This post was intiially featured on Ready Steady Pro as part of the Photographer Q&A Series. I took part to share my thoughts on photography, gear lust, learning and networking:
As part of the Ready Steady Pro Q&A Series we ask photographers from all backgrounds, niches and skill levels to answer 5 questions for the blog. This week, we hear from, well...erm..me! Michael Rammell of Rammell Photography & Rammell Studios.
Compared to many I've not been a photographer long at all. I picked up my first 'proper' DSLR back in 2009 and was quickly bitten by the bug, as so many people are. I'm a married man with two children and live in Berkshire in the South East of England. In terms of my photography I'm probably most known for my wedding work. Like so many that make their way into photography I too found my way into weddings some time ago and again became a little obsessed.
I have / am however intentionally moving into the head shot / portrait space at the moment. I'm keen to get back to working with studio lighting and making use of what I consider to be my best skill (aside from using the camera): interacting with people. With head shots and portraits it's more about the relationship between the photographer and the subject - being able to 'extract' that expression from the person you're photographing. It's that process more than anything that I enjoy the most, so when you mix that with making photographs it's heaven for me.
In addition to making photographs I am of course the host of this very show - The Ready Steady Pro Photography Podcast. I started it all back in September 2013 with a few things in mind; firstly - to actually be a podcast 'made in the UK'. So many of the big podcasts out there at the moment are US or Canadian-based and I'm keen to get some representation for the UK photography community on the iTunes and Podcasting stage. Secondly though, and the actual primary focus / intention of this podcast is to help emerging photographers making their way into the industry. Not only helping them make a success of their photography business, but also to help them do things the right way: not underpricing and damaging the industry for example. With my background in business and having fallen down a few holes myself over the past few years I felt I had a lot to share and I knew that there were a lot of people just like me with lots to share as well.
So, that's how the Podcast and the Community on Facebook began! So that's me: Photographer, Father, Podcaster. Oh, I shoot Nature, Wildlife & Landscapes too, but that's for me ;)
Having asked so many other guests these 5 questions, here are my own responses:
Question 1: What's the one single thing that has had the largest positive impact on your photography so far?
I knew when I was coming up with these questions that I wanted to make them the sort of questions that would challenge the photographer to think. I didn't however consider that I'd be answering my own questions at some point...this is a tough one. There are so many things and combinations of things that have contributed in massively positive ways towards my photography and towards my business. If you were asking me what has improved my actual photography though, as in, making photographs, I'd have to say that the one single thing to have improved me the most has been to just give up the gear obsession. It really is that simple.
By not obsessing with gear you free up your mind to focus on the craft. Rather than searching the internet for new lenses and figuring out what I was going to buy next and watching YouTube Reviews of the latest equipment, I instead found myself reading articles on vision, on business, on light, on technique and so much more. I learnt more about photography the moment I gave up this silly obsession with shiny lenses and the latest camera's. Furthermore it saved me money too!
So many 'photographers' have all the gear, but in truth (and we all know this) the thing that separates us from Uncle Bob or the photographer-next-door is our vision and eye for light. WE are the difference. Not the gear. Sure, gear is important. The right lens for the right job and all that, but really, I think I'd be pretty confident to say that I could shoot a wedding or a portrait with less than full professional gear. The reason I say this is because camera's and lenses are all of such a high quality now that you'd be amazed at what you can do with some of the lesser equipment. For example: remember that photograph of the great Muhammed Ali, knocking down Sonny Liston from back in 1965...what gear do you suppose Neil Leifer (the photographer who made the photograph) used for that photograph? He sure didn't have auto focus, or an LCD screen to check out if it was all in the frame. The gear matters very little, you matter more than anything. That has been the biggest revelation to my photography. If you can give up an obsession with gear you will become a photographer unchained.
Question 2: If you could start over again from scratch, what would be the one thing you would do differently?
Despite saying that giving up an obsession with gear was the one biggest thing that has improved my photography, I wouldn't change that, or try to give up the obsession sooner. Sounds ludicrous I know but if I didn't experience that obsession when I did, then perhaps it may have come round when I make more money and eat into my success then. That is a hurdle I had to jump in my own time. But, if I were starting out and were to do something differently, I'd definitely have joined a community, group or society sooner. I'm not talking any old Facebook group with other photographers - I'm talking about a buddy group of sorts with a good combination of social chatter and business-minded talking.
The reason I say this is because I believe that you cannot learn everything through your own experiences. Meaning that just because you've done something or read something does not mean you've learnt something, or learnt it the right or best way. In short - a community of great photographers, business people and friends is a powerful thing.
You can go into these groups, be confident to ask any question you like without fear of ridicule and have plenty of options put on the table for you. This is something I do regularly even today in both the Guild of Photographers community and the Ready Steady Pro Facebook community. Both of these groups are filled with a variety of people at all different stages of their photographic careers. Some have been around for 20+ years, others for a matter of months. The beauty here is that new people always question why things are done the way they are and the old guard, so to speak, can tell you why they aren't done the way they're not done. In the Ready Steady Pro group for example we've got newborn photographers from the North of England to the South, we've got Wedding Photographers from UK, US, Australia and commercial photographers from Singapore. We've got stock photographers, head shot photographers, portrait photographers and so much more. Not only that, this eclectic mix of creatives are a really friendly bunch too. I'll admit I'm not quite sure how it's happened but we've pulled together an amazing group of photographers from all walks of life. It's a group I can no longer live without!
So, join a group, a community or a club. It'll raise your game, question your thinking and be a hell of useful resource if you have questions. Doing this sooner would have made my life in the early days much, much easier!
Question 3: Who is the most influential photographer to you, and why? (Or, Which photographer do you admire the most, and why?)
Another question where I see guests often replying with more than just one photographer. So, I'll do the same. I also have two huge influences on my photographic work:
Jerry Ghionis - Jerry is a master of light, a master of posing, and an astute businessman. For me Jerry has it all as a photographer. Not only can Jerry make amazing photographs no matter what the situation and lighting, he really knows his stuff when it comes to pricing, business models, sales and marketing and more. I've watched so many of Jerry's video's, read interviews and sat through Web Casts on the ICE Society website - never before have I found a photographer to be so engaging and interesting. I simply love everything that Jerry does. Of Jerry's style, I'd call it 'truly unique' (because lets face it not everyone's work is unique at all nowadays) and beautiful. Just really classy photography. Another thing that appeals to me so much about Jerry is his demeanour. He's a real chameleon in that he can really adjust his approach to any situation and client. He can be the calm guy, the lad, the joker and the ladies man. These are all the things you need to be to successfully negotiate a wedding day. More than anything though Jerry's posing is second to none. Just watch him work with a bride and groom or a model. He has an eye for detail that you rarely see on photographers today.
The second photographer would have to be Martin Bailey. A hugely different photographer to Jerry in that Martin doesn't even photograph people. Martin Bailey is a UK-Born Japanese citizen of over 20 years. Martin Photographs Nature & Wildlife and runs photography tours and workshops all over the world including Hokkaido in Japan, Iceland, Kenya, the Antarctic and more. The reason I follow Martin so closely is not only because he is also an amazing photographer, but also because of Martin's technicality. Martin really know's his stuff and can share and teach in a way that is very digestible. Martin runs a photography Podcast that is over 400 episodes old now and I've been through every single episode. As well as shooting, teaching and Podcasting Martin has also written a number of eBooks for Craft & Vision. One of these books is called 'Making the Print', in this Martin reveals some incredible tips and advice that only improves your photography, it also helps you shoot in a way that will improve the end-product print. Martin Bailey is a photographer I trust and believe in when it comes to technology, technique and nature & wildlife photography.
I also have to give a mention to Cliff Mautner, Susan Stripling and Joe Buissink for their work too. I know all of the names I've listed for wedding photographers are pretty much big names in the industry and you've perhaps heard of them all before, but the reason I believe in these people and find them influental is because they're actually out there doing it, they've made it big, they're a success. They're not just shooting weddings at high prices, they're also touring the world and teaching others all about that too. These guys know what they're talking about, they're great at what they do and that's why they're the so called 'big names'.
Question 4: If you able to give just one piece of advice to someone just starting out in their photographic career, what would it be?
I started this blog and this podcast because I've more than one piece of advise to give, so it's hard to choose just one. But, for the sort of person I imagine to be reading this right now and for the person that Ready Steady Pro is aimed at, my one piece of advice would be: "Don't demonise the day job".
Nearly all of the advice out there, especially from the pro's already in the market and the message being delivered by many videos and products is 'Go Pro!'. Whilst I believe that if anyone has the business skills (firstly) and is a great photographer (secondarily) they can go pro, I would advise people to slow down, calm down and don't just jump! There is a plan B you know!
All too easily people can jack in their day jobs today and make a go of being a full time photographer. It's easy to be lead into thinking this with all of the success stories you're seeing on the internet and media. I'm not saying you should not do this, but what I am saying is that you don't have to. You can keep your day job too for now. Many photographers in the industry also have a second source of income, whether it be teaching, online classes or subscription-type services, product endorsements, or...believe it or not...a day job! That's right. With so many people flooding into the photography industry it has become more and more of a saturated market. You have to do more to stand out now. If you're a working photographer times are harder than they've ever been and you may have to take work you'd otherwise prefer not to take. Well why not keep the day job, or go part time. Transition your way into the industry perhaps.
This may sound like a really contrasting bit of advice compared to what you're hearing from the rest of the internet masses, but working for yourself isn't just about making good photographs, it's about cash flow management, diligence, taxes, paperwork, advertising, marketing, sales and a whole lot more. Not to mention that your credit situation changes once you're self employed. If you're looking at a mortgage your situation can be taken into account. Sporadity of work can really hamper the amount banks will lend you. I'm not trying to scare you here, just giving you some facts.
I'm working my way towards full time too, but I am planning my transition to be long-term. Over the course of 5 years starting in 2015 (after my wife has finished her year off on maternity leave). I'd rather do it right.
So, my one piece of advice: Don't demonise the day job. Bide your time, suck it up, keep going to work, earn that regular wage and then enjoy photography and be selective about the work you take, because you can afford to be selective.
Question 5: Paint a picture: What is the one thing / place / person you would love to photograph and why? It can be a person or a moment from history. As part of this answer also tell us about what gear you'd use, what lighting, what looks, wardrobes, poses and expressions you'd make use.
It'd have to be a day of shooting portraits in the most interesting place in the world: London.
I'd setup a portable studio in South Bank. I'd have a two light setup and photograph strangers as they pass. I'd ask them to step into the booth / portable studio type setup that I've got and I'd work through a series of expressions with them. At first I'd imagine many would be nervous & confused, but after a few minutes I think I'd be able to get a really 'cool' picture of them.
I'd take email addresses and send them a link to the page where I'll post all the portraits. Those willing to pay the printing and shipping costs can have a copy of their portraits.
This would be less about the actual end photograph as such and more about the project and the process of photographing and interacting with all of those people. I'd love to get it to 100 / 150 people in a day and then put together a small book.
Anything to Add
Yes! I just want to finish by saying that in an industry such as photography, where everyone is creative, you cannot just be better. You have to be different. Being better is not good enough. You have to have something unique about you and your work. You have to stand out for something, be associated with something, be 'that guy who does that thing' rather than just another great photographer. In truth, there are more great photographers than the world has room for. I'm sure in your local area there are a handful of great photographers. So, be different. Not just better.
On top of that: Join a community, give up obsessing with gear, go to night school, college, university or some other establishment and learn about business. Find a great accountant that knows about taxes. Listen to Podcasts and shoot every day. Be better and be different. Give back to others by paying it forward, be kind to others and help when people need it. If you're kind on the way up, you'll have friends if you find yourself on the way back down...That's the key to success. It's that simple ;)
If you want to know more about me, see my work, or get in touch I'm on pretty much everything on the web:
Personal Work: www.MichaelRammell.com
Wedding Website: www.RammellPhotography.com
Twitter: @RammellPhoto / @ReadySteadyPro
Don't forget you can also post in the comments section below, or join the fun over in the Ready Steady Pro Facebook Community
Would you like to take part in photography Q&A? Send us an email with your answers to the 5 questions and it could appear on this blog too! More details can be found on the Q&A Page