My Open Reply to ‘An Open Letter to Young Photographers’

Yesterday I was flicking through Twitter whilst waiting for my dinner here in Mae Sot, Thailand. As I flicked through the pages one tweet caught my eye:

Anything that mentions young photographers grabs my eye immediately (I am only 19 so they apply to me!). ‘An Open Letter to Young Photographers…’ At this point my mind was in full time curiosity mode, I just had to read it! Below is the open letter:

Some things can’t be bought. Some things only come with time. Some things have to be earned. Some things take a lifetime to achieve. The latest camera or lens won’t get you the success you seek. The best workshop or photo conference won’t make you an overnight rock star. Following all the cool kids on Google+ or Twitter won’t make you a camera craftsman. Simply feeling like you’re entitled to recognition won’t bring it. Spoofing polls, pestering your friends for “likes” or begging for fans doesn’t cut it.
Time – that’s the one thing you can’t cheat. To become a true master of photography you need to put in the time. No matter how much you want it. No matter how much you think you deserve it. Success in photography comes only with time – mixed in with a liberal dose of practice, passion, patience and perseverance.
It doesn’t hurt if you have a good heart and a desire to tell stories, mixed with a real need to preserve and protect memories – one click at a time. 
-Scott Bourne

I greatly admire Scott Bourne and love to read the content he puts out. However there were a few things that jumped out for me…firstly I don’t think this should have been aimed solely at young photographers. Why? I hear you say, I think this would have been better if it was addressed ‘An Open Letter to New Photographers’.

Everyday I see a lot of posts from new photographers asking how to sell their work, make money from photography, what camera will make me a wedding photographer. The majority of these aren’t actually young photographers, they are just new photographers who have recently got a DSLR. Everyone thinks nowadays that the camera is key to great photos and whilst it is true that the newest camera will produce technically better shots, for me photography is more about the story inside the image. Some of the greatest photos ever taken were not technically great but they flowed with action and emotion that connects with the viewer.

I think for young photographers, and new photographers for that fact, getting started in photography is extremely difficult. A few of the things that we as photographers are constantly told to do, Scott is telling your photographers not to do.

Following all the cool kids on Google+ or Twitter won’t make you a camera craftsman.

Don’t get me wrong I completely agree with what Scott has written, the problem I have with this is the constant emphasis on social media. All over the internet photographers are told that social media is key to being a successful photographer. All the ‘big names’ in photography have a massive social media presence and many people want to emulate this. The constant emphasis on social networks and branding can lead to people neglecting their photography. I have fallen into this trap before and I think it takes time to develop the balance between actually shooting and marketing/social media/blogging etc. I have had some incredible opportunities through social media, especially Google+, but these are from a mixture of my photography and social media. I wouldn’t have had these opportunities if my photography was weak and neither would I have had them if my social media presence was poor.

Spoofing polls, pestering your friends for “likes” or begging for fans doesn’t cut it.

Again I agree with the point being made, but I think this is more of a generation thing. Especially in young photographers (but not confined to) who have gone through school using Myspace, Bebo, Facebook etc It was always seen as a measure of your popularity on how many friends you have, how many likes you get etc. Again I think it takes time to develop the maturity to realise that begging someone to like a page is really no different from them not liking it at all. It is when you get people liking your work, subscribing to your blog etc off their own back that the amount of likes is a better representative of the standard of your work. However this again is all useless if you don’t actually produce any content in the first place, nobody is going to like ‘Joe Blogs Photography’ if Joe Blogs hasn’t added any new photography in the last 6 months.

I think new photographers often also find it difficult to distinguish between genuine critique and those from family and friends. I am a sucker for this and still get jaded by it every so often. Just because your Mum, Nan, Aunty and best friend says your work could be used in National Geographic doesn’t mean it will do. Just because a friend has said the photos you took of their birthday party are ‘sooo professional’ doesn’t necessarily mean they would be willing to pay for them.

Success in photography comes only with time – mixed in with a liberal dose of practice, passion, patience and perseverance.

Again I agree, but I think this one is a lot more individual; people learn, develop and grow at different speeds. Some of the most well known photographers have less than 10 years experience of photography and some less than 5. On the other hand some people are still plodding along and enjoying what they do 30-40 years after first picking up a camera. Success is as much about how you believe in your own work rather than your actual skill once you reach a certain level. If you are confident in your ability and willing to put your images out to clients to try and get work you are much more likely to be successful than the great photographer who keeps all his images in an album on his bookshelf.

A quote that I have tried to live by over the last few months or so is a quite well known one but one that I think is the most important thing to remember in all of this:

“Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

If you have no desire to improve, adapt and produce new exciting work then your photography will go nowhere. If you don’t spend the time networking, making contacts, using social media, you will find it difficult to find clients. However if you don’t believe in yourself and the standard of your work all of the above is useless.

Hopefully all of the above makes sense! I will reiterate that I agree with the majority of what Scott has written. However I think the principles apply to more than just young photographers and also the reasons why young photographers think this way is down to the emphasis society has on the new gadgets, social media and getting everything quickly. In a world where everything is done at 100mph, what impetus does a new photographer have for sitting down for years and learning a craft when they are constantly told that the new Canikon Rebel D5IV will make them a great photographer?