Top Ten Items Every Successful Black Woman Photographer Needs.

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As a high-functioning, anxious individual who has the audacity to put herself in the midst of strangers while holding a camera for a living, I’ve seen some things. Every wedding I shoot, the list grows longer. The smaller, more individualized shoots are where you hone your creativity before you release it into larger arenas. The big shoots are where habits are made, expectations are drawn and experience is stretched. It’s both beautiful and traumatizing.

Here are a few of my notes:

1. Small purse for necessities . I pack a small crossbody bag in my camera bag to hold my small items when carrying my everyday bag is too much of a hassle. It’s deep enough to hold an extra lens yet small enough to not cause distractions. Must-haves include: backup batteries (AA, AAA, charged camera battery) blank memory cards, cash/card, business cards, ID, gum/mints, lipgloss, phone, tissues, etc. Anything you’d rather have on you during the event/shoot.

2. A sense of humor. Because people can suck. As a photographer, I have learned the art of laying low. Blending in. Getting the shot then melting into the background. This is the prime state of mind for existing in the midst of chaos. Things can and will go awry, including and excluding you. You will face blame for not having Dash from The Incredibles-like reflexes. Your photos will be ran though the ringer by those who have no understanding of all the moving parts of your photography craft. The exact pose your client wanted initially will be criticized later, and they may blame you for it. People will take your time, talent and treasure for granted and never be seen or heard from again. You will see your work repeated, duplicated and uncredited. Some folk will never be satisfied. So laugh. Laugh while crying. Laugh while vowing they will rue the day. Laugh. Because bail has yet to go on sale.

3. Access to your phone and Pinterest. Not all heroes wear capes and can remember every great group shot idea on the fly. Learn that it’s okay to say “hold on” and refer to your notes. In the end, you and your client will be thankful.

4. Snacks. For long shoot days and when the event/wedding/gathering party forgets to feed you. It happens.

5. Business & referral cards. I’ve been stopped during a shoot to hand out my card. Don’t get caught out there, girl. It matters.

6. Flats/sandals/socks. In a misguided attempt to look “cute” while shooting a New Years Eve birthday party, I wore my fanciest heels. I had the perfect shot lined up when I locked my knees and almost passed out. Moral of the story: bring or wear flats. The day is not about you.

7. Change of clothes. Because stains and tears will happen. I did a maternity shoot in a reservoir. RIP jean shorts.

8. The ability to be invisible and too visible simultaneously. 
In a formal setting such as a wedding, someone’s auntie will begin to hate you. You’ll strategically ruin all of her shots because telepathically you know she keeps the family blog like Creed from The Office. She is the subject matter expert and that piece of shine you have bitten into and spit back at her makes your a marked woman. But you have the contract. You own the shots. Get in her way to capture that perfect moment. She will deal.

9. Understanding of the crushing reality that the odds are already stacked against you as a double minority in a mostly white male-dominated field and you kill it anyway.

I sat at the foot of a runway in November 2015 surrounded by mostly black male photographers who refused to neither speak nor acknowledge my presence. I was adorable. With my little Canon 600D, Speedlite 430EX II and Gary Fong Lightsphere. One of two other female photographers. Aww, she’s darling - doing big-boy things, shooting big-boy events. Experiencing this, I decided to position myself in the best spot to get the shots most were comfortable to let slip. I was uncomfortable with my knees on the floor with no back support while nearly every other man sat quietly in his seat. Fiddling with light trees, whispering. Originally, I had no point to prove; I was invited here to capture one of RVA’s biggest fashion shows. The reactions and turned noses to my mission, however, gave me deeper purpose that night. I belong there with the heavy hitters. Sore lower half of my body and all.

10. Quality customer service. The judgment of black businesses is painfully deep. Most people will try you out and share your work only to say they did, not realizing that this is your livelihood. If the late nights, sore everything, gas fill-ups, data usage, RAM, camera equipment and replacements plus subscriptions to every cloud storage and Adobe product imaginable could be made better and paid for with “thanks, girl!”, us creatives would be Oprah-rich. But they can’t. Still, be a gem. Take no shit, but be a gem. Come correct. Keep everything updated. Reply back on time (something I admittedly struggle with). Set reasonable delivery timeframes. Overdeliver because you care. Do your best work every time. Folks will be passing out your cards in and around the function in no time.

Owning and operating a successful business is no easy feat. You will lose sleep, friends, respect for folk who just call it a “side hustle”. Every day you will ask yourself why. What’s the point? Who cares. Honestly, you do. And how you think of you is gold. Keep all of these things in mind the next time you pack your camera, girl.


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