Continuing our Dear Me: A Letter to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self series, is the amazing Sara Rogers. She is a pug lover, traveller, bookworm, tea lover, potterhead and just a brilliant artist that inspires us every time we stumble upon her photography! We've managed to get some of her philosophy on the photography career, failures and comparing yourself to others. Grab a cup of something delicious, a mental notebook and keep on reading!
If you had asked me 10 years ago what I would be doing in the future I would have never predicted that I would be a wedding photographer. After graduating high school I embarked on a decade of various schooling and employment. However, every time I would try something new I hoped that I would finally find my passion as well as a job that sustained me financially, but until I found photography I was just jumping from one career to the next without really feeling super connected to anything I was doing. When I finally started my photography business I had this anxiety that I needed to catch up with all the people who started doing photography in their twenties, like I had wasted the last ten years and needed to be successful immediately. These thoughts were super counterproductive though and I understood that when I listened to Ira Glass talk about the gap year (look it up - it will change your thinking). Looking back on my past experiences I realized that last 10 years wasn’t a waste, but that I was actually gaining valuable skills that carried over into my photography business. Now a few years in, I’m hoping to share some of my insights with others that are just starting in the photography industry of things I wish I had known at the beginning of my career.
Don’t worry so much about ‘likes’.
In this social media age and especially in our industry it’s hard to not become obsessed with social media. How often have you posted a photo on Instagram and then two seconds later refreshed the page to see if anyone has liked your photo (and then refreshed…and refreshed). I’m guilty of this for sure! Here’s the thing though…a lot of your followers are not your potential clients, so it’s more productive figuring out who your target market is and using social media to engage with those people. Sure they make us feel good (it’s actually been proven to be addicting, but that’s a whole other conversation) but ‘likes’ don’t necessarily translate into dollars. Social media can be a great tool for business but it can also be dangerous if used too much because it can lead to feelings of insecurity and anxiety.
Make time for travel, family and friends, and yourself.
Self employed people can easily fall into the trap of pouring all their time into their business but if you challenge yourself to turn off the phone/email/social media for a while and make space for the important people in your life you will be happier and more productive as a result. You risk burning out if you don’t take any time for other things, and burning out will destroy your creativity. On the subject of making time it’s important to also make time for yourself, remember that we work a physically and mentally demanding job (sometime sitting for hours in front of a computer, carrying heavy gear around all day). Prioritize your health and your head as well, however that might work for you. Doing yoga, working out, eating healthy food, getting outside, traveling whatever your thing is, make sure you're adding it to your routine.
Don’t waste time comparing yourself to others.
It is futile to compare yourself to others because every artist is different, the way you view things and your life experiences are going to be vastly unique from the next person. Those popular photographers you wish you were as successful as. They started somewhere as well, no one is an overnight success and those photographers that are killing it now put in years of hard work to get to where they are. Focus on standing out from the crowd and don’t pay much attention to what others are doing and you will start to find a niche market for yourself.
Don’t be afraid to fail - Everyone fails.
There will always be ups and down in your business but use failure as a way to grow and challenge yourself, instead of getting down on your work. Trying new things could lead to failure but taking risks can also lead to incredible success as well!
Don’t be afraid to take risks - Don’t follow the trends.
Of all the photographs I’ve taken, the ones that I consider my best work are the ones where I tried something different and resisted following a trend. Some of them, I’ll be honest, were complete experimentation. I had no plan or rules I was following, I just did something new and it paid off. Instead of getting ideas from other photographers, get inspired by other types of artists: painters, writers, dancers, etc. Also, experiment a lot while shooting, you might be pleasantly surprised by the results!
Always be learning.
One of the most important things in this industry is to constantly grow and evolve as an artist. We should never stop learning, even when we’re years in and running a business successfully (maybe even more so then because it’s important not to become stagnant). I try and commit to at least two workshops or conferences a year. Not only have I learned so much at them but I’ve also been able to meet a ton of friends in the industry (which can lead to great referrals). The photography community is amazing. There is so much support for people that are just starting out and there are always people to bounce ideas off of, or that can commiserate with you in tough situations. I believe mentors are absolutely crucial when it comes to growing stronger as an artist. It is important to have someone look at your work from an outsider perspective because we are often too involved in our work to be unbiased. Mentorships come in all shapes and sizes: sometimes it’s second shooting for an established photographer sometimes it’s doing a paid mentorship and sometimes it’s just seeing if a photographer you admire will sit down with you for an hour and chat over coffee.
Don’t worry so much about gear.
When I first started I bought every lens I could thinking that would make me a better photographer. It was only when I started actually learning how to use my gear properly that I saw an improvement in my work. Yes gear is important, but it’s more important to know how to use it, inside and out. Don’t rely on gear to make you a better photographer, master shooting techniques and spend time developing your style, brand, and unique voice. You’ll find at the end of the day you can make magic with a very limited amount of gear (I now shoot with mainly 3 prime lenses).
Don’t be afraid to charge what you’re worth!
There will come a point at the beginning of your career when you need to stop saying yes to all the freebies, “friends discounts” and non-existent travel fees and actually start profiting from your work. Photography is a job. You have gear, insurance, websites, taxes, memberships and a host of other things you have to pay for on top of making money to pay yourself a salary (always make sure you’re paying yourself a salary too, even a small one). Figure out what your cost of doing business is and price accordingly, don’t base your pricing on what everyone else is doing since everyone’s business will be run differently. Know that your unique eye, skills and artistic vision is worth something so please don’t shortchange yourself by charging too little.