7 Rite of Passages Photographers Go Through


There are some shots, shoots, or situations that are simply a rite of passage for photographers learning the craft. Here are seven examples most photographers have experienced. How many have you gone through?

Now, we can’t all go through every rite of passage and I doubt anyone will get every entry on this list, but let me know in the comments how many applied to you and what ones I missed.

1. Steel Wool

I can turn my nose up all I like at steel wool photography, it’s still damned cool, fun to shoot, and my first successful photograph (seen above) used the technique, albeit I went a little too far. The above shot was taken by setting fire to an entire 50 cm wheel of fine-grade steel wool, standing on a roof, and hurling it around with a homemade contraption.

Still, it’s one of those types of shots that as a new photographer, you cannot resist the allure of trying, and nor should you!

2. Friends and Family Wedding Inquiry

In all honesty, I have lost count of how many times I’ve had inquiries for weddings of those I know, and against my better judgment and the advice of fellow photographers, I even took some of them on. Perhaps having your friends and family (and their friends and family) reach out to you to see if you would photograph their special day is purely a compliment — a sign that you’re creating decent images — but it does feel as if there are several other motivations.

If you have never had an inquiry, fear not, one is likely coming soon! And fair warning: it’s harder than it seems.

3. Pet Portrait Shoot

If you have a pet and you take up photography, that pet’s free time is going to be impacted — there’s no escaping it. For the first few years, every lens, every light, and every backdrop I received, my dog, cat, or praying mantis was going to be drafted in for some unpaid work. If they’re obedient, and the dog above was nothing if not obedient for my camera, then they act as invaluable subjects. Also, a snapshot I took of my dog in the rain ended up on a get-well-soon card and I got royalties for years, so he earned his keep!

4. Vintage Lenses

This is a little more specific — perhaps only to me and the photographers I know well — but the vintage lens phase was incredible (and not entirely over for me). Buying new lenses is so expensive; even used lenses are not cheap. This is a disappointing truth to the wide-eyed, experimental, new photographer who just wants to try every lens they can. This is when you discover that adapted vintage lenses, at the cost of autofocus, can give you an enormous selection.

I ended up buying quite a few vintage lenses, most of them useless but with the occasional gem, and as recently as this month, I was looking at a vintage projector lens to adapt to my Fujifilm GFX 50R. This might be my favorite rite of passage, and few things have evoked the level of joy I got from discovering a $100 lens called the “bokehmonster”. Speaking of bokeh…

5. The Bokeh Obsession

When you start photography, many people get drawn to those portraits taken with an 85mm f/1.2 that were top of 500px constantly; I was one of them. That crazy subject-background separation, with the cinematic vista of translucent orbs, is reasonably hard to replicate on a budget. If you’re comfortable with forgoing some of the extreme bokeh, you’ll be fine, but if not, you need thousands of dollars or a penchant for vintage and obscure lenses.

I’m still in this rite of passage and I will likely die on the bokeh hill, but that’s another article.

5. Street Photography

Some types of photography are just a bit… dorky. Macro photography is one of my favorite genres of the craft, but it isn’t “cool.” However, some types of photography have images that are iconic, photographers that are artists, and collections that furnish gallery walls. One of those is street photography, and most new ‘togs go through a phase with it. Some of those will go on to become street photographers — I’m openly envious of you — but most seek more financially viable genres or gravitate toward other areas.

6. Over-Editing

The above portrait was one of my first, inspired by a trend of HDR black-and-white portraits that were doing the rounds back in 2011ish. I couldn’t believe the positive reception I got for it (and in retrospect, I’m even more surprised), and I distinctly remember being elated with how “sharp” it was. What an idiot. Nevertheless, to find your balance, you sometimes have to go (miles) too far and then dial it back, and that’s what all photographers do when they first start. It didn’t help that when I started photography, HDR was just emerging as a trend, so I was doomed.

7. A Ridiculous Watermark

To give myself a slight break from the self-deprecation, I wasn’t too bad with watermarks. The worst example I could find was from the above shoot, which was my second time as press at Motorsport at the Palace. The first time I went, I sold some of my panning images to the drivers and was thrilled. However, some drivers stole the images from my website and didn’t pay the meager fee I asked for the full-sized digital file, so the next year, I nuked them with a watermark.

There’s a large debate on whether watermarks are worthwhile at all, and I think the instances are fewer and fewer these days, but if they annihilate your artwork, get rid of them!

Final Thoughts

There’s no way to do an exhaustive list of these sorts of rites of passage we photographers go through, and there were a few more I wanted to add, like the social media follower obsession, or worshiping golden hour, or shooting in Manual mode without a good reason. Now, I want to know your rites of passage, either that you’ve gone through yourself, or you’ve noticed lots of photographers bumping into as they get to grips with the craft. Share them in the comment section below.


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