I’ve always loved photography.
Capturing a moment in time like my son’s toothless grin, my daughter shooing me away because she’s a teenager and hates to be photographed, or a client’s fresh newborn. Moments like that are the reason I became a photographer — it just so happened to turn into a business, a business that I loved until now . . .
The last few years have been hard and I’ll admit that I could have done more to help my business move along but I just didn’t have it in me. I didn’t have the passion I once had for photography. Something that I once loved was now a chore, a paycheck, a nuisance. I found myself irritated with every new inquiry:
” Hello Ashley, We just adore your work and would love for you to come photograph baby! She is 10 days old and we’ve emailed a few photographers but your website is the one we fell in love with. What if we only want a disc of images? Is your pricing negotiable?”
When I first started receiving inquiries like this I would simply reply explaining that, “No, my pricing isn’t negotiable and here is why . . .” but eventually I had to create a form letter because I was getting this sort of email so frequently that I was getting tired of typing the response.
Now, I have many theories about why I was getting these emails and I am sure you’ve heard them all. it’s the same old story of new photographers coming into the industry and not running a real business, charging pennies, overwhelming the market, causing prices to drop, and making the rest of us unable to compete OR maybe it’s the amazing photo capabilities of the iPhone — OHHH The iPhone (cameras being more accessible & easy to use. i.e. the “prosumer”)
BUT . . . if I take an honest look I can tell you that, YES, I am sure that the above factored in — in some way but *I* was the reason my business wasn’t running to its full potential and blaming it on anyone else is just plain stupid.
So, what caused my increasing apathy?
I suppose that there are many reasons why . . . I was jaded, I was uninspired, and I was, above all, EMBARRASSED. I dreaded telling people what I did for a living but even more than that I dreaded the entire conversation. “I am a photographer,” I would say and 99% of the time the response was, “Oh so is my wife/neighbor/cousin/sister! You guys should hang out!” — No, I don’t want to hang out. I don’t do playdates.
Photography was something that was now cute, not something that anyone respected. “Oh you’re so lucky to do something you love!” Who said I loved it? I am just trying to pay the bills the same as you!
I was tired.
Tired of justifying my prices, tired of being embarrassed, and tired of the photography industry of today and I am sure that’s exactly how the photographers before me felt. We would call them “old school photographers” because they didn’t like pictures of babies in baskets or “photojournalistic photos “ (Which let’s be honest, was just a phrase we used because we were bad at posing).
Back in the day, being a photographer required REAL skill and knowledge.
Now the camera does most of the work for you, there are Photoshop actions to edit your photos for you, and endless workshops for the newbie photographer promising all the secrets of running a successful business. I hate to break it to you but a workshop WILL NOT make you a successful business person. You and you alone are responsible for the success or failure of your business.
Like most things nowadays there’s an online community of people that share your interests, you participate because you hope to learn or simply chat with people who like your hobby as much as you do, whether it’s a website, a forum, or a blog. Many of us use these places for knowledge or support or both. I stopped participating in these communities a few years back because it was becoming less about supporting your fellow artist and more about shaming them. I keep hearing about photographers bullying other photographers. This cycle has gone on for as long as I can remember and it only gets worse, it goes something like this:
Photographer posts on a photography forum
Photographer gains a mass following and starts to be known as an industry ‘expert’
Photographer starts to sell to other photographers
Photographer thinks their shit doesn’t stink
Photographer thinks it’s their right/duty to give other photographers unsolicited advice or bully them for having any opinion that is contrary to theirs.
Just a few years ago you were a stay at home mom with a hobby and now you’re a ‘Rock Star’ (I use the term loosely . . . I mean really, none of us are really rock stars) but good for you, you’re popular! You can take that new found popularity and do something good or you can take that “fame” and use it to intimidate others. I see more people doing the latter and frankly, it’s cowardly and I am ashamed of what it’s become.
When you are viewed as an industry expert you have a responsibility to guide and help people. When you take that title and trash people you are equally responsible for what comes from that.
Know one thing: the list of ‘Rock Star’ photographers is ever-chaging and as quickly as you rise, you will fall. When the fame is gone you will either be remembered for the people you helped, guided, and encouraged or you will be remembered as the bully, the self righteous ass who was took self importance to a new level. The enemies you make will stay with you and they may rise above you and when they do they will remember how you treated them…. People will not remember your images, they will not remember your Photoshop actions, they will not remember the workshops with promises of success; they will remember how you carried yourself so I say this–be kind, be giving, and be grateful because just like the moments you capture, this time won’t last forever.
You will soon be replaced by robots. You’re welcome. You think I am kidding? I’ll be here waiting, one step ahead of you.