It’s August. And if you’re anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, you’re warm - hot even. So why not sit back and relive the good old days, back when our cameras were new, the exposure triangle was confusing, and the idea that photography could be something that could to take us to the ends of the earth and make us a lot of money in the process was still a far off dream.
*Disclaimer: this is humor. I hope.
Before we get into this, I wanted to address those photographers who are in fact actually traveling to the ends of the earth and making a lot of money in the process. Congrats. Awesome. There are a lot of us who are, in fact, not doing that (yet), so if you’ll excuse us for a few moments, we’ll allow you to go back to photographing some more incredible sights and scenes and posting them somewhere online (Fstoppers community, maybe), so we can get back to drooling over and reverse engineering them and thus the photography world stays within it’s natural order.
I digress. It wasn’t too long ago that I had purchased my first “real” DSLR. With the exception of a car and several plane tickets, it was the largest single purchase I’d made in my adult life. And, for weeks up until that point, I spent hours agonizing over review after review, debated whether I needed full frame or should "settle" for a crop sensor, and whether or not a kit lens was worth the extra money. And, after all of that had been decided, I kept the camera in both my B&H and my Amazon shopping cart for days - occasionally visiting it, hovering my mouse over the purchase button and even once or twice hitting it and canceling the order before it could actually stick.
When the order was actually placed and in the the few days before UPS delivered the package, I spent hours searching for and watching unboxing videos, imagining the grubby hands on the screen were my own clammy hands pulling the beast of a camera out of the box and holding it in the air… Finally, the day came that my camera arrived and with the finesse of a large, unstable elephant, I tore the box open and rescued my full frame camera and kit lens from their cardboard prison. I put the battery on the charger for what must have been a nanosecond, and without a clue as to what I was doing, I began snapping away at everything (on P mode, of course). A few hours after that, I was uploading photos to Facebook for the world to "enjoy..."
Looking back at it now, it seems a bit ridiculous to have gone through all that and with such blind exuberance. Tthankfully, some time has passed since then and while that youthful photographic idealism has not completely faded into a jaded cynicism some days it seems to be on it's way. Nonetheless, I like to pause every once in a while and look back at my development through the years. When I stopped to do do this year, I wondered if it wasn't just me that fell into this pattern, but the lot of us. Stages of development, regardless of the subject are usually similar and/or somewhat uniform across the board. I’m hoping that if you continue to read ahead, you see yourself and can remember your earliest days and the pathway you're on while you enjoy this bit of too-close-to-home tongue-in-cheekery.
The Five Stages of Development (Almost) Every Photographer Goes Through
Stage One: Ah, remember the good old days! Everyone and everything is photogenic and worthy of being photographed. With little to no skill and/or understanding of how a camera works, our young photographer friend spends their time taking photos of everything - and I mean everything - friends, dogs, people, trees, snails, blades of grass, cars, the sunrise and the sunset, and of course, themselves. Then, with a wide-eyed enthusiasm usually reserved for the young and for the insane, our young photographer posts those photos across the Internet - Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, DeviantArt, MySpace.
Stage Two: Wait a second, something is happening here… Every once in a while, our young photo friend sees something in one of their photos that doesn’t exist in another one of their photos - there is an aesthetic to it, there is a stickiness to it. People are commenting on it, people are liking it, it’s been shared a few times. People actually like it... Maybe, our young photo friend thinks, that this photography game is much more than that. Maybe it’s something that could work out - something beyond just capturing memories of friends, flowers, and blade of grass for fun, maybe there can be a business aspect to it as well. Of course there can! Thusly, a business name is thought up, a website and/or a page is created and the stream of photos populating their social media suddenly turns into a unkempt river.
Stage Three: Work! Well, free work anyway… Almost overnight it seems, first friends and then strangers start contacting our young photographer friend asking for photoshoots. If he/she has any business savvy, he/she begins by asking to be paid right off that bat, but unfortunately for most of us (myself included) the idea that someone contacts you to take their photo supersedes any need for money, food, etc and so, we agree to shoot for free.
Step Four: Legitimacy! Suddenly - sometimes overnight, it seems - if our younger photographer friend works hard, continues to focus their time on learning and growing their art, and has a few lucky connections and/or streaks, their work begins to catch on - people start to take notice. Instead of shooting friends and family, our friend is working with agencies and booking jobs with legitimate clients.
Stage Five: Admittedly, this stage is the most difficult to write about and/or foresee because they’re are too many variables and I think there should be at least two subheadings under this last stage. Now, on one hand, if our young photographer continues to progress, is surrounded by a genuine crew of talented people, they have the opportunity to continue on into the world of a working photographer booking ads, magazines, billboards, etc and doing so all with a smile on his or her face. If, however, our young photographer is surrounded by the “wrong” crowd (this is subjective, yes), then there is a chance that we may see our young wide-eyed friend become the jaded, cynical, full of themselves type of person that seems to be a part of just about every industry.
Our Individual Pathways, etc
Although our individual stages of development may differ somewhat, the initial pathway is similar. Ultimately, however, while there are those similarities, it’s up to our young photographer to decide for themselves which path is best. There are so many options, so many pathways for us to choose that with a hard work and a tremendous amount of focus, we can be successful in this field (despite what you hear from others). Like any creative path, it’s a lifelong journey which begins the moment we pick up our tool and start taking photos of our friends, our family, the landscapes surrounding where we live, etc.
Although written in good humor, I hope that when looking at the stages, it’s easy enough to see ourselves and for a moment, perhaps, remember back to the day we tore open the box, lifted our camera up and held it in the air against a blinding sun while somewhere off in the distance a monumental version of Circle of Life is being played and we thought of all the possibilities that lay in front of us.