Art and creativity have grown immensely in the last decade. This blow-up of art and creativity has been given a boost by the onset of social media platforms that have been developed within the last decade. It is now easier than ever to create a work of art and showcase it to millions of people across the world. Within this pursuit of art, every artist you meet will tell you that their journey has been filled with highs and lows. There is a constant struggle that artists have. Artists are different and they will face many different and unique challenges. These challenges may differ but they are also universal.
The reason I bring up challenges that face artists is because unknown to us, challenges are what create growth. If you want to become a better photographer, you are going to have to face the challenges of learning various things. You will have to constantly conquer self-doubt, fear, market issues and bad clients just to mention a few. I have constantly battled with the question ‘How do I grow as a photographer?’ I have had many answers to this question over the years. I thought growth would be investing in more equipment, I thought it would be growing my following to a thousand plus followers and I also thought it would be to start a business very early. I am currently reading a book by Gary Keller called ‘The One Thing’. In one of the chapters, the author says ‘The most important things do not scream the loudest. They are subtle calm and quiet.’
The truth of the matter is that to grow in whatever area of your life you need to follow the path of most resistance. My father always tells me ‘ Hardships teach better and more permanently than kindness.’ Challenges build resilience. Challenges teach us lessons. Whenever we overcome a challenge we grow as individuals. I wrote this blog post to give some pointers on how to grow as a photographer. Each one of these things is a challenge. How you go about facing these challenges will be an individual effort. You will have to find your own answers and craft your own path.
‘Majority of people tend to act on what they believe in even when they should not.’ Throughout our lives, we have bought into so many beliefs that have mudded and misguided how we think. This robs us of our ability to learn new things. When I started photography, I did not know jack! In order to learn how to create images, I intentionally started looking for information on the subject. I started reading blogs, buying books and engaging with other photographers. I picked up some great techniques and some equally bad ones as well. This process was a very integral part in moulding me into the creator that I am today.
Being teachable means that you are able to embrace new thoughts and ideas. It is having the awareness that what you know is not the limit, that there is always more to learn and that you will never stop learning. Throughout this journey of learning, there is not a single book I have come across that described my entry-level camera as a bad tool. There is not a single blog that described my tools as incapable of creating good work. Not one. I therefore ask ‘Where was the belief that great cameras created great images come from?’ I want to use an example with a few images that I have shot in the past 2 years. Below are three images shot with three different cameras. One entry-level (Canon 600D), a semi-professional camera(Nikon D750) and a full professional camera (Canon 5D Mark IV). Look through these images and try associate each shot with the camera that shot it before going on with the article.
Here are the answers? Did you get them right? Be honest?
Chances are you could not easily tell what camera shot which image. The reason is that as a photographer I understand that the idea of great cameras creating great images is a lie. Good photographers take good images, period. This may be a hard pill to swallow for some of you and that is because there is a belief system that you have. Since you have bought into a belief that is somewhat false it becomes difficult to become teachable. It becomes difficult to see things from a different perspective and makes one narrow-minded. Do not take offence. Being narrow-minded simply means that an individual understands that there are other ways to approach issues but chooses not to consider them. To be teachable also involves something I call ‘unlearning’. Unlearning is the process of actively re-wiring how we think about things and how we approach issues. To grow in your area of expertise learn to be teachable. It is not the easiest thing I will admit that but embrace the idea gradually.
Being teachable is therefore simply the process of learning and unlearning.
Before you click away from this blog post because somehow my tips sound preachy, well just know that by clicking away you will end up on the wide path with tons and tons of people on the road to hell!! That was a bad joke so I will just move on with this one. At the beginning of this article I praised the onset of social media and how over the years it grew many artists by putting their work on a global platform for everyone to see. In as much as this is a good thing, there has been a huge downside. Social media has become very, very , VERY VAIN. Somewhere along the journey, the authenticity of artists was suddenly determined by how many people followed them and how much their work was liked. As this metric was slowly and gradually held high, genuine creators realized that there were individuals that were not being honest.
Botting or ‘growth services’ as they are called and buying followers became a ‘sin’ so to speak. Platforms then had to figure out how to clean up bots and also curb unfair behaviour on their platforms and so the age of algorithms began. Platforms introduced some sort of security check to take care of genuine artist. Problem is that the algorithms were not there to protect artists, they were in place to stifle visibility of and unless you paid the owner of the platform, no one would actually get to see what you did. This is the sad reality.
So where does patience come into the picture? Social media gave us metrics with which to measure our work’s worth. Following and popularity (likes). These two things were the metrics with which brands as well chose to use so as to market their products to their customers. They were not wrong to do so. The customer wants, the customer gets right? In that frenzy a lot of artists wanting to work with brands had to get their numbers up. Artists wanted more popularity, more views, more glory and more fame. In the long run artists turned substance into vanity. You can attest to seeing it every day. Photographers post their cameras, their setups, their working spaces but never post their WORK. They never genuinely share their process. That is because that shit doesn’t sell. Okay, it does not sell immediately.
In his book “Steal Like an Artist”, Austin Kleon says that by the time people give attention to what you are doing you are either bored by it or you are dead. Consistently creating great work is a challenge. It is tedious and borderline frustrating. It is not popular and takes time before it earns a reputation. If you have created great work and never experienced this even a slight bit I strongly believe that you are a sham!! There are exceptions to the rule I agree but for the majority of artists this is the reality. Good work, authentic work as it is called today, takes time to create. Be patient with yourself.
Taking the time to learn, fail, unlearn and repeating that process over and over is what makes you a great photographer/artist. This will take time. This is a rule of nature. Rules of nature cannot be broken.
When the word project is mentioned to an artist, stress, anxiety and frustration sets in. Projects mean money, finances and talent that constantly ghosts you. These are some of the challenges of running projects and like I said in the beginning, to grow, you need to face some challenges.
Projects will push you in ways that you never thought possible. Projects will have you thinking outside the box in order to make your idea (project) come to life. You will end up negotiating for hiring a piece of equipment or even get it for free. You might do a job for free just to get a model to come to your set or even offer to share copyright just to get people on board with what you are trying to do. I believe that projects are an opportunity to explore another set of skills outside what you do.
When I started thinking about pursuing photography, I thought that all I had to do was show up with my camera and people would want me to just make amazing images of them. I also thought that miraculously they would begin putting money in my hands because they had somehow madly fallen in love with my skills and I deserved that money. Life burst my massive bubble, unfortunately. I began to realize that I had to look for the people that needed my images, I had to convince them to pay for the work I was going to do. They also wanted evidence of the work that I had done. They were not going to just take out their hard-earned money and hand it to me. Who does that right?
Most artists, whose art is their career will tell you that 90% of their work is everything else other than their art. It is writing proposals, planning projects, looking up clients, client meetings, the kids got sick, your son tossed your favourite camera into a massive puddle of water….it is a mess. A friend recently told me that she was working on a piece for Halloween last year. She worked day and night to make this frightening sculpture. She gets home one day and finds her son had pulled apart the piece. She went straight to bed that day.
If you have not yet turned your art into a career my advice to you is, start coming up with projects. Do as many as you can. These will teach you things like negotiation, sourcing materials or equipment and how to work and manage people. All these will give you a glimpse into what your art really involves. This is where the rubber hits the road.
Doing more projects exposes you to the reality of being an artist. All the challenges that you face will definitely make you grow in leaps and bounds.
Bad work is Gooooood
When I started photography, there was a photographer whom I really admired and followed every piece of advice he gave. Amongst the pieces of advice he shared, I stuck to one in particular. He advised to only share ‘our best work’. Today I believe this was probably the worst piece of advice I ever took as an artist. Now, I do not want to be misquoted here. Yes, you will have to share your best work but not every time especially if you want to grow. Your best work has its place. However, the truth is that the majority of your best work comes from the bad stuff.
If you are starting out in photography, there are things that you are yet to learn and it is therefore expected that in the first few years that you will be making images, your work will suck. These will be the worst pieces of art you will ever make. Your work will become better by looking back at the bad stuff you made and making up in the areas that you did poorly. I would like to share with you an image that I took.
The first image I took and retouched in June 2017. The second image is the same photograph retouched in April 2018. This is a 10-month difference. When I retouched the first image I had just learnt a new lighting technique and at that moment I felt so great for making one of my best images ever. 10 months down the line I looked back at the image and it looked like crap so I re-edited it. The second edit looks so much better than the first. The second edit does the image some justice.
It is pointless to expect that you will grasp new concepts when you start. Our work is a totality of great pieces of work and the bad pieces as well. So when I say that only sharing your best work is a bad piece of advice, I stand with this statement all through to my grave. Great artists are not perfect. No one is perfect. Sharing our mistakes provides room for us to learn and grow from that. Success is a sum total of small little failures. The lessons from those make us successful.
So go out there and share what you have done today, good or bad.
As I come to the end of this post I would like to encourage you to take some of the pieces of advice that I give here with you. I have been a part-time photographer for the last five years and I have made A TON OF MISTAKES. Begin by sticking to these four things and you will be sorted for the journey ahead. To learn more on how to grow as a photographer click here.
That is all from me in this post I will see you in the next one. BYE!