We all remember getting our first camera. That feeling you had when you first opened the box and attached the lens to the body for the first time. We shoot here, there and everywhere, often frustrating the life out of those closest to us as we continuously point our glass in their face. Then that moment comes. The moment when you have heard too many people say “you could do this for living”, for you not to act upon it.
So you make the decision that you are going to become a professional Street Photographer. You set yourself goals and even dare to dream big. You tell yourself that you will sell prints worldwide, travel the globe to shoot the coolest destinations, you may even become a celebrity because your success has become so big. You come up with your plan, you tell all of your friends and you get to work.
Fast forward 8 months later, and you find your camera on the top shelf covered in dust, no longer being used anywhere near as much as it was when it was just a hobby. So, why did you quit? Why did you not reach your photography goals?
In 2017 we are very much in “Generation Now”. We want our food NOW, our updates NOW, our career goals achieved NOW. The words patience and process are locked deep within the back of our minds as we go through life demanding NOW NOW NOW. The same applies to so many photographers. As soon as they decide they want to make a name for themselves, they become so focused on the end goal that they become detached from the steps that need to be taken to get there. I myself have been in that position. Frustrated with not getting recognised I have found myself sat looking at my gear thinking “What is the point?”.
The reality is you may not sell your first print in your first year. You may only be getting unpaid gigs, whilst any attempt to get paid work gets shut down. You may send a hundred emails, only to get one response - and that is to say “No thanks”. As you are aware there is a lot of work that goes into becoming a paid photographer. Even more work goes into becoming a semi-pro, and it’s a ridiculous amount of work to become a full time professional. On all fronts, a lot of that work involves getting doors closed, being ridiculed and being pushed to breaking point when all your hard efforts get overlooked. On the flip side of that, the hard work also includes meeting new people, improving your skills and gaining more knowledge about the field. It is the yin and the yang, and neither could have the impact that they do without the other. All of these elements that contribute to the overall process need to be appreciated if you are going to meet your goals, and in order to ensure you don’t keep packing it in, they must be enjoyed.
Over the years I have taught myself to be more involved with the present moment (I have read alot on Buddhism) and how to become more present in your actions. After feeling stagnated in regards to photography, I started to apply what I had learnt. I stopped thinking every photo walk had to lead to that image that would cerment my name alongside the photography gods. I started to break things down and started looking for success even within my failure. If I came home with an SD card filled with poor images, I would identify what I had done wrong. Once I had realised my errors, I would see this as an achievement and as a catalyst to improve the next time I shot. I would set myself personal assignments, and become positively engrossed in the research and creation of strategy that came before actually shooting. Even if the final product was not what I envisioned, I could tell myself the build up gave me both enjoyment and development. I stopped seeing things as means to an end, and in time this allowed me start enjoying photography again. I was obsessed over things like what made a good email pitch, compared to what made a bad one. I was so obsessed in fact, that I was less focused on getting the gig and more focused on developing my skills in writing a solid email. On top of that, I knew each set back was an opportunity for me to go away and get better. I started to obtain so much fulfillment from improving myself, that the true end goals were no longer at the forefront of my mind.
Of course, you need key targets if you are to become the person you want to be. However, the ironic thing was that the less I focused on the end result the more I became closer to it. In time I started selling prints and getting my work exhibited. I was having my photographs on the front covers of books and people were contacting me for paid work. The most important thing was I fell back in love the craft again. I had that feeling of excitement when I switched on my camera. It was no longer a burden, but again the centre point of my photographic arsenal.
I recognise that it is one thing saying you will enjoy the process, but it is another thing doing it. Work must be put in in order to achieve this, and I have broken it down to 5 steps that can help you to do so.
Rather than having one big end goal, set yourself lots of micro goals (create daily photography assignments for example).
Change your perspective on what you see failure to be. Instead of seeing the door being closed, treat it as a way to develop a different way to walk through it.
Surround yourself with like minded people and become part of a collective focus (building creative friendships is great for your mental well being).
Push yourself out of your comfort zone and shoot things you would not normally shoot. Doing this will build your confidence and make you more resilient to setbacks.
Read about mindfulness. A lot of our success in a field can come from things we have learnt from a totally different subject.
These 5 steps are a start to reclaiming what you are truly passionate about, and can be used to keep you going even in the most difficult of times.
We all have the right to dream big, and having direction is very important to our personal development. We also have the right to love what we do, and it is a huge shame when the former destroys the latter. I urge you not to get lost in your future, but rather focus on your present. You bought that first camera because you had a passion for an art, and that wonderful piece of kit can bring so much substance to your life. Keep it that way, and don’t let it become merely an ornament lost within the clutter of your book shelf.
Never give up.
Dan Ginn is a London based Street Photographer, with a main focus on colour and simplicity.
He has had his work international published through exhibitions, magazines and photo books.
Dan is also a published writer, having written for several photographic organisations where he often talks about his journey through Street Photography.