Becoming a photographer

The other day, I got an email – somewhat out of the blue from Miranda, who wanted to interview me for her High School paper on careers. She chose ‘photographers’, and found me somehow – presumably via this web-site.

Anyway, she sent over a list of quite interesting interview questions, and as I’m a right rambling mofo, I went on and on and … etc. But anyway: I figured that there might be quite a few other people out there who are young, aspiring to be photographers, and have questions about how to go about it, so I decided to just publish my answers.  


What is the most important thinfs to know when entering the field of photography?

You need to have a serious, sound technical knowledge of how cameras work, how light works, and how it all combines into a photograph. Without this knowledge, you will never be able to get the pictures you want. However, there’s good news: The technical side isn’t that difficult, and can be learned.

The second thing you need can’t be taught or trained, it’s something you either have, or manage to build up over time. It’s an eye for a good photo. It’s a difficult yet important part of being a good photographer.

The final thing you need to be is a people person. Photography is usually about the people in front of the lens, and if you can’t make them relax and be themselves, the photos will never come out well.

What is your favotrite part about photographing?

My absolute favourite part about photography is being able to show people things they could have seen, but never did. That’s one of the reasons why macro photography is such a big passion of mine.

Also, I did a whole article about this – see here.

did you go to school at all for photography? If so how long and did this help in your carrer?

Nope, not at all.

Do you think it is important for one to go to school for photography or anything related?

Not really. As I say, you do need to take a good picture, but there’s no reason why internet research and a lot of practice can’t make up for it. if you’re planning to set up for yourself, it makes more sense to take a course on how to run a business – the pitfalls, challenges, dealing with staff, taxes, all that kind of stuff.

Ultimately, you have to be able to take a good photo. I’ve seen people who’ve finished photo college with a decent grade who couldn’t photograph their way out of a wet paper bag, and I’ve seen non-formally-trained amateurs who would put Magnum photographers to shame.

what is the biggest challange in photography?

Understanding people, and what makes them tick. Photography is very much about telling stories, and while you are using a visual medium to do so, you still need to be a good storyteller, and have an eye for what appeals to people

What is your favorite thing to photograph and why?

I really like doing portraits of people close to me. Invariably, they tell me they aren’t photogenic, and frequently, I prove them wrong. There’s something special about managing to capture people you know well, because you know their quirks and mannerisms – things they might not even be aware of themselves. When they say ‘this photo looks a bit odd’, their spouse / friends / families say ‘but that’s SO you!’. That’s a thrill.

> ~Do you believe that in some cases being a great photographer can come naturally?

If you mean to ask ‘is talent a part of being a photographer’, then the answer is yes. As I said, I think the main part of photography is the part that can’t be taught – you have to build up a visual thought pattern, and you have to be able to visualise an image, the lighting, and all that.

It all depends what you want to do with your photography career. You can work at some crappy photography studio somewhere, which rakes in the cash by taking formulaic, boring, and utterly pointless portrait photos. Individually, the photos are quite good, but after you’ve seen a week’s worth of their output, you realise that every pose, every lighting setup and every shot is exactly the same. That kind of stuff is soul-crushing, and it’s not photography: you’re merely a technician in a machine, limited by the limit on time and creativity.

The time it takes between the first time you pick up a camera and when your photos start turning out the way you envisioned depends heavily on talent, so yes, that part can come naturally.

When did you first get interested in photography and why?

Honestly? I totally don’t remember. I think I’ve always been interested. I’ve had SLR cameras for as long as I could walk, and I bought my first digital compact camera (a Casio QV-2000) in 1998. I’ve just never looked back.

Are you a Freelance photographer or are you hired on to a newspaper, magizene, etc…?

I was never a staff photographer, but I freelanced for about 3 years, before I decided I’d rather have photography as a hobby than a job, and changed my career path. I’m now the web editor of a car magazine.

Do you prefer being freelance or being hired on?

Both have definite upsides. Freelancers generally pull in more money over time, but you have to work hard to get to that point, and you have to put up with all the hassle of running your own company.

Beign a staff photographer means more regular working hours (well, it normally does, anyway), higher job security, and you don’t have to worry about getting your own equipment.

Personally, I would strongly suggest starting out as a staff photographer if possible. You’ll get a lot of silly jobs and all that, but the connections you’re building are invaluable, and it helps having been part of a working environment, so you learn the language used, and know what your picture editors are looking for.

Do you prefer Digital or film photography and why?

Digital. All the way. Because it’s faster. Because it’s faster, you learn quicker. Immediate feedback means that when you realise one set of camera settings isn’t working, you can immediately make a change, and see what happens. That level of control means that you can take note of what happens when you do A, B and C, so the next time you’re facing a similar problem or situation, you’ll start doing the right thing immediately.

Also, for the time being, as long as you are working on press / magazines, there’s no real reason to shoot with film anymore. If you’re an advertising / studio photographer, the case might be made for medium or large format, and if you’re a hobbyist, you should definitely have a go at photographing with film, doing your own developing and copying and all that.

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