Freelancing. You love photography but you’re not a hardcore businessman. You’re still figuring out what sort of photography you do. After being introduced by a mutual friend, a new acquaintance at a party politely enquires ‘Oh, you’re a photographer? What do you photograph?’ to which you can only respond with ‘Uhhh, anything, really…’
Then comes the age-old question; ‘Do you do weddings?’ At this point, you should make yourself as tall and wide as you possibly can, puff out your chest and shout ‘NO! NO I DO NOT!’ Unless you are a wedding photographer, obviously, as this would make for a lousy business model.
In essence, wedding photography is as much about being able to organise and herd people as it is about being able to take photos. I think if I did weddings (I do not do weddings), I’d bring a sheepdog with me.
I attended a friend’s wedding recently. The photographer was much more into band photography and this was obviously a sideline to keep the pennies rolling in. Now he did a fine job on the day, but the expression of mental anguish on his face when he was trying to organise a group of 80 or so people to pose on the lawn outside the church was distressingly apparent. He might as well have taken a marker pen and written ‘Oh god, why did I agree to this?’ across his forehead.
Well I have news for you, budding photographers, you don’t have to shoot weddings! If a sharp chill zithers down your spine at the idea of your work turning into a photo factory, churning out nightmarishly similar images of close-ups of wedding rings, monochrome babies’ toes with a shallow DOF, tightly cropped images of the backs of wedding corsets being tied up, I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way.
But you need to do at least a bit of it for the money, right? Nope.
Try this now; google for photographers in your area. Go on, I’ll wait here until you get back. See how many people are offering baby / pregnancy / wedding type shoots? See how similar they are? Your first reaction may be that this is the way to go if you want to stay afloat. I would argue that this market is ludicrously saturated and, if you want to photograph stuff for a living and enjoy it, you have to carve your niche.
To clarify, I’m not knocking this kind of photography, despite the slightly snide tone; people are photographers for different reasons. This is to those of you who want to do it for a living for more reasons than just for money.
So, what kind of photography is profitable if it’s not wedding photography? The answer is any kind. I earn my keep through a rather unusual mix of magazine work, promotional portraiture (for actors, singers, comedians, whatever) and pro wrestling photography. Yep, pro wrestling.
So what about you, what do you enjoy the most? Are you an architecture sort of person? Does portraiture excite you? Do you love trekking up mountains at dawn to catch a spectacular landscape? Sports? Abstract? Macro? Heck, you might even be genuinely excited by perfectly lit product photography – it’s not for me to judge (you nutter). You need to shoot what you love, and love what you shoot. That way, it doesn’t feel like work, and you’re much more likely to create something really special, because you care about the end product. The phrase ‘that’ll do’ shouldn’t be in your repertoire.
It’s going well – you undertake photography that interests you, in a style that you particularly enjoy. This creates an environment of self-motivated improvement – you like your stuff, you want to make it better. And better. And better. Now when someone asks ‘What do you photograph?’ or, more importantly, when you send emails to potential customers (you are sending out lots of emails, right?) you can explain what you do with conviction and with passion – ‘I mainly shoot architectural stuff, especially abandoned buildings or uninhabited places. I love the textures and shapes and looking for that perfect composition.’ Or ‘I specialise in portraiture, more specifically fashion-style shoots. I tend to do a lot of clean, high-key type stuff because I love the way it looks.’
Sounds better than ‘anything, really…’ or ‘whatever’, doesn’t it? Photography is everywhere, find a gap and fill it. Make sure you love what you do, because people will see that enthusiasm and get on board with you – it’s infectious.
And not a wedding in sight.