Where do you learn to be a photographer (part three of three)

For the last two weeks I have been blogging about the important question of where do you learn how to be a photographer? To date, I have explored my take on the future of commercial photography, called into the question the value of formal schooling and offered some on-line resources that can serve as well as school, if not better (and they are much cheaper.) I want to deconstruct a few of those same resources to suggest how to find value in reading them.

I am going to only pick apart a few examples of the resources on the web but the approach that I am taking is something an aspiring photographer can use whenever they are looking at pretty much anything they hope to use to become a professional photographer. In no particular order:

If you go to: http://asmp.org/articles/best-2011-proud.html you will see the work of the Wilmington, Delaware based photographer, B. Proud. Her name seems like a perfect fit for someone whose work explores “same-sex couples in long-term relationships.” The phrase “Gay Pride” has been a long used slogan in the movement for gay rights by “…lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people should be proud of their sexual orientation and gender identity.” Proud was able to capitalize on her work’s importance in the current political climate. The work ended up being included in

“…a recent broadcast as the governor of Delaware signed a bill allowing civil unions in her home state.

The lesson to take away is that fitting a personal project into the larger political, cultural or cultural milieu is a certain way to get visibility for that work. In a similar way, the Oceanside, California photographers Jenna Close and Jon Held are

“…riding the crest of a green-energy wave with an industrial photography market niche: Solar panel installations shot from above. The star of their show is a remote-control (RC) helicopter named Buzz, sturdy enough to carry a Canon 5D. Lots of technology, technique and trial-and-error went into developing this system, and after a full year of testing, the pair officially introduced their “low angle” aerial services to solar clients. “

Read more at: http://asmp.org/articles/best-2011-close.html

If you look at the piece at http://asmp.org/articles/best-2011-bennett.html on Patrick Bennett, of Seattle, you will see that he cuts to the chase answering the question “What do you consider your most valuable tool or piece of equipment?”

“My brain. There are too many interdependent pieces to name just one. Camera, lens and computer are all just tools. It’s not the tool that matters, mate, it’s how you use it — although I am partial to my 500mm lens.”

Other photographers interviewed do highlight specific gear they use as they solve their photographic problems and all are worth reading. Speaking of tools, Bennett, goes on with detailed info about his workflow, his shoot planning and the all important budgets/fees negotiations.

Ventura, California photographer Stephen Schafer, explains how he plays to his strengths in http://asmp.org/articles/best-2011-schafer.html when answering the question “What are your photographic specialties?”

“No kittens, no weddings, no people; I hate people, they move, like kittens. Which is not to say I haven’t done all those things at some time. Back in the late Eighties, after high school I was a reluctant wedding specialist, and I grew to be a bitter wedding specialist. Right now, my passion and my photographic specialty match.”

Another example of playing to one’s strengths is the piece on Barbara Kinney http://asmp.org/articles/best-2011-kinney.html where they write:

“A former staff photographer in the Clinton White House and for Hillary’s presidential campaign — turned her lens from political dramas to the private turmoil of Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers. Kinney had to unobtrusively convey the complex emotions bound up in moments such as a father no longer recognizing his daughter, or a Nobel Prize winner in physics having difficulty assembling a child’s puzzle.”

Besides playing on one’s strengths, the most successful photographers build on their previous experience, be that in or out of photography. McLean, Virginia photographer, Arne Hoel, worked at the World Bank before freelancing and has built on that same experience to offer clients what they describe as a unique set of skills, which are described in the piece http://asmp.org/articles/best-2011-hoel.html as:

“Clients tell me that I bring to the projects a unique combination of a strong artistic vision and a deep understanding of international development issues. I have focused on these issues for the better part of my career, and I have a good sense of what the clients want. We speak the same “language” and we can dialogue about messaging as well as creative approaches. “

Photographer Tami Reed, of Berkeley, California goes into great detail about her creative process and about the relationship issues involved in doing the kind of work that she does (food photography) in the piece at: http://asmp.org/articles/best-2011-reed.html She says:

“…pinning down a winning look for the product — canned mackerel in five different sauces — proved to be slippery indeed. She was tossing some aging mackerel while cleaning the set when inspiration struck in the form of iridescence. The resulting image is a reminder that beauty can be found everywhere, if only one really looks.”


“The majority of my work is food photography, and a lot of my clients are small and medium-size businesses. I like the directness of dealing with decision makers and seeing my work have an immediate impact. Although I’m shooting for their advertising, the style is often more editorial in feel, so I don’t find myself thinking much about the distinctions when I’m doing that kind of shoot. I just try to make the shot that would make me want to eat or buy the food they’re trying to sell.”

Every time one of the profiled photographers opens their mouth (and mind) to explain how they do what they do, it is an opportunity to see how a working professional differentiates themselves from the ever-growing throng of photographers. These people know that the successful photographer of the future is the one who brings something to their interactions with clients, editors, image buyers or customers that those same people cannot get anywhere else.

The most important thing to understand about ALL these resources is that getting something of value out of them takes a lot of work. That means careful research, a crystal clear understanding of who you are learning from, repeated execution of the lessons you choose to follow, a critical analysis of your own strengths/ weaknesses, diligent follow-up, and tenacity so you never give up on your long term growth in the face of short term failure. That, by the way, is also the perfect recipe for being a successful professional photographer.

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