Yet another friend called me. So excited. His son has decided that he has found his calling. He is going to be a photographer. Do I have some time to meet with him to talk to him about it? He would so value my opinion.
I called my friend. I asked him, “What do you think? Are you happy about this?” He said yes. Their son graduated from college two years ago with a degree in social studies. He hasn’t been able to find work as a teacher. They were at a wedding and he watched the photographers and decided he could do it. He found out what the couple had paid. He decided that was his calling. Dad wanted to talk to me about what gear they should buy. Son wanted to talk about how to get clients, marketing, etc. I’ve been putting off the conversation with them. This is my answer.
Deciding you want to become a pro photographer because you think it will be fun is a little like deciding you want to become a plumber because you like to play with water. Photography, the business of photography, whether you want to acknowledge it or not, is rooted in a skill. It is the skill of taking pictures. I know you’ve taken a couple of pictures that you and your friends think are good. I know your Facebook friends compliment your pictures. Woo hoo. Get the ribbon out and run around the pole.
You have no concept. No skill. No understanding of light. No training. None of these things matter when the pictures don’t matter. They all matter the first time you get paid. They matter even more the first time you get paid by someone you don’t know. They aren’t paying you to take the pictures their friends can take. They’re paying you to capture something special.
I’m intimately aware of this because I run Pictage. Our rather quirky place in the universe is that we serve as a sales agent. A marketing system that promotes images captured by pro photographers to their clients, takes their calls, etc. When it works, we see the good and great side of this industry. We hear from happy clients who want to know just the right size for their wall art, etc. We see stunning, amazing, images that, with 30 years of looking through a view finder under my belt, I know there is no way I could take.
When it goes wrong the calls usually start with a question like this, “Do these images look good to you?” There is no call our customer service team fears more. Especially when the answer is an honest, no. (They never say 'no' by the way. We serve our clients whether their work is great or not. We just know if it’s not they’re not going to be around for long).
Want to be a professional photographer? Start by learning everything you possibly can about taking great pictures of people in all situations. This will take a year if you can work at it full time and are really willing to really put yourself out there. Buy gear slowly, and only buy once you know why you’re buying what you’re buying. Then worry about marketing, finding clients, etc. (and know that that’s going to be at least as hard as learning to take pictures.)
Tomorrow I’m going to write a post about the other major misunderstanding in this young man’s mind...