Dear New Photographer (and their clients)

As that vintage Virginia Slims slogan said, "you've come a long way baby." 

On a recent social media thread, in which a handful of photographers banded together and showcased their work "then" and "now", we all laughed together at our horrible attempts at using a camera (and editing software).  I joined my peers in poking a little fun at my own past attempts, and in sharing my most recent work. 

And I was surprised at the difference just three years makes.

It got me to thinking of things I learned when I was in business as a pro photographer.  And I decided I wanted to give some heartfelt encouragement and offer some advice.

The encouragement goes out to all the start-up photographers, who I want to assure of two things:

  1. Yes, right now, your work is truly, truly awful. You think it's brilliant. But it's not.  Not just yet.  It has promise, for sure, but it's "off" a little (or sometimes a lot).  And that's okay because --
  2. With perseverance, making lots of mistakes along the way, studying and taking of advice, and working your photography-loving butt off, you will get better. And you'll keep getting better because you'll keep making more mistakes and spend countless late-night hours honing your craft, learning what works and what doesn't, and pushing and pulling and striving to be the best you can be. You'll push through really hard days, filled with self-loathing and self-doubt, and you'll experience bright explosions of glittering mental sparks when you finally hit gold and reach levels of understanding with a depth you once only dreamed of. You'll shine, darling. And your work will be amazing.

The advice I want to offer is to the hundreds of potential clients out there, future patrons of these aspiring photographers:

  1. Pay for GOOD photography. It's worth every penny of that $300 or $500 (or more) session, worth every hour you had to go to a job to afford that custom canvas or high quality print to hang on your wall as a beautiful reminder of your good taste. These photographers who are so amazing are amazing because they're working their butts off to be amazing (see above). They're not just buying better equipment (cameras and lenses to the tune of thousands of dollars), they're taking expensive classes and intense weekend workshops to learn how to improve themselves, and they're swallowing hard criticisms from their peers, and they're pushing themselves beyond what they might do into what they CAN do -- and do well. Pay for good photography because art is valuable. And because you can't get those memories back -- memories of your precious newborns and growing children and graduations and just the average days of pushing swings sky-high and mall shopping with your teenaged daughters. Those are once in a lifetime moments of building relationships. Don't scrimp on that.
  2. Pay for BAD photography. There are a lot of photographers out there just starting out and they NEED you to help them. They need you to fork over that $25 or $50 and show up for them and pose and do those ridiculous things they ask you to do. They need you to believe in their determination and hard work. They need you to support their aspiring vision and slow understanding.  They need you to partner with them in their education.  They need that because without it, they won't have enough faith in themselves to get through the hard days of criticism and bad decisions and crappy outcomes.  Without you, they won't be what they should be.  What they can be.  What they will be.

I learned a lot in my four years as a pro-photographer.  I learned from my mistakes as much as from my triumphs (and I continue to learn as I branch out into new areas of my craft!).  But what I learned best is that the photography world is hard and it's ugly ... but it's also beautiful and miraculous because it's full of community and fellowship.  I wouldn't be where I am now without the faith of quite a few people -- fellow photographers who took the time and care to encourage me along the way with their honesty and commitment to my success.  And I wouldn't be here now without the equal doses of faith in the form of paying family members and precious clients who loved me and my work when I was bad at what I do -- and love me and my work now that I'm even better at it.

So I encourage you, dear photographer, on your journey toward greatness.  And I encourage your people to join me in cheering you on.

Because one day -- sooner than you think -- you're gonna rock this photography thing.  And we can't wait to experience that!