^ Dead or Alive, NZ 2018
NOW UPDATED FOR 2020: Some more honestly, some slightly more jaded answers, you be the judge....
If you've been reading my blogs for the last few years, you'll know that I'm quite passionate about education, but really don't enjoy handing information over on a silver platter, just because it is asked. I know students have to learn from someone, but as professionals, are we really doing the best thing by them by handing over the information they ask for, or should we instead be modelling the responses we expect from the upcoming generation?
A professional photographer can always tell when it’s ‘Student Assignment” Season, when the flood of requests for all the same questions come in. Who are you? Why did you choose your genre? How long have you been in the industry…?
All of them come as emails from my Contact page, and almost all of them are sent in the early hours of the morning, telling me that the senders are pulling all-nighters to get their assignment done before the deadline. Some are polite and understanding. Some are rude and arrogant. Most are lacking basic punctuation, spelling and professional courtesy. I'm left feeling exasperated between helping them vs putting in the time to write out honest answers, for which I never actually EVER hear back from, not even a thank-you.
I guess it wouldn't be so bad if the questions weren't so blatantly copy/pasta. It’s largely just ‘gimme gimme gimme, I have an assignment due and I need your response ASAP.” Sorry brah, a lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.
Most of these questions take a considerable amount of time to respond to, any working professional will tell you a full history is cumbersome and requires a short story, complete character development and an epic tale of fighting the dragon and surviving, so a friend suggested that I answer them in a blog.
Lecturers / Educators: Please note; I'm not against you setting these questions for students to contact professionals and interpret their answers. I'm sure you all give the students plenty of notice for their assignments. Maybe you could switch up the format each year? Maybe a Panel Q+A? Maybe you could host a zoom/video conferencing session and allow the students to ask us stuff and all that? Maybe we could come in and show the students what we do? Maybe there's a small lesson on professional etiquette and networking to be had, before they're unleashed on busy photographers?
^ Icefields Parkway, Canada, 2019
Let’s have a look at how you should NOT approach the situation…
The message I received the other day stated:
“Need help with project
“I chose you as a nature photographer and I would like to know about some of your background, education, how you got into photography and why you specialize in nature photos specifically.”
Let’s break down the many things I had an issue with, and thus, after several of these this week, broke my ability to care about these kinds of requests.
^ Trondheim, Norway 2014
The contact before that person was a little better, but still lacked some basic courtesies when you’re asking someone to write an assignment for you;
“Hello Mel, I'm currently doing a Photography course in TAFE and trying to finish up some last minute assignments. I have had a look at your photographs and I really admire your work and I was just wondering if you could spare a minute to answer a few quick questions for me that would really help me out a lot, I'd appreciate that. If you find the time to answer these as soon as possible that would be awesome. Here are the questions, again thank you very much for your time!
- Name, location:
- Style, genre:
- How long they have been operating? How did they get their start in photography?
- What brands/equipment do they use?
- Do they shoot a variety of studio/indoor outdoor? How does this effect their style?
- How do they remain current/up to date in today’s market?
- Do they travel a lot for your work?
- What is their favorite part of their job?”
New questions for 2020, I can see some interesting changes;
- What equipment do you use to achieve your results? Are there any filters on your subjects?
- Are you an Elinchrom fan? If not, what lighting and modifiers do you use?
- Your content is great! How long did it take to achieve the quality of your images? When and how did you get the lucky break that you needed?
Cheers man, points for copying direct from the assignment brief. I didn’t realize my name was They and Their. I pulled this guy up on his tardiness for his deadline, and for copying the questions and not personalizing them. He replied,
“Hi Mel sorry for copy/pasting the questions. I had already found the answers I could but since I couldn't find everything I decided to start from blank and let you answer them in your own words that way everything is up to date and correct. If you don't have the time I understand completely. Sorry for contacting you last-minute I don't often leave things till last minute if I can but I have been quite sick for a week or two and I now need to finish the assignment either way since this is the last week of the term. And this is the last task left to do and I have 1 out of 2 photographers done. “
Again, a lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine. Grovelling isn’t going to help you. I was once a Uni student, and a TAFE student. I managed to get things in on time.
^ Last Resort, Iceland 2014
Let’s have a look at how you should approach the situation…
“Hi Mel, my name is (person) and I am studying a (diploma/certificate of coursetitle) and I found your website on Google. I’m wondering if you have the time to help me answer some questions that I am required to ask of an industry professional. My deadline is (date) and I’d really love to include your responses in my assignment, as I really enjoy the colours and subjects you portray in your work.
Optional: “I apologize I do not have the means to pay you for this time taken to respond, however I would greatly appreciate 5 to 10mins to respond to these questions.”
(Then write the questions in your own words, OR)
“So I’ve managed to have a look through your website, and I’ve answered almost all the questions I have for myself, I just need you to answer just a couple more;
What’s the favorite part of your job?
What was is the most difficult thing about staying current in your industry?”
Thanks so much for your time, I look forward to hearing your responses.
Now if I had of received that email above, I’d be more than happy to reply, because those questions bring me a level of happiness that someone cares about my time too. It offers me a fun question to answer and a serious one.
So since I know these two aren’t the last, I’ve written this blog. And it all boils down to this.
I’m not going to write all of your next assignment. I'm going to teach you how to fish.
^ Last remains of the S.S Dicky, Queensland, Australia 2016
Name, location: Info and about page has it covered.
Style, genre: Have a look at my Galleries, if you have eyes, you’ll figure it out.
How long they have been operating? How did they get their start in photography? Get some of this from my Info page, ask me about this in your contact
What brands/equipment do they use? Check out the hashtags on my blog posts…
2020: What equipment has changed in my time of being a photographer? Am I using a mixture of older and newer equipment? Well sonny, the first part of your question can be answered in the equipment above. All you need to know is, my equipment is no older than 5 years. Make up your own mind whether that's old or new.
Do they shoot a variety of studio/indoor outdoor? How does this effect their style? This one is for YOU to answer, not for you to put forward to the photographer to ask!
How do they remain current/up to date in today’s market? Again, if you’re polite you can ask this of me, else, form an opinion of your own.
Do they travel a lot for work? Uhhh, maybe the Galleries separated by COUNTRY might give you some indication of this.
What is their favorite part of their job? Ask me: be nice.
2020: In terms of location, do you prefer Indoor or Outdoor shooting? Oh man, this is a tough one.... Whew I'm going to have to actually THINK about this response....
2020: Am I an Elinchrom fan? If not what lighting and modifiers do I use? Gee, I dunno, I mean, it's seriously a hard question to answer if you've seen my work... Does THE SUN count? Does a storm or inclement weather of any kind count? I mean I know what types of equipment that Elinchrom makes, but that doesn't mean that I'm a fan...
2020: How long did it take to achieve the quality of your images? When and how did you get the lucky break you needed? I don't know if I'd call it lucky. I heard a quote once, "Luck is the last dying wish of someone who believes that winning can happen by accident." HARD WORK, PERSEVERANCE, GUMPTON, THICK SKIN, IGNORING-THE-INTERNAL-SCREAMS-THAT-YOU'RE-NOT-GOOD-ENOUGH and DARING-TO-BE-A-LITTLE-CRAZY is how you get yourself out there.
Congratulations if you've made it thus far, I'm sort of impressed.
So it breaks down into really only 2 or 3 questions you have to ask.
^ USA Abstract: 2019
So those last three responses?
How long they have been operating? How did they get their start in photography?
I started by taking landscape images as a hobbyist after finishing a Fine-Art degree at Uni in 2008. Paints, printmaking and sculpture supplies were difficult to come by in rental houses, so I picked up a camera as an alternative artistic outlet. As my passion grew, I started getting more and more exposure by posting on early websites such as Flickr, 500px and on my own website, linked through Facebook. As time passed, I was chasing the light on the land more actively than before, and gradually started to think about becoming professional. To make myself as desirable as possible, I brushed up on my writing skills, posting travel blogs each time I went somewhere, and I learnt some videography in my spare time. I started out part-time, intending to become full-time as soon as I could.
I did all of this while working in another field to generate the business to a point where I could cut and run, to become a full time professional. Unfortunately, landscape photographers face an uphill battle to become professional in today's market. I make lots of my income via selling licences to companies and other users of the images, and so it generates a passive income.
In late 2017, I had a house fire, and lost everything. I lost a lot of gear, images, trophies, certificates, books and I lost the motivation because it's just so hard to recover from that. I've remodelled my business and I'm considering what comes next. Because of it all, I still work in another industry (IT) and am considering taking the skills and knowledge I use everyday work and applying them to lectures. I'm still deciding what's next.
2020 Update: I've decided that it's OK to still be treading water with my business. Thankfully my royalties agreement with Ravensburger is still going and providing me with a bit of income on the side.
How do they remain current/up to date in today’s market?
Simply just listen out. Turn up to events. I'm a member of the AIPP (Australian Institute of Professional Photography) Queensland, I participate in events and have been on the council that runs them, there's a variety on all the time for different genres, and it's so much fun and so informative. I'm keeping tabs on my peers, our awards allows us to challenge each other and to push the boundaries of our creativity further. I'm always reading and watching and absorbing ideas around me. Just joining a member organisation to participate, listen, attend events and chat to those at the top of their game is the best resource. Be challenged by your peers!
Professionally, I'm writing blogs such as these and working on what I can do with limited time again.. I'm still selling licences to images and planning when and where to take more. There's no shame in taking a pause to figure out what comes next, and it takes however long it takes.
2020 update: I hate to sound bitter but this is a hard year and a hard market. I've seen even the best photographers closing up shop or diversifying their business portfolios so they can put food on the table. I'll be the first to admit that I'm not up to date in todays market, I dislike Instagram but still use it, I dislike Facebook but still use it, I don't buy into TikTok or Snapchat or any of those other social apps. I like my website, I love my website, I hate marketing. Id rather people see my pictures and feel something, instead of blatting it into their faces like a two year old with diahorrea.
Oh, and work smarter, not harder, hence this blog!
What is their favorite part of their job?
You're going to laugh, but it's simply the zen time. I'm quite the introvert, so people and loud sounds and all that exhaust me. So I love the quiet time of being on-location with a scene, photographing something I don't have to direct or tell it how to pose, I just move around to suit my subject and that's the best part. When the research of finding the best conditions all align and I capture a scene I've wanted for ages, well there's nothing better than that.
^ Floating, Antarctica 2017
So next time please, assignment-frenzy-time-short-student, PLEASE treat me like a human being, speak to me like I’m your mother or your father or your grandmother and BE POLITE. Manners get you a long way.
Who knows, one day we may meet.