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Dear New Photographer,
How’s your day going? I hope it’s going well. Take any cool photos lately? Good to hear it!
Anyway, the reason I’m writing you is because I want to say I’m sorry. Sorry for how you’re so often treated by “the industry”. Other photographers. The “pros”.
I know you love photography, and are excited to start making your photo dreams come true. You may have worked up the courage to email your favourite shooters asking for advice. Or maybe you posted your questions online. And you might have been met with a cold shoulder. Possibly even dismissed and mocked. Or criticized. Called a “newbie”. Blamed for “ruining the industry” and making it hard for others to make a living.
And that sucks. It really does. No one deserves to have their dreams dashed. No one.
I hope you know that it’s not personal. I mean, they don’t even know you. They don’t know how long you’ve planned this, how much you care about this, how hard you plan to work, or how happy it makes you. They don’t remember how scary it was to jump in. To make that decision to go for it. If they did, maybe they wouldn’t be so quick with the mockery. Maybe they’d actually see themselves in you.
But it’s all too easy to forget that stuff.
For one thing, these photographers are busy. Really, really busy. To run a successful business takes a LOT of work, and they’ve sacrificed countless evenings with friends, weekends off, and general relaxing-fun-time in order to make their dreams happen. Going for years without summer weekends is enough to make anyone a bit cranky. Trust me.
And if they’ve been in business for a while, they’ve probably started getting emails on a weekly (or daily!) basis from new photographers, asking for answers to questions, or to shadow them while they shoot.
Maybe at first they were flattered. Someone thought they were good enough to want their opinion! But trust me, that wears off quickly when you find yourself spending hours answering the same questions over and over while your client work keeps piling up.
So don’t feel bad if they can’t answer your questions, or let you tag along. Like I said, it has nothing to do with you. They’re just crazy busy, and their clients have to come first. (That’s a key to a successful business, by the way. Write that one down.)
Oh, and if they do answer some questions for you, please make sure you thank them profusely. Send them a gift card for a cup of coffee or something. Show them how much you value their time. Because soon, when you’re neck deep in client work, you’ll realize just how important time is.
Now, regarding the name calling, and the finger pointing for “ruining the industry”. Y’know, I think on some level the pros are quite jealous of you. No seriously. Let me explain.
Photography has changed dramatically in recent years. Photographers used to have to invest thousands and thousands of dollars to get the basic equipment. I mean, memory cards alone used to be a couple hundred dollars a pop! Now you can stroll into BestBuy and for under $1K you can walk out with a decent setup. Add in a free WordPress theme, and you’re ready to roll. It’s a LOT easier (and cheaper) to start up a photography business these days, and they are a bit miffed by that. They struggled a lot more to get running, and now you have all these luxuries they wish they had when they got going.
Of course that’s no excuse for being rude. But realize that you have a lot of advantages these days that didn’t used to exist.
Which brings me to something important that I think the pros wish you knew. And that’s that a nice camera, a spiffy logo and a website do not make a business.
See, they know this deep in their bones. They’ve been through the trenches. They’ve come to realize that it takes a megaton of hard work, a lot of business savvy, and countless hours spent doing boring tasks like bookkeeping to make a photography business run. They see you all caught up in the honeymoon phase of freshly printed business cards, and they wish you knew that it takes so much more to make it really happen in the long run. It takes so much to support your family with photography.
I guess that’s why they get cranky. They’re trying to feed their kids with their art. That’s crazy hard to do. And that brings me to the biggest point of contention. Pricing. I swear I’ve literally seen steam come out of their ears when they see new shooters charging next to nothing. They foam at the mouth. They grab the pitchforks. Things get ugly.
Now, I’d wager that many of them started off charging way too little. It’s an easy mistake to make. But over the years they’ve come to realize that you can’t succeed by undercharging. It leads straight to failure in the long run. They figured that out the hard way — by spending way too many late nights trying to get caught up, and realizing they didn’t charge near enough for how much work it really takes. So they figured out how to charge appropriately, and upped their prices, and worked hard to show clients the real value in what they do.
Then they see you charging so little, and they get mad. They know it’s a bad path to go down. And they wish they could make you understand how critically important it is to price your work well. For the industry. And for yourself.
Look, I want you to know that you do have a real shot at this. So often the pros make it seem impossible, but it’s not. Of course it’s not. But it is hard. You need to WORK. You need to LEARN. About pricing. And marketing. And taxes. And insurance. And contracts. And social media. And client relations. And just straight up photography! In fact, you need to accept that you can never stop working and you can never stop learning if you want to make it. Things are changing fast, my friend. Every week there’s a new camera, a new product, a new app that makes the whole industry shift. And if you pause for a moment, you might get left behind.
The pros feel that pressure. They are at their desks every day working to keep up. To stay on top of things. It’s draining.
And when they see you, all fresh and full of energy, with your shiny new camera that they can’t afford because it’s not in their yearly gear budget, and your website that looks a million times better than their first website did, they lash out at you. It’s not fair. But they’re tired. And scared. And working like mad to keep their dreams alive while putting food on the table and a roof over their heads.
So don’t let it get you down when you see pros bad-mouthing beginners. Just get to work. And understand how much heart and courage and sheer will it takes to make things happen. Soon enough they’ll see it. They’ll see that you’re just as passionate as they are, and they’ll welcome you with open arms.
Because in the end, we all just love photography and want to spend our days shooting. And it makes us so happy to see others get to live that dream alongside us.
Lots of love,