Advice for the aspiring [blank]

After cracking gigs at the weekend it’s been a rubbush old week in Ed land… a never ending stream of life poo or so it feels but this article by Cheryl Jacobs Nicolai in her blog Photodino really really cheered me up..

Advice for Aspiring Photographers
(found via the consistently excellent “The Online Photographer“)

The article is about photography but it could be about any art form or endeavour or business or anything which you are aspiring to do. So much of it resonated long and hard with me. So many of her points mirror feelings that I have, not just about my own photography and also about the way that we as a band make music and that I make records and kinda everything we do. READ IT. Key point for me….

“Learn that people photography is about people, not about photography. Great portraits are a side effect of a strong human connection.”

I agree with this totally from my perspective as a photgrapher. The vast majority of my work is taking pictures of people and if I can’t find something to connect with in them or some way of them connecting with me then at best I can only hope for being competent. If I want to be great I have to do more, I have to be open with you, I make a connection with you as a human being and also understand how other people connect with you. I have to have empathy. Not technique. Not equipment. Just the ability to connect and relate to other people.

At it’s heart all art for me is about nothing more than connecting with people. It is not about about the techniques you know or the brushes you own or the lens you have or how complicated your lighting setup or the clever chords you use. It’s about creating something that causes other human beings to feel something. It’s about understanding a story and being able to tell it. It’s about being able to imagine other peoples stories. It’s about using other means to connect and resonate with people in a way that mere conversation cannot. That is what it’s all about for me. And for us too I think.

I liked this article a lot. If you like it too, do pass it on.



(I enclose the text of Cheryl’s post below (Cheryl… if you mind let us know!). I do recommend you check out both Cheryl’s blog and TOP if you are at all into photography.)


What Every Aspiring Photographer Should Know

These are my thoughts, nothing more and nothing less.

I get asked all the time, during workshops, in e-mails, in private messages, what words of wisdom I would give to a new and aspiring photographer. Here’s my answer.

– Style is a voice, not a prop or an action. If you can buy it, borrow it, download it, or steal it, it is not a style. Don’t look outward for your style; look inward.

– Know your stuff. Luck is a nice thing, but a terrifying thing to rely on. It’s like money; you only have it when you don’t need it.

– Never apologize for your own sense of beauty. Nobody can tell you what you should love. Do what you do brazenly and unapologetically. You cannot build your sense of aesthetics on a concensus.

– Say no. Say it often. It may be difficult, but you owe it to yourself and your clients. Turn down jobs that don’t fit you, say no to overbooking yourself. You are no good to anyone when you’re stressed and anxious.

– Learn to say “I’m a photographer” out loud with a straight face. If you can’t say it and believe it, you can’t expect anyone else to, either.

– You cannot specialize in everything.

– You don’t have to go into business just because people tell you you should! And you don’t have to be full time and making an executive income to be successful. If you decide you want to be in business, set your limits before you begin.

– Know your style before you hang out your shingle. If you don’t, your clients will dictate your style to you. That makes you nothing more than a picture taker. Changing your style later will force you to start all over again, and that’s tough.

– Accept critique, but don’t apply it blindly. Just because someone said it does not make it so. Critiques are opinions, nothing more. Consider the advice, consider the perspective of the advice giver, consider your style and what you want to convey in your work. Implement only what makes sense to implement. That doesn’t not make you ungrateful, it makes you independent.

– Leave room for yourself to grow and evolve. It may seem like a good idea to call your business “Precious Chubby Tootsies”….but what happens when you decide you love to photograph seniors? Or boudoir?

– Remember that if your work looks like everyone else’s, there’s no reason for a client to book you instead of someone else. Unless you’re cheaper. And nobody wants to be known as “the cheaper photographer”.

– Gimmicks and merchandise will come and go, but honest photography is never outdated.

– It’s easier to focus on buying that next piece of equipment than it is to accept that you should be able to create great work with what you’ve got. Buying stuff is a convenient and expensive distraction. You need a decent camera, a decent lens, and a light meter. Until you can use those tools consistently and masterfully, don’t spend another dime. Spend money on equipment ONLY when you’ve outgrown your current equipment and you’re being limited by it. There are no magic bullets.

– Learn that people photography is about people, not about photography. Great portraits are a side effect of a strong human connection.

– Never forget why you started taking pictures in the first place. Excellent technique is a great tool, but a terrible end product. The best thing your technique can do is not call attention to itself. Never let your technique upstage your subject.

– Never compare your journey with someone else’s. It’s a marathon with no finish line. Someone else may start out faster than you, may seem to progress more quickly than you, but every runner has his own pace. Your journey is your journey, not a competition. You will never “arrive”. No one ever does.

– Embrace frustration. It pushes you to learn and grow, broadens your horizons, and lights a fire under you when your work has gone cold. Nothing is more dangerous to an artist than complacency.

– CJ



Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Ben Denison
October 24, 2009 at 8:22 am

Lovely read. Following a stream of fairly sticky live poo myself, it rather cherred me up this morning too. So thanks for posting. I will be following Cheryl, gives me hope too. My technique is dire!

As for the band, I concur,, it applys: “Learn that bands are about people, not about music. Great bands are a side effect of a strong human connection.”

Make art!

Inspiration « CoosticksHQ Official Blog
October 24, 2009 at 11:10 am

[…] […]

October 25, 2009 at 7:33 am

A few lessons in life there not just photography. Love it.

CJ Nicolai
February 28, 2011 at 9:05 pm

I only just saw this post, and am glad you all appreciated my article. Oddly, I am also a musician, and yes, I apply the same attitude and thoughts to my music as to my photography.

– CJ