TVRPhotography – If it moves, Shoot It!
So, You Want to be a Photographer?
There’s no doubting I have one of the best jobs in the world. I’ve met and worked with people most will only get to know through history books. I’ve traveled the country experiencing more than what most people will in a lifetime. I’ve seen sights and participated in things most people never will. So who wouldn’t want to do what I do?
Here comes the hardcore reality: Everyone is a photographer.
There used to be a time when photographers were easily distinguished and their talents soared above those with a Kodak InstaMatic or a pocket size Disc camera. They spent many years learning the intricacies of their craft and how to get the most out of a roll of film. They knew the reciprocity characteristics of Kodachrome 64 and the saturation qualities of the emerging Ektachrome and Fujichrome transparency film. Tri-X and Plus-X were the only black and white films of choice.
But in those days, photography was still a science and photographers were relied upon to have mastered that science. Camera manufacturers even tried to pump up the popularity and ease of photography with the APS (Advanced Photographic System) series of cameras and film. While the concept of cartridge film seemed appealing, it was the advent and eventual mainstream availability of digital photography that put cameras in the hands of nearly every human being.
When APS was launched, cell phones were just beginning to evolve from their brick-form into something more portable. With digital, there’s a camera in every phone. Anyone can capture an image.
So what about the argument of “quality”? In today’s fast-paced disposable world, quality comes second to cost. The reality of publications today is that, in most cases, quality is not nearly as important as saving a few bucks. If a magazine can avoid paying a professional photographer for a photo when they can get one for free from someone who captured an incident with their cell phone, they will. Next time you browse through a magazine, count how many images are pixelated, slightly fuzzy, overly cropped, etc. We’ve become a disposable society where just capturing an image is good enough; quality is secondary.
For example, even though film was far superior to the emerging digital technology, people were willing to spend small fortunes on the “I gotta have it now!” digital cameras. And where they had once protected and cherished negatives, images were being deleted, and sometimes inadvertently erased, by the push of a button.
Ironically, as historic as digital imaging technology is, it’s also become the demise of recording our history. Next time you’re at a special event, be it a concert, parade, awards presentation, whatever, count the number of people holding a cell phone at arms length as compared to a camera. I bet the phones will outnumber cameras four-to-one. And that begs the question, what are the chances those cell phone images will ever see the light of day?
It’s because of this mentality that being a professional photographer in this day an age will prove to be a non-stop uphill battle. Not only will you compete against your peers for a piece of a diminishing budget, but you will also compete against anyone who has a camera and is willing to hand over their images for free.
Of course it’s not all doom and gloom. There is a way to climb above the masses and become successful with your vocation. The key is to simply have a plan. If you intend on college, don’t major in photography. Instead, plan on getting a four-year degree in business. Most photographers insist on learning everything possible about their trade, but neglect the business aspect. As artists, we tend to be very “right brained” where as analytical individuals are very “left brained”. If you are very strong in the arts, chances are the business side of things may need a bit of work. And the best part is, if photography doesn’t work out, having a business degree to fall back on might actually make you more money in the long run.
Suppose you don’t have a plan, what then will you do? Artists are a determined bunch and can be quite passionate in their beliefs. I for one believe that a levelheaded amount of passion can get you closer to your goals. I’d like to think I’m an example of this, but as I’m learning, it will only get you so far. And from that, no matter how much passion I have, I’m still going to need a plan. Without that plan, an artist is destined to plateau until the next step can be enacted.
A final means to becoming a successful photographer is to work from the ground up. This may mean working at a camera store to better learn your craft or assisting for an already established photographer sweeping floors or archiving digital files. If you’re really passionate about being successful, you can do both…and work on your business degree.
Unfortunately, working your way toward becoming a professional photographer means choosing vocations that will result in fairly low pay, but if photography is something you really want to do, low pay is something you’re just going to have to get used to.
Depending on your subject of choice, photography may involve more than just taking photos. Fine Art and Still Life photographers have the option of setting their own pace and attitude. They have the pleasure of solitude and the ability to make their own decisions with very little input from others. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the commercial and high-profile portrait photographers, like those who deal with celebrities or Fortune 500 CEO’s need to balance hundreds of tasks at the same time. They need to be actors themselves in that no matter how bad their day, they still need to make their subject look good. So, besides being up on technology, techniques and business skills, many aspects of photography require good people skills, expert task management and the ability to deal with the inevitable stress that almost every photoshoot brings.
The point of this entire piece is that although photography is an incredible career choice, it must be one of desire, not necessity. Very few photographers will ever experience wealth of the monetary kind, but if they are able to live within their means, they will experience a wealth far greater than any millionaire.