Elizabeth Halford Photography {the blog} » photography in plain English

No idea what you’re doing? Perfect.

Quote from Kristen Stewart, Marie Claire Magazine, March 2014

I’m currently reading Tina Fey’s book Bossypants for the second time. In it, she talks about her days starting out in showbiz with a touring improv comedy troupe. She lays out the first rule of improv thus:

“The first rule of improvisation is AGREE. Always agree and SAY YES. When you’re improvising, this means you are required to agree with whatever your partner has created. So if we’re improvising and I say, “Freeze, I have a gun,” and you say, “That’s not a gun. It’s your finger. You’re pointing your finger at me,” our improvised scene has ground to a halt. But if I say, “Freeze, I have a gun!” and you say, “The gun I gave you for Christmas! You bastard!” then we have started a scene because we have AGREED that my finger is in fact a Christmas gun.

To me YES, AND means don’t be afraid to contribute. It’s your responsibility to contribute. Always make sure you’re adding something to the discussion. Your initiations are worthwhile.”

I started this business 6 years ago. I had no clue what I was supposed to be doing. I still don’t. I know what I’m doing, yes, but what I’m supposed to be doing? The ‘proper’ way to do things? Nada. Like improv comedy, there’s no script for me.

When I started my photography business and this blog (both at the same time) I knew a couple of things:

  1. Business was about taking a price or a service and selling it for more than it cost you.
  2. Knowing how to engage, inspire and delight people would be a must.

Oh…and I needed an accountant. Because doing your own taxes will make you want to flush your camera down the loo.

Some things about me:

  • When I started taking paying clients, I had never taken a photography class.
  • I’ve only ever done a couple online forum-based classes since.
  • I’ve never read a book about photography (but business? Hells yea.)
  • I don’t know how to use a light meter.
  • I taught myself everything I know about photography and business through experience, trial and error (LOTS of error).
  • I’ve got a lot to learn.

I’ve photographed both royalty and top politicians. I’ve done weddings for big wigs. None of them asked me if I “knew what I was doing”. They looked at my work. It spoke. I gave them more of the same and delighted them in the process. All while paying myself a salary, covering my expanding overheads and paying my taxes on time. It ain’t rocket science.

I must qualify all this by saying that having no idea what you’re doing and completely winging it isn’t the same thing. But they’re pretty close to one another. And most of the time, the feeling is the same.

There is a popular tale about the bumblebee. The tale goes like this: aerodynamically, the bumblebee should’t be able to fly. Her wings are too tiny and her body is too fat. But no one told the bumblebee that, so she flies anyway.

And this is what I mean when I say that I “don’t know what I’m doing.” I’ve never been told what I’m not capable of. No one ever sat me down and said “Elizabeth, these are your limits”. If you asked me if I could fly a plane, I’d probably say, “yeah, why not?” As sappy as it sounds, I believe I can do anything. I believed it when the first person asked if they could pay me for a session. I believed when, at the age of about 11, I wrote a research paper and sent a copy to every single constituent in my state government demanding change. And I believed it last month when I walked into a university and said I wanted in on the master’s program without a bachelor’s degree (watch this space).

Before I was a photographer, I was a makeup artist. I interviewed with a big city photo studio in the hair and makeup department. I didn’t realise I’d also be doing hair, but when I was asked at the end, like a footnote, “You do hair, right?” I choked out, “Yea of course!” and then went home and spent a few weeks teaching myself basic hair styling skills. You may call this lying. Or BS (I wouldn’t disagree). But I also call this a can-do attitude. I call it improvising. I call it being a bumblebee.

Like in the movie Yes Man, I suggest that you start saying yes more. Say yes to something that scares you a little bit and then make it happen.

Be an improviser. Like Tina. Just because there isn’t a script doesn’t mean it’s not ‘proper’ comedy. Just agree. Say “yes, AND…”

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