When I was in college I took a speech class and learned that when speaking publicly, it can sometimes be a good idea to start off with a joke. However, being introduced as “Big Daddy” already made me laugh, so I hope you did too. I’ve never actually called myself big daddy before, but when I met Scott shooting on the sidelines of my alma mater, Louisiana Tech University, it was what he started calling me (referencing to the original big daddy, Big Daddy Don Garlits). Before I knew it, so did anyone he’s ever introduced me to :)
But with that said, Scott has become a good friend along with Brad and much of the Kelby gang, and I would like to thank them for the platform they’ve created here with the guest blogs and the opportunity to share a little bit about myself and my work.
There are basically only two things that I’ve done in the past 5 years to support myself, one involving my camera and the other involving my body…but we we’ll get to that in a little bit ;)
As an emerging photographer in a world of emerging photographers, I’ve done what I can to get noticed and do the type of work I enjoy, all while trying to continue to learn and still pay the rent. I have to be careful who I’m trying to get noticed by though. Being noticed by your peers (you guys) certainly can have its benefits, but is mostly just a confidence booster to continue in the grind when you start feeling lost in the crowd. If I had something I was selling you, I might need your attention, but I don’t really do workshops/seminars or make any products you might be interested in (although I’d like to write a book one day). I am just a photographer. I am another person helping over-saturate our market and overcrowd our sidelines. It pushes me to get better so that I can continue to do it and still make a living. We shouldn’t fool ourselves. Being a photographer is easy. It’s making a living being a photographer that’s hard.
The idea of progressing in your career comes with exposing yourself to new ideas and fresh work from others that have gone before you and/or are doing what you would like to be doing. (I realize there is an argument out there that talks about looking at other people’s work/copying/being original, but I’ll let someone else get yelled at for that. That’s not where I’m going today). I would simply like to state that I have gone to a lot of seminars/workshops/classes/live webcasts in the past year or so that have been nothing more than a “look-at-me-and-what-I-can-do—fest”… so today I’ll try to spare you from that.
Every photographer who is making a living gets asked “How do you get to where you are” or “How do I get cool jobs like the one you have?” And if I knew that, I’d write that book I was talking about and sell it and become a hundred-aire :) … All I can tell you is a little bit about my path so far. It’s certainly not what you need to do or the way it should be done, but for me… so far so good. There are so many talented people that didn’t go the traditional route in learning photography, and I admire those people so much. Some of them are my favorite photographers. But for me, it was a pretty straight forward traditional route in learning. For the most part…
Before the rumors get too out of control, this is the part of the story where I made money with my body. I got really into MMA. or “Ultimate Fighting,” and even eventually reached professional status. I was working my way through college by being a weekend warrior. Please don’t start envisioning me as the next cast member of Jersey Shore; I never took myself too seriously and still don’t. It was a sport and I wasn’t bad at it. I did however, stubbornly realize that I would never make it as a fighter for a living, and that I was a better photographer than a fighter. I’m okay with that and I’ve accepted it. Getting paid to be outside the cage and not feel like I got ran over by a truck the next day is equally as awesome :) This next image might be a better illustration of why I made the switch :)
Photo by Kevin Beasley
All joking aside, and despite what this photo would lead you to believe, I did develop a confidence in myself and my ability that has certainly transitioned into my photography and allowed me to approach high pressure circumstances and shoots with confidence. Without that, I would have surely buckled. Developing relationships with people and clients wouldn’t be possible if I didn’t believe in myself. Don’t get me wrong, I still doubt myself and tell myself how much I suck almost daily, but at least I can look myself in the eye and say it.
Somewhere between the blows to the head and the miserable internship I had at an architecture firm, I realized that I wasn’t going to really make a living doing either of those and bought my first DSLR. A Canon 10D. I had saved up money fighting to buy my first car, but blew it all on my first camera and a set of terrible Sigma lenses instead. TOTALLY WORTH IT. (** side note – SIGMA does make some good lenses, but the ones I had back then couldn’t focus on the broad side of a barn, so I’m not Sigma hating… totally)
Here I am, struggling to stay awake in art history class, learning about the forefathers of photography (all of which I am very glad to have studied and learned about) when the guy next to me leans over and says “Hey I’m about to go quit my job at the school paper, want to come with me and see if they’ll give it to you?”
Huh? Me? He was the sports photographer and I had never even attempted to shoot any sport. I hadn’t even pointed my camera at a little league T-ball game, much less an NCAA Division-1 sporting event. So I replied as an avid sports fan would… “Of course!” Why I got that job still baffles me to this day, but sometimes luck and angels play a part we will never know about.
I would like to say, “The rest is history. I was awesome. The end”. False. I was terrible. I thought it was my equipment, but I couldn’t do it on borrowed equipment either. I later found out that I was 1 game away from being fired. Yeah, that’s how bad I was. Fired-from-the-school-paper bad.
This next image is where it changed.
If you’re thinking to yourself, “That isn’t really that great either,” then that just shows you how bad I was. What made them keep me around for a while longer, was the effort it took to make this image. I drove (with some friends) 12.5 hours to Gainesville, Florida to take this image, wait for it….. without getting paid. ***gasp*** Since then, the lesson of what it takes to be a sports photographer has stuck with me. It’s not easy, and it’s not getting easier, but if you enjoy it, then you’ll do it and you’ll find a way to keep doing it.
Now I could probably stop here and call it a day, but there are a few more lessons I’ve learned so far in my career that have been pretty crucial to how I think and how I approach every area of photography, not just sports. So if you’ll bear with me, I’m going to give as much as I can here.
One day a couple years ago, like a lot of us do, I was sitting around with a bunch of photographers and we started looking at some of them real fancy type picture books, with really fancy type pictures in them. There was an image taken by Annie Leibovitz of the Queen of England. Just as I started to admire it, one of the people there started saying what was wrong with it.
What the…? Are you really telling us what this famous photographer did wrong? I really couldn’t contribute to the conversation because I knew that if I hadn’t been a fighter in a former life, I probably would just throw up on my shoes at the thought of taking the Queen’s portrait, much less light it properly. Since that day, it is pretty much weekly I hear someone, either online or in person, talk about what’s wrong with these accomplished photographer’s photos and how they do it. You can always look at others’ work from the outside looking in and find a better way to have done it. But from my experiences, these accomplished photographers do it like they do it for a reason, and until I’ve walked in their shoes, it’s not my job to criticize. All I can do is get my own experiences and learn from them.
I used to think sports photographers looked stupid with those utility belts and would say, “Why would they do that? That’s lame and there is no need for it.” Now that I’ve seen it and done it for myself, if I don’t have an assistant, I’m rocking the biggest fanny pack you’ve ever seen and I love it.
“I can do that.”
When I was in school studying other artists and their work, I would think to myself, “I can do that, I could take that photo.” I would get so angry that, somewhere deep inside, I knew I had the ability to take the photo that someone else took. (Which was completely not true, because like I mentioned earlier, I was terrible). Finally it clicked. It *now* seems like a very big no-brainer. But the reason I could not shoot that epic image of Muhammad Ali, or the iconic images I see in National Geographic, was because I am not there. Whether I can get the job done or not is irrelevant at this point, because I can’t shoot the Queen of England for Time Magazine if I am never in front of the Queen of England with permission to take her portrait. I can only shoot what I have access to.
So I have to focus on getting better as a photographer. If I ever want to shoot on the sidelines of the Super Bowl, I have to put the time in shooting teams you’ve never heard of in order to hone my skills enough to make it to the next level. If I want to shoot supermodels one day, I have to spend time shooting models you’ve never heard of right now. If I want to shoot for NGOs or National Geographic one day, I need to get myself to unique places and shoot. It’s called paying your dues, and you’re not ever going to get top level shoots unless you prove you can shoot at a top level…. Well, unless you’re Joey L ;)
The lesson learned was that I could appreciate what others have done without getting mad that “I could do that too.”
Prove it… Go do it.
You can see more of Donald’s work at DonaldPage.net, keep up with him on his blog, find him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter. While you’re at it, go check out this week-long time lapse video he did during a road trip earlier this year!