Sunday, July 18, 2010

Forget about the big steps in your photography career

As artists, and I hope you all consider yourself artists no matter what stage you are in your photography learning curve, we tend to the dramatic.

Yes, no matter how sensible and calm we may seem on the outside when it comes to our photography, and in particular our desire to share our work with the world, we can tend toward the melodramatic.

By that I mean that we're often thinking about the 'what if' and letting the fear of what might happen hold us back. For example we might have a wife and kids. We'd really like to work as travel photographers but what happens when a magazine calls and wants to send us away for two weeks to Outer Mongolia. What will my family think? Will I have to give them up to follow my dream? Or will I have to abandon my dream to be with my family?

Or maybe you live in a non-capital city area - even a rural town. You'd like to submit your work to a stock library but if it takes off then will you have to move to a big city to make a proper living. What if you don't want to live in a big city? What if you're happy where you are? How will you ever choose?

Even if those two examples don't ring true I'm sure you can think of some other great drama you've created in your head that stops you doing what you really want to with your photography. Guess what. It's all in your head. I know because it's often in my head as well. That's just how we artists are.

It's that fear of who knows what that's really talking to us. By imagining some diabolical moral dilemma down the track it makes it easier to put off doing something positive today to set us on the right path. Yes some time down the track you might get a call to go to Outer Mongolia, or you might not. One thing's for sure - you'll never get the call if you don't do something today to set you on that path.

The trick is to forget the grandiose plans. The real answer is in the little details. The step-by-step progression that sees your photography improve, your confidence increase and your horizons widen. I don't know anybody doing this who one day decided to become a pro and the next day all their wildest photographic fantasties came true. Instead we all got here over a long period of time, with small boosts to our careers (along with our fair share of setbacks) and confidence that got us to a position of full-time vocation.

So instead of worrying about whether you're going to have to break up your family, move to a new city or shed your current life in some way, shape or form take a deep breath. And make one small, positive step towards where you want to go. Choose some pictures for your portfolio. Order some prints. Look at some magazines to see which ones use similar work to what you shoot. Keep your eyes out for interesting subjects in your local area. Work on your off-camera flash technique. Doesn't really matter what it is as long as it's small and doable.

Then get into the habit of doing it every single day. Don't worry about the big picture, just concentrate on the little details. And before you know it you'll be on that escalator where working towards your dream becomes a part of your persona, rather than just dreaming about what might be and being afraid of it.

Oh and why this picture? This is a sculpture on top of the Asahi beer building in Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan. It's affectionately known as the Golden Turd. I bet the sculptor in his wildest dreams never imagined something he put his heart and soul into would be named after faeces. And if he did I don't think he would have started to create it in the first place. Sometimes it's good not to know what your future holds!


Doug McLachlan said...

Great advice and a great post. I'm trying to get out and shoot something.... anything... everyday and making prints of your work is great advice too. It's too easy these days just to let your hard drive fill up with your work!

Unknown said...

Thanks Doug, I'm glad tou liked it. And I'm just as guilty of not printing enough too. But it really does make a difference to see your pictures printed out.

Anonymous said...

Nice analogy (just realized that works even better as a label for the golden turd...think about it) and good advice. With a working poor lifestyle here i japan and a young family it is hard to keep motivated and even just find the time to go out and shoot. I am my own worst enemy on this of course but sometimes the situation does just allow us to make even baby steps in the direction we want to go, especially at those plateau times when the emails aren't coming and the phone isn't ringing.
But great post and real "Gambete!" sentiments that give wonderful and obvious advice and work even better on the perhaps unlooked for understanding others like me may take in the fact that someone as talented as yourself is also in the struggle.
Will stop by more if i have the time (which i don't but will make some).

Unknown said...

Hey there Damon, so great to hear from somebody living and working in Japan. I've lived there on and off over the years (and visit every year) and I have serious respect for anyone who can make a go of it there without going loopy!
Look I think we all suffer with the struggle. Are we doing the right kind of work? Is this where we want to go with our careers? And I think that is multiplied when it's a full-time living.
I'm slowly making the transition from a single, globe-trotting travel photographer to a stay-at-home Dad to two young boys local photographer and searching my soul for what I want to do.
I don't dig weddings and portraits - it's just not the way my brain is wired - but I do love telling stories. So next week I'll be photographing a dairy farmer for a national business magazine. And I can't wait.
I've learnt to pick and choose my clients and my projects and do one small thing at a time. Putting up ten new images to my website every day and writing a blog post. Anything and everything beyond that is a bonus.
Hey do you know Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert? I met him via email yesterday and seems like a really nice guy. A small world when two Japan-based photographers contact me in the same day. Synchronicity?