“That means I’m a photographer right?”
Let’s go through the check list…
Camera – check
Artistic flare – (so they tell me) check
Love of photography – check
Desire to capture memories, moments and freeze love in time so it can be revisited again and again – check and check
That means I’m a photographer right?
Sure, if by photographer you mean, a person that sometimes holds a camera and presses the button on the right.
But not necessarily in the business of being a photographer. And therein lies the difference. When you get to this point, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep going, nor does it mean that you haven’t got a chance, or that you are audacious for assuming you can start out. No, keep going, hold on to your hopes and push forward you will achieve success if you do. But if you’re starting at the bottom, like I did, you need to really like the taste of reality (learn to wash it down with a cold glass of humility) and you must have a plan.
I started my business four years ago. No money as collateral, a D40x, a Dell laptop with a heinous virus, Picassa and a Html website from Homesites.com. Not the ideal way to begin, but there were mitigating circumstances, and this was all I had left. So I pushed, REALLY hard, and made it work. I didn’t have any illusions as to what I was. I was desperate.
I identified my market. Who in the hell would want me as a photographer? Broke people like me. And so began the first 6 months of my photography career, shooting and burning my life away at roughly 75 shoots a month at $50 a piece, sometimes more but rarely. Overhead was minimal, So I was making it.
I was working a lot. I shot homecomings hand over fist, a job lot $75 for me and a DVD, NOT by the hour. Which meant I could spend up to 6 hours from 2 in the morning waiting on delayed buses. But I couldn’t leave because they could be there any moment. So I stayed, drank coffee, made friends and waited. What is that worth?
By the end of 6 months, I was the in thing on Lejeune Yard sales, talk about big time, and I had a steady stream of referrals coming in. Big fish, little pond, big head. Don’t get me wrong. I still didn’t even begin to assume that I was up there with the big name photographers. I was still very tentative to even call myself a photographer. But I was comfortable, and I had stopped moving forward. Complacency is born by success.
“I had lost sight of my plan.”
It came time for my sons school pictures. I kind of scoffed somewhat when I was asked to come help get everyone ready. School pictures. That style is so not my photojournalist style, yada yada.
As I sat there watching the woman from the School Picture studio set up her lights, backdrop and equipment, in about a minute. Adjust the lighting speedily and begin cranking out, perfectly flat lit images of bratty kids, one after the other. I had to take a seat. Life had tapped me on the shoulder and was offering me slice after slice of reality. “Thank you that was lovely, but I can’t stomach another bite” I protested as I downed my glass of humility.
What I realized was, I can’t do what she does. I am not proficient enough with my gear to do what I had originally scoffed at. So what am I worth? In my head it was a fait acompli that I would just be able to arbitrarily charge more, sooner or later. But in reality, to maintain constant business, in higher income brackets clients would have to identify me as someone who is able to consistently give high quality images. My clients knew I was nice, I was loyal and they’d have pictures. That’s it.
“If I didn’t get back on track, I would be stuck here, shooting and burning.”
When I came home I did my first ‘after action’ report, on a shoot that I had done the day before. I wrote the pros and cons, and what I would do again, what I would do differently, where I was lacking and needed to fix. I watched Youtube videos, I saved and went to seminars, and I trolled the internet looking at photographers identifying what I liked, whose work I identified with and why. I was constantly measuring and qualifying my work, so that when I raised my prices, it was truly in line with where I was ability wise and I never felt a bump. My work automatically attracted the next level of client.
If you’re going to be a photographer, you have to put checks and balances in place. You have to have a method of measuring yourself, against your competition, against your peers. You have to develop ways to assess yourself so you can progress. You have to identify how you’re going to pay for all this because as nice as I am to my UPS guy he won’t just bring me a Mac for the fun of it, or a D700 for that matter.
I write lists. Millions of them. I have lists of goals for all stages. Every day I make myself take time to watch one tutorial, read three blogs and research a term or technique I don’t know. Daily homework. So that my D700 becomes useful at other things besides a paperweight. So that when I am faced by lighting challenges I have some idea as to how to tackle it. I have only a small cache of things I can do by memory. Everything else I have to talk myself through. That makes a difference to my response time, and my ability to adapt to the unforeseen and a difference to what I am worth.
“My images aren’t as flawlessly edited as my peers.”
I make roughly $5.00 an hour sometimes, because editing can sometimes take me so long. My creativity suffers at times because I have to concentrate on getting the standard shots and my market doesn’t allow for 2nd shooters. But that doesn’t mean I can raise my prices, to compensate. My final images are still worth what they’re worth. It’s not my clients problem that I have to spend more time on them. It’s my lack of experience.
It’s something I have to fix for my business to support me and still grow, it has to be in business. All of this is hard to admit when you have pride the size of Everest. Once I longed for the day when I would have two big cameras and be able to use them efficiently; where I could wander around affecting an air of nonchalance with some kind of cool camera chick who makes art. That was my pride talking.
“The reality is that I would like to be a good photographer who makes art, never nonchalant about it, always excited about it, always learning, still in business.”
Written by Olympia Flaherty