When I was growing up, being the best in your field was the aim in life. I did the tertiary education jaunt for a while, dabbling in a few courses before I decided that I wanted more out of life than academia was providing. Read between the lines, I was a drop out. The terms ADD and ADHD were not everyday conversation at this point in my life, and even though I had a fairly successful school career, I had always bucked the trend. Life was an adventure, and still is.
Fast forward a few years (okay, MANY years!) and I found myself in the corporate environment, making a decent living but I was bored. The dear husband surprised me with an introduction to photography course (I had googled the basics and Emil popped up - loved his site and the first picture I saw was of a frog, and those who know me well understand my passion for the little creatures!). I signed up and proceeded to form a small addiction. Emil will argue and say it is quite a nasty problem I have, but I beg to differ. By my second lesson, I had bought my first digital SLR camera, and soon found a world that could not bore me. The realms are limitless.
At this stage I was still a working woman, with little time to feed my obsession. But, as we hear, change is as good as a holiday. There was talk of rationalization at work. I was not happy at the time and took a deep breath and asked for a retrenchment package, which I was granted. The scary part was that I needed my salary and I was an absolute amateur photographer who could never hope to make it commercially. After a few chats with Emil, who needed an assistant but was not ready to commit to a salaried employee, I took the plunge on an ad hoc basis.
To be fair, Emil put up with my ridiculous lack of expertise with a gentlemanly manner. If I was in his shoes, I would have fired myself several times over! But I slowly started to learn what he needed and when. This post is really about inspiring potential professional photographers out there. You need to start at the basics. There are few photographers who will take an amateur and train them as fully as Emil worked with me, but if you find one, do not mess it up. I have no problem telling people I am a photographic assistant. Purely because I am not really in that box. In the early days, Emil would cringe with what I was producing. But, as in all things in life, I practiced and I improved. We laugh about it now - the early days and my lack of finesse in editing specifically. I am more than capable to hold my own now, but still choose to do it under the umbrella of Limephoto. There is nothing that can take away from the fact that I learn something on every shoot we do together. I have been thrown in the deep end many times over, where I question myself and my ability to cope, but I have learnt from (in my opinion), one of the best and continue to do so. I often will do corporate assignments on my own, but I am still very happy to hold an umbrella and be called VAL (for those who don’t know the lingo, it means ‘voice activated light stand’. I have no airs and graces. I do what I do, because it is a learning experience. And I love it.
Over the 3 years since I met Emil, I have moved onto owning an arsenal of decent gear, an amazing portfolio of bizarre shoots, a decent regular cardio workout from sheer running, and a profound respect for Emil and people like him who will mentor others. It is hard to find. An assistant position is the best thing you can try to dabble in if professional photography is the route you are planning to follow. If you feel it is demeaning, you need to have a class in humility and start respecting those who have been in the industry for a lot longer than yourself.
The failure rate in this industry is high. Don’t put the horse before the cart. Invest in yourself and pay to do courses with reputable professionals. Your business self worth is not attached to your Facebook page ‘likes’ but rather the money in the bank from decent clients. Don’t sell yourself short, but remember that learning will never end. And get an assistant position!