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Midnight RantChallenges in Photography Business...and way forward et cetera...

It has been eleven months since I have started my serious photography, officially with the birth of my Facebook page, Instagram and followed by my official website. During this period, I have witnessed a lot of items, emotional roller-coaster, as well as fighting off my gear acquisition syndrome (GAS) just like many other photographers. Although some might say I am too new in this business, but knowing my worth, I felt like now is a good time for me to summaries the challenges that I felt so far. The career-defining conversation that I had with Marvin sparked something within, and ever since then, it is history.

 

Photography is lot like playing piano. You don’t buy Steinway straightaway. You learn by using Casio plastic piano, then slowly upgrade to Roland, then finally Steinway.

 

Introduction: Transition from DSLR to Rangefinder

For the first time, I think one of the biggest challenge for me is to convince other people that I am currently doing a freelance photography. Before this, I was a hobbyist, I shoot from one event to another so that I can learn the trick of the trade. I still remember that in 2014, when I bought my first DSLR, Nikon D7100, I was quick to made my second purchase, which is Nikon 50mm f/1.4 AF-S. Using it in a DX-body makes it felt like a zoom lens, to my disappointment. Then, I brought my camera to various local events that I attended, like my friend’s Jimmy, Fiona and event company event such as PAMS event at Borneo Rainforest Resort just for fun and to hone my skill. Back then I was not expecting any payment since I know where I am. I was not serious about it back then either. Gear bug bit me, then I upgraded to Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED lens. It is a great lens, and it is one of the three lens, often called Nikon’s “Trinity”, including 14-24 & 70-200mm. However, there is something not right. I realized that with DSLR typically, if I were to go upgrade into better lenses, I will have to sacrifice portability. I have this friend by the name Lai Kar Wei, who always proudly say that his name rhymes with “Leica”. I had no idea what Leica was back then, so I just google it out and made my own research. To cut the story short, I contacted Erica of Leica Store Malaysia and secured my first Leica – silver version M9-P and a 50mm Summilux which I bought from ShaShinKi (Malaysia’s first and largest online camera shop, now with physical shop. Most of my camera gear is bought from ShaShinki. Good customer service, and if you buy Leica gears, Dr Koh, ShaShinKi’s founder, will e-mail you personally instead). I never used any Leica before that, but once I tried Leica, and examined its image quality which has no equal, especially in terms of look, I never looked back. I even lend my Nikon to my cousin for her assignments since I do not need it.

With my Leica, it poses its own challenge as well. It is a manual, save for the the aperture priority mode. Shutter speed, aperture and focus – it is all manual. However, less is more, and now I have full control of my image. I spend no time fiddling around the menus now, and just concentrate on composing and capturing the decisive moment.

My first Nikon (it’s D7100) and my first Leica, M9-P. Look at the size difference. Note that both cameras are full-frame and are using 50mm lens.

 

During this transition from hobbyist to freelancer, you should be very firm with your worth, and it should be backed by your works as well. You cannot claim that your work is professional if it is taken straight from the camera. It has to be post-processed to ensure it meets your own standard. There is a saying that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, but if an image is ugly, no one wants to stash out their hard-earned cash to get it. that is why, you need to be good before people pays you.

Party Shooter Mindset/ Free-Shooter

Every now and then, when I am running my business, there will always be people asking me to take their photo for free. As much as I want to help them with their event, I have to be firm on my decision as well. I have spent so much time and energy to learn how to capture a good photograph, to attend the course to improve my skills, spending time joining events so that I will be exposed to better photographers. Whenever people say that they will promise you an exposure or they will put credits to your photography, that doesn’t really contribute to the bottom-line. You still need to earn cash to breakeven. Otherwise, you are running a failed business. My advise is, be firm with your stance, charge your clients as per the agreed business. Know your worth. If your potential client is not willing to fork out cash to pay you to pay you in full but still demand the best of your service, just politely tell them that you cannot accept that kind of offer and advise them to look for another photographer. Facebook or Instagram is a great tool to publicise your works, but the hard truth is, “likes” won’t pay your bill. Like it or not, if you wish to make a living from photography, you need to get yourself paid. Otherwise, you cannot sustain your photography and it will be come a liability (read: takes money away from your pocket).

Underestimation of Event

One thing that I always advise my potential client is to look at the importance of the event they are going to have. If that event is not very important, then they may consider using their own smartphone to capture the moments. However, if an event only happens once in their lifetime, like wedding or first birthday for your dear children, then you might consider hiring a specialised photographer to capture the events, but at a considerable price. Why I say like this is because I do not want to regret either you hire a relatively new photographer with low asking fee, but with the cringe-worthy image quality. In this case, it is better to spend extra cash to hire a good photographer. Wedding photography is always on demand, provided your image quality is astonishing, has its own “WOW” factor and tells a story without saying a word, just like Ronan Keating’s song. For wedding reception, it is always best to hire someone who knows exactly what will happens next. Every photographer should be briefed prior the event, and is alert to the Master of Ceremony’s announcement.

 

Way Forward

Let’s face the fact, it is not easy to make money from photography. You can open your shop for days, for months, and no one knocks on your door. That is if no one knows what you are doing. You can have the most sophisticated DSLR on Earth, best lens or the most expensive lens money can buy, but still you are out of job. What would you do then?

I would say, change your approach. Quoting Einstein, to repeat the same approach again and again and expecting different result is madness. It is time to reflect back what went wrong.

What would you do? I would find my way to make things happen. If your skill is not good enough, then learn from the best. Take photography classes or you can even find the specific subject that you want to learn from Youtube or any other sources, although I would suggest you to learn from the masters. I attended Fulvio Bugani’s masterclass once, and it is an eye-opening session. I also went to Mathias Heng’s class also, where he tought his approach to photography, particularly Leica street photography. Gears should not be an issue if you are already using a high-end gear. You can use beginner’s gear, but the end result would largely depend on your skills. Just like a warrior and a blunt sword. The sword will not add up to his skill, but it will make his life easier when he wants to carry out his task. Even John Wick can kill with a pencil, but it does take him some time for him to kill. Let’s say he is using his Beretta, it will take less than two shots for him to kill. Same goes to photography. Better tool will enable you to

To learn, better spend your money on gears appropriate to your skill set first. Then as you know more, you can add up your gear. Don’t go directly. You’ll regret it later. Better start with small, but consistent steps until you arrive. Trust me, you can do it. God bless.

Most importantly, find someone who will support you in ups and downs, because otherwise, your morale will plummet so fast and you’ll hit rock bottom.

Regards,
Claudius

p.s. check out my works at my Facebook Page, Claudius Weson Photography.