Photographers: Who Do You Really Work For?

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in photography is to make sure you have a clear set of goals and you know exactly where you stand as far as your abilities go.

On a daily basis I think about the realization that it is the photographer not the camera who is the instrument. And that more than anything else, I want to continue to develop my vision. I want to produce photographs that are not only unique, but are somehow useful. They must carry some weight or possess some poetry. I have no desire to make photographs that are the same as someone else’s. I have no desire to make photographs that are useless and totally devoid of any kind of reason for existing.

I have learned that nobody including myself, cares about photographs that exist purely to demonstrate a level of skill. And nobody cares about photographs that are perfectly composed or executed.

If I can look back on my year and be proud of all the things I’ve learned and some of the images I’ve taken, then I’m ok with that. If I can be proud of having a vision that is my own, or if I’ve overcome obstacles that stood in my way, then I’ve achieved something.

Especially important is to realize that if you’re a somewhat average photographer, and by that I mean someone who perhaps lives in a small town, someone who works full time doing something other than photography, or runs a small business, or doesn’t have any corporate backing, or someone who doesn’t have people promoting them or working for them, someone who doesn’t get invitations to do presentations or guest blog posts etc. that you should know who you’re really working for.

Your real boss is you. I’ll repeat that. Your real boss is you. And the only person that really cares about your work is you. You need to measure your progress against all you’ve learned and done in the past year or two. If you’re happy that your photography and your vision is progressing, then you can and should consider yourself to be success!

Do not make the mistake of falling into the social media trap being someone who measures their worth based on Facebook or Instagram likes. They mean nothing. Many on social media who like your images do so only to get a like back for themselves. It is a reflection of the times we live in. It’s the way of the world.

I can upload what I consider to be the best image I’ve ever done to Facebook and be lucky if it gets 5 or 10 likes. In fact, most people simply don’t care about what you’re doing as much as they care about what’s going on in their own private worlds. It’s a fact of life. And that is completely normal. I recently self published a 132 page book of black and white images with important writings on some of the most valuable concepts I’ve learned being a photographer. Now, if I was a young photographer looking to learn something that would certainly make them better, it’s a no-brainer to get a copy of the book. It has the potential to take years off one’s uphill climb to seeing. Do you want to know the reality of the situation? Not a single copy has been sold (even at zero profit margin) to any friends, any local photographers, or any family members for that matter. Did I push the book? Other than a single blog post and about a half dozen posts to Facebook, not really. But the truth of the matter is that nobody is as interested in what you’re doing or trying to accomplish as you yourself are.

Understand that the reason you do what you do is is for you! It’s for your memories in twenty or thirty years from now. It’s for your kids. It simply doesn’t matter if you spent 2 years or 4 years putting together a project of your greatest efforts. Nobody cares unless you put an enormous amount of time and effort into promoting the product. And even then, it will likely be only about 2% of the masses that are even remotely interested in giving it a look. It’s a fact. And it’s certainly not a problem unless you expect something to be any different. That’s normal.

I strongly encourage any photographer to print their images and archive them into an album. Put your completed photo books in a library for your kids to enjoy someday. After you’re gone, your husband or wife may really enjoy looking back over all the memories and the special way you saw the world.

These should be your most important goals as a photographer.

Don’t ever fool yourself.

Do it for you. Do it for you.

Happy shooting as always. And this Christmas give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done. You damn well deserve it.

Doug

On Imperfection

I read a post the other day from one of the world’s most successful wedding photographers where he mentioned that he had received a request from a couple to photograph their wedding, but they didn’t want any posed images. Not a single one!

That really got me thinking about the whole thing…

If someone’s house catches fire, they make sure everyone’s got out ok, and if there’s time, they usually grab the family photo albums. Ask yourself why those photos are so valuable…the vast majority of them are just terrible snapshots aren’t they?

An image doesn’t have to be perfect to be valuable to someone. And they certainly don’t have to be posed or staged in any way. In fact, as it turns out, it’s quite the opposite.

The thing that gives most images personal meaning is that they represent true life moments. They are the way things really were with no false pretenses or staged setups. They are the silly reactions, the hysterical laughs, the tears, the bad hair days, and the breadcrumbs on the tablecloth. They are the “real” memories.

If you were to get professional photos done today where the photographer placed you and other family members in rather awkward poses or situations that were quite obviously staged, (remember how the husband looked in those maternity photos – yeah, you know the ones I’m talking about) how would you feel about those same images in thirty years? Would looking at them make you feel a little bit silly? Are you going to remember back to that exact day and relish how great you felt when you were posing like that? You might even think that these photos look a tad on the “cheesy” side.

Let me ask you this: If you’re someone who’s been married a long time, when was the last time you looked at those posed images from your wedding day? You know, the ones where everyone is all lined up in perfect little rows and all told to smile for the camera. The odds are far better that you’ve looked at the snapshots from your first family camping trip to the lake far more often. Why? Because they represent memories for you – memories of a time, memories of a feeling you enjoy re-living, a time, not just a day or a few awkward hours spent posing for some wanna-be fashion photographer.

I’m not saying posing isn’t important. It is. Fashion photography, the vast majority of wedding photography, and formal portraiture wouldn’t exist without it. And proper posing technique is vital in certain circumstances to make someone look their best. However far too often, photographers get hung up on posing and staging photos because they are trying to make someone look cool, or going for a certain look in their photo perhaps. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. But it’s also important to remember that it’s the “imperfection” that quite often gives us meaningful photographs. The bottom line is that the images must be believable. If they aren’t, they probably won’t stand the test of time in your heart. Just one more thing to put in your “consideration” bucket.

Happy Shooting,

Doug