If you are a photographer I can imagine the questions you get asked most often are similar to the ones I get, after you have been asked if you ‘do’ weddings. What is the best camera for my budget? Why are my photographs ‘blurry’? Why are cameras so expensive? What’s the best lens? Are these old cameras worth anything? You get the picture!
But I wonder how often you are asked how you find stories, create a body of work, deal with the varied locations you find yourself in, and the pressure of building a career with photography. Photographers are experts in all of these areas but they are also required to deal with much more than pushing a button. Marketing, publishing, building client bases, accounting, creating online personas, pre and post-production, location sourcing, model booking, researching, moving image creation and editing, sound recording, developing and printing, promotion, budgeting, billing, curation, writing and speaking about your work, being the interviewee and the interviewer, the director, the IT guy, the producer, a journalist and an artist, all of these are transferable skills that the professional photographer has to master to some level of competence.
A photographer is so much more than the photographic image they produce, but if you are reading this you know that is the case.
However, I wonder how often we consider these aspects as being important or intrinsic to being a photographer and perhaps more importantly do we make people aware of these abilities and talents? They are the reasons alongside our work and experience that we should be paid a reasonable and appropriate fee for a commission or for the use of our images, but if we don’t shout about them who is to know?
There is another reason though for us as photographers to be aware of the multi-faceted nature of our practice. That is if we decide to branch out of a dedicated career as a photographer and enter into different areas of employment or to expand into areas connected with the medium. In this case we will need to complete an application, a representation letter and/or a written introduction as to why we are right for a particular role or position. This may mean stepping out of photography completely and therefore into a world that has no understanding of what is entailed in working as a freelance photographer.
Therefore, my suggestion is this. Sit down and make a list on a piece of large paper with a Sharpie of all of the activities you are responsible for and put them into a language that is easy to understand by non-photographers. This could include using broad headings such as Communication, Strategic Thinking, Research, Using Initiative, Problem Solving, Planning and Achievement, Interpersonal Skills, Emotional Resilience, Collaboration, Influencing, Decision Making and Motivation to help you collate the disparate skills you have.
The working photographer is a multi-faceted human being who has much to offer.
The issue is that photographers are not always good at explaining this fact, identifying the qualities they have and expressing them within a context that has nothing to do with photography, whilst having everything to do with photography. Many times I have mentored photographers who have started our conversations with the statement “I’m a photographer, it is all I can do and have done”. The moment I start breaking down the reality of their experience a light bulb comes on and they start to understand exactly what they have done and can do. It is then a simple step to finding a new context for those skills.
You can learn a lot from a photographer, not just about cameras, lenses and photographs.
Dr. Grant Scott is the founder/curator of United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer and Subject Co-ordinator: Photography at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, a working photographer, documentary filmmaker, BBC Radio contributor and the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Routledge 2014), The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Routledge 2015), New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography (Routledge 2019).
Grant’s book What Does Photography Mean to You? including 89 photographers who have contributed to the A Photographic Life podcast is on sale now £9.99 https://bluecoatpress.co.uk/product/what-does-photography-mean-to-you/
© Grant Scott 2021