As a photographer in Avon, Connecticut I have been reaching out to parents through my portraits website and to brides in Connecticut through my wedding photography website. I have volunteered my time, offered numerous portrait sessions for silent auctions and even photographed the Cub Scouts troop in town. All this to say, I am not going any where and I want to put roots down right where I live.
On March 23, I am going to join a group of other professionals in my town present to a select group of Avon High School students. Our presentations are meant to spark an interest in them for what we do, so that they may some day down the road do what we do now. And yes, the half-day program is called SPARK.
“Students will be exposed to a variety of topics beyond the usual classroom fare. The goal of the workshops is to introduce students to a wide variety of interesting topics; a day of exploring something new they may have an interest in learning more about or perhaps even finding a career or hobby.”
For the presentation, I plan on going back and giving the students a quick look at how I started in this business. I’ll even go into my WHY. Slideshows are an obvious choice to get them engaged in what I will be talking about.
But I am here to ask for your help:
What should I impart to the students? What do you consider the most important thing that students, who are 14 through 18 years of age, going to need to know from a working professional about photography?
I need your help. In the comments section below, please take a moment and pen two suggestions. If you see someone else suggest something you had in mind, that’s fine. Still, tell me. I figure if more people feel the same about a topic that must be addressed at this point and time, then I better hop to it.
So, can I count on you? I want to hear from photographers of all genres, if possible. I would love to understand your perspective on these questions.
Look, I value your time. In return for your suggestions below, you’ll be entered (one entry per person only) into a drawing for one of two books by Jerod Foster called, Storytellers: A Photographer’s Guide To Developing Themes and Creating Stories With Images.
The two best commenters (and their suggestions) win the two books that Jerod so generously offered to my audience. I’ll decide on the winners by Thursday, March 22 at 3 p.m. EST.
Are you in? I am really looking forward to your input. With your help on March 23rd, it will be less MY presentation and more OUR presentation. Thank you!
First of all I wish I had a passionate photography teacher who did things like this and actually explained the business side of photography. Granted I didn’t know I would be trying to start a photography business later in life, it still would have been helpful knowledge.
One thing, personally, that I wish I knew back then was how to manage money. I am doing that now but wish I had that knowledge at the beginning, especially when starting a business.
My second piece of advise is the in-person connections they will need to make. I see a lot of teens out there testing and on the computer but can’t hold a conversation. That’s not to say all teens are like that but in a highly digital/connected world even adults are falling in that trap. Face to face interaction is where the customer really develops their emotional response to what you do. Make it a good experience. That is what I have found in my own time working retail.
Best of luck in the presentation. Sounds like fun!
Will – Great advice. Thank you for taking the time to pen your thoughts. I hope more of our colleagues will follow suit.
I would also talk about the business aspect of it, maybe in the context of more general freelance/self employment background. Not sure how deep you can go though without losing their attention. When I have talked with kids they seem curious about how to make a living in general terms, but this could easily get pretty intense. One angle might to put into context the number of billable hours in a year (2000 work house for a 40 hour week, and the reality that freelancers need to price their time based on 1000 billable hours), and all the expenses they have to cover with that income.
I also liked Paul Lester’s assignment at IU to keep a journal of things we overheard other people saying. Part of being aware of what was happening around us.
A Krishnam Raju says
Please explain them the importance of ‘Appreciating’ people in all walks of life. Explain them what is beautiful and what is being beautiful from inside. Please also team them to appreciate life. Photography is not just about taking photographs of pleasant things and beautiful people. Photography is about capturing life. Please explain them how photography can change lives of the photographer and also those who are being photographed. I recommend to take through them GMB Akash’s photos as well?
Also I think it will be good if you don’t ask them to take up photography as a serious profession by looking at pro photographs. An individual becomes a full time photography with time and its a responsibility and its not give an take business. Its more than that.
oops! I just read other suggestions and I’m going out of way ;)
First, great comments everyone… spot on.
Second, I’d add to the chorus of the business side of things. I has a full career in business before photography took over as my full time job. My background in business, and falling back on other skills when income streams were low has kept me in the photographic game. I personally believe that if you love something (photography, or any career choice) then you need to back it up with supplementary skill sets, money management, and hard work that will keep you behind the camera in the long run.
See everyone else’s comments for more great truth in that area!
Secondly, I’d say learn to love people and give back (I know, how hippy of me). Im serious though. My favorite part of my job is networking, getting to know people in real life and sharing some life with them – both away from the camera and behind it! Photography is a great tool for that – but if you miss the human element you are missing out on so so much.
People. people. people. If you are great to people, value friendship, give back, build *real* relationships the business breaks will end up falling your way, I believe.
Lastly, don’t take yourself to seriously…
Good luck and Cheers!
I love the 2 themes running through the comments – people + business. I would add to that passion.
It’s much easier to make money when you’re passionate about people and the art/craft of photography. The key question any high school/college kid should be asking themselves is what am I really passionate about? What do I love? What do I want to spend my time doing & pursuing?
Answering those questions will take them quite a ways in life (whether it has anything to do with photography or not).
Justin Van Leeuwen says
I think talking to kids how things “are” is great, but what will really get them listening, and possibly inspired, is to talk about the future – what THEY are going to do.
The best thing is we don’t know, we don’t know what the business will be, if business will be business, what the next internet will be – their entire lives will depend on their ability to adapt and change and keep learning. Stories of photographers complaining about digital, complaining about the internet will probably get them interested, and tell them, in a similar way, they will be faced with change, and they will have to adapt or die.
I’m a big fan of blacking out the slideshow, of focusing the attention on the speaker, anyone can read a slideshow – they don’t need someone to read it for them – so make sure you re-capture their attention with a focus on you, the speaker, providing dynamic and fun information.
That there is a VAST difference between being a photographer and owning a photography business. Being a photographer involves shooting, lighting, composition, working with models or products, being on set, being outdoors, taking art direction etc.
Owning a photography business is about business, marketing, sales, accounting, customer service, strategic planning, advertising, working with vendors, graphic design, people skills, and some photography too.
Second thing-that photography is a career with great personal rewards and smaller financial rewards. This is not a career for those who are interested in making good money as a primary factor in their job satisfaction. I would say this is not so much a judgement of good or bad, but a statement of the facts, so people can make their own decision. I would highlight some favorite “personal satisfaction” moments as well as some financial realities (when I was a teen I pictured a $50k salary as the end all be all, imaging myself driving a new honda accord and living in a gorgeous condo, being able to take nice vacations and wear nice clothes. It turned out to be quite far from reality, living in California Plus I didn’t realize how little you actually end up with after taxes!)
Aaron Hockley says
If I were to speak to high school students about the world of professional photography, I’d approach it from two angles.
The first is the business angle. Running a photography business, like any small business, is going to be a mixture of pleasure and pain. Pleasure in that you have the freedom to set the direction for your business. Pain in that you’ll need to spend lots of time on business-y things like finances, marketing/advertising, and other items not directly related to working with clients. Most photographers spend more time on the business than they do behind the camera.
The second angle is the creative side. This is the “fun” part, where a photographer can create an interesting portrait, or travel and make a nice landscape image, or light and shoot an advertisement for a corporate client. The creative side of photography is amazing and offers great opportunities depending on one’s interests. If you relate well with people, you might enjoy wedding photography and being able to spend a day with a bride to create images that preserve and enhance the memories of the most important day of her life. If you prefer being alone, maybe you’d enjoy travel to interesting landscapes where you can make beautiful images among nature. Perhaps you find the world of advertising and publishing fascinating and you’d make a great commercial photographer who can help a company or brand tell its story using amazing images.
The other thing I’d address is that of gear, and how unimportant it is when it comes to making great images. This is a message that I wish all new photographers would hear (and wished it had been made clearer to me when I was beginning). You don’t need the latest and greatest electronics to make interesting images. Get out there and shoot. Get an entry-level DSLR (even a used one) and experiment with composition, lighting, posing, and working with people. This is *far* more important than having the latest camera or flash.
Anne Ruthmann says
I would do a series of If/Than statements about photographers. Like: If you are compelled to document every new thing in your life, you might be a photographer. If you wait for just the perfect timing before you click to take a picture, you might be a photographer. If you climb a steep hill just to get a better view, you might be a photographer. If people ask you to bring your camera when you go out with them, you might be a photographer. If you think reflections and shadows are interesting, you might be a photographer. If you love to people watch, you might be a photographer. If you take pictures of all your meals with your phone, you might be a photographer. ;-)
The most important thing that they need to know is that they don’t need a DSLR to make a good photograph..that they should work on the composition, the art and the skills of photography and when they master all of these, they can get into the nitty gritty of hi end cameras. To be honest, DSLR’s just restrict the spontaneity of photography because of the bulk and multiple lenses.
Michael Howard says
I’d communicate a few things.
1) The realities of running a business. I’d intentionally burst the idealistic bubble that they’ve created in their heads for what a career in photography looks like.
2) I’d emphasize how the photography landscape has changed the past decade and that we are in uncharted territory. Only leaders, brave souls will survive.
3) They need to learn the history of photography. Where it came from and who the masters of photography are.
4) To start simple, keep it a hobby until they know for sure they want to make it a career, and that vision rules the future not technology.
5) To do what they love and not what gets them a million likes, comments on social networks.
6) The more you know about the world in general the better photographer you are. The greater your curiosity the better artist you will become.
Sephi Bergerson says
Insistent, Persistent and Consistent!
Great initiative Seshu, however I would go about it slightly different. Yes, the educational part about photography is important and wonderful but the best service you can do to any aspiring photographer is to try and talk him/her out of it! Some of the people that commented above had already mentioned the huge difference between taking pictures and running a business in photography. It has always been difficult but today even more so with te amount of crap being produced by people owning digital camera and taking pictures in return for a byline in the paper. Talk them out of it and if one student out of the lot decides that despite the fact that you discourage him from going into the business he/she still feels that they have no choice but to follow this path then maybe, and only maybe they have what it takes to start in this field. It takes a lot more than tallant to become a photographer. The magic three words that need to be a part of the ‘operating system’ of an aspiring photographer are Insistent, Persistent and Consistent! Nothing else will do!
Love it, Anne. Thank you for your contribution here and also on your own awesome website, Photolovecat.com
Jim – this is so true! “Without communicating, without asking questions & without listening… you may as well leave your lens cap on.” Thank you for your honest appraisal of what photography should be.
Ned – thank you for chiming in. Being honest and real is what I do best. I’ll couch it in words that make sense to them. I agree – we can make a living at this, but it takes work. So much myth surrounds the industry that I am ready to bust some up. [grin]
“Photography is a SERVICE business model based on connection, abundance and growth.” I am stealing this for my presentation, Jeff. This is spot on. Thanks for mentioning it here.
Kevin – man, you are such an inspiration to me. In some respects, I think of you first as a teacher. I so enjoyed your presentation at the CTPPA convention this year. You make some great points and I’ll be sure to highlight your last sentence. That photography can empower them to make positive contributions is such a salient point. Thank you for honoring me with your comment here.
Lara, I agree, giving the students a dose of reality is a must. Several others have highlighted the need to talk about this being a business that can serve them and others and I have to say it is possible to have it all with some planning. Thank you for your comment.
Justin – I’ll take your presentation approach to heart. Your input here and on Twitter is always so refreshing man. Thank you!
Your point about finding a mentor is golden. Thank you for that. I’ll be sure to mention it. Thanks for your comment here Yusuf!
In some regard, WHAT are you passionate about and WHY are both important questions to answer, right? And you are right. Those answers don’t come overnight. Sometimes experiences help us answer those questions for us.
Ah, so the ETHICS behind photography then? Good point as well. Thank you, Sree. Steal all you want! [grin]
So much of our success these days (especially with social media) depends on how we treat each other online or in person. Your comment has inspired me to re-read Tim Sanders’ book, Love Is The Killer App (http://seshu.me/GJqWL2), which talks about being a “lovecat” – essentially to go out of our way to help people … all the time.
Thanks for your suggestions. I’ll definitely show them the two sites you mentioned.
Going to go check out that book now. It’s such a great concept and one that I’ve found is much more enriching to my life that just focusing on being a great photographer (which is very very important also).
But here’s the thing, not everyone is a photographer but everyone is a human who responds well to respect, love, and a person acting kindly towards them. I personally believe that’s the precursor to being an exceptional cultural photographer. Engage someone on the human level first, and then you’ll find the photographer side of things comes much much easier.
Thanks again for this post!