As a creative, there’s gotta be nothing more frustrating than having this artistic inclination while simultaneously cursed for not having enough time in a day or week to express it. I’m a strong believer that when you pursue a side interest that you can’t imagine yourself not doing, opportunities for something bigger tend to manifest in some way but it’s the times in which they aren’t any that are the most crucial. I'm not the type that could endlessly wait around for good things to happen. This is the moment when it’s up to us as artist to be proactive, be curious, and essentially invest in ourselves.
Investing in yourself can interpreted in a variety of different ways but for me, that doesn’t necessarily translate to actively purchasing photography equipment. Quite frankly, it's the last thing I ever do because I feel as though I've already outgrew that stage in which you tend to believe that a new lens or a new anything will catapult your work to the level that will attract the type of jobs one daydreams about.
Nick Onken has for quite sometime been one of my favorited travel and lifestyle photographers. There’s a video he did a year go as part of Lynda.com - a leading online learning company, where Nick talks about his career, how he evolved as an artist from being a graphic designer to now a rockstar photographer and there’s a specific segment which really changed my perspective in the shoots I do now regardless if 90% of them are mostly for myself.
The scene starts off in minute 3:00 and Nick is in what appears to be a thrift store searching for a Rock & Roll t-shirt for a model to wear and he goes on to say:
“Style is everything. It’s why people hire you…like what you see, what your vision is…it comes down to the way you choose your clothes, the casting, how you pick talent, the type of locations, the type of colors, the type of clothing that you use, the type of light that you use…all those are part of the ingredients that actually make up how you see and that’s what people buy at the end…in a sense, your decision making.”
What do you do when you have a concept for a shoot which you would love to execute and you already have some models lined up who you may not be compensating for their time and now all you have to worry about is finding this ultimate location? Add into the mix the fact that your models don’t own the specific clothes which plays a vital part to the vision you have for this shoot? Do you go all out and handle the expenses required to materialize your vision or do you settle for a second hand version of what you really wanted to produce?
No one said investing in your craft and overall development is cheap. Last year, I’ll be transparent to say I spent more money on shoots for myself than I did from gigs that I randomly got, which I’m perfectly find with this realization because I created content that probably wouldn’t have never come to fruition had it not been for my hustle to believe that what I was doing was worth it. So I’ve mentioned I’ve invested in myself in ways that doesn’t encompass buying gear, so what has it involved? Here’s most of it:
- Clothing for models
- Renting of studio
- Renting of an Airbnb which at the end we couldn’t end up staying so the night was wasted
- Renting of a car
- Purchasing of props (favorite place is Marshall’s or TJ Max)
- Renting equipment (lenses)
- Renting a night at a hotel
- Skillshare membership
The money I’ve made from the gigs, I’ve always kept totally separate from anything because I like to have a reserve which I can pull from to monetarily satisfy a shoot idea I may have. Does it make sense that I’m spending more than I’m making with my photography? It depends on who you’re asking and how you view what you do. As Sean Wes once said on the topic:
Courses are expensive if you think of them as an expense. When you think of them as investment in yourself, they’re invaluable. If it’s teaching you a skill that will allow you to make a better product you can sell more of at a better price, it’s valuable.
So that’s essentially the mind frame I’ve had for a while now. Much like Sean’s philosophy, I too am thinking long-term. If I wait around to be hired for gigs that I hope to get one day, I would essentially be wasting precious time which I can instead utilized to create work. The goal again is to improve on your craft, keeps those creative ideas flowing even if it means funding them yourself.
Just like any great product, your art necessitates its own identity and the only way to get to that point is to shoot, shoot, shoot. Sometimes we forget to think about ourselves which I don’t necessarily think is a selfish thing to do. At times we need to be.