Fakin it till you make it

Something has been up over the last few weeks where I have had more than a few people pull me aside for career advice. It sort of started when I was part of the panel talk for Andrew Chapman's show, the curator introduced me and kind of read my client list off my website so that I sounded like a big deal even though I'm not. The commercial side of what I do isn't something I really talk about in real life or here. I guess because it's so completely different to my documentary work which is the work I ultimately want to be recognized for, I see my freelance work as my bread and butter not as what dictates the career I hope to have. 

I think it's also because when it comes down to it I know I got lucky. I got lucky, very, very lucky in getting a position as an editorial assitant in the world's biggest media empire. It was exactly what I needed, I was young and completely full of myself. I'd just won a swag of awards and felt like quite a big deal. But I had never really worked as a photographer so though I had a folio full of great shots it didn't mean I was ready to work.. So walking into a photographic department full of people much older and wiser than me was the best way for me to realise it doesn't matter how good you are if you are an arsehole. Every photographer in that department was so generous with their advice to me. They would answer my stupid questions and never once made me feel like I had no idea what I was doing ( which I really did not). It was the best place I could have ever asked to be trained, I learnt not to be precious, to understand that photography can be a job and like any job you have to work under less than perfect conditions. I learnt how to work quickly, to deal with all sorts of crappy light, weather and ugly conditions. But the number one thing I learnt is how to deal with people. 

The business of photography really has nothing to do with how good you are unless you are in the top tier where your genius means you can act any way you like. For the rest of us plebs it's simple- act like a professional.  I have been able to keep up my job as a photographer  steadily for almost 3 years now because people know when the hire me I will be on time, never show outward signs of stress, and nothing they ask me to do will be a big hassle. That's the thing- when you hire a professional to do anything you just want them to be able to do it. You don't care how good there last job was, you just want the one they are doing right now to be great. I listen to everything asked of me politely, even if a client suggests I take the most obvious shot that I took the second I turned up, I retake it. Always remember how you act on a job is as important as the work you produce, I cannot count the times I have had clients recommend me because I am easy to work with and in the same breath will say they will never work with so and so because they were difficult.

Building up those relationships also means that when a client does ask what else I do, I can say I am a documentary photographer without sounding like a complete and utter twat. Once people get to know you and know you can deliver the results they need you can show them the work you "really" do. I work for all sorts of clients but all my repeat contacts know what sort of documentary work I do and are actually interested and supportive of it. Aside from it being nice to get good things said about my work I also know it might eventually lead to me getting paid work or opportunities for my own stuff. Case in point- I met Katie and Jaylen through a job I did for Ronald McDonald house. I don't ever big note myself because, let's be honest, clients on a job are stressed and the last thing they need is me crapping on about my "art". But you let it happen naturally and it can take you far because people eventually do want to know that I shoot more than kids clothes or events, or whatever they have hired you for. 

Ultimately a shit hot folio will only get you so far- in Melbourne alone there are 3 big photography courses with students graduating each November who are going to have folio's and skills more up to date than most of us. But what they might not have is the experience to know it's not who you know but how you treat them.

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