10 Ways to Take Your Photography Hobby to the Next Level
The other day I listened to an interview between my friend April Perry, one of the co-founders of The Power of Moms, and the author of the book 'Start'. I was so inspired by the message that I felt compelled to start something (this article) before I have even read 'Start', that’s how inspiring it is! During the past year I have started on a more focused journey to take my photography hobby to the next level. In the back of my mind I thought that maybe someday when I’m proficient at all things photography I would share what I had learned with others. However, after listening to the 'Start' interview I realized that even though I have not reached my final destination photography-wise I do have things that I could share with others that might be helpful to them. So here we go! If you are interested in taking your photography hobby to the next level, or if you just want to read about the missteps and humor along my way, come along for the ride!
My photography journey began in the 4th grade when I got my first camera. I loved it so much! I went around and took pictures of all the important people at Northview Elementary... Mrs. Woods, the librarian, Mr. Rader, the gym teacher, Mr. Yunk, the principal and my teacher Mrs. McManara. I loved the excitement of picking up my pictures at Walmart after I had dropped off my rolls of film to be developed. In college I majored in art and took photography 101 and learned to take pictures on my dads old, totally manual, Nikon SLR and to develop my film by hand in the dark room. I learned to burn and dodge my photos the old fashioned way before I knew a thing about Photoshop. Then, years later I had my first child and got my first digital SLR, a Canon Rebel. I continued taking pictures of my kids and got to a point where I wanted to take my photos to the next level.
When I decided I wanted to take my photography to the next level I had no idea where to begin. There are lots of photographers out there who offer classes, but which ones were really right for me? Could I really justify spending the time and money to get better? Shouldn’t I just be able to figure this out myself? If I could just force myself to read my manuals... I knew how to shoot film, shouldn’t digital be easier to figure out? Then why was I not getting the results I wanted?! What was wrong with me?! I must be dumb. Yep, that was definitely it.
And then all my fears...I don’t want people to talk about my work, I would rather keep my photography as a hobby so I don’t have to put myself out there to be judged by others. But, I wanted to get better.
Here's what I have learned so far that has helped me push my fears aside and learn and grow as a photographer.
1. 20 Seconds at a time. In the movie “We Bought a Zoo” Matt Damon’s character has an awesome quote: “You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.” I was afraid of failing in photography because it was so near and dear to my heart. I couldn’t face failure with this. Anything else, well that would be ok, but not this. I was afraid of being criticized by others. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do work that I was proud of. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to juggle photography along with everything else. Put your fears away for 20 seconds at a time and dial the number to register for that workshop, start that email to a photographer asking the question you’ve been wanting to ask. 20 seconds. You can do it!
2. Give yourself permission to learn from others. You don’t have to do this on your own.
3. Give yourself permission to invest some time and money. Trying to make something out of nothing doesn’t work nearly as well as being realistic about the time and money investment it will take and making realistic goals and plans for your specific situation.
4. Don’t be apologetic of where you are in your journey! I used to think I had to either be a hobbyist or a professional and I didn’t feel quite ready to call myself a professional. I found that when I told people I was in the process of transitioning my photography from a hobby to a professional level that they didn’t lose any respect for me as a photographer and they still wanted to hire me for my asking price. While I wouldn’t want a neurosurgeon who was still in school to operate on me, a photographer in training is a different story.
5. Realize that what you are doing is not as easy as it may seem. If you were going to school to earn a degree you would probably realize that getting there won’t happen overnight. Neither will this and that’s ok!
6. Take some classes! I found that thinking about reading a stack of photography manuals never translated into actually doing it, but when I took some in-person workshops and mentoring and found myself totally immersed, even if I didn’t totally grasp all that was being covered, it was really helpful for me to just dive in. I also purchased a 14 hour video tutorial and found that watching a video worked much better for me than just trying to read a ton of technical stuff. YouTube is also a great learning resource. (And I also learned so much from my mentoring session and lighting class from Nichole Van!)
7. Get inspired. Find some great photographers whose work you love. As I look at the work of more and more photographers I have begun to realize what style I gravitate towards and excel at which helps me realize what photography gear I need and where I need to focus my efforts to learn more. If a photographer you admire doesn’t seem to want to share or teach (for whatever reason...maybe they are just super busy and that’s not their focus right now) find one that does! There are so many amazing and inspiring photographers who are excited to teach and mentor others. For a long time I felt like I couldn’t ask other photographers the questions I had because they seemed secretive about it. Sometimes other photographers really don’t want to share their knowledge and if that seems to be the case, just find one who does! I learned about new photographers whose work I love from articles on FStoppers.com, from the FStoppers wedding training videos I purchased, on Instagram, Facebook, etc... I have found that my style is different than the small circle of photographers that I naturally had come in contact with through my Facebook friends, local photographers, local media etc... and that seeking out other photographers in different circles really opened up a whole new world of possibilities for me and made me feel inspired and empowered to develop my own style and not feel like I had to fit into a certain box. Right now I am super inspired by these photographers: Cliff Mautner (cmphotography.com), Joe Buissink (joebuissink.com), Lin and Jirsa (linandjirsa.com ...the guys behind slr lounge), Jean Smith (jeansmithphotography.com), Jackie Jean (jeanphotography.com) and White on Rice (whiteonricecouple.com ...food photography).
For me it seems like the more amazing the photographer, the more I feel like their work gives me wings to fly rather than pulling me down into the trap of comparing my work to theirs and feeling not good enough. So maybe if looking at the work of other photographers seems depressing, maybe you’re not setting your sites high enough. Maybe you need to look to the next level of photographers for your inspiration!
8. Immerse yourself. Find some great photography resources. Magazines, websites, online forums... I subscribed to Click magazine, ClickinMoms (an online forum), and found some websites I love to visit for photography news and education. Right now my favorite stops on the web are FStoppers.com and SLR Lounge. When I learn a little bit here and there my photography goals seem more attainable than if I wait for that perfect moment where I have the time and energy to focus 100%...that will probably never happen!
9. Set goals. Realize that there are seasons in life. My goal right now is to become as good of a photographer as I can while still fulfilling the roles I have and finding joy in the relationships I value most. As a mother of a 6 and 7 year old I want to spend as much time with them as possible while I still develop my photography skills and business. I'm thinking that if I build my photography business at a slow and steady pace it will be ready to really take off when I am an empty nester and instead of wondering "now what?" once my kids are all grown up I will have something I love and am skilled at to enrich my life and the lives of others once the next season of my life arrives.
10. Get into the flow. Get your work flow down before you get too busy and schedule time in to continue to learn new things. There are many times in the past years that I end up trying so hard to catch up or keep up with getting clients their pictures that I stay stuck in inefficient patterns that just serve to leave me tired and frustrated!
Thanks for reading along! Hopefully there is something here that will help you on your journey whether it is photography or something totally different.