I am a teenager. I like stuffed-crust pizza, Pinterest, Instagram and I don’t always like to get up early (and I’m homeschooled).
But I also love photography. I love it.
So, what are the advantages of a teenager who is an aspiring photographer? What are the cons of being young? Well, through my eyes of being a teen, here’s what I have to say to other teens.
- Being younger than the average photographer is a fresh, upbeat place to be. There is (usually) room for mistakes, and many people expect you to be way less than perfect. This is a great advantage in surprising others who don’t think you’d have anything good to show them…when you actually do. Or, if you do happen to make a big mistake, you might get off a little easier than if people had really high expectations for you.
- You are an entrepreneur (a big word for being the boss of the job you created)! You can work for yourself, set your own prices, work your own hours, and photograph nearly whatever you want to. No one tells you what to do. Also, you can advertise your work and tell people about your photography business. This is a great way to start because you can build your portfolio and improve with each photoshoot or project.
- You are old enough for Facebook and Flickr! This is fantastic for getting the word out that you would love to do family portraits, etc, and for showing off your work. A seventeen-year-old acquaintance of mine (who uses her Facebook album to showcase her ballet photos) was hired to shoot a wedding. Wow. When people see what you can do, they might just catch your passion and ask for more.
- You’re more available and open to trying new things. If you don’t have a job yet, chances are you might have some extra free time. I was “hired” (I worked for free) to shoot a Boy Scout dinner event. I was the only photographer there that evening, and the Lieutenant Governor of the state was speaking at the event. This was my first event photography experience, so to be trusted to take photos of a VIP was an honor. One of the only reasons I was able to do this was because the adults know about my photography, and people need to know what you do. Later on, I was “hired” again to take photos at another event. One domino can usually cause the rest to fall.
- As I said before, I’ve been working for free. This might seem like a waste of time (“Just charge the people $100 an hour and get the cash!” you might think), but when you’re just starting out in the business area of photography (say, portraits), you don’t want to take the industry by storm and think you’ll be a professional the first time you’re hired. There is always room for improvement, and making money should be an after-thought in the first test runs of your business.
- You can use your family as models. I have a lot of siblings in my family, and I’ll be taking my big brother’s Senior photos soon. You can use these types of photos for your portfolio, but only use the absolute best.
- Business-oriented photography takes money. There are accessories galore in photography. Flashes, lenses, light diffusers, editing software, backdrops and on and on. Unfortunately, you probably don’t make a lot of “fun money,” maybe you have no income at all. This means you can’t buy everything you need (or want) to build up your camera bag until you’re really in business. There’s a saying, “no mon’, no fun.” But if you are a true entrepreneur and visionary, you work with what you have (I have one extra lens and some simple props) and learn to take great photos without all the extras. Then, down the road, you can collect the accessories you desire and keep getting better.
- As a minor, you can’t get into certain places.
- You can’t legally be listed in the phone book as a business. You have to rely on email/Facebook contact.
- Two words: Low expectations. You’re young, so nobody takes you seriously. “So, what do you do, kiddo?” “I’m a photographer. I’d like to do Senior photos, family portraits, blah blah blah…” “Oh, that’s nice. (cough!)” Keep dreaming. You have to show how upbeat you are about your job, so shine bright and let them see you’re open for business. Show the skeptic your fantastic portfolio and offer your free services. It’s worth a try.
- You may have to get over the fear of what people think of you and your photos. Many potential clients choose a photographer based on how much they like the person’s work. If you want to take way-out-there Senior shoots (fantasy, underwater, etc), but you’re afraid someone will see your creativity as weird, you’ll never be brave enough to just try. So, try.
- Some potential photographer-searchers (such as seniors looking for a wonderful graduation shoot) may look down on you if you’re new to the whole teenager thing. If you’re really young, some people don’t think you can be good enough. This means, as always, you need to keep improving your photography, building a showstopper portfolio to show them, and not get too discouraged if someone says no.
- If you’re not driving yet, you might have to work with your parents’/friends’ schedules. You need someone to drive you downtown to a great place, or have a buddy to scout out locations. Buddies are great for posing as well. Best friends are usually the ones who aren’t afraid to do things for you.
- Starting a business is slow, hard, and full of obstacles. Jealousy has a tendency to creep in as you work towards a business (especially if you have a photographer friend who’s doing things you haven’t). It can strike a low blow to the dreams you thought you wanted because seeing another young person’s accomplishments can make you forget about the big stuff you have done. This form of discontentment can quickly turn into a competition (even if the other person knows nothing about it!) as you try to be a better photographer than so-and-so. It’s OK to work hard, but not just to be better than your BFF. At this stage (and maybe at any stage), your only competition should be yourself. Congratulate your go-getter buddies on their work, but stay focused on your dream. Even though I’m really happy and excited for them, I have to admit that I’d sometimes like to have gotten there first.
- Your big dreams and bigger visions have to wait. Patience is no fun. I want a booming photography business now. I want to contact big-name people now. I want to have a dozen clients now. I want this, this and this now, now, now. Start small and be content (but not complacent) and you’ll find your dreams getting closer and closer. And sometimes, some dreams are just too big to ever do. That’s when you have to let go and find another dream to follow.
So, although there are plenty of pros and cons to go around with being a teenaged photographer, this doesn’t mean you can’t offer your free services to family and friends. Having a “real” business is basically just taking your free practice photoshoots and using them for paying clients, along with a healthy dose of advertising and such.
A quick piece of advice: be you. You are yourself, your own photographer, not Jeremy Cowart or Valerie Jardin or your best friend who takes “better” photos than you do (or, if you are Jeremy Cowart or Valerie Jardin, well, hi, I love your photos!). You make your own mistakes, take your own photos and have your own inspiration. If you can be yourself, nothing can stop you.
Any teenage photographer pros and cons you’d like to share? Comment your thoughts below!