Earlier this April marked one year in this incredible journey of being a professional photographer. And what a whirlwind year it has been. Looking back over the past year I see an incredible amount of lessons learned, milestones achieved, mistakes made, and personal and professional growth. And I couldn’t have gotten to where I am today without the support and encouragement of so many instrumental people along the way. When you are new in this industry, its so essential to find mentors to sharpen your craft and help you navigate the merky waters of running a business. But lets all be honest ladies – we are surrounded by an industry that is often full of negativity, undercutting, and at times a spirit of complaint about the number of new photographers cropping up around us left and right. It can be so difficult to be a “newbie” in a business like this one. We as Christian women of our industry have such a high calling – to rise above the negativity and to love each other like Jesus. So what exactly can we do to HELP this new crop of up and comers? Here’s a bit of perspective from my first year in the biz.
1 – Actively work to combat the negativity invading our industry. I cannot stress this one enough. In the age of youarenotaphotographer.com and the growing use of terms like “fauxtog” and even “momtog” as insults and jabs, its so essential that we as an industry step up and fight back. Avoid the temptation to join into the complaints about the shoot and burn photographers, and be the voice of reason when you see a discussion heading down that road. Remind yourself daily that yes, we ALL started somewhere, and those early steps may be far from glamorous but they are still steps on the journey none the less.
2 – Go back to jr high and remember the “compliment sandwich.” When giving a critique to someone on their work go old school and use the sandwich technique – find two things you CAN compliment in their work, and sandwich the critique in between to soften the blow. This could look a little something like this: “Wow, what a fun shot! I love the way you captured such a joyful expression on that little girls face. I would keep and eye on the composition, since that bush seems to be growing out of her head at this angle, see what I mean? But you really have a great eye for this. I love the feeling this photo gives me!” It may feel funny, and at times it may be forced and you may have to really look hard for those positives, but teaching will always be best received when its spoken in love, and its amazing how much a simple compliment can diffuse an attitude of defensiveness into one thats receptive.
3 – Be willing to share your mistakes. And not just your carefully chosen stories ladies, be willing to dig deep and pull out some of those over processed poorly lit alien eyes photos from YOUR starting days. So often we follow the work of those who inspire us and the dialogue in our head is telling us we will NEVER be that good, because we see such a gap in the quality. Its so helpful to be reminded some times that even the most well known names in our industry had to learn about exposure, had to define an editing style, and had a learning journey of their own.
4 – Stop seeing us as “the competition.” This is a hard one, and the more I feel like I take steps across the line from beginner into confident business owner, the more *I* feel the temptation to fall into this trap. As long as you view the new crop of photographers as “the competition” the more you are going to feel tempted to withhold info, or even allow them to fail. Challenge yourself to give freely of your time and resources. Dont feel like you have to hold back the name of your favorite lab or that great contact you have for good prices on frames. Dont keep all your favorite locations locked away in a vault. Dont stay silent when you see them about to make an avoidable mistake because deep down you’re hoping their business folds. If God brought you to this business, He may very well have brought these new women here too. And he wouldnt have brought us all to this industry if He didnt have a plan and a way for ALL of us. Stop seeing everyone as the competition and start seeing them as your sisters in this journey, and your perspective of how much help you’re willing to offer may begin to change.
5 – Dont be afraid to be honest. This may surprise many of you, but we really DO want to know when we are making mistakes. Its important not to stomp all over a tender dream in its infancy, and yes we want to combat the negativity infiltrating our field, but lets not fall into the trap of running to the other extreme. If someone asks for critique on a shot, please dont lie to them and tell them its perfect when there are correctable mistakes. We will never grow into the photographers we hope to be if someone doesnt lovingly instruct us on our errors. If it werent from some of the women in my local group challenging me about my price point, I still would be giving away my images for free and working for pennies. Challenge us – we NEED it to learn.
6 – Not everything can be solved with more money. So often when a new photographer asks for ways to improve their work or their business they are bombarded with “Upgrade to the Mark iii” “Get a 70-200 2.8 with IS” “You need a showit website” “Buy new actions/presets” Buy Buy Buy Spend Spend Spend – it can be overwhelming! We are so blessed to be in an age of photography where there is just so much available to us to better our craft. Will upgrades help the quality of our work? You bet. But at the end of the day, its not always feasible and its not always wise for someone who is new to the industry to invest thousands of dollars into a venture they arent yet sure is going to be successful. Im not suggesting that gear means nothing and that these purchases arent fruitful – eventually a successful business DOES take financial investment, there is just no way around it. But at the end of the day there are some incredibly inspiring photos out there that were shot on a dinky little rebel with a junky kit lens. It CAN be done. So make sure to instruct us in the skills and the tricks that we need to make our gear work at its best, not just send us to Amazon to buy our way up the ladder.
7 – Be open to being used. Think back and remember those people who poured into you when your business was fresh and new. Remember how it felt when you had those “a-ha” moments with your greatest mentors and teachers. Use those memories to feed a spirit of openness, and be willing for God to bring someone into your life so that you can repay back all the energy and time that was once poured into you. be the mentor you would have loved to have when YOU were the “newbie” and give passionately and without restraint. Just imagine what the industry could look like in 5 years if we all gave with a heart like Jesus and poured our love and our time into these new sisters alongside us in this journey.
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