I had the weirdest day today. Via the comments on another amazing photographer friend’s shared post, I had the most brief of interactions with Kirsty Mitchell. Yes, the Kirsty Mitchell. Wonderland Kirsty Mitchell…
Being a photographer gives you the privilege to hold some of the most modern and expensive equipment around in your own hands often! Unfortunately the only problem with this is holding and handling these camera’s and their accompanying lenses for hours on end with little breaks in between.
This results in many different issues such as acute and chronic injuries, and could not only leave you with tremendous pain but also not being able to continue your work at hand.
Warning: this article contains opinionated and philosophical content.
OK, so a little while ago I read this article about how a different set of lifestyle circumstances changed the way the photographer experienced her photography. That got me thinking about my journey, and how, for me, it was the other way around. Yes, sure, life taught me a lot in photography, but photography gave me a whole different perspective on life, too.
“Simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.”
Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
Some of you have known me (Grethe) for much longer than others and may know that photography hasn’t always been an easy journey for me. Some of you, on the other hand, may feel like you cannot relate to my work because you all you ever see is me posting images that are the result of ten years of continuous hard work.
But, this post is not about me. This post about the things I’ve learned that’s helped me along the way – things I want to share with all of you, as well as some things that some of the ladies in our group have found useful and inspiring. So go get some coffee, this is going to be a long-ass post! ♥♥♥
This is based on something similar I wrote on my DeviantArt page a few years ago and it resonated with a lot of people. Needless to say, my experiences since then have caused the list to change, but the gist is well and truly the same.
• There’s no such thing as Canon vs Nikon vs Fuji vs Sony vs……
Let’s get this one out of the way first.
When I was in high school, I heard the saying don’t blame the thing, blame the thing behind the thing. I didn’t particularly like the girl who said it, but somehow it managed to stick with me for many years. Weird.
The truth is, though – that little black box with a tube of metal and glass strapped to it is not going to determine what your images look like. Sure, it does help, because to a certain extent gear does matter (will do a post on this in future), but at the end of the day the only one who can make the image is you. Personally, I shoot Canon, as the first DSLR I’ve ever worked with and learned on was a Canon. That doesn’t mean I would do better work or worse work, or even different work if I suddenly started shooting on a Nikon or Sony .
A brand is a brand is a brand: at the end of the day your clients won’t ask what you used to shoot with or edit with – they will care about the image in their hands, not the yellow or red logo on the camera strap.
• On the topic of gear – find out what works for you and tailor your equipment accordingly, especially if you’re on a tight budget.
You probably wouldn’t need a 400mm telephoto lens if you will be shooting exclusively portraits or landscapes and you probably wouldn’t need a macro lens if you will be shooting motorsport or bands on stage. If you have no idea what you want to specialise in yet, try before you buy – if it’s possible at all, rent or borrow a lens for a day and play with it. If it makes your insides light up with happiness, play with it some more and then invest when you’re able to.
• The best camera is the one you have.
This has been repeated to death, but your entry-level DSLR and lenses shouldn’t hold you back and shouldn’t stop you from doing good work!
I myself shot with a Canon 400D , the plastic 18-55mm kit lens (in the days where the IS lenses weren’t the standard with entry-level kits) and one of those silver car windshield things as a reflector for seven whole years before I saved up enough to buy my second hand Canon 5D Mark II body and 24-70mm f2.8 L lens, which I still use today.
My little 400D didn’t stop me from learning and improving and it shouldn’t stop you either – I maintain that you need to earn your stripes on an entry-level camera before you should consider upgrading. The things that an entry-level camera can teach you are invaluable as you learn to make do with little equipment and how to work with light to compensate for the camera’s shortcomings as you start to outgrow it. Learn your camera inside out and push it to its absolute limits – the skills you gain will make you a great photographer.
• The only way to learn Photoshop or Lightroom is to sit down, shut up and mess with it.
The long and short of it is this: if there’s something you want to learn to do – go find online tutorials, ask someone to show you or if possible, attend a workshop. Then, you sit down and do it over and over and over again until you get it and understand what you’re doing – drink coffee, swear, smoke cigarettes, whatever you have to do to get it down. In the end, you’re only going to be wasting your time if you blindly click buttons until you somehow get the result you want without knowing what you’re doing. Chances are, you won’t be able to recreate it and when you’re working on an album for a client, consistency is key – try to learn what every function you’re using is for and what it does and then apply them in order to get to your result. It requires a bit of engineering, but I learned through perseverance and stubbornness! 🙂
• Healthy competition keeps you on your toes, but the only photographer you really need to beat is yourself.
Yes, yes. I know. I myself am super guilty of being insanely competitive and probably should not be preaching about this if I’m so bad at practicing it. But in the end, comparing your work with someone else’s is futile – they’re not you and you’re not them. One of my favourite quotes is one by my boyfriend, Tom Hiddleston: “You never know what’s around the corner. It could be everything. Or it could be nothing. You keep putting one foot in front of the other, and then one day you look back and you’ve climbed a mountain.”
I am also extremely guilty of being unrealistically hard on myself as I hold myself to impossible standards, but when I look back at my work from the past ten years my greatest accomplishment is still how far I’ve come. It should be yours, too.
That said, your goal as a photographer should be to improve upon your last project – don’t even think about what you did five years ago: just try to do better than the last time. For some people it will happen quicker than for others, but that does not invalidate your journey – just keep putting one foot in front of the other…
• The biggest thing standing between you and greatness is fear.
This one is a biggie. I’ve seen this time and time again and it’s partially inspired by a post in another forum I’m a part of that implies that South African photographers aren’t so much innovators as they are followers.
Personally, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, but my interpretation of it was that some people need validation from others before they take the plunge and do what they want to. They would rather wait for someone else to execute their idea first to “make sure it’s okay and that people will like it” before they do it themselves. If you’re one of those people: stop it right now.
One of the key things of photography and art is that it should be an extension of yourself – especially with personal projects. You cannot deny yourself the chance to follow your dreams because of how many likes it may or may not get on Facebook. Yes, internet fame is tempting and extremely validating but it’s not all that if you end up selling your soul for it. So, the moral of the story is: shoot what makes you happy, regardless of the Facebook and Instagram likes – it will show in your work if you believe in what you’re creating!
• Crit is important, but not everyone’s opinions should matter.
Whether you like it or not, somewhere along the line someone is going to crit your work. It won’t always be what you’d want to hear, but it’s inevitable and important for your growth as a photographer and artist. However, not everyone’s opinions will be constructive or valuable – so learn whose opinions actually mean something to you and take the rest with a smile and a pinch of salt.Which brings me to the next point…
• Some people are just assholes and you will encounter more of them than you will ever imagine – especially in photography forums.
Sometimes their advice is good and they just have a tough love way of verbalising themselves, but sometimes they’re just having a bad day and taking it out on someone else. Those of you who know me in the forums know that I’ve been both of those people, but I try my best to be the former rather than the latter.
In the end, not everyone’s opinion matters and what other people think should not define who you are as a person or a photographer. If it’s good advice: use it, don’t use it. If not, in the immortal words of Elizabeth Taylor: “pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick and pull yourself together,” and to that I would like to add “…haters gonna hate.”
•Everyone wants to be successful, until they see what it takes.
It’s not easy being new to photography – I get it. It really isn’t. If that’s where you are right now, I want to wish you the best of luck for your future as a photographer and welcome you to a fantastic and cruel world that will simultaneously inspire and destroy you. That’s the nature of art, isn’t it?
But trust me when I say that if you dedicate your life to photography, you will probably work harder than you ever had in your entire life. Days spent shooting, doing admin, dealing with clients, updating social media and blogs and nights spent editing and reading until the early hours of the morning. But it becomes your lifeblood – when you’re in your slippers the morning after a long night of editing with a cup of coffee looking at the other golden hour and realising that you’ve learned to love and see light – that’s when you realise you’re a photographer.
Pursuing photography (for love or money or both) is insanely grueling and rewarding in ways you cannot possibly fathom, but whatever your motivation to do it – always remember the words of Neil Gaiman: “Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here,” and “often you will discover that the harder you work, and the more wisely you work, the luckier you get. But there is luck, and it helps.”
I’ve asked some of the ladies in our group to post the advice that has helped them the most in their career so far and here are some gems:
• Stop worrying about insufficient or substandard equipment, just get out there and shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot, shoooooo…. – Anne Schauffer
• Stop comparing yourself to other photographers… their now and your beginning are not the same! – Lauren Pretorius
• Grow a backbone
• Have a short list of people who’s opinions and feedback you value highly and forget the rest and what they may or may not have to say about your work.
– Ashley Marié Miles
• Stop looking for approval from other photographers, they are not your client.
• PRINT your own work.. unbelievable feeling!
– Cherie Steenkamp
• The only photographer you should compare yourself to is you. Look at images then and now and see the progress and growth. – Heidi Watson
• Always crit your work after a shoot – see where you went wrong and what you can do better. We are our own worst – and best! – critics. Be open to critique from the right people, even if they aren’t photographers. Sometimes people see things differently than you! Keep looking for inspiration OUTSIDE of the photography field you are in. This way you won’t be comparing yourself with other photographers doing the same thing you are. – Bronwyn Greeff
• Don’t allow egocentric know-it-alls on photography forums to kill your passion. – Lezzet Abbott
• Dont ever believe that your work isnt good enough! – L’Lani Hartley
• Stay true to yourself and your own style. – Samantha du Toit
• Wear a different hat for every client. – Stephanie Grace Robinson
And some amazing quotes by Cal Newport, supplied by Ashley Marié Miles:
• “Passion comes after you put in the hard work to become excellent at something valuable, not before. In other words, what you do for a living is much less important than how you do it.”
• “If you don’t produce, you won’t thrive—no matter how skilled or talented you are.”