Lessons from the Scene - Photographers Need to be Guided by Light by Stanley Leary


by Stanley Leary

Figure 1
Finding your Direction
The thing that affects the photographer life and work is where they point their inner compass. What do they use to guide their path?
Houston we have a problem. The problem we have today is our role models. 
As we mature most of us grow up and realize we should stop worshiping athletes—unless they're on the field. The same is true with the celebrities. We should admire their talent, but when they do stupid things in their every day life we need to not emulate this behavior.
During the age of adolescence we start to have the ability to do abstract thinking. Usually this starts between the ages of 12 to 15. This is when youth start to realize that just because a friend is attractive doesn't mean all they do is wonderful, just as if someone who is less attractive is going to be all bad. 
Figure 2
While we are starting to learn how to do abstract thought our brain isn't finished developing. It is not until about age 25 that our brains are developed. 
A side note to this if you abuse drugs, it is the age that you started abusing them that the brain can be so adversely affected in that is the developmental age you will in many ways never grow out of--because you damaged so much of the brain cells.
Too many bad role models in photography
Today I think we have way too many bad role models in photography. I believe the digital age has hurt as much as it has helped society. 
One of the examples of this is how social media helped to connect us to the world and at the same time bullying has risen to levels beyond those of the past. People feel free to say things in the cyber community that they would never say to someone's face in the past.
Today a person can rise to prominence within seconds due to a photo they post on the web. Within a very short time they are held up as a leader in the industry for just one photo. 
I am seeing more and more photographers rise in prominence because they are taking wonderful photos of humanitarian work worldwide. The exotic locations are helping their work to be talked about in forums and even invited to speak to conferences.
We can learn from all these photographers. The key is gleaning the good stuff and sifting away the bad stuff.  This is what we learned to do in our adolescence. I learned that going after the super models was a good way to have a disastrous relationship.  I learned that I wanted someone attractive, but there were other criteria than just looks for a mate.
Figure 3
Stanley's criteria for a successful photographer role model:

Sustainable business model. I want to have as my role model those photographers who are able to pay all their bills and are not in debt. I also prefer that they are able to support more than just themselves.  They do not have to have children, but I want to see a business model that could support them.

People person. I want my role model to give honor, dignity and respect to all they come into contact with. I do not believe a jerk is something I need to emulate to be successful. 

Balanced life. Workaholics is not what I want to follow. I want to know how to work hard and play hard. I respect those with strong families and friends in their life.

Professional level work. I want to see work that is professional standards. I am also interested in seeing a consistency in their work. Having some outstanding work is good, but what is disappointing is someone who produces poor work too often.

Servant's heart. I really like following those photographers who give back. They serve as mentors or are involved in their professional organizations and even their community. I am not a fan of those who are greedy and it is all about them.

I do learn a great deal from other photographers, but that doesn't mean I want to emulate them. I even study them and their work, but not all these become my role model--but I do learn from them. 

What I learn from photographers that I would not consider role models: 

I learn a new technique. 

I have discovered from one of the photographers how to carry a set of clothing that you can ask people to wear to improve the photo.  One thing I thought was cool was the coveralls he carried to factories. He would put workers in red, yellow or blue coveralls and this helped tremendously give a pop to the photo.

Learned how to trigger off camera flash using a new technology.

How to use remote cameras.

Negotiating skills. I have learned from many photographers how to do a better bid for jobs.

Gear choices. I have learned about camera bags, lighting kits and more from photographers.

What not to do. 

I have watched many "famous" photographers kill a kid's enthusiasm by not giving them the time of day when they were trying to talk to them.

How many photographers will use foul language when talking to a group. My comedian friend Jeff Justice helped me to realize this from his comedy workshop. He will not allow foul language when they give their performance at The Punchline" because if you cannot be funny without it using it will not make you funny. Also, his most successful students thank him because this helped them get on TV.

Just because you think someone’s photography is great or the places they are going is something you want to do--be very careful before making them a role model and start copying them. Don't be an adolescent and get all caught up in their looks for instance. Look for the mate--the total package.
You need to separate the photographers who are being held up as leaders from those you make as a role model (LIGHT) and those who you can glean things from (DARK).