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Monday, June 18, 2007

Sometimes A Lens Is Just A Lens

Being a professional photographer is full of emotional ups and downs. Managing the rough times leaves you in a position to reach ever higher levels of success and creativity

I'm Not Cocky

If you're a photographer, a healthy ego is necessary to survive and move forward. I have a particularly healthy ego; just ask any of my friends. Of course, they will never say “healthy ego”; they will say I'm cocky. (Editor's Note: You should see how cocky Louis can be!)

However it's perceived, from a psychological perspective, you need a truly firm belief in yourself and your abilities. You're creating something from nothing in an industry that has no obvious or direct path to success. In fact, this industry has no obvious or direct anything. Meanwhile, in your beginning stages, you're battling the fact that the more you know technically is kind of messing you up. Take heart, though. I promise; it gets better.

Do You Know Who I Think I Am?

In this business, confidence is king. The more you shoot, the better you become. If you take two photographers, each with equal knowledge and natural talent, the one who has shot the most always will win. They have done it. They have been in the trenches and they know how to handle adverse situations like they're second nature. They have clicked the shutter a thousand more times and solved a thousand more problems in their head.

Building your own confidence is the only way to con a client that you can do a job that's way over your head—and eventually everyone gets a job that's over their head. Successfully delivering that job gets you to the next rung on the ladder. Successfully dodging a screw-up and delivering a job that's way over your head gets you up three rungs on the ladder. And so the process goes. The more jobs you nail and deliver (it doesn't matter how big the job is), the more you'll build your confidence.

That is, until your confidence completely evaporates in the heat and loneliness of a dry spell.

Pop! Goes Your Ego

We live in an industry that's 80 percent rejection. I can't tell you how many portfolios I've submitted that have been tossed like six-day-old Chinese food. The insidious thing is that you never know whether it was the work or the fact that the viewer is having a bad day. With exception of a few gems, most of the criticism you'll hear will be both hurtful and useless. Sadly, you have to expose yourself to this barrage of useless crap to find the gems that can transform your career.

But before transformation, all these assaults will turn your ego into an anchor. Your bursting confidence of two minutes ago disappears like a pint of Guinness in a Dublin pub—gone. I can't tell you how fun it is to be a photographer and get your ass kicked by the industry that you love. Combine that with a lull in work, and you'll find yourself in the middle of a period of creative depression. Clouds of self-doubt will begin to follow you around like annoying friends visiting from out of town. You'll shoot less for yourself. You'll panic, cry and want to buy more equipment that you can't afford in the hopes of shaking your malaise. Your significant other, family and friends will be driven crazy by the amount of free time you have to “chat.”

During these dark periods, there are a few things to be absolutely avoided. Don't spend money. I don't care how much room you have on your credit cards, when you're down, your practical business skills are at their lowest and your powers of justification of stupid ideas are at a peak. Don't call clients trying to find work. Instead, send them an e-mail or a new promo, anything that doesn't involve your voice or human contact. What's wrong with your voice, you ask? Have you ever picked up the phone and knew instantly something was wrong with the person on the other end of the line? On the other hand, if one of your e-mails or promos solicits a phone call to you, the excitement of the attention and the potential for work will naturally transform your voice and attitude into something positive.


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