This one’s for pros, and aspiring pros. But I think it might equally apply to all. Mostly it’s a sermon aimed at me.
By pro I mean someone making a living from photography, no more, no less. There’s the other sense of the word, as in “she’s a real professional” and the implication is that she conducts herself with high standards, and frankly I’ve met plenty o’ pros who are not real professionals, and lots of amateurs who are. I’ve said it before, being a pro means you make money – no more, no less. It is not a badge of merit, it is not a seal of approval. It doesn’t even mean your work is good; that’s a matter of craft and while it’s assumed that you must be good if you’re a professional that logic is a little like saying the food at McDonalds must be excellent on account of the millions of customers. Wal Mart is full of mediocre, and it keeps on selling.
Wow, that was a long caveat, and it has only a little to do with the reason I initially fired up the laptop.
I’m tempted to make this week about business and self promotion, though I don’t suspect it’ll become anything that structured. I keep hearing over and over again how bad it is out there (and it is) and how much we’re all struggling (and many are) but I’m beginning to wonder if focusing on the problem so much is getting in the way of focusing on the solutions.
So let me start the week by saying this. You can do it. If the goal is to make enough money to live debt free and within your means, to do what you love and pay your taxes, then you can do it. If the goal is simply to use photography to make your first million because, hey, how hard can it be to point and shoot?, then you’re in for a shock.
You can do it.
But it’s hard. You knew that was coming right? So the question begged is: How badly do you want it?
Divas won’t make it, they’re too concerned about not getting their hands dirty and spend more time thinking about the destination than the long road to get there. Divas don’t want it badly enough. There are easier ways to gain praise.
The Wannabes won’t make it either. They’re more concerned with being able to say they’re a “professional photographer” than about rounding out their skill set and working their ass off. And the moment they do get their hands dirty and start working their ass off, well they stop being wannabes, don’t they? But while they remain Wannabes they won’t make it.
The Critics won’t make it. They spend more time looking at, and bitching about, the work of others and not enough being honest and hard on their own work. Comparing your work to the work of others is a fool’s errand. Be inspired by others’ work, learn from it, absorb it. But don’t compare yourself to it one way or the other.
I’m not saying divas and wannabes and critics won’t change their stripes. I’m also not saying that once some folks have “made it” they won’t become way too big for their britches.
I’m saying you have to want it so badly you’re willing to actively pursue solid evaluation and critique from talented eyes. Find others who are creating consistently good work and attach yourself to them. Work long hours to over-deliver on your promises to a client. Take a marketing course. Find and monetize other skill sets within your passion for photography. Create multiple income streams. Teach a course. Work for free once in a while because it’s good for the soul and the portfolio to do so. Study and revere the masters but don’t emulate them. Sit down every day and work. Pick up the camera every day and shoot. And when it gets hard, or frustrating, or the phone isn’t ringing – keep at it, push through; the race goes to the passionate and the perseverant.
I’m saying we need to get to work. In easy times it’s easy for the work ethic to slip, for the spending to get loose, and for our craft to get sloppy. This is an opportunity to recalibrate, to fine tune, to put first things first again. But remember this: the pro still shoots for the love of it, would shoot if he never made a penny from it, and does all this so he can shoot more, not less. The pro doesn’t do it for the praise or the kudos or the Rolex – it’ll show in his work. She doesn’t do it prove she can or silence the demons that says she can’t – that too will show in the work. The pro does it for the love of it.
I’m saying, You can do it. I can do it. I may never be – will never be – Steve McCurry or Ansel Adams or Yousef Karsh. Doesn’t matter. I’ll be me. You’ll be you. But one thing’s certain – we’ll have to work at least as hard as those three did to become who they did, to produce the work they did. Knuckle down, folks, take it one piece at a time, but knuckle down. Now’s a great time for us all to create one of those “what would I do if I could not fail” lists and follow up with a “what will it take, step by difficult step, to get there” lists.
If this gives you a push, or motivates you to do something you’ve been pushing off, put it in the comments. Your ideas and thoughts might inspire others who know they need to get to work but are having a hard time putting it into actionable steps. Here’s mine:
I will finally overhaul my portfolio, and I’ll do it by the end of April.
Now it’s your turn…