This Angela Pointon‘s first blog post as a regular contributor to Tiffinbox. Please welcome her by reading her article and posting your thoughts in the comments section below. Her book, “The Art of a Photography Business” is coming soon. Follow Angela on Twitter.
It was a cold evening in May. The wind was whipping and the chill on my skin felt like needles. Being outside was painful. It was that night that I decided to slide my film SLR into the frigid nylon interior of my camera bag. I didn’t know it would be the last time I saw it, and I didn’t know that, after that night, I wouldn’t touch another camera for 12 years.
That evening was the nightfall of a best friend’s wedding. I put my camera bag down to hug the happy couple and wish them well, and when I went to look for it a few minutes later, it was gone. For all of you who’ve had equipment stolen, you know how much that sucks. As a photographer, I firmly believe you build a relationship with your tools. You work with them for so long, that you instinctively know the clicking sound they make and the idiosyncrasies about them… almost as if you’re in an extended love affair together.
But getting my camera stolen was only the kick off of my hiatus away from capturing images. I certainly could have bought a replacement. But I didn’t.
Here are my real reasons for putting down my camera …
I just could not comprehend how a photography career would support me both financially and as a professional. I remember taking one business class in undergraduate school where they loosely talked about why you need a contract, why you should become an LLC and stuff like that. They never discussed the how, but they definitely discussed the why (and it was scary to my young 21 year-old self).
I couldn’t connect the dots between photography and how it would support me. I decided I didn’t want to live in Manhattan after working there and commuting back and forth from Philadelphia for about a year. I was taught that NYC was where you had to be if you wanted to make it. Social media was non-existent, film, chemicals and a darkroom or very expensive lab were the only options, and the upfront costs for launching my own photo business seemed ridiculously daunting, risky and doomed.
The photography program I attended had some bold, many times harsh, professors. Critiques were conducted with the intention of “preparing students for the harsh words that clients would definitely be using”. In other words, the variety of climaxes involved in the various classes I took (i.e. when you were showing your work) were structured to prepare you for a lifetime of rejection, insults and “truth”. As a very positive person, this sounded like a life of pure hell.
At the time, I just wasn’t ready. I knew I had a ton more to learn about business and there was something else waiting for me to discover and fall in love with. I spent three years in graduate school earning my MBA and studying the art and science behind marketing. After that, I spent seven years at a marketing agency practicing it for hundreds of million dollar businesses, so that I could learn from mistakes that didn’t cost me as a professional. I’ve watched what it takes to massively succeed, and I’ve watched what it takes to fail.
I bought a digital SLR the month before my first son was born. I read the instruction manual, understood about 25% of it and started shooting again. It made a different sound. Not nearly as nostalgic as my film SLR’s clunk when the shutter snapped open, but I got used to it. Admittedly, I still don’t understand all of its functionality, but, then again, I don’t aspire to, really. I don’t enjoy thinking about technical details. I much prefer thinking about what I was trained to think about: design, composition, color and light. I’m old school, using a new school device.
I wanted to tell you my story of photography, because it drove what I do today. With so much negativity from outside forces, I put down my camera for 12 very long years. And no one reading this should ever resolve to do that. I am here to motivate, inspire, nudge, inform, cheer on, support and otherwise applaud you every day. Getting notes and comments of thanks is your support back to me to keep this bubble of positivity growing.
For those of you who never put your camera down … you are my heroes. For those of you who are pondering putting it down, wondering how you’ll survive with so many photographers and often times feel like just throwing in the towel … I believe there is great hope for you.
My grandma, who gave me my first camera, a Kodak 110 with the disposable flash cubes that blew up with each shot, believed that anything was possible if you worked hard at it. In her mind, good things rarely came easy. The best things came with sweat and toughness (and a soft rabbit’s foot in the pocket for luck couldn’t hurt, either).
I know I’m just about the only one out there, but I actually believe this is an incredible time to be a photographer. The photography community is beginning to grow together, share information and get stronger as a collective group. People are challenged to work smarter and think differently. The free or drastically underpriced photographers will not prevail. They aren’t sharing and they are structuring their businesses in a highly unsustainable manner. They won’t last.
History favors the boldest and fiercest. I’ll be the one cheering you on.
Desi Traveler says
A beautiful post, reminded me why I stopped clicking with my SLR for many years ( the film processing was a pain) and only after many years I got a point and shoot, before migrating to an DSLR. Your grand mom was absolutely right and must have been a hard worker herself to understand the same.
Randy Kepple says
I’ve been shooting professionally for almost 25 years now. I’ve had to survive the transition from film, darkrooms and polaroid to the constantly shifting digital paradigm. When I started, there were always the old guys who would lament and chastise and do everything in their power to tear you down. Much like you said. And I’ve tried NOT to be that guy.
I volunteer every year at a local high school for career day. Professionals from the community show up and talk about their careers and give advice on what the best path is for young people. My presentation has grown to two classes. And I know more than anyone, the struggles we all face. The pressures of the market and the flood of new talent. We are all in this together. I have to keep telling myself that it’s NOT my place to take away someone’s dream. So what I tell these students is get the best education you can, work hard, never judge where/who you are by those around you. Shoot as if no one is watching, but most importantly… learn how to run a business. That will serve you no matter what you choose to do in life! Welcome back!
Thank you so much, Desi :)
Thanks so much, Randy! I loved your comments and whole heartedly agree! Congrats to you on being such a positive influence on photography’s youth.
As a newcomer to the photography industry, it is comforting to know that everyone; especially seasoned pros, fight through the doubts and fears to continue to pick up the camera. I am currently fighting the doubts and fears as I am just starting by business. Thank you for being open about it, it gives me hope and encourages me to share more as well.
Thank you so much for the comment, Will! Things are really scary for everyone… even the veterans. In fact, Jeremy Cowart, someone who I admire very much, just posted this to his FB today. I think when people offer up raw honesty it helps everyone realize we are all very much the same. Here’s what he posted (in case you missed it!):
When I look at my own work, there are 2 voices that I hear:
The insecure one says “you suck and you’re unoriginal. Anyone can do this.”
The confident one says “See? You’ve done it before. You can do it again.”
This tension has always existed.
Scott R. Bush says
Great read! I first picked up a camera, a digital one, in 2000, as I prepared for a trip to Europe with my girlfriend. I got hooked! Read, read, read, practiced, practiced and practiced. Was thankful in 2003 when I was laid-off from my corporate job and hit the streets as a pro photographer. Had great success as a wedding photographer in Northern NJ. Opened up a studio to get more work and get out of the house (very hard to work from home with 2 young kids). Now, I hardly pick up a camera. As fast as the success came, as fast as the struggles went. Became hard financially (around 2009), tough lifestyle (always working on weekends with a family) and the health scare of a lifetime (I had a heart attack at 35). So I decided to get out of it. Been a tough road to find another job (I worked for a year and a half at a company but am unemployed now – for 6 months…UGH!). But I don’t regret it one bit.
Running a photo business is tough! Running a small business by yourself is just as tough! I’ve made a lot of great connections, learned a lot about myself, the business, photography, etc. But If I had to do it all over again, I would have stayed as an amatuer. Don’t get me wrong. I love photography and still love it. But its tough financially, tough on the family and tough life. I like a balanced lifestyle. So it was an easy sacrifice. I actually love photography more know as I don’t feel that pressure of needing a sale from a shoot or will they buy a good amount.
And I’m falling in love with film! I’ve never really shot it but over the years I accumulated a lot that pros didn’t want because it has been sitting there in their fridge for ever. Just last week I shot the last of my Polaroid Type 55’s on my Crown Graphic. Love the slow process of a 4×5. And over the past 2-3 years, used my mentors Hasselblad (hands down the best camera, feel and process of any camera I’ve used, including DSLRs). And my personal goal for 2013 is to develop my own film. Never been in a darkroom and want to do it and see the joy in creating my own photos.
You can make a living doing photography but you need help and have to be really strong. I’m happy to be a part-timer and keep my joy of it!