Recognizing your worth

When I went along to my first Camera club in September 2013 I was terrified. I knew absolutely nothing about photography and every single person in the room seemed to me to be hugely knowledgeable on all things photographic (not the case of course, but that was my perception!). There was also a lot of wealth amongst the members who owned every piece of expensive photo kit ever created, while I was absolutely and utterly skint and my camera was 3rd hand off EBay. It was really quite daunting and the odds that I would ever take a half decent shot, let alone reach the dizzy heights of awards, distinctions and international recognition, seemed insurmountably stacked against me.

For probably the first four years at the Club I was almost crippled with a lack of self-confidence. I was competing against people who were spending thousands of pounds on exotic holidays to take pictures of bears in the wild or the polar ice caps, or had pro lenses for their wildlife photography which cost more than my first car! They had expensive Lee filters, even more expensive studio lights, tripods and gizmos, not to mention several hundred pounds worth of editing software, while I struggled on with a camera which had zero image stabilization and used a 6 year old version of Photoshop Elements to edit my images. It also didn’t help that my passion became creative composites, which were often derided by club members and judges alike.

Yet despite my disadvantages, in fact probably because of my disadvantages, I did exceptionally well. Not having a super-duper camera which basically took the picture itself forced me to actually become a photographer and not having software which did everything at the push of a slider made me edit my images in imaginative ways which stood out from the crowd. And while I carried on with my wildlife pictures which did well in competitions, I thankfully didn’t let the judges distaste of composites put me off because I so enjoyed doing them. I’m not saying it was easy and I probably had to put in much more work and effort than my colleagues, but the process taught me a huge amount which I would otherwise never have learned.

I was also extremely lucky to have a small group of experienced photographers who have been my unwavering teachers and supporters over the past 7 years, which is a topic for another day!

My breakthrough moment came with this image called ‘Flower girl’. I really liked it but when I showed it to friends and colleagues no-one else did, so I was tempted to stick it in a cardboard box under the bed never to be seen again. But there was just something about this particular picture which refused to be silenced, so I quietly entered it into an International Salon in the Midlands in 2018………………..and it won me my first Gold medal from the Royal Photographic Society and was later used in my successful DPAGB distinction 😊.

My next breakthrough moment came with this image called ‘Child Bride’ which I also really liked and had huge symbolic meaning to me as a woman. It bombed in every single UK Salon it was entered into plus did badly in competitions, and again I nearly gave up on it, but I needed to get my print acceptances up for my first FIAP distinction so entered it into a print Salon in Belgium……………where it won both Gold and Best in Show! I also later showed it in my exhibition at the London Photo Show.

These two events taught me to have courage in my convictions and no matter what anyone else says about an image these days I will stick with it if I like it!

As my accolades and profile as a photographer grew, I began to be asked to speak at other Camera Clubs. I was flattered, but had no clue why anyone would want to listen to me wittering on for 2 hours and thought at the end of the night everyone would be disappointed that they’d asked me along! However, my first talk at one of the leading Clubs in the country, Dumfries, went so well they booked me again for the following year which was a huge confidence booster and gave me the courage to accept offers to speak at other Clubs and events.

Following the pandemic, everything changed and Clubs were no longer meeting in person. Many, however, were still holding meetings via Zoom so I was booked to speak online. On the one hand it was great that I was able to lecture at clubs all over the country which would ordinarily have been too far away for me to travel to, but on the other it threw up cost issues I’d never had to consider before.

Usually, Clubs pay travel expenses which far outweigh the cost of petrol so you do actually make a small amount of money per event. Now, however, no travel was involved. Approved PAGB lecturers aren’t allowed to charge a fee, but I wasn’t officially on the PAGB books so could charge a fee. There followed a huge internal debate as to whether I should, or shouldn’t! My conclusion was that it had taken 7 years of really hard graft to get where I am, involving huge expense along the way, not to mention the months it takes to put together and practice a 2 hour lecture and I should be attaching a monetary value to that. However, I’m mindful that many Clubs don’t have large reserves of cash so I charge just a small fee. I still feel like I should apologise for that, however, despite the fact that some lecturers charge in the hundreds!

Workshops, where I teach tips, tricks and skills, are a different kettle of fish to giving talks with examples of my images. This is an area which absolutely should be rewarded financially, though careful thought is given to quite how much of my expertise I want to give away……or not!

Placing a monetary value on my work is still an area I am uncomfortable with and I do have to keep reminding myself that my skills and knowledge are hugely valuable. I do think this is an area women often struggle more with than men, as we have spent a lifetime being subtly told our worth is less than that of the opposite sex. I also worry that I will be seen as “up myself” or “too big for my boots”, while on the other hand know I need to stop being so concerned about other people’s opinions and value myself much more than I do. It feels like a fine line to tread and getting it right is taking time, evaluation and careful thought. The situation is also coloured by the appreciation and gratitude I owe to the Camera Club world and other amateur photographers.

I have no such inner conflict placing a monetary value on work I sell commercially or in a gallery, though gauging what you should charge for pictures is tricky particularly if they are niche, as mine are.

It’s difficult to balance humility with confidence, and the desire to give back with enough self worth to value your skills. I admit I find the whole area challenging and it’s still a work in progress.

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