An open letter to a struggling photographer (or creative person)
I wish I could tell you the one little secret that will make it all go easy and you’ll live a struggle free forever. Unfortunately, that’s not the reality. I can promise that it won’t last too long. If you’re running your own business then you’re probably struggling with way more than just photography.
When you’re just starting out you’ll find yourself thinking a lot about photography and a little about everything else. You’ll be worried about so much. Do you have enough batteries? Do you know how to handle the situation? What are the clients thinking? Etc. Etc. Etc. Seemingly endless self-doubt and anxiousness. Most people think we just walk up and push a button then put our feet up and relax the rest of the day. We know that’s not the case.
As a photographer, you’ll be a small business owner and that comes with a ton of responsibility. You’ll be wearing all the hats as they say. From sales to carrying out the tasks of the day, preparing for the shoot, cleaning up after the shoot, and then editing the photos. You’ll be doing all the bookkeeping, taxes, scheduling, tech support, customer service, and anything else that has to do with day to day running of any business. It will likely be just you at least at first. Or maybe you’ve hired some help but that too comes with its own set of challenges.
For me, two major time sinks that no one gives me credit for is drive time and set up time. Both take up many hours of my days and weeks and require my full attention. By the time I’ve driven for 12-14 hours, ate a few times, and found a place to park because I’m not to the destination yet, it’s time for sleep. So, I’m really sorry that I didn’t get to everyone’s order while I’m driving but I have to get to the next one. Early in my career, I would pull over every few hours to do the orders that came in. But now, there are way too many and I’d never get to where I’m going. Even though there are two of us working on orders it’s just not feasible to do them on days when I’m driving a long distance.
Wherever you are in your journey, know that the struggle won’t last. I’ve found that it helps to focus on solving the problem at hand by reading books on the topic or searching for a podcast or try looking on YouTube. Surely someone else has had a similar struggle in their journey and would be happy to help you overcome it. We’ve all done some pretty stupid things. Whatever it is that you’re struggling with, there’s got to be a way around it. Often, I’ve found the solution in completely unrelated places.
For example. I used to try to shoot team roping and barrel racing handheld. That was a major struggle not to mention highly risky because I was also shooting from my old chair that was 4-6 feet off the ground. If I had dropped my camera, I would have been sunk. I watched some YouTube videos and read some books about how NFL (pro football) photographers carried around their big lenses everywhere. They use monopods to shoot with that heavy glass. I tried that for a while but soon realized that it wasn’t really much better because it limited my range of motion and there was still the risk of the whole thing falling over and breaking. I kept my eye out for some other device that would be better. One day I was studying bird photography. They too have big lenses, even bigger than mine, and they were hands-free until they needed their camera. They were using a gimbal head to be able to track birds no matter where they flew. It was quick and easy. I knew right away that a gimbal head on a tripod was exactly what I needed. To this day, that’s what I use. It is a game-changer.
You’ll find little things and big things just like the gimbal head. You just need to be patient with the process. It will seem like a year is forever and that you should have figured it all out by now but you’ve gotta be patient with yourself. I’ve learned a ton in the last five years of doing this. But, I continue to learn every day. For example, I’ve found an interest in grip gear. There are thousands of different types of mounts for your camera, lights, modifiers, and other camera gear. Baby pins, super clamps, and friction arms are just a few of my favorite things. LOL
If you’re struggling with one area of photography, then try a seemingly unrelated field. Just like I did with bird photography. Maybe you’re a landscape photographer, but you're struggling with being inspired to “go out and shoot”. Have you tried macro photography? You can find crazy tiny landscapes with your macro lens without leaving your neighborhood. You could bring artificial light like an LED that you can change colors or a speed light and some gels. Suddenly, a light bulb with go off in your head and you’ll think of a new way of photographing large landscapes because of some weird thing that happened in your backyard.
I used to struggle with shooting outdoor action sports like team roping. But, when I was studying how landscape photographers deal with the ever-changing natural light, I started implementing some of their tactics into my action photos. That was the first time that I had someone tell me that my action photo is like fine art. HAHA. They didn’t really know why they liked it so much, but I knew what I did and I haven’t stopped doing it.
Sometimes, you’re going to need to take a break. Maybe for a few hours, maybe for a few days. You’ll want to get your mind off it and try to find something not related to photography to occupy your mind. Other times though, the best solution is to dig in deep and work through it.
When I got my first strobes it was a struggle to figure out where to put them and how bright to have them and what modifier to use, etc. I let them just sit in their bag and ignored them for a while. Obviously, that didn’t fix my lack of know-how. So, I decided to work through my problems. I started with some objects lying around and began shooting them as much as I could. I experimented with as many settings, angles, and modifiers as I could. I’m sure I haven’t done it all, but I’ve spent some real-time learning on my own without anyone watching so that I could do it right when someone was watching. Lighting an arena is totally different but kinda the same as lighting a person in a studio. I had to learn how by experimenting. There wasn’t much info that I could find on the subject so I experimented myself.
You can get through this. I believe in you. Practice, Practice, Practice. Find a buddy who can help you. Read lots of books! Watch plenty of videos but don’t forget to practice what you read and watch. My favorite saying is “Learn, Make, Repeat”. I think it’s a great way to get out of a funk too. Stimulate your mind by learning and doing, and your future self will thank you.
I’m always here if you need me,