Continued from part one.
I’m wondering where the happy medium between the pro and amateur camp lies; the pro has to be both, and the amateur wants to be a pro (usually) – until reality intervenes. It’s too easy for pros to slip into the ‘shoot only for pay’ mindset, and lose their sense of personal style and creative edge – which is probably what made them successful in the first place. And by the same token, it’s easy enough for amateurs to get a little paid work here and there, and either be disillusioned about how easy it is to make a living out of it, or not realize that doing too much of something can take the joy out of things very quickly. (If you haven’t already, I’d recommend reading my advice for photographers thinking of turning pro.)
The period of non-shooting got me thinking: I need to spend some time being an amateur, doing work for myself, and then find some way of linking that into my commercial work so that the two don’t diverge too far. I suppose there has to be commercial potential in the personal work that elements of style could translate over into something people would pay for. Or perhaps this is a load of bull: personal work should reflect the personality and thoughts of the individual, and those are never the same as those of the corporate, therefore making it impossible. The short conclusion is, I just don’t know. But I’d like to figure it out, because it doesn’t feel natural for me to be two different photographers most of the time.
I’m finding of late that there are some jobs I just have to turn down because they don’t make sense from a creative standpoint; there’s no point doing them for referrals or portfolio, because those aren’t the kinds of subjects I want to shoot; I just don’t have any affinity to them, or the market here is already a bit of a disaster. (We’re talking events and portraits – get known for the wrong thing, and it’s very easy to have your career pigeonholed and limited in this country.) The frustrating thing of course is that I do need the work, but I don’t think it’s worth taking the long term career risk. After all, the whole point of attempting photography as a career was to avoid having to do things I disliked; if I’m going to sell out, I might as well do it to the highest bidder.
In mid-March, I was in Japan for a few days. Originally, I’d intended to use the time to test and review some cameras both for this site and other partners; coincidentally, the timing on all of those fell through, which meant that I was pretty much free to do as I pleased. In hindsight, it was probably a good thing because I was quickly approaching the point of being jaded and just generally uninterested in shooting. I brought the Hasselblad, wandered around, made some images, and for the first time in ages (at least until I went back to the hotel to deal with the usual daily email deluge) felt that I was actually taking a break – both creatively and personally. It sounds odd, but up to this point, I don’t think I’d fully appreciated the value of a holiday – in both the ‘you’re-not-working’ sense and the mental freedom associated with it. (Or perhaps I’d always just had the kind of job which comes with a Blackberry and the expectation that you’re always on call for some sort of PowerPoint emergency*.)
*I think the blinking red light on top was specifically designed to condition a Pavlovian response to new email, and have people working 24/7. It’s the modern form of a handcuff. The one thing I like about the iPhone is that I can choose when I read my mail.
One recent job – still in progress pending some other products being complete and ready for documentation – allowed me to converge the two. I’m glad I had the opportunity to work with this client, because I was given complete creative carte blanche. Admittedly, several things made me nervous – the style, the use of film for a commercial job, the anxiety of not knowing if they’d like the results – but I’m pleased to report so far, so good. Perhaps there is a commercial future for me in convergence after all. That reminds me, it’s probably about high time I updated the portfolio again to reflect what I’m doing now.
To the amateurs: Photograph so long as you enjoy it. When it becomes a chore, stop. There’s no point because you’re not going to produce something you like that way.
To the pros: Remember to take time out, and yes, we have to make a living out of this, but in the long run if you’re photographing as somebody else: it’s not sustainable.
Visit our Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including Photoshop Workflow DVDs and customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!
Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved