Photographers Ettiquette – A Discussion About the Entitled Attitude in the Photography Industry.
This was a hard post to make the decision to write, because it has the possibility of offending some, and that’s never anything I want to do. But I feel like much of what I’m about to say has to be said. When I first started wanting to learn more about photography I did so by contacting several established photographers who answered the many questions I had about the craft. I spent time shadowing and learning from them and becoming somewhat of an apprentice, and eventually took a course that one of them was offering on the subject. I bugged my father in law who owned his own photography business to soak me in all his knowledge and teach me everything he knew. I scoured the internet and youtube looking for all of the information I could get my hands on and went to the library to read every book I could find. I was, in essence, just like all of the new photographers out there today who are seeking knowledge about how to enter or become better in the industry.
Since then I myself have been contacted by several aspiring photographers who have some of the same questions I did, and I am more than welcome to help them because of the experience that I have had. It takes time to answer those types of e-mails. I’ve spent nearly an hour of my time on several occasions giving as much information as I could on a certain topic. Sometimes I receive very little thank you in return while others have been enthusiastically grateful. I do this out of the goodness of my heart because I remember what it was like to be there and not really understand where to turn for my questions. I want to be able to give back like those before me have, and I honestly enjoy helping others in their quest for knowledge. But lately, I’ve been seeing a troubling trend in the photography industry that I think is worth discussing, and that is the sense of entitlement I think is permeating the air within the industry.
I admit, I am a self taught photographer (meaning I did not have formal training in a school setting). I relied on other photographers to teach me and my own research skills to get me through the beginning phases. But there are many established photographers out there who did not learn in this manner. They might have spent a great deal of money on educating themselves whether it be through formal training or expensive workshops, and they may feel a little more hesitant about so freely offering up the information they sacrificed money and time to learn on their own. I completely get this and respect their decision. In fact, if I were in their shoes I would probably feel the exact same way. I have massive student loans from my MBA, and I’m not sure I could sit down and spend hours teaching everything I know for free. There are also times when established photographers are extremely busy and just don’t have the time to devote to giving free mini lessons to every person who e-mails them with questions. They would rather use that time to spend with their family or to invest in their own business. This should also be respected.
What I’m finding more and more disturbing are the amount of posts I’m seeing in the photography forums from new photographers becoming upset about the fact that an established photographer didn’t e-mail them back, wanted to charge for their information, or just wasn’t willing to part with their information at all. I’m seeing comments like “They should remember what it’s like. They should give back. They should be willing to help. This should be a cooperative industry”. Whenever I answer an e-mail with a list of questions my husband gives me a crazy look. He says that this is the only industry where it seems you can write your competitor and ask them to train you, and he’s absolutely correct. In most other industries this is not the norm and it is not acceptable. If I want to open a restaurant or bakery, it would be somewhat inappropriate for me to contact the successful baker down the street and ask her to give me her recipes and tell me how to ice the cakes the way she does.
When I contacted the photographers I did, I was praying they would answer me back. Some didn’t, and I was sincerely okay with that. I understood why they didn’t. I was honestly shocked when I received a few responses and felt overly grateful to these photographers for giving me their time and information. That was several years ago. Today, if you don’t respond there isn’t any understanding by most. You are instead labeled a newbie hater if you aren’t available or just simply don’t want to train your competition. It seems to be slowly turning into an obligation rather than something someone does out of the goodness of their heart, and that is where the problem lies. I spoke with one photographer recently who spends the majority of her time helping new photographers build their businesses, who informed me that she has felt more used and abused lately than she ever has. She feels as though she gives and gives and there is becoming much less of an attitude of gratefulness that comes back to her. It’s because of the ever increasing idea of entitlement and obligation that is permeating the air. This idea that the photographer is just doing their job, what they should be doing, when they answer these types of e-mails.
So the overall point of this post is not to deter anyone from contacting established photographers with your questions, but it is to encourage you to do so with a humble heart, realizing that you are asking a professional who may or may not have the time to spend with you, who may or may not have the desire to train their competition, or who may or may not have formal training they paid for and don’t wish to part with. These attitudes are okay and normal, and not evil like those on photography forums have stated. Be very grateful to those who give you their information. Make sure you go out of your way to let them know how thankful you are that they took the time to spend with you, and please let’s stop the negative postings complaining about those who choose not to partake in this knowledge giving. Let’s not make this about entitlement, obligation, and finger pointing. If a photographer you are inspired by doesn’t send you an e-mail in return take initiative and self teach yourself what you are trying to learn, and use your own spin to make it unique to yourself. This will ultimately help you as an artist, and it will save the industry from the ever increasing negative barrier between newbie and professional that has sprouted up in recent years.