Thursday, April 15, 2010

Where I'm at

There are the kind of New Years resolutions you make and you know the moment you make them that you won't be able to stick to them - like "Cut out cheese and alcohol" or "work out every single day" or "call your mother every other day" (obviously those might not be a problem for you but I was never able to stick to any of those). But if you set yourself goals, it's different. I think the difference between a goal and a resolution is that you have to actively plan a goal to make it happen. And in the long run, this is what will enable you to achieve these goals. And of course, you'll need a little bit of discipline as well.

For 2010 I had four main goals:

1. Live a healthy lifestyle - which means learn how to cook better, learn how to use seasonal ingredients, cook organic, work out more - especially get some upper body strengths (as a photographer one has to be able to move quickly and lift heavy equipment)

2. Learn to love myself

3. Make friends - make a conscious effort to stay in contact with new people you meet and you like (this for me is still the most difficult - I have met a lot of interesting people and I have had a much more active social life in the last 4 months than I had all of last year but I am having difficulties to get these new friendships to a deeper level)

4. Become a professional photographer

I have talked about 1. and 2. a lot already and I feel like I am doing ok in these departments.

Both "Make friends" and "Become a professional photographer" kind of go hand in hand I have found. But more about that later.

Three years ago I started to take professional photography classes (via correspondence) at the New York Institute of Photography. I'll be honest with you - the first two years I got hardly anything done. I was still working full time, I had a very active social life and I just couldn't be bothered. If you have a working life - even if it's not the working life you want - it's difficult to motivate yourself to change that.
Last year I made the decision to work as a nanny and to use the time that the kid I am watching is napping, solely as studying time. I was able to make great progress and I am now done with these classes. It took me about 6 months to get the last 5 Units in. I still have to send in my final project but it's all done - I just have to find an envelope pretty much.

Still, I didn't feel nearly confident enough to try and make it as a professional photographer even with this education. I frankly had no idea where to start. But luckily that changed when a friend introduced me to Angie, a professional photographer. Angie invited me to a meeting called "The Fast Track Photographer Chicago Group". It was only their second meet up. The group refers to a book by a guy called Dane Sanders who wrote the book called - you might have guessed - "Fast Track Photographer". This book is being re-written right now and I am on a waiting list for it on Amazon but unfortunately I haven't been able to get my hands on an old version thus I haven't read it. But anyway - one of the main principles of the book is that while the photography business is very competitive, we will still be more successful if we co-operate and network with each other as photographers then if we bad-mouth or ignore each other.

Thus this group formed. The first time I joined I was at their second-ever meet-up in Chicago. There were about 20 people (by the third meet-up the number of people in attendance had doubled), it was at somebodies house. Everybody was extremely welcoming and open and for the first time I just felt like, I can do this. Some of these people had studied photography but a lot of them just started doing it because they like it. They had less photographic education than I had and they had become incredible, professional photographer nonetheless.

I did also realize though that if I wanted to feel completely at ease and comfortable with what I am doing, I would have to take more classes. A correspondence class can give you a lot of knowledge but some things are just easier if somebody shows them to you. So I singed up for two evening classes at the Chicago Photography Center. One was Fundamentals of Lighting - it covered mostly studio work - a topic I knew hardly anything about, the other class was "Lightroom". I have taught myself some Photoshop but for an aspiring portrait and wedding photographer "Adobe Lightroom" is much better and easier to use.

On top of these classes, I took a few more workshops and seminars. I can tell you that the last two months have been super-busy for me. Especially considering that last year I pretty much did nothing at all except occasionally volunteering and my part-time nannying job. I finished my last class last Sunday and I had a seminar last night but this is going to be it for me until after my trip to Europe in a week. I am a little bit relieved to get a break from all this learning since I feel like I can't focus on anything but photography right now but at the same time it feels absolutely amazing to be a step closer to doing professionally what I have always been wanting to do professionally.

One thing you need to know if you want to become a photographer - you will always need to invest - in yourself and your equipment. I am shooting with a Canon 40D right now - an excellent camera and ok for portraits and most weddings but it has it's limitations and I will eventually have to upgrade to a better camera. I also just invested quite a bit of money into a professional lighting kit that I can easily take with me in the car for shoots. I can use it to build a studio pretty much anywhere (except underwater I guess). But keeping yourself educated is just as important. The seminar I was at yesterday was on how to be a good 2nd shooter at a wedding. A second shooter is a not-so-experienced shooter that basically is a mix of a photographers assistant (who does stuff like fetch the primary photographer a sandwich and park the car) and an associate photographer who takes pictures that the main wedding photographer might not be able to get. I was surprised to see a lot of established photographers there who shoot a lot of weddings as "primary photographers" - but as I said - you have to keep yourself educated.
So, I already decided to sign up for another class for when I come back from my trip and I also decided to volunteer as an assistant to the photo teachers at the Chicago Photography Center as this is an excellent learning possibility.

Having done all of this I haven't really had much professional work yet. A big part of getting business is networking and this is one thing I haven't been great at. The photographers I know network all the time. They go to events and parties constantly. They all know each other. For me to go out there and talk to people I have never met is really difficult. I have been forcing myself to do it more but believe me, it's not easy.
I wish it could just be like "Look, I do good work, if you like my style - hire me!" but unfortunately networking is a big part of this game. So I am working hard on that.
I also found that there are two groups of photographers - the "mainly wedding" people - who are all super-outgoing and hug-y and sweet and who smile a lot and the more artistic photographers who usually end up becoming photography teachers to fund their artistic photography. Both kinds seem happy though but I am at a point where I wonder in which group I belong and if I can ever be the hug-y, smiley person that people like to hire as their wedding photographers.

So, sorry for my long rambling here. But this is where I stand. For those of you who read this blog because you are interested in what is going on with me - now you know.

All in all, I have to say my life made a complete turn in 2010. It is so different from last year, it's incredible and I love it, even if it is a lot of work and I have to make myself do things that I am not always comfortable with. But that's what you have to do if you want to get further in life, isn't it? Being comfortable won't get you anywhere.


Unknown said...

Good to here you're pushing your career forward. Networking is not easy, only very few are naturals. For the rest of us it's hard work. Just keep at it.
Getting going with networks in your own field is good. When you've found your feet start asking around for network groups outside your field like advertising, writers, even the Open Coffee Group in Chicago might be useful. Bring a camera, and get chatting. Got any business cards yet?

The Austrian said...

Yes, I got some business cards from Moo after my first Photographers meeting when everybody was exchanging cards and I didn't have any. We are still working on my website so for now I just have my Flickr-Pro account address on there but as soon as my website is completely up and running, I'll get some better business cards with my logo on them (which I am also still working on).

Maria said...

Maybe you can search under Linked in: More, companies and then photography and find more people or companies around your area in Chicago. You can search on the postal code. Just an idea. It is great that you are going after your dream!!