MLK Monday 2008. I sat on the floor of Inkley's (bless my heart) wrestling with an enormous rush of buyer's remorse as I forked over a bunch of cash for a Nikon D80. We were poor, stupid, students and I was soon to be pregnant. I knew that I wanted to take photos so I staved off the nauseated reality of my electronic commitment. I wanted to be a photographer and I had no clue what that meant.
So I took pictures anywhere I could. What I mean is that I used my moderately popular novelty blog to peddle myself as a "photographer" for $75 a session. I worked my ass off. My sessions were, on average 3 hours long with wardrobe changes and multiple locations. I'm laughing just writing this. I gave people so many images. I ran like the beheaded trying to get a grip on how to be what I thought should be so I could eventually be what I wanted to be. I read and subscribed to blogs, I bought magazines and read technical stuff, I gear lusted.
So here I am. Four years later. I want to document (some of) what I've learned along with some favorite early-years photos from 3-4 years ago.
That is a power-packed little two letter pair. BAM! No.
I am not afraid of saying no. I was. I was afraid of the potential lost. The potential money, the potential lost opportunity, the potential recognition. Learning to say no has been one of my most important lessons as an artist, a business owner and human being. It's not so much a word I use with clients but more a word I use with myself. A mantra. Sure, its negatively reinforcing but I respond better to that and it works for me.
"No, I am worth more than that." "No, that kind of work is not interesting to me." "No, I don't like that." Within the no is the yes and in this dime a dozen industry "no" can differentiate the professionals from the eager, and less experienced, beginners.
Want the Best
I want the best for clients (and potential clients) and for myself. If we can't give clients what they want then we should decline the work. Clients do not have the tools to explain what they want so we need to educate and help illuminate that for them. Most clients are not artists and not all clients want artists for photographers. Or maybe they do. By talking to clients via email and on the phone we get a sense for their intention and vision as we share ours. If there is a misalignment proceed with great caution.
Slow Down and Do What it Takes
Haste haste makes waste. I've lost energy and opportunity over this. We don't need to add locations and wardrobe and more and more images to give our sessions dimension. We need focus. I've started brainstorming my sessions the night before. Before I move my client or change my footing I slow down and think. I'm cool with my clients thinking I'm nuts if it means I kick ass on their shoot.
Learning to distinguish the two takes time. The happy result of time is experience. These experiences are not all happy- they are often heavy and hard. I used to really hate growing pains as an artist/business owner/photographer, but about a year ago I realized that every mistake meant progress. Every discomfort was a chance to develop. Maybe I did it backwards, in fact I'm sure I did. I shot and worked and booked and emailed until I dropped in bed at night but I didn't know what I liked or what I was doing. I didn't know what my vision was. Perhaps it wasn't there. Wherever and whatever it was, I know what it is now-my experiences unearthed it. It glistens now. It is carefully crafted and fingerprint unique. I know what I like and what I don't. I am not attracted by potentials, trends or lucrative possibilites as they simply do not pay off for me if that's why I'm doing it.
I don't do enough of it. It can be hard as a mom. Paying for and arranging childcare is difficult enough when you have income as a result, but personal work is like high-interest savings. This much I know to be true for myself, personal work propels and fulfills more than client projects usually do. It is time and cost ineffective, but it is also essential and one of the best investments I've ever made in myself, in my interests and in my confidence.
This is a principal that could have saved me from a lot of hard and unproductive work in the beginning. Find your clients and work for free in the beginning. Don't wait for people to come to you before you know what and who you want to be as a photographer. You don't have the experience to charge yet and you owe it to yourself, and your clients to admit that. Go to them. Pay strict attention to the things you like and you will find unexpected interests in the medium.
Personal projects allow you to explore relationships with other people both in and out of your industry. They stretch you without the heavy, heavy hangover of an invoice to send. They also help to define your own like and dislikes giving more evidence to reveal it.
Have one and be one. In fact, have more than one if you can and be one whenever possible. It is a hard thing being freelance. It is hard being visited by creativity- you must have someone to show you the way. Everyone need mentors like my Shawna and Justin. Period.
You need them. Industry friends. I am lucky enough to be a member of a great group of clicking friends. We meet, talk, encourage, lift and congratulate one another. Your spouse doesn't "get it"- don't expect them to. Your girlfriends aren't going to care about aperture- get over it.
Our group ranges in age, industry experience and style and we are all the stronger for that diversity. I'm not close to (either in location or long friendship) everyone in the group but I learn something from each of them. Those I am close to are essential in keeping my focused and sharp. We took a turn for the better this year as our collective vulnerability and sharing has deepened and challenged each of us to betterment.
I do hope this helps you all in some way. It was a great back-looking to write it.