I’ve noticed a progression seemingly common to the photographers with whom I come in contact. As they grow in their art, their craft, and their passion (Note: Not everyone grows in all three), there seems to be a few obligatory stops along the way.
Step One: I take pictures because I enjoy it
“I like taking pictures!”
Most of us start off in Photography because we find it fun. There is an innate satisfaction in holding a camera and taking a picture. Seeing an image you’ve captured yourself is extremely empowering. Memories are yours to capture. You are taking pictures for you, documenting your experiences, bottling memories and linking yourself to places and times past. But then something happens: Enter the “other”.
Step Two: I take pictures because others tell me I should
“Everyone says I should be a photographer!”
Perhaps by chance, perhaps by deliberate intent, one of your images is shown to someone else. Encouragement ensues and you might become a little inflated. Inevitably somebody tells you, “You take great pictures, you should be a photographer.” This is the worst thing anyone can tell you. What they, and you, don’t realize is that you already area photographer. What they reallymean is you should start charging for your photography. (Unless they want a picture) You might laugh it off and merely walk off with an inflated ego but in the back of your mind something has changed. Suddenly the approval of others is paramount. You start to share your pictures more, show them to friends, and, eventually, even – dare I say… strangers? Approval, likes and stars suddenly become important. Comments, shares and pins start to intrude upon the reasons for your photography.
Intermission: Steps Three and Four sometimes occur in order, reverse order or simultaneously.
Step Three: I take pictures for my peers
“I took second place in the year-end judging!”
When you venture out seeking adulation from the world at large, you learn, either abruptly through some harsh but well-meaning curmudgeon on the internet, or through the examination of your own work next to others that you have some photographic chops to earn. You start to attend classes, go to photography clubs, take workshops, and grow both your craft and your art. You begin to read manuals in-depth, subscribe to magazines, you, dare I say it, submit your images for critiques and photographic contests. You are still in your sharing stage but now you do it to satisfy your peers instead of your friends, and their urgent need to help a budding photographer along the path as they see it. The uncontrollable desire of some photogs to mentor a protégé is intoxicating.
Step Four: I take pictures for Money!
“I made 250.00 for shooting that wedding that cost me nothing and only took a week to process!”
Either concurrently, preceding or following Step Three, you take the plunge, hang out your shingle and attempt to charge people for your skill and knowledge. Here a lot of people hit the wall. Now they have to produce on-demand, repeatedly and satisfy a paying customer. Photography ceases to be fun and becomes work. The euphoria of easy money passes quickly and the hard reality of just how difficult quality photography can be hits you. Passion wanes and your photography stagnates as you struggle to find a middle ground that satisfies your need to create and your need to monetize your craft.
Step Five: I take pictures for ME!
“I used to enter contests too but who needs another ribbon?”
One morning you wake up, grab your camera and head out more out of habit than desire. Something happens: Bigfoot appears, an eagle grasps a fawn right in front you, a giant meteor streaks across your sunrise or you take an exquisite photo of a dew-covered flower. A spark inside is rekindled. You decide to continue to grow your skills and stretch beyond your limitations. Your images improve. Though you know it, you don’t feel the need to share as much-unless it is your knowledge.
When you started on the journey you began by taking pictures for yourself and ended up in the same place in spite of all the distractions of adoring – yet ignorant fans, well-meaning camera buddies, rabid clients, and the rest that comes with your wanting to be a photographer. Once you’ve come full circle and returned to taking pictures for yourself is the moment where your true adventure with photography begins.
Rikk Flohr © 2012