Or… Why does this photographer have to be so cynical?
I’m having “one of those days”. I’m stressed. I have more on my plate than I know what to do with. End of year means taxes and accounting which means I’m ready to find that short pier to take a long walk on. I saw a “Top 10 ways to become a pro photographer” link on Twitter this morning. Those are becoming more and more popular these days. And, IMHO, they are becoming more lame. Things like “Order business cards!” or “Put your images on a website!”. Another fun one is “Play with different lighting!” and those are followed by three or four vauge sentences that have zero value to them. More noise. Less signal.
Being a professional photographer can never be summed up in any sort of “top 10″ list. I could make a top 10 list of why an 85mm 1.8 lens is a good lens. I could also make a top 10 list as to why an 85mm 1.8 lens is not a good lens. There are 20 list items right there and it only scratches the surface of a single lens. If you have to add “put images on a web site” as a top 10 list of things to do then who in the hell is your target audience? Infants? And I’m not talking metaphorical infants. Order business cards? Note to bloggers… if you have to state the bare bones minimum obvious… don’t bother.
Why am I so stressed out today? Because being a professional photographer, or rather, being a small business owner is a hard effing job. Last night Meg and I were sitting at our dining room table. The kids were in bed. The kitchen was a wreck. Laundry is coming out of our ears. The dog needs a bath. She has a migraine. I have muscle spasms in my back and we were in a pretty heated discussion about taxes, accounting, bank statements, expenses, budgets, and the like. We were two team members of the same team having it out in our own locker room. She was stressed. I was stressed. Running a business and being a photographer is amazing but it takes a toll on you at times.
Last night I sat down at the dining room table and announced that I’m ready to throw in the towel. I want my job back at Kinko’s. I want to go to work, drone on for someone else, and come home and turn it off. I want someone else to worry about taxes. I want to look forward to always having two days off a week. I want to go back to being anonymous and useless and overlooked. That’s how I felt at Kinko’s and last night it was the greenest grass I’ve seen on the other side of the fence in a long time. This is coming off the heels of hosting Joe Effing McNally in my studio just the night before. One of my heros was in MY studio and the very next day I’m ready to take a match to the whole damn thing and walk away. Note that I don’t want to throw it in because I’m comparing myself to others. It’s just hard sometimes to be a husband and father, run a business, and engage with people. Sometimes, no matter how many good things are going on, sometimes… you just want to give up.
ETA – I am in no way going to do this of course. By God’s good grace I’ll be doing this till I die.
So this morning when I see this insane, stupid, “captain obvious”, top 10 things to be a professional photographer list I wanted to scream at the internet web site page I was reading. It might as well have been a top 10 list on how to fly a 1980′s era Soviet fighter plane that goes like this…
#10 – Climb into the cockpit.
#9 – Familiarize yourself with all the dials and stuff.
#8 – Learn about how jet engines work and why they are used on air-eee-o-planes.
#7 – Go forward real fast and when you’re at that good speed make the plane go up in the air.
Do you see how absolutely useless this list is to someone who would actually want to fly an 80′s era Soviet fighter plane? So a “how to be a professional photographer” list that includes things like “make a portfolio” or “try different lighting and stuff” is an exercise in being useless. It’s an exercise in making more noise than signal.
So in my typical “escape reality and do something fun instead of something important” I thought I would come up with a quick top 10 list to becoming a pro photographer. Let’s see if we can make so much noise it actually becomes a signal.
#10 – Breathe! – I can’t tell you how important it is to constantly breathe when you are professional photographer. Not only does it help you make great photos but if you can keep breathing long enough after a photoshoot then you’ll be able to collect the check from the client. Try different kinds of breathing too! In through the nose and out the mouth. Or in and out of the mouth. Talk to your customers about how you like it in and out of the mouth.
#9 – Try out a digital camera! - Boy howdy! Digital cameras are becoming all the rage in 2010! For only a few hundred dollars or a few thousand dollars you can take photos that don’t need film! Digital photography allows you to take pictures and see them as soon as they are downloaded on a computer! It’s almost instant! The Russians have now developed computer tools to work on your digital photographs! Check out this internet web site with all the details! If you buy a digital camera make sure you get a good one like a Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Olympus, or iPhone.
#8 – Everytime you see a tree… take a photo of it! – Have you ever thought about how important trees are in the world? They help us achieve number 10 on this list! Everyone loves trees and if you have a lot of pictures of trees everyone will love you. When showing your photos of trees to people talk about how you were thinking about the innocence of that tree at the moment of capture. Or point out the transcendental qualities of light and form as the moon beams of uranus waft through the branches. People will think you’re quite the artist.
#7 – Make a portfolio! – Take two or three hundred of your best photographs and make a portfolio! You need this to show to people how good of a photographer you are! I like to make mine out of half inch galvanized steel because it’s really impressive and useful for many other things in life!
#6 – Take pictures of kids! – Parents love their kids and they love photos of their kids! If you don’t have kids then go to your local park and take lots of photos of children. Try shooting from different angles like from inside the bushes, behind trees, or from your parked car for really “exciting opportunities.” You’ll soon meet all of the parents of the kids you are taking photos of as well as lots of local law enforcement officers who, lots of times, have kids too! If they come up to you with baseball bats in hand be sure to have your portfolio from #7 with you. That steel cover is going to be useful to protect yourself. Drop a few of your business cards as you run away. Always market yourself!
#5 – Move to New York City! – Lots and lots of photographers are in New York City. Lots of people who love photography are in New York City. It only makes perfect sense to grab your camera bag and move there to open as big of a photo studio as you can find! Fill that studio with things like backgrounds, lighting, and tripods of different sizes and colors and you’ll be on your way to the bank! I’m not sure what you’ll be doing once you get to the bank but it might involve a ski mask and a paper bag with a note attached to it. Ask the teller if they have kids.
#4 – Join the social media revolution! – With internet web sites like myspace and friendster becoming so popular these days you’ll need to be on there to meet people. You’ll also find many opportunities to win free stuff for all of the online surveys these internet web sites have to offer! Add lots of spinning cameras that make noises to your internet web site pages because you want people to notice you and nothing is better than animated gifs of cameras. Also try out Xanga. Check out another awesome version of my blog to see what I’m talking about!
#3 – Make your own lenses! – Did you know that professional lenses can cost up to $189? As you are getting started you might need to save some money and one way to do that is to make your own lenses. The most important thing to remember is the convex lens curves outward; a biconvex lens curves outward on both sides, and a plano-convex lens is flat on one side and outwardly curved on the other. There are also concave lenes, biconcave, and plano-concave lenses. The elements are not necessarily symmetrical and can curve more on one side than the other. Thickening the middle of the lens relative to its edges causes light rays to converge or focus. Lenses with thick edges and thin middles make light rays disperse.
#2 – Wear socks! On your feet! – I’ve met a lot of professional photographers in my life and one thing that they all have in common is almost all of them, with few exceptions, wear socks… on their feet. I notice this because I’m a photographer and I’m supposed to notice the details in life and find beauty in those details. The next time you meet a professional photographer ask them to take their pants off and see if they are wearing socks. You’ll be shocked at how they react to your noticing details like this and they will know that you are a lot like themselves. You will now have friends in “the industry”! Talk about the moon beams from uranus with your new friends.
#1 – Try to get people to comment on your blog by asking them what the #1 way to become a professional photographer is….