First thing this discussion needs is a little background for reference since not many of you know me... yet :) I have been working for the past 2 years, on the side of my design business, to break into the professional photography market. I have been involved with photography for about 16 years and I have been a graphic designer for over 11 years now. I love my career but there is a little something that twinges in my heart when I take a picture that just doesn't happen for me when I work on a design.
As an aspiring photographer there are some core problems I have identified that I must solve before becoming successful as a full time photographer.
First and foremost of course is technical competence. As a designer I feel I have the creative aspects pretty well covered, composition has always been a focus in my design work. If I am going to excel in all aspects of photography I have to have a sound base in understanding the basics and how they effect the overall results of the image. This has been one of my primary focuses. My resources for study include courses, books, workshops, blogs, magazines and of course lots of practice. I try and learn something new every day and I work to incorporate something I've learned in practice on every shoot.
The next for me is business. If I am going to run a successful business I need to understand contracts, pricing, scheduling, production, fees, resources etc. I will admit that this is the part I am having the most trouble with since the business of photography is so variable but it makes sense for any right brain thinker to have issues with such things. :)
Third is promotion. Portfolio, networking, marketing, advertising, PR all of those things have a part in the success of a business but to get to this point I have realized I need to identify who I am as a photographer and what you want to shoot. This is also a difficult part for me since I enjoy most aspects of this work but I understand the importance of focus, showing a group of work that is all over the board leaves people wondering what you shoot or what you could shoot for them. For me the part that is most hard is just making a choice about such things and then sticking with it and putting your all into it.
Now when it comes to promotion you need a body of work to promote, this is where the FREE comes in. The conversation that was started today I feel is, excuse the pun, right on the money. I struggled for a while with the idea of free work because I didn't know if it meant that I just wasn't good enough yet to charge for my work or if it would open me up to being taken advantage of or probably the biggest for me was being taken seriously as a photographer. I know know that when gone about it in the right way it can be the best way to get to where you want to go.
Now I don't think I'm going to be hanging a sign outside the front of my office that says FREE PHOTOGRAPHY any time soon and that's not what I got from these posts. If you are going to do serious work you need serious people to work with and I agree that taking money out of the equation can open a lot of doors and a lot of ears.
Up until this point I have been doing work for friends and family, from weddings to maternity, portrait sessions and some light advertising work I have gotten a ton of experience without the stress of meeting the expectations that a paid project always brings. Here are a few of my favorites from the past few months...
Now that I have had a chance to build my skill set and hone my technical abilities it's time to start working on that portfolio. This is the time to get out there and do the projects that will make a difference for me as a photographer looking for paid work. For someone in my position FREE just makes good sense, especially since I have my design business to pay the bills. FREE allows me to avoid one of the biggest obstacles in this business and opens a lot of doors that may otherwise not have budged.
The business of photography is different from most and as such it needs to be approached differently. It may not be for everybody but the benefits certainly outweigh the cost if it's done right. The information that David Hobby and Chase Jarvis provide may be hard to swallow for some people but take a moment to read through all of the information and look objectively at what you are doing, try the ideas on and see if any fit before just shrugging it off because you DON'T WORK FOR FREE!
I also want to throw one other idea in there, there was a section in the post about doing something for the community, offering your skill to help an organization or benefit a family, whatever it may be I ask you to think carefully about the things you could do to make an impact, turn your practice time into doing something for the greater good. Reach out wherever you can and don't hide behind thinking you can't make a difference or not having the time. Everyone at every level can have an impact and there are more people out there who need or want help than you probably know. For the longest time I thought about it and did nothing because I was worried about so many things that I know a lot of us as people let get in the way, from time to expectation and beyond there were loads of reasons not too but I finally broke through that because of one simple reason... I can. So far the work i have done in the community has made a small impact on the lives of others but also a big impact on me and I am looking forward to the work I know I will do in my community in the future.
As for me I'm looking forward to my next project, FREE or PAID! A big thanks to David Hobby for starting this conversation, it's really great to see the community that I am growing to be a part of is so active with people who really truly care about the community and their industry. I am passionate about someday making my mark on this industry and I only hope to be able to do it to the extent of the ones I admire and respect. And Chase, you'd better believe that a million and one ideas are swirling through my head right now to send over to you regarding your offer!
Talk to you all soon!