This mentor post is a bit of a departure from my usual MM topics. Today I'll be talking less about how to compose a shot, and more about how to stay composed.
If you're forging your way along the path of photography success, you're going to hit a lot of these articles along the way. They're articles for the newbies, "friendly advice" from established photographers. Some talk about technical skill. Some talk about experience. Many of them talk about what you charge. And nearly all of them have this bottom line:
You're doing it wrong.
90% of the time, you'll be so enthralled with your journey you won't even notice them. Good for you! But then there's that 10%. You had a bad day. A bad photo shoot. A bad client interaction. You're weak. Doubting your skill. Questioning your worth. And that's when these articles become totally demoralizing.
Here's what you need to know:
Every journey is DIFFERENT. Every "destination" is DIFFERENT. Every photographer is different.
You don't have to be "classically trained."
I missed out on opportunities for photography education in high school and college. I didn't participate in hundreds of teacher-assigned exercises. I didn't learn film photography first, or spend hours in a dark room. These are GREAT ways to learn. But it's not how I did it. And you don't need to be intimidated by those who did.
As for myself? I read. Everything. There are exceptionally helpful blogs out there to guide you (including my own!). For FREE. There are affordable workshops. There are Flickr forums, and online articles, and 100% of them will work if you exercise the skills you read about.
You don't need expensive equipment.
The price tags in this industry are not easy to swallow. Don't get caught up "keeping up" with the cameras, lenses, gear, software, presets/actions, workshops that other photographers have. You can take stunning photos on any budget . You'll get the best photos, clients, and RESULTS because of the time you invest, not the money.
What you charge, and what you WANT to charge, is your business.
Because it's YOUR BUSINESS. There is no shame in building a portfolio offering free sessions. Or "cheap" sessions. Or declaring your photography a "luxury product" and collecting your client's first born as your deposit. (Ok, that would be ill-advised, but you get my point!) Despite what you read, rest assured you will NOT be stealing clients from photographers who charge more, nor will you be setting unrealistic expectations that the rest of the industry cannot compete with. The photography industry will get by just fine. Here's why:
There is a customer base for photography at all price points, who are interested in all styles of work, and may or may not care about (or recognize) technical skill.
If people aren't banging down your door begging you to take their pictures (and money) it's because your audience doesn't value your work as highly as you do, or because you're not marketing to the right audience. It's just that simple.
Define your own success.
I concede. If I my goal is to photograph the next royal wedding and bathe in a gold tub of dollar bills, I am indeed "doing it wrong".
But it's not. I'm a stay-at-home mom with a fancy-pants camera. My goal is to relieve my family of the burden of my expensive hobby, and make a whole bunch of new friends in the process.
My point? There are as many definitions of photography success as there are photographers in the business. We don't all photograph weddings. Or babies in baskets. Some of us have no aspirations of developing a business at all! And that's OK.
Celebrate other's success!
Drown out the negativity of others with your own words of encouragement and support. Acknowledge and value the differences in their work and aspirations, and be confident enough in your own skill to know that you are not a threat to one another. The resulting network of photographers you'll build is not only smart business practice, but a great way to make friends in the biz who will be there to support and encourage you when you need it - and trust me, and you will!
Don't get lost in your own game of comparison, and don't let others impress theirs upon you. Your artistic vision is one that only you can contribute to our industry. Be good to yourself, be good to your clients, and you'll be an unstoppable force!