An Open Letter To Photogs About "Brain Picking"
Dear Aspiring Photogs,
I’ve recently encountered a few blog posts on the critical topic of “brain picking”. “Brain picking” can occur when an aspiring photographer seeks out and finds a more experienced one, and asks for a short allotment of their time in order to also share knowledge, tips, experiences, ect.
Little did I know, some photographers out there will rally together to whine and complain about how many people will contact them and ask for something specific. Now, there is a fine line between what’s acceptable and what is “mooching”, per se. You don’t go to a professional such as a dentist on his off time and ask for a consultation or service you’d normally pay them for. Same goes for a lawyer, a doctor, and yes, even a photographer.
I’m not in people’s inboxes to judge and know exactly what requests of this sort people receive but I can tell you there are generally two types. The first is the aspiring, dream catching, go-getter who knows that you must learn to improve, and that the best way to learn is to be taught. Then there is the unsavory type who approaches you personally for a free service that is clearly listed on your pricing guide page, or they approach you to offer a service for a small fee. There are some painful in-betweens that don’t really classify under either of those types, but still can be treated with care and compassion.
I’ll be honest, this post was instigated by my discovery of a blog post about the writer’s distaste for “brain picking”. (I hate that term.) It reminded me of a time maybe 4 or 5 months ago when I picked up my head out of the sand, shed the threat of shyness or embarrassment and contacted a few photogs in the area to “glean from their wisdom and experience.” Those were the exact words I used in my emails. They could not or would not meet up with me. Not a single one. I’ve passively encountered a few of them since then and would never write anything online that I wouldn’t want to say to them in person. They are sweet girls who work hard and have made a name for themselves. I will not bring them down. Instead, my approach is to help protect and lift up the integrity of all the photogs who are still beginners or even more accurately, not making $75,000 a year off their thriving photography business.
So, here is a list of thoughts, encouragements, and sentiments for all you photogs out there who have felt less than you work hard to be.
- I know how you feel. We don’t want their tricks, secrets, and hard work to be presented to us on a silver platter. We want to hear their story and be inspired.
- The dollar signs don’t equate your value, and don’t justify your worth. You and your work are worth just as much as the next photographer. Still, It doesn’t make sense that many of them don’t seem to hold on to that value once they become seasoned photographers. #foodforthought
- Don’t be afraid to stand your ground if you feel like a fellow photog is treating you like a client based on your experience level or income. Success is subjective. What if your goal is to photograph three weddings, a senior portrait session, and two events in your first year of business, and you met that goal? How rude is it for someone to judge your success based on their own?
- Greed and stinginess are just as divisive as the next deadly sin, but can also be acquired. But if you encounter a greedy 'tog whom you thought was more open, you may want to rethink learning from them after all.
- There are some 'togs out there who are genuinely exhausted from the amount of “brain picking” emails they get on the daily. If you are trying to reach out to a more well-known, “famous”, or expert photographer, please use discretion and compassion if they don’t answer you back. (Also, see #7) It’s probably not personal. (Don’t get yo undies in a knot.) After all, knowledge is renewable, time is not.
- If a fellow photog graciously decides to meet with you and grant your request for how-to’s, tips, or problem-solving, consider giving an appreciation-donation or sponsorship. It shows appreciation and mindfulness that their time is valuable and non-renewable. #respect
- If there is a photographer out there whose work you truly admire and you really want to learn from them, but they only offer opportunities like mentoring or classes, consider investing in what they offer. It is gracious and kind to help build someone’s #integrity in their profession. Let's use a well-known ‘tog for example. I follow Katelyn James Alsop on Instagram and she’s totally the type of person I could see myself befriending if our worlds intertwined. Alongside being a wonderful photographer, she also created volumes of learning content just for photographers, called KJ Education. How obnoxious and even rude would it be if I approached Katelyn and asked if she could help me understand my camera better so I can photograph like her. Yo. She has classes for that. She hosts multiple workshops a year. That is probably a third or half of her photographer income. Don’t be trying to shade her name by asking her to do for free what she charges everyone else for. #useyanoodle
- This isn’t all about getting stuff for free and labeling people as “mean” or “greedy” if they don’t give you what you want. It’s about knowing your worth and standing your ground. To switch things up, be smart and kind if you are on the receiving end of a brain picker in the future. It will be less painful for both people if you have a system or prepared response to different types of inquiries, based on your offerings and values.
- This one is personal. I hope to never be so far up on the mountain of success that I can’t reach down and encourage someone through the hard parts I remember so vividly. I'm not always going to be able to be 100% invested every single photographer that asks me for help. I can't give out financial support every time. I can't answer every single question everybody wants from me. It's not a matter of my wanting to help, it's my ability to help. I'm only one person and one person can only do so much. But know that I will try to help as much as I am able!
- My goal is to treat my community of photographers much like my previous teacher sisters in 2nd grade. We share, we support, we gather, we aren't stingy, and we certainly don’t charge each other a copy of that worksheet or to borrow those glass jars for a science project in class.
Let’s foster a beautiful art community of love, support, friendship, and worth.
1-3 How wonderful, how beautiful,
when brothers and sisters get along!
It’s like costly anointing oil
flowing down head and beard,
Flowing down Aaron’s beard,
flowing down the collar of his priestly robes.
It’s like the dew on Mount Hermon
flowing down the slopes of Zion.
Yes, that’s where God commands the blessing,
ordains eternal life.