How To Survive as a Photographer or Life in General

I’m headed into New York City today to speak to college students who are studying photography.  A friend of mine who is an educator and also a photographer himself asked me to talk to his students.  My first thought was to talk to them about video, because that is what I have been doing lately – speaking to groups of photographers about video.  But then I thought about it more and thought it would be unfair to show a power point presentation about another skill set.  More importantly, I thought it would be another talk about another tool.

So this morning I switched gears and I started writing down some thoughts that I feel have helped me survive the life that I have carved out as a visual communicator. I remind myself of these ideas whenever I have drifted from my life’s purpose and it gets me back on track.

  • Seek opportunities – or better yet take notice of them when they come along – they are everywhere if you open your mind to them. I have found that some of the jobs that I almost turned down because I thought that it wasn’t for me have been the most rewarding jobs I’ve ever worked on.  Here’s a blog that I wrote about one of these opportunities that I almost didn’t embrace. “Breaking the Spirit”
  • Find your passion – don’t define yourself by your tool – whether it’s a still camera or a video camera or something that hasn’t been invented yet.  Stay true to who you are and how you “see” the world.  I need to be reminded of that every once in a while. Recently, a friend of mine got me thinking about whom I am, and I realized that I’m really that same 19-year-old girl who took off around the world with an insatiable curiosity for people and cultures.  I became a photographer because I wanted to share this passion with others and I use my camera as a tool toward that end.
  • Don’t just “be” a photographer – By that I don’t mean that you should also shoot video – although it wouldn’t be a bad idea.  What I really mean is that in order to be a visual communicator, you need to have something to say.  When I attended Brooks Institute many, many years ago, the constant tech talk used to bore me to tears.  I had just come back from hitchhiking around the world and I knew there were more interesting topics to talk about than f/stops and shutter speeds. The funny thing is I don’t remember the technically perfect photos that were critiqued in class if they didn’t have something else going for them – something that evoked a feeling. It’s kind of like an actor who studies acting technique but doesn’t understand or portray the character they are playing.
  • Keep learning and growing – I’ve never stopped learning.  My college days and days at Brooks Institute are long over, but I’m constantly learning and trying new things.  I’m an explorer by heart and there will always be something out there to discover.
  • Take risks – The most important things that have ever happened to me have been also been the things that scared me the most. Nine out of ten times things didn’t work out as planned or what I had hoped for.  But it’s that one time when things did work out that brought great value and rewards to my life.  So when I try to talk myself out of doing something, based on my fears, I think about the times when the risk did pay off.  If I don’t take the chance – I know I won’t have a hope for anything happening at all.
  • Don’t listen to the naysayers – I try not to let others talk me out of my dreams.  I dodge the roadblocks that people try to put in my way.  Surround yourself with other dreamers – not the half empty crowd.
  • Be a publisher – Don’t wait for someone else to validate who you are by assigning you a job and handing you a lopsided contract that is not in your best interest.  Distribution is king in regards to content and it’s never been easier in these days of the internet and social media.

Lastly be true to yourself and love life – all facets of life, the bitter and the sweet.  We are all just tiny blips on the timeline of life – make the most out of it in your own way.

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2 Replies to “How To Survive as a Photographer or Life in General”

  1. Gail, I would add to your fine post one additional point that has helped me so much in life:

    Embrace your mistakes and learn from them.

    It is so easy when everyone including yourself tells you everything is going fine, you are doing so good, etc, and then, when something wrong happens, when things do not work ok, then we may get lost in our egos, instead of learning to learn from the mistakes done.

    I am doing some lighting workshops for photographers, and most end up surprised of constantly hearing from me that I expect them to experiment and do things wrong, so they can learn how to do it better.
    I certainly don’t know why this approach is not used more often in education. Perhaps it is my self-teaching process what led me to embrace my mistakes since the beginning, but what a powerful tool it is, if used correctly, not only in photography, as you say, it also applies to life.


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