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The following post explores how to approach Photographers to help you improve your photography is by Natalie Norton from natalienortonphoto.com.
Photo Credit: Nate and Jaclyn Kaiser, theimageisfound.com
Let me tell you why I love DPS. I’m completely self taught. Everything I’ve learned about photography has been through independent initiative… that’s just a fancy way of saying, “I screwed up a hundred thousand times but picked myself up and tried again a total of a hundred thousand ONE.” And for that I say, “Thank you, me, for not giving up on yourself!”
In the beginning… there was light. Wait, what I meant to say was that in the beginning I spent a good deal of time searching pro’s online galleries, being inspired to the moon and back, looking at breathtaking images and scratching my head thinking “How on God’s green Earth did they do THAT?” I wanted desperately to be like them (I still have a long way to go). I wanted to know how my camera functioned. I was determined to learn all the techniques and tricks I possibly could toward my best images.
There was a particular point in my early career where I got up the nerve to contact some of those photographers I so admired and just ask them a few questions. I was pretty shocked by the response. Most of them did share, but many of them with a great deal of reluctance that I hadn’t expected. The problem for most of them was that they were plain ol’ busy, over-committed, generally behind and, who would have guessed it, had lives that extended beyond me! The nerve!
I also encountered a good number of photogs (and by photogs I mean photographers… welcome to my world of informality) whose reluctance came because they just ABSOLUTELY DID NOT WANT TO SHARE. In the world in general, and I can speak specifically for the photography industry because I’ve experienced it here over and over again, there tends to be a scarcity mentality. It boggles me. So many photographers, and again people in general, just see limits and boundaries and not abundance. It’s unfortunate that so many of us have learned the faulty thinking somewhere along the way that by helping someone else learn and be great there won’t end up being enough success left over. Like the world is going to suddenly have a shortage of success… frrrrrrr. Give me a break. But whatever, there it is.
So how do we get around this awful plague of a mentality and work together to be the best we can be in this wonderful world of photography? Well to start, places like this… DPS. Here we can literally learn at the feet of masters! But this post isn’t a plug for the good ol’ folks at our beloved Digital Photography School. Through my shamelessly bold experience hunting down those photographers I consider to be “the greats” of this generation, I’ve put together a HOW TO for approaching other photographers for assistance in a way that will most likely lead to a bounteous response.
You’ve got to understand that these people are busy, and the first step in getting them to take even a second out of their schedules to help you is that you’ve got to GENUINELY respect them. THEY DO NOT HAVE TO HELP YOU. They just don’t. They may choose not to. You’ve got to be prepared to accept whatever they choose or choose not to share with you… GRACIOUSLY.
Keep it short. Don’t go all haywire with every question you’ve ever had in your life in one email. Here’s the scoop: When I asked short, simple questions… I got responses 100% of the time.
Now I say this cautiously because I truly am sincerity’s NUMBER ONE fan. That said, there is also the reality of ego that must be addressed. You can’t just present yourself as Joe Shmoe from Po Dunk, Kentucky… you’ve got to be Joe Shmoe inspired grand admirer of said photographer’s work. Tell them specifically what you love about their work and why you love it so much. But again and again and again: PLEASE BE GENUINE. They’re artists, not idiots. The goal is not to “butter them up,” but to truly have an opportunity to tell them why you love their work and to thank them for inspiring you. And Recapping on tip #2: remember, for the love of all that is holy, be brief.
I don’t care how high up the scale of greatness they sit, photographers (let’s just be honest, people in general) respond well to recognition. I get emails from aspiring photographers all the time (there was a large influx in this trend when I started writing for DPS). I LOVE hearing from you. I LOVE hearing that you dig my work… but you know what I really REALLY love? I love it when you tell me that you added me to your favorites, that you did a “Meet the Artist” segment on your blog or that you emailed a link to my personal blog out to all your friends. Photographers want their business to grow. You help them in this regard, they’re going to be happy to answer your questions. Your BRIEF questions (hate to beat a dead horse but you’re catching my drift… oh and BTW, Horses, love them, don’t go beating on any dead or alive).
More and more individual photographers as of late are offering classes and conventions. I’m guessing that this is because the vast availability of low cost professional equipment has made the promise of great photographs available to the masses, thus opening up a new market for people who are learning to use their equipment. Find those photographers you love who offer such classes and services. If you love a photographer who doesn’t offer this service, make an offer. Maybe they need an assistant for a day and if you work for free they’ll teach you a few things… maybe that’s unlikely because you’ll get in their way. If the latter is the case, offer to pay them for a few hours of their time. They may say no… but they just MAY SAY YES!!
This goes along with the paramount concept of RESPECT. If a photographer responds to you… dance a jig around the kitchen! Wow! That’s great. If a photographer on the other hand does not respond to you… get over it. It doesn’t mean they’re awful and unkind… rather they’re most likely up to their elbows in Photoshop and quite possibly dishes and dirty diapers (yes, I’m referring to myself). You may just get an automatically generated response… if that’s the case you just have to graciously accept this and move along.Now that we’ve got some guidelines, let’s see this in action. Here’s a sample script:
Hello Phot O. Grapher,I just wanted to take a quick second to tell you how much I love your work. It is so powerful, and as an aspiring photographer, I am very inspired by you. I particularly enjoyed the most recent shoot in your gallery, the “Gopher/Chicken” wedding. You really captured the essence of that beautiful union in a remarkable way.I have a quick question, which lens did you use for your shot of the chicken and the gopher dancing their first salsa dance? It was absolutely beautiful. I was very impressed by the effect.Thank you again for being such an inspiration.Sincerely,Joe Schmoe
You get the picture? My success as a photographer has been largely due to the assistance of other photographers. Like for example, the lovely Amelia Lyon of amelialyon.com. She has answered my BRIEF questions so kindly and her work continues to inspire me to up the bar. My interchange with Amelia was successful because she’s a saint, but also because I didn’t inundate her with questions. You’ve got to respect boundaries. I did. Because of that I was able to glean a few pieces of treasured information from this rock star of a photog.
Photo Credit: Amelia Lyon, amelialyon.com
Another photography team that rocks my world is Nate and Jaclyn Kaiser of theimageisfound.com. I’ve never contacted Nate and Jaclyn with questions… because I haven’t had to. They are as far from the “scarcity mentality” I mentioned above as a human can get. They are abundance mentality to the core. They share, share, share on their website and blog (theblogisfound.com). They have a section dedicated to photographers with a list of frequently asked questions as well as a list of EVERY bit of equipment they use and WHAT THEY USE IT FOR! If this isn’t magnificence, I don’t know what is! Their willingness to share alone is an inspiration to me…their fantabulous work is like a cherry on the top of the already rich and scrumptious banana split (ew, I don’t even like those…cheese cake, yum, but no nasty cherry on top… strawberry… ok, whatever this is ridiculous).
Photo Credit: Nate and Jaclyn Kaiser, theimageisfound.comIn short, and as the title asserts, we get by with a little help from our friends. You don’t have to be in this alone. Start building a network today. Hey what’s the worst that could happen?… they could say no? Ouch. How ever will you recover? Happy Shooting!
Natalie lives and shoots on the North Shore of Oahu, HI with her wonderful husband and 3 crazy sons. See more of her work and writing at natalienortonphoto.com.