// 15 min read – Personal viewpoint article about the expectations of being a photographer from the first day with a new camera to ten years later.
Do you remember that first real camera that you picked up and thought, photography, I might give this a go. We all remember it, for some of us it’s a while ago but for others, it’s a fresh memory.
My first ‘proper’ camera was a Nikon d200, I wanted a Canon but the cash wasn’t there at that moment, so, Nikon it was. I remember picking up a second hand Sigma flash and Manfrotto Tripod. I was ready to take on the world – with my one 18-70mm lens… I had dreams of international flights, shoots in Hollywood and a garage full of fast bikes, Harleys and old Triumphs. It quickly turned out that I was drinking the wrong kool-aid and was brought back to earth with a bump. So what should my expectations be for the First Day, First Week, First Month, First Year or First Decade?
For this, I am building from the idea that this is your first ‘real’ camera.
First Day // Where are the buttons
Most likely, the first day has been a while coming and you will know what you want to do with your camera. You will know if you are planning a hobby or if this is a new look at a new way of earning. You will most likely know if you are headed to Uni or just going to read some blogs and watch some Youtube videos.
After doing your updates, and learning where the buttons are, read the manual and look for any fun stuff to have a play with. Maybe set the right date, WiFi settings – if it has some. Download some apps that might be worthwhile – such as the Fujifilm apps, if you have a Fujifilm camera etc. Maybe sign up for Instagram with a new photography account or start to think about how you are going to share your journey. Your first day is going to about learning the camera and trying to fit all your new kit in your camera bag.
“Photography is a unique blend of emotion and technology. We always need to understand the roles both play, then, understand we have control over both”
— Dave Kai Piper
First Week // What are other people doing.
This is where the fun starts – You have most likely bought a new hard drive for your new files and started looking at ways to explore the world around you. You have most likely found 500px, Behance, Flickr, a few facebook groups and some books about your chosen genre of choice. Most likely you have found a youtube channel and started to look in depth at what other people are doing. In my mind, this should be the start of the observation stage. As photographers, we have to learn to be visual. We have to learn to be in tune with our subjects and what we want to photograph, however, the reality is that we still have no clue what the settings are doing or how to change them.
Getting off auto mode is the idea for week one – just being able to take a photo is the ball game. We might spend some time looking at the internet trying to learn what the exposure triangle is, what Raw and Jpeg are or what people mean when they talk about long exposure or leading lines. There can be lots of terms and techniques in photography, being honest, you don’t have to know them all, in fact you don’t even have to know half. You just have to know how to set the camera to take the image you intend to create and not what the camera says you should.
At the end of week one, knowing that you can control all the settings – even if you don’t really understand them is the idea.
“Your first 1000 photographs are your worst.”
— Henri Cartier Bresson
First Month // Why are they doing that.
We now are looking back at the camera shops and online. Looking at all the things we think we need to be able to create the images we want. We are looking at lighting, tripods & filters. We are looking at better memory cards, shutter release cables and better camera bags and we might even be looking at the camera we bought and wondering why the images we are taking are not like the images you are seeing from other people.
I would think that some point in the first month you are looking at programs like Lightroom and Photoshop with interest and wondering if they are things you need. Most likely you have looked at free editing apps like Nik software and Snapseed. In the kindest way possible I would urge you to steer away from HDR and color popping, you will thank me in the years to come.
The main things that you might expect from your first month will result from looking at other peoples images. Exif data is the reference data that is stored along with your photo. It contains the lens info, camera setting info as well as time and dates etc. The reason that I mention this is that many people feel like they can learn more about a photograph by knowing the exif data, then trying to work out if those settings might work for them too – the reality is that exif data only ever gives you half the story. Knowing why these settings have been used is key, and you will never get that info from the exif. Knowing how to change a setting is very different to knowing why you would change it.
Things like lenses, focal lengths and apertures are going to be on your mind – as well as quickly working out your hobby is not quite as cheap as you thought it might be. If you bought correctly at the early stage, you might have a 50mm or 35mm prime lens as your first lens. Even though you think that you need every lens there is at this stage. With a good solid 50mm or 35mm prime, there is nothing you can not do, you might feel limited right now, but trust me, that’s just a mindset.
Try and remember – photography is equal parts tech and art. Photography is a unique blend of emotion and technology. We always need to understand the roles both play, then, understand we have control over both. Buying more kit won’t help but learning, reading, talking and engaging with other photographers, artists and the wider world will.
“There are no bad pictures; that’s just how your face looks sometimes.”
— Abraham Lincoln
First Year // Photography is easy, if you have the kit.
You’re now into a groove and even getting some love for your work. People are taking an interest in what you are doing and you are happy with where you are. Your thirst for more kit is well and truly something that you have burning inside of you. Your thoughts are will ‘full frame’ cameras and fast primes and zooms be better, if it’s not 2.8 or faster, it’s not for you. Tripods are only really tripods if they are carbon fiber and your knowledge of lighting is encyclopedic. Your Instagram page is full of comments and you get 100’s of likes per image you post as you have worked out that your social media profile is actually more important than your photography.
If you have been actively shooting all year you have done well, but, unless you are that 1 in a billion, next year, you will see how wrong you were all this year and your photos are quite boring after all and that HDR does not actually look that good after all. Self-doubt is the biggest hurdle for us all.
Time and time again, in pretty much every article I have written of the last 5 years, I have tried to mention that photography is a mental sport and the technical aspect is only one of the areas we must learn. The camera is, at times the least important element and the easiest to learn. At the end of year one, echoes of this thought might start to ring true in your mind. Most people will think that a better camera or a better lens will prove me wrong. Most people will blame the equipment before blaming themselves – this is totally natural, but in 9 years time you will be back to one camera and one lens, or thereabouts.
Having a visual mind takes years to develop and years more to fully understand. Some photographers take photos, some photographers create images while some photographers blend the lines and toy with what is and what is not photography. The things that separate out photographers from the rest is that real photographers have stories to explore, most of them would be doing this exploration with or without the cameras as it is inbuilt to the core and fiber of who they are. If you don’t like being outside – you’re never going to be a landscape photographer. If you don’t like people, you are never going to be a portrait photographer. Even if you really love photography, unless you really understand the genre you are looking at, moving forward is going to be hard work for you.
“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”
— Ellitt Erwitt
First Decade // This is what I did.
When writing this article, this was the bit I was dreading. I have tried to be brutally honest. The real-life aspects of being a ‘photographer’ in 2018 are really not what I thought they would be. My last 10 years have been a fucking roller coaster of ups and downs. If I could redo the last 10 years, I would do things very differently. It took me a long time to learn the things I know today and I think I could of learned them faster if I had been a little less hostile and little more humble along the way. Listening to criticism was the hardest for me & it still is. There is a fine balance we need as artists that lets us explore the world in the way we want to and being closed off from people that are trying to help. Looking back, knowing who to trust and who to listen to was the hardest challenge. For every one person saying one thing, there was an equal number on the other side saying the other.
So, ten years in, after a decade where can you expect to be. I would assume you would have a number of publications and maybe looking at running a showcase of your work soon. You will have a website that showcases your work with personal projects that you are currently working on. You will have roughly 15 images you are really proud of and understand that adding 2 or 3 images to your main portfolio each year is a good year. The idea that photography is not a race and you will have the idea that one of the worst things you can do is become ‘to close’ to your work. Staying subjective and on ‘message’ is the most important aspect.
A potential checklist: in a decade – things you might have done.
- Sold a photograph
- Being paid for a shoot
- Worked internationally
- Published images
- Front cover of a magazine
- Awards or industry recognition
- Gallery show
- Solo Artist Gallery show
- Published interview
- Developed audience
- Personal Projects
- Printed body of work
- Global audience
- Commerical Agent
- Key-note speaker
This is not a list that you have to do or a list that should be done. But it is a rough idea of the levels you achieve if work is put in.
Below // Grimsby Sea Front.
“The camera is an excuse to be someplace you otherwise don’t belong. It gives me both a point of connection and a point of separation.”
— Susan Meiselas
The positive bits
After your decade of hard work, you will have a unique outlook on life. Your photography will of opened doors, took you places and developed your own self. If you have done it right, you will have a catalog that is unique to you and your life. One of the things that I love about my life is that I have done my best, when possible to get out and explore – photography gives me that reason.
I came to the conclusion a while ago my happiness is not linked to money, it is linked to experiences and memories. If you are looking to get rich, from my knowledge of the photography world, it is that you’re going to have more luck pushing the business elements than the artistic element, but as a career that develops the soul – it’s incredible.
This image is my Grandma and Grandad celebrating their 70th Wedding Anniversary. It does not matter if photography is your hobby or career, being able to record and document the world around you is a wonderful feeling. Images like the one below mean so much to me, more than any commissioned portfolio image or magazine cover.
I hope you enjoyed this blog –
It was written with the idea of dispelling some of the myths about being a photographer. From all levels I think we all find it tough, we find it rewarding too though.
During my 10 years taking photos the thing I have noticed most is how people treat us, let me explain. When I first started shooting, I found it was easy to be motivated – lots of people would comment on my work on Facebook and the different social media worlds, these days the internet is a different place. I find it very hard to get any traction at all online compared to when I first started posting images online. Is this because I am not as good or because the platforms are different. It might not seem important, but my confidence does go up and down, linked to how I think my work is received. I have looked into this and I can not quite put my finger on it. I think I am a better photographer? My work seems more rounded and more relevant to who I am and in context with the audience, yet, I feel like my work is far less seen and less liked than ever – I am not sure if this is my perception as the buzz is gone, sometimes I feel like my flame is gone – but then I just carry on anyway and create something I know is better than I did last week.
Over the years I have slowed understood that we do better when we make images we want to make. I seem to be happiest with my work when I am making it for me – this does not always make good sense for business or does it make sense for social media. Take the image above and below for example. I know for a fact that if I was to post the one with my grandparents on Instagram I would have people unfollow me and it would get very few likes. I post the image below of Lauren and it gets a ton of love. For many new photographers coming through looking at social media and how photography is linked to it might get a distorted view. There is a growing problem with social media – I have not quite worked it out, but I know I don’t like it. I am quite worried that the next generation of photographers will be more interested in chasing likes than making images.
You can find my website here: www.davekaipiper.com