An Honest Recollection of my Journey.
I get asked a lot how I got here, there’s no simple one answer but here’s a little story about it.
A quick step back in time…
My interest in photography started when I was about 12 years old, probably younger but I don’t remember that far back. My dad had a collection of old cameras sitting on the book case and I was fascinated. I would always play with them when no one was looking, I’d even built a camera shop out of Lego I was quite proud of.
Fast forward a decade, I had mucked around with 35mm film, learnt how to develop my black and white on a budget and had a pretty decent collection of negatives I never did anything with other than hold them up to the light every now and then. I’d now had my first child and decided it was time to buy a fancy digital camera, after not much homework I decided on a Canon 1000D twin lens kit (big time player now…)
A year later I was asked to shoot my first wedding, a friend of a friend, you know the story. I said ok sure. $500 later I delivered a set that the clients liked, and I thought were pretty good. Looking back now… not so much. I think the files actually deleted themselves in attempt to save the embarrassment.
But it did start a fire inside me. I was excited to be a part of the day. I’ve always been a hopeless romantic and watching the love unfold, the tears and happiness was almost overwhelming. I was hooked—from here it’s pretty much just an obsession and I’ve had an epic journey of failures and successes. Here’s some of the stages as I remember.
The “I need a better camera to take better photos” stage
I think every photographer has gone through this stage, more than once. We decide that our photos need to get better, but we blame camera gear instead of ourselves. After spending a few thousand dollars my photos were pretty much the same mediocre crap but sharper and more in focus. Stage confirmed, waste of time.
Don’t get me wrong, what I do now and the images I create are much better because of the gear I use, so gear does matter, but If I used that Canon 1000D for a wedding tomorrow the photos would still be much better, and If I had my Sony A9 with the amazing prime lenses I have now for that first wedding, they would definitely be sharper but they would still be mediocre photos!
Next comes the “I’m pretty good now and I don’t need advice from anyone” stage
Or the “Denial” stage I’ll call it. This is a common theme I’ve noticed in “Intermediate” level Photographers, someone that’s been shooting for a year or two and has developed the Photographer’s Ego. See, beginners want to learn, and Professionals want to learn but there is definitely something in between where you just think you have it sorted.
I thought I was much better than I was, but I didn’t have many mentors at this stage and everything I was learning was on my own. I wasn’t aware of Facebook groups or YouTube tutorials yet. I had an eye for photography, but my processing sucked, no other way to say it!
The “Wow, I really suck, how do I do it like that dude” stage
This was a HUGE step in my career. I’d shot a few weddings by now and while they were much better than the first one they were still fairly average.
I’d looked around online and discovered all these amazing photographers, I wanted to know everything. How did they do that!?
I started trying to edit like these other photographers in a ditch effort to copy, which is a mistake and again a common one. One of the battles is finding your own style, which takes a long time but it’s all part of the adventure. Your clients will hire you based on your individual style and who you are, not just on price. – (Wish I knew that earlier)
I met one Photographer who told me something I tell everyone I coach now… “You need to pay attention to light, shadows, try and find light where it stands out” amongst a few other harsh truths I had a new drive to get better and I spent the next year or two capturing light rather than just snapping photos, sounds like a line but it’s true, look for shadows and light as well as composition. Take your time and scan your eye around the frame before you start firing off shots.
I got more comfortable in myself and my style, I was still a little all over the place with editing, going through the “Matte look” amongst others (selective colour, so embarrassing) but never the less I’d started getting lots of referrals and my clients were happy.
After a quick (not that quick) phase of spending ALL my money on gear stage again, I’d now become an established photographer, I was still working full time and shooting weddings on the weekends, but had no trouble booking weddings.
Woah hang on! But how did you get established??
Well to be honest I’m not 100% sure, but I am sure it’s a lot of just doing a good job, making your clients happy, a little under promising and over delivering and a little faking it till you make it. But to get to this point it’s very much a stick-it-out-and-keep-going-until-you-get-there attitude.
A lot of “photographers” get into this game and expect it to just take off, sometimes people get lucky, sometimes people are just so good that it happens, I was not one of those people…
“This is it”
I decided to stop f**king around and just take what I wanted: to be a real ‘professional photographer’. I spent the next year learning how to market myself, started a Facebook page, and just got amongst it, networking like a champion!
To make it, you must have the drive, you must just do everything you can to take what you want. No one will give it to you, end of story.
I paid for advertising on Facebook and Google AdWords and tried to get my work out there. But if there’s one thing that’s got me more work than anything else, it’s overwhelmingly referrals, happy clients and impressing guests at weddings with a fun outgoing personality.
The more you shoot the more you get, and after a season of 35 weddings I’d had so many inquiries I was referring jobs on to other photographers more than taking them.
Now I take photos for a living, and I got to say it’s actually the best job in the world… I mean people say that all the time but it’s true, I travel, I party, I witness love and families coming together, tears and laughter, I tell stories with my camera and I’m so thankful to all my clients (friends really).
You’d think that was it, but there’s one more stage… and I’m sure more to come.
Just this year, I had gotten to a level where I knew my work was good, but it was missing something, I felt like a photographer, but not an ‘artist’. Whatever that means. I wanted to grow more— and I still do—and I know that will never stop.
I sat down with a well-respected artist who I admire and asked straight up, “what am I missing?”
I don’t think it was anything specific, but I had a ‘wow’ moment after our chat and again, things have changed, I found another new burst of energy and excitement and the beginning of this year’s season has started with a massive bang!
One of the things he told me… “Without emotion there is nothing” and it’s true, the photo can be grainy, it can be imperfect, but if there’s emotion that’s all people care about, concentrate on the love and the moments, take your time, slow down and just be in the moment.
The journey continues, and I’m so excited.