Today, I want to share some words from someone who inspired and encouraged me from the very beginning. But first let me share a bit of our story…
When I started photography, I never really felt that I fit in, especially within the photography forum I regularly visited and participated in. I was never a popular one; I would post something and if I was lucky, I would get one comment. I felt that my work was different and I just couldn’t grasp my head around everything…wondering why? Why didn’t anyone like my work? Was I on the right path?
And then, eight months after I began photography, I attended Cheryl Jacob Nicolai’s workshop and part of the workshop was a portfolio review. I was scared to death! I prefaced the review with, “I know my work is different than everyone else’s” and apologized. She reviewed my portfolio and shared with me that it was okay to be me. That it was okay to be different. To just keep doing what I’m doing and not worry about anyone else. She reassured me that MY path was the right track. And…that’s exactly what I did. Here I am, five years later, proud to be different (not only photography, but life in general).
Words Every Aspiring Photographer Should Know
Style is a voice, not a prop or an action. If you can buy it, borrow it, download it, or steal it, it is not a style. Don’t look outward for your style; look inward.
Know your stuff. Luck is a nice thing, but a terrifying thing to rely on. It’s like money; you only have it when you don’t need it.
Never apologize for your own sense of beauty. Nobody can tell you what you should love. Do what you do brazenly and unapologetically. You cannot build your sense of aesthetics on a consensus.
Say no. Say it often. It may be difficult, but you owe it to yourself and your clients. Turn down jobs that don’t fit you, say no to overbooking yourself. You are no good to anyone when you’re stressed and anxious.
Learn to say “I’m a photographer” out loud with a straight face. If you can’t say it and believe it, you can’t expect anyone else to, either.
You cannot specialize in everything.
Know your style before you hang out your shingle. If you don’t, your clients will dictate your style to you. That makes you nothing more than a picture taker. Changing your style later will force you to start all over again, and that’s tough.
Accept critique, but don’t apply it blindly. Just because someone said it does not make it so. Critiques are opinions, nothing more. Consider the advice, consider the perspective of the advice giver, consider your style and what you want to convey in your work. Implement only what makes sense to implement. That doesn’t not make you ungrateful, it makes you independent.
Leave room for yourself to grow and evolve. It may seem like a good idea to call your business “Precious Chubby Tootsies”….but what happens when you decide you love to photograph seniors? Or boudoir?
Remember that if your work looks like everyone else’s, there’s no reason for a client to book you instead of someone else. Unless you’re cheaper. And nobody wants to be known as “the cheaper photographer”.
Gimmicks and merchandise will come and go, but honest photography is never outdated.
It’s easier to focus on buying that next piece of equipment than it is to accept that you should be able to create great work with what you’ve got. Buying stuff is a convenient and expensive distraction. Spend money on equipment ONLY when you’ve outgrown your current equipment and you’re being limited by it.
Learn that people photography is about people, not about photography. Great portraits are a side effect of a strong human connection.
Never forget why you started taking pictures in the first place. Excellent technique is a great tool, but a terrible end product. The best thing your technique can do is not call attention to itself.
Never compare your journey with someone else’s. It’s a marathon with no finish line. Someone else may start out faster than you, may seem to progress more quickly than you, but every runner has his own pace. Your journey is your journey, not a competition. You will never “arrive”. No one ever does.
Embrace frustration. It pushes you to learn and grow, broadens your horizons, and lights a fire under you when your work has gone cold. Nothing is more dangerous to an artist than complacence.
I hope that you love Cheryl’s words as much as I do. And always remember to embrace your differences; it’s what makes you you and your photography special.
After graduating college, Deb Schwedhelm spent 10 years as a Registered Nurse in the Air Force. It wasn’t until she left the military that her career as a photographer began. In 2006, Deb decided to pursue her dream — she purchased a DSLR camera, began teaching herself photography and never looked back. Whether commissioned portrait sessions, commercial assignments or her ongoing personal projects, Deb always remains true to herself and her artistic vision. Deb is married to a U.S. Naval Officer and is the mother to three incredible children, who are often the subjects of her photographic work. She is currently based in Tampa, Florida. Her work can be viewed on her website, and her inspirational photoblog can be found here as well.