About a year ago, I started to give up on photography as a full-time business. This may sound like a sad thing but sometimes it’s better to not transform something you love into something you make money from.
When I stopped caring if I got clients, I stopped trying to change my photography, and myself, to get business. Because I changed my mindset, my photography went back to capturing moments that made me happy and not capturing moments that other people considered “frame worthy.”
In the last year, I have started focusing only on moments in my photography that bring me joy, and much less on the scenes others might call “pretty.”. I prefer capturing visual memories not photos if that makes sense. If my personal photos come out blurry or dark or “imperfect” I don’t care as long as I feel something when I look at the photo. What some see as imperfections in a photo are what I see as perfections because the moment was what I was after when I clicked the shutter – not the perfection.
Like anyone, I’m more inclined to feel strong emotions about a photo if the subjects are one of my children or a family member but I can also look at a photo taken by a stranger, featuring their family members, and still feel happiness, or sadness, or nostalgia because of how the moment was captured. Many photos trigger an emotion in me because it reminds me of something or someone in my own life. The image being technically perfect is irrelevant to me if it creates a strong emotion for me.
With personal photos, there is always going to be a memory attached to the photograph but as important as the memory is the feeling the image invokes in the viewer. Personally, I can look at a technically beautiful shot of a high school senior and say “oh, that’s nice,” especially if I know the high school senior, but those photographs, no matter how well lit or sharp or colorful, rarely sparks any kind of passion or emotion within me. It doesn’t inspire me to live a happy life or enjoy the little moments or dance in the rain – it just inspires me to say “oh, isn’t she pretty?” or “isn’t he handsome?” or even “lovely lighting.” But I can walk away from that photo and not feel much of anything inside. I can scroll past it pretty quick.
If I see a photo that invokes emotion or offers something different visually, though, it will stop me in my tracks, hold my attention and make me want to photograph something similar or write something about how the moment captured made me think about similar moments in my own life, moments tucked back in the corner of my memories.
Zalmy Berkowitz recently said on a podcast on Outerfocus that the photography industry, especially the wedding industry, sells on the idea of “pretty”, that everything has to be “pretty”. His photography, to me, is beautiful but it is beautiful because it captures moments and feelings over the idea of magazine perfection. And he’s right – the photography industry, especially in the area I live in, is focused on poses and smiles and heads tipped just right. It’s not a bad thing – it just is.
Clients in my area truly don’t want documentary photography. They don’t want to pay a photographer to capture moments for them because they have a cellphone and they figure a snapshot of their kid on a swing is all they need and that’s fine, that’s good, if it works for them, then I’m happy.
As late as last year it irritated me that people, where I live, don’t enjoy the type of photography I produce. I used to be depressed I couldn’t get hired for the photography work I wanted to produce but lately, I’ve realized I don’t want to try to sell someone on something they don’t like so I am content in taking photos for myself. It may mean our budget is tighter, family trips are almost non-existent and my children don’t wear fancy clothes but in the long run none of that matters as much as feeling like I’m creating the art I want to create.
Photography has never been “just a job” for me. Yes, I need money to help support my family but photography started to become something I hated instead of what it used to be for me, which was a way to document my family’s life, but also a type of therapy to calm and focus my racing thoughts. How can I calm my racing thoughts if every morning I wake up and try to think of a new way to make clients who have no interest in my work suddenly love it and want to hire me?
So I stopped trying.
And it’s been the best thing I could have ever done for my art and for me.