We live in interesting times for photography.
Technology has changed the landscape of the craft beyond recognition over the past 5 years. Each new generation of cameras outstrips the models of the previous years by exponential factors. Professional grade RAW video is cheaper than ever. Photography has never been easier to learn, and as a result hundreds of new ‘professionals’ are flooding into the industry, stars in their eyes with the promise of glamor-filled photoshoots. Some of these photographers are terrible. Most of them are decent. Enough of them are phenomenal. There are countless photographers out there better than you, and a scary amount of them are younger than you. Every day that you aren’t shooting photos, thousands of truly awesome photos are being made – and none of them are yours. Everyday that you don’t pick up the camera, that you decide to ‘take a break’, the rest of the photography world surges on ahead of you and without you. Not to mention that technology convergence means that photographers need to learn other disciplines; videography, sound editing, motion control, advanced photoshop techniques, in order to stay relevant. You need to learn all of these things but you don’t have time. Plus you need to stay at the top of your game in the still photography world. And you need to take into account that people who are younger, more talented and hungrier than you are going to take your hard-won territory away. What a dizzying field of competition we find ourselves in. What insurmountable heights that we struggle to overcome. Photography is difficult, and getting more difficult everyday. Five years in this business and I’ve never been able to relax once, despite being a ‘free’lancer.
Holy shit right? Makes me question my why I tried so hard to get in this industry in the first place. Sure, it was partly for the love of it. But another part of me thinks that I just wanted to prove that I could. Well, I proved it alright, and now I’m stuck with it, for better or for worse. I didn’t have a backup plan when I started down this path – I don’t have any other skills. If my wings fail me I don’t have a parachute to guide me down safely. Either way here I am, and the struggle to stay afloat in this industry and stay ahead of my competition looks like it will be mine for the rest of my life. I’ll never be able to simply leave my work at work. I’ll never be able to just appreciate a great photo without feeling like I just got my ass whipped. The irony is not lost. The idea of being able to set my own hours and be my own boss seemed nice when I first got into this business, but it doesn’t seem like that anymore. Set your own hours? HAHAHAHA. You never stop working. Not if you want to lose ground in an epic fashion.
So, you photographers, like me, who have just stepped into this industry with high hopes of making it, I have one question to ask you; Are you having fun yet?
Well, ARE YOU HAVING FUN YET?
Because fuck it, you’d better be having fun right? If you’re not having fun, then you should probably get a different job; one with health insurance benefits, a pension, other things that are useful in living your life. As freelance photographers in an oversaturated market it’s so easy to get lost in the ratrace of social networking, self-promotion, image licensing issues, declining editorial rates that we forget. to. have. fun. Sometimes you just need to hang out with your friends and shoot something just for the heck of it. Why else did we try so hard to get into this industry? Well – for me at least – it was for the lulz. And I try not to lose sight of that when I pick up the camera in my spare time these days.
Here are photos from a fairly recent test shoot I did recently with a bunch of people I usually hang out with. These photos aren’t going to rock any art director’s world. Thematically it doesn’t really fit in with the rest of my work, and the premise for the shoot was very loose. Personally I feel that it lacks focus and the only reason why the photos work is because my model is a superstar. Does this mean I wasted my time with this test shoot? Hell no. Here’s a truncated list why:
1. I got to hang out with my friends and eat pizza (mmm pizza)
2. I’m more familiar with what my makeup artist can do and how long it takes
3. I now know that three speedlights in a Lastolite tri-flash is a decent substitute for a beauty dish as a key light in a pinch
4. Also – you can’t plug a 900v smoke machine into a Profoto Batpac and expect it to work for more than a minute
5. I learned a Vagabond battery can power my Einstein and a 500W Profoto D1 at the same time
6. Lighting a scene with a single strongly gelled red flash isn’t as dumb as it sounds
7. The PLM mount for the Einstein glued to a $10 saucer from Tokyu Hands makes a great prop satellite dish
8. Did I mention pizza?
All this stuff above is really the icing on the cake after a fun day of shooting photos and reaffirming that I love this craft and love working with like-minded people. Learning something is an inevitable bonus every time you do a test shoot. Getting a sweet photo for your book is an unexpected joy. But not getting one shouldn’t take away your enjoyment of simply making images. If you are having fun, know that you aren’t losing in this business. You may not be winning, but you sure as hell are not losing.
As Zack Arias said in this video, we aren’t curing cancer with a camera. I try to keep that in mind when I head out to shoot. I might shoot something awesome tomorrow – I might even start to feel I can relax into this job. But in the meantime, I sure as hell am gonna have some lulz.