How to Master Photography: For the Love, or For the Money?
I have loved photography since I was a young girl pouring through National Geographic magazines. We didn’t have a TV so these magazines carried me to worlds I could only dream about.
I remember standing in my backyard with my first film camera claiming to myself one day I would be a nature photographer. Immediately I thought to myself, “How will photography pay my bills?” With that question I noticed the chains of doubt began wrapping around my creative brain – would I ever be good enough to be a “professional photographer?”
Every photo had to be perfect, each moment carefully planned out until it almost became nonexistent. I continued snapping away and roll after roll became my treasure chest of tiny moments captured with perfect details documented. I fell in love with the art of the tiny moments, a rain drop falling onto a single rose petal, the subtle greens in a blade of grass, the sparkle in a bird’s eye, the orange blinding rays of a dying sunset peering around each little tree branch to lift my spirits before I had to go inside for the night.
Here I am 26 years later with the same question haunting me with the same love for every small detail we forget to look for. How can I make my love of photography become a career of photography? What does a career of photography mean? How do I balance a love with a career? Maybe there is an easy answer to all this or maybe it is a little of business and the love.
For the Love…
I believe love is what drives us to do something others may feel isn’t worth trying. Often when I feel I am not getting where I want to or I am not as far along as I should be, I always come back to this. Pick up my camera and go shoot photos without wondering if my audience will like them. My primary audience needs to be me and I need to like what I shoot. If I take these photos based on what I think others will like, then the love dies and so does my ability to see what I see and others don’t.
How do I know what I love? That requires me testing the waters by taking those photos that seem less than or not so perfect. On many of my photo shoots, I will take hundreds of pictures and keep only 30 or so. With every imperfect, blurry or not-quite-the-right-angle shot I find the one that is beautifully rare.
I also dig up my other loves and take a trip to find them. For example, airplanes fascinate me beyond what I can describe. While living in Austin, Texas I spent an entire afternoon driving around chasing planes just to find the “best” spot to see them land. That spot ended up being a deserted graveyard just behind the end of the runway fence.
With the mosquitos and ghosts I sat there until I saw the first landing lights in the distance. Within minutes the roar of Southwest Airlines 737 engines became closer and the plane slightly bobbed and weaved, wings tilting from side to side in the small crosswind. Goosebumps formed and adrenaline poured through me and I readied my camera capturing every small moment I could of the landing. As the jet roared over me I swore I could stand on my truck and touch the landing gear. The plane landed in the distance and the engines became quieter but not before the jet wash whistled and whipped around that graveyard with ghostly fingers barely visible to the eye.
Energy pulsated through the air and then as fast as it came the fingers disappeared into the mesquite trees. You couldn’t wipe the smile from my face or the high that came into my soul that night. I could never explain to anyone else how much fun this photo shoot was and no I didn’t capture award-winning photos but I captured the love. In those moments I captured the fuel that drives each of us to do something beyond how much money we could make on it.
For the Money…
The business of photography is one I find very tricky and intimidating. It would be awesome to sell my images and make enough to spend all my days in the field doing what I love. However on the back end of taking photos are the hours of editing, and charging enough for your worth versus what customers can afford or feel they should pay for the image. It can be easy to become what your customers need, trying to get every image they imagine is the perfect moment and also losing yourself to doing the work of photography.
I faced my fear of people photography last year. My yoga friends needed a photographer and I volunteered my skills for a world famous paddle boarding competition. Both scared me because I felt I had to be perfect. I couldn’t take the images I found easy, and non judgemental. I felt I would be accountable to those on the other side of the lens and needed to make them feel beautiful, successful or victorious. My images would be posted on websites and social media for people all over the world to view and either love or hate.
I also had to shoot images that would bring compensation. Talk about creating boundaries and anxieties for myself…it was enough to make me not want to do it. However as with every fear you have to face it. I decided that even if I undercharged or volunteered my services for free all of it was part of the road and I had to start walking.
I cannot say I have found the best answer but what I do know is I’ve found another sort of magic in the business of photography. I recognize with each person I’ve taken photos of no matter how successful or beautiful they are, they all have the same fears. So we face these fears and find the unplanned magic each person carries within. I have found some of the best shots are the ones between posing. I have seen golden moments appear behind a beautiful yogi whose favorite color was yellow, a silhouetted tree on a black brick wall spreading the love from another gorgeous yogi, and captured a rock star moment of hair flying on one of the top women’s paddleboarding champions. All these situations are important for me to establish confidence in myself and blend what I love with creating successful photos from my customers’ perspective.
I have learned to look beyond the business aspect and accept where I am. I am careful of how many images I take and edit, more accountable to myself of the hours of editing it will take and charge what I feel is needed for each shoot. There is a fine line of charging too much and not enough and I tend to follow the latter at the moment. I accept I have much to learn and as my skills and experience grow so can my prices.
The Love with The Business…
The love fuels the business and when the business takes over, step back and go chase what you love. Finding a career in photography takes time and patience, it takes creating connections, making people feel beautiful beyond how they view themselves, and combining the details with the bigger picture.
What is the magic you find and how can you bring it out in every subject you film? Growing a business is learning the art and letting it blossom while growing you along the way. The business of photography is more than making a quick fortune by people magically buying your images, no matter your talent. It is blending your love with a little cash flow until one day if you work hard enough the two will merge into a career.