This article is targeted at photographers who are trying to break into the commercial field. By commercial, I narrowly (and generally) define it as any form of paid photography assignments for the sake of this discussion.
Many of us would be exposed to the philosophy of ‘fake it till you have it’, either from motivational speakers in seminars or self-help business guides. The one thing which young start-ups face in the sea of other challenges would be experience. Most of us start a business, be it full-time or part-time, to seek assignments. In order to land a paid assignment, we are required to convince the clients that we are appropriately skilled and experienced in order to get the deal.
Therein lays the problem. How does someone, who has very little or no experience, convince discerning clients that you have what it takes? I remember reading somewhere that says “Fake it till you have it’. I can’t remember the context which was used to illustrate this, and I do agree to this philosophy to a large extent:
“I don’t have 20 years of photography experience, but I can certainly fake the confidence of someone who does”
“I don’t have my own style, but I can fake one in the meantime. I’ll study the greatest photographers and their works like crazy and try to emulate them. During which I gain my technical competence. I’ll one day have my own style”
And since this is a concept, there’s no limitation on how one can apply it to their own context. When do I stop faking? Do I fake having experience that I don’t actually have? Do I fake the profile of my clients to impress potential clients? Do I fake having awards which I’ve never received? The list goes on. Morality issues aside, some of this ‘faking’ can never be found out and might just help you kick-start your career. But some do carry heavy consequences.
Faking awards can be easily found out. I can’t think of any fatalistic consequences apart from some form of shaming, which of course, is detrimental to whatever business/photographer’s image, which is counter-productive to the objective to begin with. Meaning that if your objectives to ‘faking’ whatever you are faking is to gain clients’ confidence and build a positive reputation, then the backlash will actually destroy what you set out to build in the first place.
An even better negative example would be faking portfolio. This step is suicidal from the start. In some markets, particularly the Singapore wedding photography market, artists have gained their reputation in not just their skills and style. They have also gained admirers for their work. These admirers can be fellow photographers, or even clients. There are actually clients who can identify the authors of specific work. They love the images so much that some of these images get stuck so deep in their mind. It is also suicidal to try to risk stealing images from the portfolio of any photographer because the community is a small one, and word gets around really fast. The consequences on the company and photographer’s name can be so severe that there may be no turning back. It is also an obvious legal suit and punishment can be more severe than just monetary. Although ‘just monetary’ is undermining the financial consequences, which can even lead to bankruptcy in some extreme cases. Some paying clients of the photographers whose images to be stolen are actually well versed in law and might be in the legal profession and may have made certain disclosure agreements (photos not to be posted in places other than photographer’s website, for instance). So photographers, in order to protect their own rights, sometimes have to be harsh in handling people who steal their images. These clients may also for whatever reason take legal actions against the perpetrator, and it may not be money they seek.
So the lone-ranger who wants to start up asks, “How does anyone begin their journey anyway? If I’m not even given the chance to shoot weddings, how in the world am I going to have a portfolio in weddings?” Replace weddings with the field of your choice.