The Importance of Self-Development as a Photographer

I originally wrote this post in response to a challenge about growth in a Facebook photographer help group. Members of the group were challenged to post an old photograph versus a current photograph. The photograph above is what I shared in response to the challenge.

The photograph on the left was taken in 2011 and the photograph was taken in 2019 at The Flash Pros Photography Workshop in Florida. I need to provide some context about both photographs as well as some background information for this post to be beneficial to someone that is reading it.

Nikon D810, Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 lens, 52mm, f/13, 1/160 sec, and ISO 100

My journey into photography began as a 16-year-old in the streets of Philadelphia. I purchased my first 35mm camera, an Olympus point and shoot style camera. Around 1991, I upgraded to the Ricoh KR-5 Super II 35mm camera which I still own to this day. In 2001 I upgraded again to the Nikon N75 35mm camera.

Throughout this time, photography was just a hobby to me. I would photograph family, friends, and nature at times like flowers. I had occasionally photographed weddings for friends. I would shoot the wedding on 35mm film and give the film to the wedding couple to develop themselves, I thought of it as a gift to my friends.

Nikon D810, Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 lens, 85mm, f/9, 1/250 sec, and iSO 100

In 2010, I photographed another friend’s wedding as my gift to him and his bride. I put in a tremendous amount of work to shoot the wedding and realized two things. One, I really enjoy photography and should take some time to learn more about it. Two, I should get compensated for my work instead of just shooting for free for my friends. 2010 was when I decided to embark upon the path of transitioning from a photography hobbyist to an aspiring professional photographer.

I realized just how much I didn’t know about photography in 2010 once I decided to make an effort to learn it. I devoured anything I could get my hands on that was written or created by Joe McNally. Books, DVDs, magazines, and digital video content became my diet.

My first photo shoots began with collaborations with photographer Tommy Penny — we learned and encouraged each other to grow as artists at the time. Flickr was my social media platform of choice for my photography work back in 2011, I still post on Flickr today.

Nikon D810, Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, 150mm, f/2.8, 1/400 sec, and ISO 500

In 2011, I was encouraged by photography work on Flickr I viewed to start a Project 365. A Project 365 is where I take a new photograph every day for 365 days and post the photograph on Flickr. The Project 365 has been the most impactful personal project I have undertaken to date for numerous reasons.

I explored everything that came to my mind that was related to photography which helped me to learn the importance of the fundamentals of exposure, knowing your gear, the importance of consistency, the importance of backup gear, customer service, and shooting photographs of what you love. The experience of picking up my camera every single day taught me the value of reading my camera manual and intimately knowing the strengths and weaknesses of my camera and lighting gear.

I was able to discover the genres of photography I liked and disliked. In my opinion, it is crucial for a photographer to understand the genres of photography they like versus what they love to shoot.

Sony A7II, Sony 85mm f/1.4 G Master lens, f/1.7, 1/3200 sec, and ISO 200

From 2010 through 2011, I thought if I knew how to take a photograph I could shoot anything. Today in 2020, I hold the opinion that a photographer should discover the specific genres they like to photograph and focus on perfecting their knowledge, skill, techniques, and consistency to produce quality work for clients in any lighting situation.

I experienced many failures on my way from 2011 to now. There are no shortcuts or free lunches in photography, the only way to advance is through practice, hard work, and discipline. I still fail at times today when I take a photograph, I sometimes don’t get the shot that I want. Today, I can comprehend why I didn’t get a shot and what is wrong with it immediately and adjust to correct the error in most situations immediately — it has taken me years to develop this skill.

Fujifilm X-T3, XF 56mm f/1.2 lens, f/11, 1/250 sec, and ISO 160

In closing, my advice to any photographer is to enjoy yourself above all things. Have fun while you are working for your clients if you decide to pursue photography as a professional.

Don’t be in a rush to be a professional or start working for money. I’ve seen too many people who get a camera for Christmas and by February of the following year are charging people money for Valentine’s Day photographs.

Stop comparing your photography work to other photographers, it will just cause you to be frustrated. Every photographer is at a different stage in their journey as an artist. It will be difficult for you to grow as a photographer if you are busy with what other photographers are doing around you instead of what you are doing yourself.

You can’t catch any fish if you are watching someone else’s line. –Mr. Bartly.

This quote is true for photography as well. You may not have any idea of just how much work and investment in training and practice went into a photograph that you admire. Focus on yourself, invest in yourself.

It’s great to watch free YouTube videos, but you can only go so far with free material. When I say invest in yourself, I am referring to spending your money to attend workshops, purchasing training videos, books, and working as an assistant for other photographers when you can. Don’t expect every photographer you know to willingly share their information with you because some people do not like to disclose their knowledge and that’s okay.

One of the great things about photography is if you don’t know something, there is probably some training available that you can purchase to learn what you desire to know. Don’t be afraid to spend your money on self-development.

Being cheap when it comes to photography is a self-defeating mindset. How can you expect clients to invest in you and your brand as a photographer if you don’t first invest in yourself through education, practice, and preparation?

I’m still traveling on my journey to get to where I want to be as a photographer and artist, one of these days I’ll reach my destination.

About the author: Eric H. Adeleye is a photographer based in the United States. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Adeleye’s work on his website, Flickr, and Instagram. This article was also published here.