While on my way home this fine July evening, I decided to call my Grandmother. Grandmother and I have a bond like you see in the movies; she really is my best friend. She had recently gone on a trip to Jacksonville to see some of her brothers and sisters and was telling me all about it. “And when I got home,” she said, “my friend Jackie asked if I knew anyone with fresh, not-ripe-just-yet pears. I told her my granddaughter did!”
I told Grandmother I’d be happy to pick some for her and bring them to her house the next day.
Of course, this happened to occur during a flash-flood-esque rainstorm, which are quick but intense during Georgia summers. Arriving home just as things were quieting back down, I grabbed a few paper bags and headed out to the back yard, where my poor pear tree was sagging under the weight of hundreds of cute–but not ripe just yet–pears.
As I began harvesting my little crop, hair sticking to my forehead from humidity and sweat, I began to think about the parallels between this task and my journey learning about my photography business–and surprisingly they are strikingly similar.
It might get messy.
Between the moisture in the air, the heat, the rotten fruit on the ground that the birds had greedily helped themselves to (c’mon, guys, you only eat a beak-full out of every pear!), the wet grass, the soaked tree still dripping from the storm, and the bugs flying around, it wasn’t a pretty sight at all. Looking at the picture of my pears, though, you’d think it was a walk through the park–and you might suddenly be in the mood for pears. Photography is like that; we deliver a beautiful image that shows you the end product, but you don’t see the mess behind it. Missed opportunities, bad weather, poor financial decisions, our offices–no matter what you see on our Instagrams, we can promise that behind the scenes are not pretty.
There may be unexpected guests mooching off your hard work.
At a few points I missed the bags I was tossing the pears into and they went rolling past them into the grass beyond. Thinking, “they’ll still be there when I come back around the tree,” I kept harvesting and doing my thing. By the time I got back around, the ants and the birds and various other creatures had already started eating some of the more-ripe pears that missed their mark.
Being a photographer is something many people want to be–so much so that they will pass off your own work as theirs. Websites like Photo Stealers try to keep people honest, but since things are so shareable nowadays, it’s hard to protect your work.
I left the pears out of my bag, but not without kicking them back under the tree first to show those ants that I wasn’t pleased with their behavior.
The best fruit is the hardest to get to.
The fruit towards the bottom of the tree looked okay–there were brown spots on most of them and the skin of the pears generally wasn’t very consistent. But the pears at the TOP of the tree are beautiful. I had to get a stepladder to get to some of it, and there are still plenty of pretty pears in the very top.
Working your way up in the industry is like that. First your work sucks. I mean really sucks. You’re at the bottom of the tree. And then things start to get better. You start letting more sunlight in. You start nurturing your work a little bit more. And suddenly you’re getting close to the top of the tree, where the best pears are. You will have to work hard to get there. You may have to break out your stepladder. You may even have to have someone steady it for you to give you the confidence to stand on the top step.
The work is quiet, repetitive, and rewarding.
Pick a pear. Toss it in the bag. Pick a pear. Toss it in the bag. Pick a pear. Toss it in the bag. This went on for about thirty minutes but it felt like FOREVER. I worked my way around the tree and my bags were still only half full. So I worked my way around the tree again. And again. I worked until the bags were full.
Owning a photography business is a lot like working around a tree harvesting fruit. Your first pass you’ll get the stuff on top. Then you’ll realize that it’s not quite enough. Your work isn’t good enough. It’s not where it needs to be. It’s not complete. So you dig a little deeper. You go through that underlying layer of limbs and find something you didn’t notice before. You make another pass. Your work still isn’t complete, so you dig a little deeper and find something new. As artists, it is our job to keep making passes, revisiting our technique, our shooting style, how we edit, how we market, how we deliver. Is this still working? What could I do better? What did I do before that might do better if I tweaked it just a little bit?
Like tossing the pears in the bag, you toss a bit of yourself into your business until your business is full. Until it’s a raw, honest representation of who you are as an artist and as a creator.
The final product is so sweet.
Pears are among my favorite fruits. I love raw pears, pear preserves, pear jam….you name it, I’ll eat it. Grandmother makes the best pear preserves and I can’t wait to taste this batch.
Much like a business, you look forward to the end result. The effort put into pulling everything together makes the reward just that much sweeter.
Till we meet again,