me and I found myself feeling extremely negative towards this type of work. The ‘for the money, for the love’ balance was way out and I was seriously considering a career change.
Here is what I have learnt: Don’t judge yourself by the work you have to do. Rather, find what inspires you and pursue it through photography. For me this has been travel, analogue photography & printing and exploring how I can have a positive impact through my imagery. Once I started investing time and energy into my passion again, I found the not-so-interesting jobs were much more enjoyable and I was genuinely a happier person. Now I see this type of work as a way to fund what I love doing.
Simply put: the way to keep your photography dream alive is to stay passionate!