The Five Stages of Development (Almost) Every Photographer Goes Through

By John Schell
Stage One: Ah, remember the good old days! Everyone and everything is photogenic and worthy of being photographed. With little to no skill and/or understanding of how a camera works, our young photographer friend spends their time taking photos of everything – and I mean everything – friends, dogs, people, trees, snails, blades of grass, cars, the sunrise and the sunset, and of course, themselves. Then, with a wide-eyed enthusiasm usually reserved for the young and for the insane, our young photographer posts those photos across the Internet – Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, DeviantArt, MySpace.
Stage Two: Wait a second, something is happening here… Every once in a while, our young photo friend sees something in one of their photos that doesn’t exist in another one of their photos – there is an aesthetic to it, there is a stickiness to it. People are commenting on it, people are liking it, it’s been shared a few times. People actually like it… Maybe, our young photo friend thinks, that this photography game is much more than that. Maybe it’s something that could work out – something beyond just capturing memories of friends, flowers, and blade of grass for fun, maybe there can be a business aspect to it as well. Of course there can! Thusly, a business name is thought up, a website and/or a page is created and the stream of photos populating their social media suddenly turns into a unkempt river.
Stage Three: Work! Well, free work anyway… Almost overnight it seems, first friends and then strangers start contacting our young photographer friend asking for photoshoots. If he/she has any business savvy, he/she begins by asking to be paid right off that bat, but unfortunately for most of us (myself included) the idea that someone contacts you to take their photo supersedes any need for money, food, etc and so, we agree to shoot for free.

Stage Four: Legitimacy! Suddenly – sometimes overnight, it seems – if our younger photographer friend works hard, continues to focus their time on learning and growing their art, and has a few lucky connections and/or streaks, their work begins to catch on – people start to take notice. Instead of shooting friends and family, our friend is working with agencies and booking jobs with legitimate clients.

Stage Five: Admittedly, this stage is the most difficult to write about and/or foresee because they’re are too many variables and I think there should be at least two subheadings under this last stage. Now, on one hand, if our young photographer continues to progress, is surrounded by a genuine crew of talented people, they have the opportunity to continue on into the world of a working photographer booking ads, magazines, billboards, etc and doing so all with a smile on his or her face. If, however, our young photographer is surrounded by the “wrong” crowd (this is subjective, yes), then there is a chance that we may see our young wide-eyed friend become the jaded, cynical, full of themselves type of person that seems to be a part of just about every industry.

P.S. Although written in good humor, I hope that when looking at the stages, it’s easy enough to see ourselves and for a moment, perhaps, remember back to the day we tore open the box, lifted our camera up and held it in the air against a blinding sun while somewhere off in the distance a monumental version of Circle of Life is being played and we thought of all the possibilities that lay in front of us.
At the photographers enthusiasts – amateurs, who do not earn a living through their photographic skills, these phases should be a little different. Although, but not rare, behavior models of amateur photographers are not under attitude or in their approaches do not differ from the professionals.

So free and creative roles of photographic art sometimes grow into its opposite.
Try to find yourself in this diagram..

© Stages of a Photographer by Robert Benson
© Stages of a Photographer by Robert Benson

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