Tuomas: Back in the days photography was a rather rare profession and the photographer had to know a lot about chemistry, storytelling, art, technical things, how to use cameras, etc. Today however, almost everyone has a camera and the quality of mobile phone cameras is getting really good. What are your thoughts on this massive shift?
Sean: I think it’s good. How could it be a bad thing that more human beings have access to this artform, and as a result are taking better photos of their world? I think it’s only the professional photographers who find it threatening because it makes it harder for their work to stand out from the ever-growing crowd of aspiring photographers out there. At the end of the day though most of that photography will still be very average photos of people’s lunches, or dogs, or holidays so the trick for those of us who take photography more seriously is to work out how to take, not only technically better photos, but images with more more substance. It’s our job to make work which is more memorable.
Tuomas: What would be your advice for someone who wants to take their photography to the next level? Let’s say from a hobby to a very very serious hobby that might become a job one day?
Sean: Take a lot of photographs. There is no substitute for “doing.” You can watch every YouTube tutorial, buy every famous photography book, get the most expensive camera in the world, and become a Photoshop ninja, but none of these things will help you take better photographs as much as taking photographs yourself. You “shoot” yourself into inspiration. You can’t “buy” your way in, or “think” your way in. You have to get off the couch and take as many photos as you can because it’s only by working your way through thousands of bad images will you discover the few good ones, and then learn how to improve your chances of taking those good ones every time you pick up the camera.
Tuomas: Finding your niche is easy for some, difficult for others. What do you think is your niche? You use different methods such as photography, filmmaking, and writing… Is it even good to have a niche? What do you think?
Sean: I think a niche is very useful if you want to either build a following around your work, or attract clients. People won’t follow you unless they can predict what sort of work you will produce in the future. They want to know that if they liked your latest image, then there is a good chance you will do something similar tomorrow that they may also like. It’s human psychology.
Ask yourself how many photographers you follow online who produce something completely different every time? I imagine most of the people you follow have a style which is recognisable and consistent, and then, because you liked it and saw they would keep doing it, you choose to keep up with their work.
Similarly, if you want to get work from your photography, defining your niche is important because it improves your chances of getting hired. Ask yourself: if you want to hire a photographer for your wedding, are you going to hire the photographer who has a portfolio with street shots, holiday shots, shots of the dog, portraits, and a couple of wedding shots in their portfolio… or are you going to hire someone who is a specialist wedding photographer with a clean and solid portfolio of only wedding photography? You’ll hire the second one. It’s too important not to. BUT if it’s not to build a following or get work flowing in, photograph whatever you want.
Don’t get trapped by any niche and experiment like crazy. It’s how you grow. Even if you are defining a niche for your portfolio for commercial reasons, make sure you are still playing and growing in your own time.
Your niche should never make you feel trapped or constrained. It should be tactical.
Tuomas: Telling stories is rooted deep in our culture as human beings. Thousands of years ago we were sitting by the fire listening to someone telling a story. Now we watch videos and images on TikTok, Instagram, YouTube… On one hand very little has changed, but on the other hand a lot has changed. What do you think about this?
Sean: I don’t think anything has really changed. We like stories. The mode of our story telling has changed a little, but not that much if you think about it. How different is someone singing a song on tiktok, to someone singing a song in the market square in ancient Mesopotamia? We can film it and share it with more people now, but at the core it’s still one human being expressing something for the joy and benefit of others. Our reach may have spread, but our love of stories and even the structure of the stories themselves really hasn’t changed much.
Tuomas: You are a great communicator – what is your secret?
Sean: Preaching in the church. I worked as a Pastor for ten years of my life and learning how to construct a message, tell a story and deliver that live all comes from my years of training and practice speaking to large groups of people in the church. I used to hate public speaking and found it terrifying, but with a lot of study, brutal feedback and practice I slowly got better.
Tuomas: Your new book dives deep into the “why”, and tries to find meaning behind creating. Your videos have helped me understand complicated thoughts and “learning to think” has been the key idea in your videos. I already pre order a copy of your book, but what do you think, who should read your book?
Sean: Everyone. It’s not for photographers or filmmakers specifically. It’s for anyone who makes anything, which is everyone really. I’ve tried to synthesize my story, and the things I’ve learnt along the way which help keep me mentally healthy and motivated as a “maker of things”. It’s an attempt at a philosophy for the creative life, and that goes for professionals, and hobbyists, and everyone in between.
Tuomas: If you had to list 5 books everyone should read, what would your list look like?
Sean: “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield
“Falling Upward” by Richard Rohr
“A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy” by William B Irvine
“Mastery” by Robert Greene
“The Hero with a Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell