Sunday, 22 February 2009

8 Reasons Why It's Good To Be An Amateur

8 Reasons Why It's Good To Be An Amateur

We should all know that the quality of photographic imagery has absolutely nothing to do with someone's professional status. Easily, some of the best photographers in the world are full blown amateurs and the fact that they're not making their living off of their craft has no effect on the quality of their images. In fact, I think most everyone should agree, that being a successful professional photographer has absolutely nothing to do with how good a photographer one is. It's all about the business skills. Need proof? Google professional photography studios in your area, you should find the number of sub-par portrait studios to be mind-blowing. But these guys and girls make their money. Not because of their artistic merit, but because they know how to flog themselves.

Let's get back to the amateurs though. Yes, there are a lot of people for whom photography is a passing hobby. They make a few pictures when the whim strikes and never really care for technical excellence. More power to them. Then we have the guys (and girls) who obsessively pore over every technical and artistic detail. They eat, sleep and breathe their passion, never allowing the slightest flaw or discrepancy. They constantly and consistently churn out quality work at a standard many professionals still strive for.

This may sound a bit counteractive to the purpose of this blog (my struggle to become a professional photographer); however, it always serves one well to keep your feet firmly planted in the present whilst looking ahead to the future. It's about balance.

So here are 8 reasons why it's great to be an amateur photographer:

1) You can shoot what you want.

Picture this: Here you are, you just spent a weekend on the coast passionately photographing sunsets and what not. You went on the trip for no other reason to please yourself. You got some great photos and you're diligently working through the editing and retouching process. After a while, you take a short break and have a browse of Flickr. There you see a wonderful flower macro that just suddenly lights a previously unknown fire in your gut. You've never shot flowers before, but this one is just phenomenal and you have to give it a go. You stop what you're doing and head to a florist.

You're free to do that, because you have no responsibility to anyone but yourself. One week you shoot landscapes, the next portraits, the next insects. Your not bound to promoting a single speciality. You're free to embrace all aspects of the craft without having to tailor yourself to meet a client's needs.

2) The only deadlines are those you set for yourself.

The contact sheets need to be on the Art Director's desk by close of business tomorrow. The client wants to see the proof's the moment they come out of the camera. The test shots need to be on the agency's website ASAP.

Let's face it. A photo can never be perfect. There's always something else that can be or could be done to make it better. As photographers, we're always the most critical of our work and we strive to do everything we can to present our images the very best we can. However, when someone is beating down your door asking for the images "now," it's virtually impossible to get things to your standard. As an amateur or enthusiast, you're not bound to these time lines. It's done when you say it's done, whether it takes five minutes or two weeks.

3) You're free to experiment until you turn blue in face.

"What happens if I just move the light a bit this way and throw the lens out of focus a little bit? Oh, that's nice!" Before you know it, you've lost several hours tweaking and fine tuning, on a whim, something that nobody will probably like. But who cares, you've not used anyone's time or money but your own and you've had a blast doing it and you've probably learned a lot along the way.

4) When someone asks you to shoot their wedding, you can say "No"!

Okay, this goes for some professionals too, but in this economic client, someone trying to pay the bills with their camera would struggle to actually turn down work. I know several people who don't shoot weddings that have actually had to reconsider their stance when asked if they shoot weddings. Of course, it doesn't just apply to weddings, it goes for anything you don't want to shoot. As an enthusiast; if you don't like it, then you don't have to do it. No second thoughts.

5) You're free from the expectation's of others.

This ties into experimenting and shooting what you want, but it has it's own intricacies as well. It's only human to imagine something far greater than is actually possible. Flights of fancy spring wild with our imaginations as we wonder what something can or will be like in the end. Often times, the result is disappointment. So, when a client starts seeing visions of Vogue quality portraits at a school portrait session, they will ultimately be let down. This is through no fault of your own, but to them, it reflects on you. They didn't get what they expected, so it must be the photographer's fault. Guess what: when you're shooting for only yourself, the only delusions of grandeur that you have to deal with are your own!

6) You can freely offend people with your work.

I can see the confuzzled faces now. "Why on Earth would I want to offend someone?" The purpose of art is to make a statement. Whether it's a statement of joy, or peace, or politics or what not, art is designed to invoke a response. A wholly valid intention is to shock people into seeing the intended message. Think Robert Mapplethorpe or Joel Peter Witkin. Or maybe none of that. Maybe you're just a huge fan of B horror films and that whole subculture and you just want to create images that reflect your interests. It's hard to do that kind of thing, as a portrait photographer for example, when you're supposed to be marketing your work to the masses. No mother wants to take her newborn baby to a photographer who's portfolio is full of bullet-ridden zombies, or blood drenched vampires, no matter how stunning your normal portraiture is. Fortuantely, you lovely amateur you, have none of those concerns. You can break out all the chainsaws and severed limbs you want and still know the mortgage payment is being paid next week.

7) When you're in a slump, the bills still get paid.

Demotivated? Nothing to shoot? Tired of your style? Need a change? The rest of life too stressful? No worries. Put the camera down for a bit. the urge will come back. It always does and you don't run the risk of ruining your passion, your obsession for yourself. Take a week. Take two. Take six months. Rest yourself. You can. You can take all the time you need to revitalise yourself because your not forced to plough through hundreds of mundane portraits and product shots that you detest simply because you want to have electricity next week.

8) You're actually relieving stress!

Amateurs do this because they like it. It brings them joy. It's how they unwind after a long day. It clears your head of the drudgery of everday life in today's broken societies. It relieves stress. Now picture this: You have to shoot a new line of lingerie for a the website of a boutique. The client is tight with their cash and refuses to pay for more than a single full day rate for the shoot itself. Ten models, four outfit changes each, three photos of each outfit, two make-up-artists, one overbearing art director and eight hours. Stress free?

Of course, this is certainly not any sort of dig at the people who have successfully turned photography into a career, rather an introspection, of sorts, for all the amateurs who dream of changing their careers as quickly as possible. Slow down. If you really want it and work for it, it will come. Yes, life can be great as a Professional Photographer but it can be just as great as an amateur as well!

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  1. I enjoy all these benefits aside from 5 and 7 on occasion. But being a professional photographer doesn't imply that you're working for someone else... in fact, for me, it always meant I would work for myself. Now, that's because I do headshots and weddings. For you, you want to be in high fashion and that means you wouldn't be doing it without someone above you going "NOW! I NEED THOSE NOW!" :) But, for the most part, I enjoy all of those other fun things you posted above, and even with more freedom than you do, because I don't have a "regular" day job. And if my pregnant Jesus didn't offend someone, well.... I just have to try a little harder, I guess. ;)

  2. Which exemplifies a thought I had as I hit the publish button: Of course, not all of this applies to everyone. Each situation is different and this list is but a list of generalisations I have made from my own observations. In fact, not all of them apply to me when I'm working in a freelance capacity, as the clients I have had have given me the great honour of being the sole controller of the concept and the final output.

    Great points Jenn and I don't think things come any more offensive to a lot of people than a pregnant Jesus! :)