The following article was inspired by photographer, Erika Pinkley. She made a post on Facebook, with this topic line. The post was insightful, working on an issue that has long bothered me, as well as others. It's something that many up and coming photographers deal with. I would like to say that althought this story covers photographers, it really covers any kind of newbie. But for this article we will take aim at newbie photographers.
We've all had our beginnings in something and we can all probably think of that one person or person's who helped you in your quest to learn. Off hand I can think of at least 5 who helped me when I was learning. Your first teachers will either motivate you to want to forge ahead and learn more, or they will break you and drive you to walk away from the craft. I've seen both way too often. The guys who love to give every bit of knowledge, be it a plus or a minus, to someone just learning, in hopes they can help them to learn what they know. Or,....you have that guy or guys who will teach, insisting that the newbie sit back and learn, because in their mind there is ONLY there way to shoot, and that way is their way. If the newbies steers away from the direction they give, and produce imagery, and it doesn't meet what the "pros" taught them, then they are scorned and possibly made fun of. This is usually when they student becomes beat down and decides to quit. Thus the "Pro" has eliminated the newbie who wishes to go outside their way of doing things.
Yes! This does sound like I am picking on the guys who have knowledge yet want the craft of being a photographer done their way. I am. I apologize. Yet, it doesn't mean that it's not something that actually happens. Just means I accept that I find this way of teaching photography deplorable. It serves nothing more then to discourage someone who might have some real talent in the craft. Or, it pushes away the want for a newbie to try and do it their own way, create their own style. Or, you have the "Pro" or "Pro's" who refuse to help a newbie. Haboring all their knowledge so others can't gain from them. You might ask them a question and they simply ignore it, condem it, laugh at it, or insist you walk away and learn on you own. If you go through the past issues of SESSIONS, you will find an article I wrote on my pursuit of the correct way to use the chemical Photo Flo, in my darkroom. I was treated with scorn and laughed at by the guys who hung out at the Photo Supply store, and in the end, another customer, a photographer with the Kansas City Star poured out his knowledge to me. Gave me tips, alternative chemicals to use. We joked, he was kind and a kid of 18 went on to stay with the craft and learn more. On his way out he shook his head at the "Pro's" at the counter, and rolled his eyes. The all just stood there. None of them went beyond, being guys who hung out at a photo supply store. It was a hobby they called their profession. By the guy helping me, I ran home tried his ideas, they worked and upon that I built my own ideas and then later on, I gave my knowledge to others. It's the way it's supposed to work.
Another issue I have often talked about on SESSIONS and to other photographer friends, if the Monte Zucker photographer. In the 80's Monte Zucker was a very talented portrait photographer. I will admit that he did great work. Then come the 90's powers that be, and a whole lot of money offered, Zucker went commercialized, complete with classes, VHS sales, books and yep, workshops. Who 8 easy lessons, for a sizeable cost, the newbie photographer could become the EXACT type of photographer that Zucker was. Now, before I go on and to put to rest what another photographer accused me of, I am NOT mocking Zucker. He was a fantastic photographer. Yet his classes churned out carbon copies of himself. True to form if you bought his products, and did it JUST like he did then your work would look the same, and by God it did. There were clone Monte's all over the place. If you were a newbie and you didn't shoot like him, then you were not a photographer. The interesting thing is, a few of these guys, if they went outside of what they learned and shot another way, or maybe lost a light or two, they had no idea what they were doing. I'm not knocking workshops. I am knocking those that refuse to take it at face value. Throw out what you don't need, save what you do. Learn your own style or skill, grow. Talk to other guys who shoot differently. But never become the clone of another five guys who all shoot the same.
I had a "newbie" once contact me. She wanted me to help her with a few questions perplexing her before she went any further with even trying to be a photographer. First she wanted to know type of camera she should buy? Her's was a DSLR from Best Buy. Her husband bought it for her. He also bought her two lenses with it. It was a Pentax. She felt it was an amateur camera, and that all the pro's seemed to be using either Canon or Nikon. She didn't have much money. I told her to stay with what she has. It's a proven fact, it's not the camera. It's your skill at creating. I offered her settings she could try. Her studio was a corner in the basement, she wondered if this was good enough? I had seen her work. Yes!! You've adapted to work with what you have. It's more then good enough. I offered her ideas on maybe opening up more space and how to utilize the space she has better. Her backdrops were sheets. Yes?? It's what I began with and probably about a thousand other artist. Again, you made work with what you had. She then said, ok well all I have is drop lights from my husbands workshop. It's all I can afford. Her images of portraist of different friends and family, were beyond creative and interesting. To breakdown the intensity of the hot lights, diffuse them, she hung whote sheets in front of the lights. I was impressed. I told her this. Really? Yes!! I offered her what I was taught about lighting, angles, direction, height, distance to the subject,etc..Yet I never pushed it beyond that. She was excited and happy. A few months later she sent me new images she had shot. They were three times better then the first ones. She took what I offered her and built upon that, as well as what others had offered her. Jump to the present, she is a fashion photographer on the east coast. Makes three times what I do, and her work is fantastic. We remain friends, still share ideas, and her head is the same as it always was, she is humble. She teaches and leads like I did with her. This is how it should be. To this day this women cultivates her own style, her own way of doing things, etc.. I can say she has moved on to Sony cameras.
To clarify a few things,.......A. Workshops.....No I am not big on them. But that's not to say I am against them fully. I think if a newbie takes them at face value and simply absorbs what the need to learn and throws out the rest, then yeah, a workshop can be with it. If you have 10 newbies and a teacher, then do what you can to make sure your work is nothing like theirs. As I said, workshops tend to make clones of the teacher and what he or she feels is the way to do something. B. Trends. Photographers get stuck with what they think is the IN themes and concepts. In the 90's every photographer set out to railroad tracks. Get low, shoot low, model center of rails, either sitting in a chair, or on the ground, standing defiantly, etc.. This went on and on. In fact it still is done at times. Gas Mask, Angel Wings, Smoke bombs, Water, the list goes on. Some of these I myself am guilty of. So for the newbie, try and find something new, your own ideas. Never follow the trend or if you do, twist the idea as much as you can. C. Equipement, be it the theory that the most expensive it is, makes you the better photographer or automatically a pro, then think again. Skill, creativity, want, makes whatever kind of equipment you have the better photographer. Jaime Ibarra, a talented photographer/artist, has lost his cameras due to debt twice that I know of. He's had to use his iphone and a Polaroid, his work never waivered. Changed maybe. But in the end, his style remained, maybe even took to a new depth. So you can hold in your hand, a brand new Nikon D850, but it doesn't necessarily make you a pro. D. For the pro. Teach, but teach with an open mind. Everything evolves. We all learn something new. It makes us grow. A fresh mind, a young mind, an amateur on his or her way to be a pro, needs a push up, not down. Pass them on to others who might have a different angle on techniques then you do. If you really think you have it all figured out, then please think again.
I've been the victim of being the newbie wanting help and guidance. Luckily I come from a family of artist and photographers. What I couldn't learn from them, I searched out those who could, or...I picked up a book and learned on my own. I love to see new artist grow, I also love to guide, but rarely teach. We don't need groups, or clicks, or guys thinking they know more. We need those that inspire. I've taken heat from photographers in the area for my viewpoints and I get that. It's fine. I have no problem in feeling I have a right to voice my opinion on what I see and hear. I have a photographer that I am hoping to inspire, and in turn they will guide others as well. So to all newbies, never quit. Find those that will willingly guide you in the direction you need.