Our friends and family love us, they want us to succeed, and they are the first to tell a little white lie to make us feel good about our passion. This may be hard to hear, it’s even difficult to type, because it’s a lesson I had to learn in the beginning and wish I’d had someone to tell me otherwise. The truth is, we all do certain types of photography well in the beginning, but not everything we do is brilliant. If I were you, the first thing I’d do is get away from your family and get new friends…just kidding…
When I first started shooting professionally, my friends had given me a little too much positive feedback that, in a way, worked against me. The problem was that I was only showing my work to friends, and not to seasoned professionals from whom I could learn. I was not very good. Yes I had instinct, but technically I was worlds away from being as good as my friends said I was. I was blind to the reality of the work I had in front of me. It wasn’t until one of my dearest friends, who happened to work in the entertainment industry, sat me down after a headshot shoot of hundreds of images and she said, “these are acceptable, one of them is great, but where is the brilliance?” This was extremely difficult to hear. I believe a glass of wine followed as I wallowed in what I felt was criticism. In reality, it was a wake-up call. If I wanted to not only be successful, but respected as well, I needed to step it up. Every single image I posted had to be pretty darned close to perfection in all of its potential or I shouldn’t put it up at all. So, there began my quest for artistic vision.
What was going to make me stand out from the rest?
In order to have a photography business that constantly moves forward, accumulates income, and enhances your quality of life, you need to absolutely accept that photography is not simply a hobby any longer. It must be the primary focus above anything else in your life except for family. All day, every day, every waking moment should find you curious about the world in which you live and how you can capture those moments in a unique way. You need to not only think, but live outside of the box of normalcy. When others are going to lunch, you are developing your website, your blog, watching Photoshop tutorials, creating your own actions, learning Lightroom, playing in Bridge, mastering images, shooting friends for free, marketing complimentary services to elementary schools, and shooting your children’s teachers’ families as holiday gifts for all they do. When you have done these things a hundred times, do them again, like a mantra.
Your life is about creating imagery, figuring out the market you wish to target, and discovering what you are truly gifted at whether it’s studio photography, portrait, weddings, editorial. This, by the way can take years to sort out. The only way to truly know where your gift lies, is to do any and every job that comes along whether it seems interesting or not. Say yes to all and work your tail off to do it right. Keep your pricing reasonable, and as soon as you have that “Aha” moment, of where you know you really are that good, that’s when you focus on a field, put on your seat belt, and get ready for a wild ride. They say it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a star at anything. With that in mind, don’t look at this as a sprint. You are in the marathon of your creative psyche and this is a journey which will hopefully last a lifetime (or until you are ready to retire.) Pace yourself, but understand that no-matter how much you love photography, there is somebody around the corner who loves it more, who is fresher and more willing to pay their dues.
The greatest gift you can give yourself, is to find a mentor. Locate a successful photographer through a friend in your area. Most people can offer a personal referral to someone they know who has made a go of their photography business. If they seem successful, there are various reasons why, but one of the most common threads is that they’ve learned the art of the edit, the market, and customer service. They’ve learned the practice of sorting through images after a shoot and listening to their gut reaction as to whether an image is good or not, what stirred them upon viewing it. They’ve learned through the reactions of other professionals what is truly a brilliant image, or solid photograph, and what is a smart image to post as it will provide revenue (as these can be two completely different things).
The bottom line is, whether or not you can build a career as a photographer is solely up to you and your actions. If you keep moving forward, if people continue to be attracted to your work, if you open yourself to the mentorship of those who have gone before, and have the willingness to embrace your flaws and give them the ultimate extreme makeover, then yes, you can become the person on the street who is “the photographer”.
To be quite frank, it wasn’t until not too long ago, when I looked down at my beaten, toughened, sore, achy knuckles…when I realized the inner cradle of my right thumb is now chronically black from the camera body, my skin callused like a dancer’s foot, and my hands showing the labors of my love, when I realized that yes, now, I can finally and wholeheartedly say to myself, “I am a photographer”.
Written by Micaela Bensko
Photos courtesy of Micaela Bensko Photography