Photographing Strangers on Film

Photography as a job and as a hobby are two very different things. For professional photographers, this distinction means consistently working at their practice, rather than at certain points or only if inspiration strikes.

I recently attended a lecture by a famous book publishing house who gave the figure that about 80% of running a photography business is working on administering the business side of things, and 20% is only ever actually photographing. Personally, I’d argue that I photograph even less than that, but that’s probably just me.

The line between what is “business” and what is “fun” is very blurry in the creative fields, as Ejatu Shaw perfectly highlights by sharing her workweek. In this particular week, she has planned four test shoots. Test shoots, depending on your personal practice and skill level, are paid or unpaid shoots where a photographer can test out creative ideas. Additionally, they are a wonderful way to work on creating a creative team of collaborators and colleagues. Word of mouth and networking are big scary words, but through test shoots, you can easily make them authentic and build relationships with others who share your vision and practice.

In this instance, it’s hard to say whether this is “work” or “play” or somewhere in between. Perhaps it’s somewhere in between. Things can be fun and still serve a purpose, such as in Shaw’s case where she states that she uses these as a means to connect with models and work on her abilities to direct and collaborate with talent.

In addition to sharing four days of test shooting, Shaw also generously shares her assignment work for a magazine editorial. This segue sums up the link between creating personal work and test shoots which are then leveraged to create other work assignments. Whereas the test shoots shown are more posed and created, comparatively the assignment work seems much more candid. However, the grittiness and rawness which Shaw wonderfully captures in her test images still carry in essence through to the assignment images. It’s about creating a body of work that has your unique voice. Shaw does this brilliantly.

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