If I could corner an accomplished photographer in a bar and ask them anything, the questions I would ask are not the ones you might expect. They have little to do with the camera brand they use, the paper they print on or the bag they carry.
Let me backtrack.
Having taught hundreds of workshops as well as many classes at universities including: the Rochester Institute of Technology, University of Pennsylvania, University of the Arts and Syracuse University, I have often struggled with the question of how does one teach “art?” I am not sure I have ever “resolved” that issue, but I do know a thing or two about the students who do best. They are the ones who can get past the “problem solving” part of the art and move on to the creative/expressive part, which is the part that “matters.”
No matter where I am teaching, the photographers who are serious, or who want to get serious, fundamentally seek to know how I solve the three biggest problems that I think all photographers face: which camera gear will solve the problems I face as a photographer, what digital workflow will work best for me and exactly what was my career path to get me to now making my living as a photographer?
To answer them, I first pop open my rolling backpack/camera bag and I show them every little thing that is in my bag. Of course I show them the cameras I use, but I am very specific about what each one does and why I use that exact model. Same thing goes for the lenses I choose. Ditto for the flash, flash diffuser, memory cards, card wallets, portable hard drives, etc., etc., etc. I talk minimally about brand, but I go into a great deal about the problems that each piece of gear solves for me. I happen to use Olympus cameras, but that is only because their gear solve a particular set of problems that I face.
I do the same with explaining my workflow. I walk them through mine in slow, even excruciating detail. Since most of my income comes from stock photography, I have a peculiar workflow. When I talk about that workflow I walk them through each step and explain exactly why I do what I do, all the way from batch renaming, to key-wording to how I register my images with Library of Congress for copyright protection.
I do the same as I walk them through how I make a living as a photographer. I talk about my various revenue streams, pricing issues, rates, rights, etc. I also talk in great detail about my career path, because the jobs I have had and the choices I have made along the way from one-time student to working pro can be very helpful for aspiring photographers. Again, I do this in great detail and ideally, without any value judgments. I try to get across how making a living is just one more problem I need to solve before I can get back to doing what I love, making photographs.
So in my mind, the tools that any accomplished photographer needs are camera gear that works for them, an efficient workflow and a clear career path/viable business strategy. What people actually photograph once they have those, are their own choices. The irony is that the manufacturers of gear have done a great job of selling people on the idea that their products are the key to great photography. I would argue that the cameras are the least important of the three tools. The other two, an efficient workflow and a clear career path/viable business strategy are far more important.
An accomplished photographer I know, Justin Guariglia, www.guariglia-chen.com/ is giving a talk soon and he will be speaking about his career path. His presentation “Five Magazines Assignments that Changed My Life” is the kind of detailed exploration of a photographer’s career path that can be vital to anyone thinking of working full time as a photographer.
The presentation is January 14th, 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm at the Apple Store at 103 Prince Street in New York City. For more information, start at www.apple.com/retail/soho/ and look for events on January 14th.
So you may not be able to corner a master photographer in a bar, but here is a chance to start exploring the most important questions that I for one, always wanted answered.