I’ve had a bit of a meltdown in the last few weeks and it’s had the result of forcing me to rethink what these blogs mean to me, what photography has come to mean to me, what I mean to myself, what other aspects of my life mean to me, and what’s most important.
Basically, photography used to be a hobby. It was this way for about a year, pretty much, from the day I bought my first DSLR (a Nikon D70) in 2005. I’d always liked trying to take arty photos as a kid and teenager but never really work with a crappy point and shoot! When I got my hands on that D70, wowee… Why the hell had it taken me so long?
A couple of weeks after I got it, I started a photoblog at blogspot – I called it i-shot and it was great for posting the results of my shooting and self-taught Photoshop processing. I was inspired by the photoblogs of John Waller and Dave Nightingale. I produced images I enjoyed, got a few comments (but never enough to make me feel like I was doing something right – more on that later), and learnt a heck of a lot.
A few months after that I got involved on a short film that a friend of mine was working on. I fancied taking photos on a film because it would mean actors and lighting and cool candid photography, and they could do with the stills for promotional purposes. The DP on the film liked my stuff and took me onto his next short. And his next one. On that latter short, the directors liked my work so much they took me onto their next short, and so on. If you skip forward 2 years, I’m now at the start of a career as a movie stills photographer, getting paid to shoot some pretty big names (Pussy Galore, dude!!!) on their latest film.
I’m also getting paid work shooting portraits, promotional stills for TV shows, product photography, all sorts of little bits here and there, all while juggling it with a satisfying career in TV camera operation which you could say is my bread and butter to fund expanding my photography client base.
Really, this is a pretty good situation!
The problem is I’ve been obsessing over the back end of the photography business, if you like. See, we live in an incredibly digital age. The geeks are going to take over the world, man, if they haven’t already. I consider myself amongst a geek. I embrace technology, but this web presence stuff has gone overboard a bit! I have at least two blogs (this and my glass eye), maintain three different websites that host my photography (my glass eye, my portfolio site and my Flickr account), follow an ever growing number of photoblogs and photography news sites via RSS feeds, post updates on Twitter and follow photographers there as well, enter photo ‘competitions’ online at Photofriday and VFXY and so on…
This all takes time.
I have a life, though. At least, I try to! And I’m struggling to enjoy all of this shit. I go out for a walk and take a camera… why? I won’t have time to blog the shots and the vast majority of them will go on my hard drive and never get seen again. I meant to make books for me and my girlfriend of our year in photos in 2007. Didn’t happen. And in 2008, didn’t happen then, either. I don’t print them, I don’t have the time or energy to blog them… So why do I take them?
Well, I like to keep my hand in for one thing. I went out and learnt a lot about my Softbox III by using it on the street one afternoon. I also just like taking pictures full stop – even if only one really stands out at the end. But I also put pressure on myself to do it because I’ve bought too far into this idea that I’m supposed to do it.
I read Chase Jarvis occasionally. Chase lives and breathes photography because he loves it so much. He’s good at it, it’s his only career, he has a lot of time to devote to it. He really is the epitome of consuming the career, becoming it in every way – it’s inspirational but I think I feel I struggle to match that level of commitment and in some way I’m a lesser photographer because of it.
Yeah, it’s a bit neurotic, I know.
Incidentally, Chase also stands out alongside an increasing number of similar-minded photographers, because he wants to share his experience and knowledge.
Also feeling this whole ‘share the love’ vibe (amongst no doubt hundreds of other photographers, myself included) are people like David Hobby of Strobist and Joe McNally. I’ve learnt buckets from both these guys, just by reading their blogs and taking the knowledge out on the street or on location or just in my back garden. Learnt to stop fearing light purely through the exemplary work of Mr Hobby.
But it’s that personal, fun explorative side of the hobby that’s not fun for me right now. I started ‘my glass eye’ to post one photo a day, little insights into my world and the way I saw things. Well that doesn’t happen any more. The exciting thought of firing up Photoshop to have a fun little tinker with some personal shots and share them with y’all always feels like a great creative goal for the afternoon when I get up in the morning to go to work, but when I get home it feels like a chore.
I spend so much of my time at my computer now, either doing my paid work or avoiding doing crappy stuff like tax returns, or making a new shot for my blog (or avoiding doing so), or reading all my RSS feeds, or reading up on another new shooting/processing technique, or writing an entry for this blog, or just chilling the fuck out playing a game, that I think my backside has probably moulded itself to the shape of my Herman Miller ‘Mirra’ chair (if you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up – it is so choice).
This also means my poor girlfriend gets quite a shock if she ever sees any more of my head than just the left hand side of it, or can’t hear the clatter of the keyboard, the click of the mouse or the tap of pen on tablet. I feel guilty if I’m not on the computer doing something ‘creative’ or catching up on my work.
I also have a bit of a neurosis that requires pretty constant feedback. If I’m not checking my Mint stats (again) I’m looking to see if I’ve got any comments on any of the forums I frequent. I also have these really high expectations of myself which means that much as I love the stuff Jarvis, Nightingale, Hobby etc are putting out, I’m also constantly trying to work out how to get the quality of gigs and traffic that they are, as if either of those things really mean anything. I’m getting the jobs that I enjoy (movies – and boy do I enjoy shooting them! Dream job! Such a fucking cool thing to shoot!) and I’m working on getting more, so why am I not happy?
Well, because I’m not riding an indefinite wave of popularity in the blogosphere, or because I’m not getting invited out to some mountain range to shoot cool lifestyle stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I know the guys that are at that level deserve their success, it’s just that I’ve tried everything they’ve suggested to get the hits, get the notice, get the gigs, and it’s just grinding along at exactly the same pace it always has. I get a hundred or so hits a day, and occasionally someone calls me for a job after I got recommended by someone else.
Ah-ha! Now I should be really pleased about that. I bet you’re thinking, “Bloody hell, someone recommended you? That’s great! That’s how it works! What are you moaning about?”
It’s because I’ve starting caring about the wrong things.
I’ve got to stop beating myself up to post an image a day. I’ve got to stop caring if people like them when I do. I’ve got to realise that just because nobody bothers to comment, that doesn’t mean I’m a failure. Stop worrying about traffic and comments.
In fact, all the type of work I’ve been doing has come from good word of mouth. As a marketing tool I have no idea how much my web presence makes a difference. I don’t think they’re even finding me from Google. I get a load of Google hits from people searching my name or a particular sort of image, but I can honestly say I don’t think a single one of those hits has led to someone calling me up and offering me work. People come here to check out some photos, maybe they like it, maybe not, then they generally leave, or they come back some more.
Some of the regulars do actually comment occasionally, and have been coming since it was called ‘i-shot’, and that’s really cool. But while I’m fretting about the correlation between hits and work received, I should be focussing far more on direct networking and continuing to give the clients I do have my best possible service.
So. Having left this blog alone for the last month or so, I think it’s fair to say that I feel no great pressure to update it that often. I’m also going to try and chill my brain out about updating my photoblog so often, too. After all, 52 great photos are more satisfying than 365 so-so ones. Visitors do not equate to job offers or money, so I have to learn to stop checking Mint. I think if I want to give myself something achievable to do with photography I’ll set up a Tumblr blog and post one iPhone photo a day on that for something to do.
I basically have to stop caring about who likes me and my work, and just start enjoying what I want to do with my life. If that means I blog less, fine. If I take a camera out less, I’m no less a photographer – I just want some time to enjoy a life that goes beyond that lovely black box with glass on the front.