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Photo Writing is the web version of the Photo Writing mini-magazine produced by Limephoto and Emil von Maltitz since 2010. As of 2015 it is now completely online. Feel free to browse through the articles and please leave comments in the comments section if you would like to engage with us.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

5 Reasons why I love my job

5 Reasons why I love my job

A short while ago I wrote a blog post about some of the myths that revolve around professional photography (you can read it here). Anyone reading this would unsurprisingly wonder why on earth any sane person would want to become a professional photographer. Some journalists are motivated by a higher calling, in which case photography is really a means to an end (portraying what they might consider, ‘The Truth’). But what about the average photographer who is not trying to break a story to the inexhaustible press? The fact is, I adore my job and there are several other photographers that I speak to who feel the same of theirs. So as a counter to my earlier article on reasons why not to become a photographer, here are five arguments for the profession:

I get to Create

Hands down this is the primary reason why I love my job. I have slowly come around to the realisation that I am at heart an artist. I don’t think I am a particularly good one, but I gain pleasure, catharsis and meaning from creating images in much the same way that artists in the traditional media such as painting and sculpture do. If you have the innate desire to create artwork, photography, either as a hobby or as a profession, allows an output for this flow.

Of course, the problem that emerges is that professional photographers don’t necessarily get to create on their own terms. They have to create according to a client’s brief most of the time. I still enjoy this though as the act of creation is also an exercise in problem solving. There’s something incredibly fulfilling in solving the problems of an image to create a meaningful picture that communicates to a viewer. So not every image I create is of a majestic landscape with light sluicing  through mountain peaks. Most images are fairly mundane, but they still require some creative thought in their making. I derive fulfilment out of this. Still, In a perfect world I would spend every day creating images of landscapes.

I find it interesting how many amateur photographers take up the camera as a means to fulfil their desire to create artistically, because their jobs don’t allow this creativity. Of course creativity in one’s profession can also be difficult as you are expected to turn it on and off like a tap. Creativity doesn’t work like that sadly. Yet, it is the licence to be creative that is one of the primary rewards of being a professional photographer.

I get to Own My Own Time

This is a bit of a two edged and very heavy sword. Yes, I control my own time theoretically. In reality however, my time is controlled by the client and the necessity to meet deadlines that never end. Does this sound similar to a normal day job? The difference is that I can put things down and decide how I want to meet those deadlines. I can choose to take the day off (I rarely do) and visit a friend. I can opt to spend my time reading instead of processing images. There are myriad ways I can choose to utilise my time since I am a freelance and therefore supposedly only beholden to myself (oh and my creditors).

The downside of course to being the owner of your own time is that no one pays the bills when you are sick. If you opt to spend the day on the beach rather than behind the computer finishing a heavy shoot’s images, then that’s a day that you are not going to be paid for. It also means that you can’t whine about a boss not paying you enough. The only person to blame for any problems in your supposed business, is yourself.

But the freedom, the licence you are given, is heaven sent. A lot of small business owners will say the same of their chosen enterprise. This is something that isn’t unique to photography. In fact, very few of the reasons why I love my job are unique to it.

Every Day Is Different

Routine is one thing that a photographer does not have. Sure, there are fairly typical studio days and shoots could roughly be broken down into broad similarities, but for the most part every day is different. You actually come to enjoy the few days that do start to gather some kind of repetitiveness. This came as a surprise to me after I had been working as a professional photographer for a few years. I now enjoy the days where I can reliably count on a kind of ‘routine’. These happen very rarely though and even supposedly routine days tend to get mashed up somewhat as students drop me questions, pop in to the studio, new quotations get requested or a client suddenly phones up with an urgent image request. But, as it so happens I enjoy being on my toes all the time. There’s a low level adrenalin that I clearly seem to gravitate towards. This doesn’t mean that I yearn for stress (my wife will tell anyone who asks that I’m like a bear with a sore head when the stress of deadlines gets to me).
Photographing for the Natural history Museum - iPhone BTS shot by Claire Forster

One of the most enjoyable aspects of every day being different is that I don’t sit behind a desk every single day of my life. When I do work behind the computer, I don’t have to see the same coworkers every time I look up from my desk (although I do from time to time take on temporary assistants and interns). The highlight though is really the fact that I get to use my legs and my eyes outside of the confines of an office space. As an example, and this is fairly standard; in a 30 day stretch I spent a day in a rural district photographing soccer, made two visits to the Natural History Museum to photograph some interesting people and things, traveled to a game reserve to lead a photography workshop, spent a day with students photographing a professional model, tackled product imagery for a stationery company in the studio, did a stock shoot at dawn along the coast, and spent some time photographing a fascinating racking system for a logistics company (I even hitched a lift on one of the automated cargo trolleys). To me, that’s a pretty good way to spend my month. Oh and because I own my own time I was easily able to attend my daughters’ fathers day event at school and had family visitors that I could spend quality time with.

I get to visit interesting places from time to time and see some cool things

I am continuously amazed at what things people need to have photographed. This is probably one of the foremost reasons why I have unconsciously niched myself towards industrial and commercial photography. When I get a phone call to quote for some or other job, it’s often for an industrial product or application. By photographing these things and processes I have actually learnt a lot more about the world around me than if I had just been sitting in an office writing reports. Sure, I might not be like Joe McNally working for the National Geographic, but in my short career as a photographer I have had the privilege to often go behind the scenes to places that the average person on the street never sees, let alone dreams of seeing.

The camera is a little like a tourist’s visa to see cool things. At any rate, I think they are cool, which is why I love my job. Standing on top of a 50 metre high oil tank at the beginning of the year with hard hat and safety boots waiting for the light to give us something other than a post-apocalyptic look to the rusting hulk, Claire (my assistant) and I were discussing how unique an opportunity this was. At other times I have found myself hovering over factories in a helicopter or perched atop a 3 storey high cherry-picker looking down on vehicles that look like they are straight off a set from Star-Wars. Three back-to-back knee surgeries for a pharmaceutical company were also something that anyone outside of the medical fraternity is unlikely to see.

Then of course there are the workshops that I am fortunate enough to be involved in. These have taken me to some wonderful places (I feel extraordinarily privileged to be able to visit the Drakensberg in particular on a regular basis - my second love next to my wife and children). But, what really surprised me was that one of the real highlights of running workshops, is the students I get to meet. Spending time with photography-minded individuals is liberating and refreshing. Most people have to spend their time with colleagues who are doing the job because it’s a job. I get to spend some of my time with students and colleagues who are doing photography because they are passionate about it.

I Love Photography

In the original article debunking the myths of professional photography I spent some time going over why it isn’t the same as making your hobby your profession. For a small selection of photographers though, photography transcends the notion of a hobby. It becomes an encompassing paradigm; a way of seeing the world and living in it. If you are truly mesmerised by photography, the way you can capture an image in a single slice of time, tell stories through images and create a vision of the world through an apparatus that freezes time and transforms light into pictures, then photography can be more than hobby or a profession. It becomes a vocation.

The attentive reader will notice that I haven’t mentioned money at all amongst the reasons to become a professional photographer. The reason for this is simple. Money should not be a discerning factor in becoming a photographer. If making money is your ultimate goal, photography is not the way to do it. There’s a trap that many would be professional photographers fall into when they set out into photography. The general idea is that WEDDING photography makes good money. In some cases it does. For the most part it doesn’t. I have, consciously or unconsciously, avoided wedding photography and as a result have truly enjoyed the work that I do because of it’s varied nature.

The late Terence Donovan in his last interview with Martyn Moore talks about the passion and the desire to just do photography. I remember reading this interview as a sixteen year old thinking this guy was a genius, a god of photography. Most of what he was though was “a man who was obsessed with creating pictures1”. He also happened to be pretty good at it. Ultimately, if you are as obsessed as Donovan was with photography, then it doesn’t matter about downsides exist of trying to make a living out of photography. What matters is that you are making pictures.

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