At the risk of sounding completely conceited and self-absorbed, I’d like to share a little secret about becoming a photographer :)
I was reading my husband’s blog today (he’s a writer, or an aspiring writer, whichever; check him out) and read a comment that I’d left a few weeks ago about not being embarrassed by what you do, and I was totally impressed with myself! I said something like:
“Remember you are unique even if your hobby is common.”
In the photography biz, we hear so often about how over-saturated things are with moms with cameras, how the general public doesn’t value a good photographer because their iPhones have 10 megapixels (they do now! hooray!), and how everyone knows someone with an SLR. Being a photographer has sort of turned into one of those stay-at-home-mom stereotype jobs along with hairstylist and professional blogger. While being a soul-searching and depressive artist is trendy and awesome in today’s awesomest circles, the general public still pretty much thinks its taboo to sit around and make art in your spare time. When you tell someone you’re an artist, or a photographer, a writer, or a musician, lots of people immediately conjure up an image of a greasy-haired, lazy, self-idolizing version of yourself. Their first thought is, “Oh no, another friend who has a hobby I have to pretend is good,” or most commonly, “Oh no, this person has a pretend hobby.” Let’s all just admit it; we’ve thought these things about our friends who have hobbies that “anyone can do.”
And anyone CAN do them. Anyone can be photographer; anyone who can get a Best Buy credit card can purchase a point and shoot camera, or even the same camera owned by a professional making a decent living.
So how do we, as artists, find a way to use the cynical views of the industry for good? How do we allow ourselves to be inspired despite the lack of genuine support by the general public, and despite the stereotypes placed over our heads?
Here’s what I think:
- Actually get good at what you do! If you want to be a photographer, LEARN how to be a GOOD photographer. Accept that your work is going to suck at first, but don’t let it get you down. Study, practice, read, experiment, and implement ideas. Having some actual knowledge and skill on your side will give you the confidence to ignore unfounded criticism. This is what I do :) I’m constantly growing and finding new and better ways to improve my work.
- A little naivete is a good thing–I think the only reason I got past my first year of what I assumed were “deeply artistic photos” was the fact that I didn’t know any better. I used my budding ambition to give me energy and confidence. I always found ways to integrate new-found knowledge into my work, and I was constantly improving (and still am), but I didn’t let my shortcomings define me. Which leads me to…
- Focus on the positives! Remind yourself what you like about your work. Remember your successes. Reward your efforts! If you’re feeling in a slump, it’s okay to redirect your attention and focus on something else for a while. Recognize that identifying mistakes is a good thing! If you can SEE a mistake, that means you’re capable of learning how to fix it.
- Get yourself an admirer :) If your spouse or your mommy isn’t already in your corner of the ring, find someone who can be. We need the nay-sayers, yes. We need to be able to take criticism and learn from it (read Brooke Snow’s vlog about this very thing [I promise, I really do read other photographer’s blogs]). But there’s just something about having someone who will love you no matter what, who’s going to love your crappiest crapped-on crap work because you made it. Grab on to their constant pushing and coaching, and run with it. There’s value in realistic fans, and there’s also value in pure, unadulterated, blind admiration. Use that gushing fountain of positivity and go get inspired!
- And lastly, learn to not be embarrassed by what you do. If YOU aren’t embarrassed to tell someone you’re a photographer, THEY’ll be less likely to be embarrassed of you. If YOU think you’re a deadbeat artist who needs to get a real job, they probably will too. Create something you can be proud of, and BE proud of it. Just because the mom next door has a camera, doesn’t mean you have to take the same photos. Think about it this way: Nine months or so ago, my husband was a newly budding aspiring writer. He was determined to keep it a secret from the world, and I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone. On occasion I’d find a lucky stranger to spill the beans to, but I’d find myself not able to convey the pride I felt in what he was doing, partly because I was unpracticed at telling people, and partly because HE was embarrassed. I was hesitant, I was embarrassed, I was thinking what we looked like from an outsider’s point of view. Now, he’s much more open about his hobby (hooray!), and actually kind of proud of what he loves to spend his time doing. When I tell people now that he’s an aspiring writer, seeking to be published one day, I am obviously proud, and very apparently excited about what this means for our life. I realized several months ago that I need to be the same way about my OWN hobby. I have a photography business, for crying out loud! I pay me some taxes, I earn income, I have clients, and I have some talent. I have something to be proud of. Before, I would hide my hobby; I would make it sound insignificant when talking with others. I made it sound like no big deal, even though it was the biggest deal of my life! So they thought nothing of it too. When I introduce myself to strangers now, I tell them my dayjob and I tell them about my photography side-business–my passion. My friends and family know that I have something in my life that I’m excited about, that I’m working to improve–not something I think I suck at, or something I only wish I could make happen. Don’t be afraid to accept your talents and be proud of them!