There’s a limit to how long you can make a title and still keep things punchy; what I really wanted it to say was ‘the difference between pros and amateurs: shooting for yourself vs shooting for pay’ or something along those lines. There was a period in late February/ early March of this year where I did pretty much no photography at all for a couple of weeks. I wrote it off as time spent recharging, but the reality is that I think I experienced yet another large shift in mindset – I’m noticing a couple of personal trends, neither of which make me particularly happy:
- I don’t shoot much outside commercial jobs…
- …and when I do, there’s an ever-increasing stylistic gulf between the commercial output and my personal work.
- This is making work, well, feel very much like work rather than creative expression
I’m sure every commercial photographer goes through this at some point or other; it feels like I’m entering a dangerous zone because once you write off any of your output as ‘not representative of me’, then you’re starting to slide down the slippery slope of – I don’t want to call it not caring, but perhaps not going the extra mile. And from there, it’s most certainly a short hop into the not caring pool. Once you enter, I think you can pretty much forget about leaving – though you’ll still be able to make a living from it, I think your professional development hits a brick wall: you really have to continue pushing that extra bit to both keep the gap between personal and paid work small, as well as ensure that you don’t stagnate creatively and get overtaken (which will result in you not being able to make a living from it).
Of course, the tough part is when you have clients that go ‘We all love your work, but the market is still quite conventional, so can we do the industry standard X?’ Don’t get me wrong; though I’m grateful for the work, it does feel a bit like a slap in the face: it just feels odd being hired to do something that doesn’t feel like you.
And here’s the other big gap between amateurs and pros: amateurs shoot for themselves. They receive no income for their work, but neither are they under any obligation to produce something to meet the expectations of others. Pros have to straddle both lines: being amateurs to ensure their creative development continues, and meeting the expectations of others even if they’re completely different to their own. There’s a bit of hyprocisy here too: I’ve frequently been asked to show a portfolio that’s ‘something different’, or invited to bid because they’ve seen my unconventional work, yet when I do so, clients inevitably ask to see the ‘more commercial’ work. If I get hired, it’s always the standard stuff that gets used. All we can do is try our best to work in an extra shot or two. In some ways, that makes me feel quite schizophrenic.
It’s this that makes it much easier for an amateur to pursue artistic purity: they only have to please themselves. The tough part of being an amateur is keeping the motivation and discipline going to keep pushing and keep working, even when there’s no obvious reward. In that sense, I suppose this site is a good example of being in both camps: I write because I want to, and because I only have to satisfy myself – but the corollary is that it isn’t a paid job, and when there’s other, more profitable things I could be doing, it’s tough to justify. Yet I do feel a heavy degree of expectation on the part of the readers to maintain the standard and output. All I can say at this point is enjoy it while it lasts; if I can’t find a long term solution, I don’t know how much longer I can keep doing this.
To be continued. MT
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