Friday, October 16, 2015

more photography musings

It's been nearly 8 years since we bought our first "real camera." In that time I've gotten fairly good at photography, and taken probably hundreds of thousands of pictures of my kids, my cats, lots of flowers, friends and family, etc. At some point, most people who gets half-decent at photography starts to wonder... "should I go pro?" It's a fair question, right? Who wouldn't want to make money out of something they already do for fun anyway?

A couple weeks ago an opportunity for a paid photoshoot fell into my lap. I've done shoots as favors to friends and family a couple times before, but this was the first real, honest-to-goodness paid work that was offered to me. The job was taking pictures at a local school, for an upcoming fundraising drive. It was a fairly ambitious project, two days of shooting for about 3 hours each (plus all the editing time afterwards). I was asked to name my price, so I spent a bunch of time researching what the market rate would be for such a job, and made a bid on the lower end of that scale. We talked on the phone about what kinds of photos they wanted me to shoot (while I tried to hush children tugging at my clothes), we set dates, I arranged for childcare for that time, and rented a fancy lens better suited for the kind of photography I would be trying to attempt.

I felt giddy at being asked to do this thing; excited to try a new challenge; irritated at how difficult it was to set up all the details while trying to wrangle my kids who always seem super needy right when I'm trying to get other shit done (I've always been in awe of people who work while also caring for their kids at home, and I felt that even more acutely that week); and as the first day approached, increasingly nervous about being able to deliver on what I had promised. I made note of all these emotions as they took over. The days of the shoots came and went. In the end I think I did a good job, though wish I'd done better. I felt relieved when I finished processing the last batch of photos and sent them off. I have yet to hear back from the school on whether they are satisfied with my photos, so I'm still feeling nervous about that.

The same week, one of my best friends asked me to take newborn photos of her niece. She offered to pay, but I turned her down. Partially because she's been such a great friend that I wanted to do this as a gift to her and her family. But also, because I noticed how nervous the paid shoot for the school had made me feel-- how it upped the ante, added pressure that turned the photography experience from a fun challenge to an obligation where I constantly felt like I wasn't doing good enough work to justify getting paid for it-- and I wanted this infant session to be fun, light, playful. I took the baby pictures on friday, and that session felt so much more relaxed. I wasn't nearly as nervous or stressed out.

I've been thinking all this over the past couple of weeks. Part of me does sometimes wonder about turning this hobby into a (part-time) career. Is the nervousness just a symptom of "impostor syndrome" or other insecurity? Am I just being lazy, to not want to do the work to push myself to the next level?  I don't know, maybe. I certainly see other "pro" work that I think is inferior to what I can do. But mainly, I think, it's that I have really high standards for what I consider pro-level work, and I don't want to have to hold myself to those standards. I think my photos sometimes meet them, but not consistently enough.

I also don't have a niche yet. A lot of photographers are generalists, spanning everything from weddings and events to family portraits to newborn sessions, etc-- each of which require very different approaches and sets of skills. And many people can do all of those things well, but there's something to be said for specializing and really becoming an expert at one kind of photography. The school and newborn shoots were both really interesting, and showed me how much I have to learn about how to photograph events and babies (and how very different they are).

(I also would have to start shooting in RAW and learn how to edit more heavily, which-- and I realize this is sacrilege in most photography circles-- I really just prefer shooting in JPEG. It's simpler, saves me time and space. I don't have a ton of extra time on my hands, and I'd rather not spend more than 30 seconds to a minute editing each image) 

So yeah, it's been a pretty interesting learning experience, on many levels. I wanted to write about it partially to keep all this fresh in my mind, and for future pondering. My creative spark tends to ebb and flow, and I'm sure all this will come up again later on down the road... and one day I'll be ready to think more seriously about seeking work-outside-the-home, in which case something related to photography could make loads of sense. But for now I like it better remaining something I do for fun, for myself, without obligations or deadlines. 

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