Can I offer services in photography, Web design without formal training

Photo by Colin M. Lenton. See more of his work at
Photo by Colin M. Lenton. See more of his work at

There are many things in this world I cannot do.

One of those I am reminded of regularly is photography. I have the pleasure and curse of being surrounded by a host of genuinely talented young photogs.

But I have had some limited experience and even less training, so when compiling a collection of freelance services I could offer, as announced earlier this week, I listed photography.

At least one of my friends, among the more talented photographers of my talented contemporaries, took issue with this. For freelancers out there, it’s important to understand what and why you can and should offer potential clients.

I do not take photos like Neal Santos. Or Keith Morrison. Or like Max Levine. Or Colin Lenton, an example of whose work I’ve borrowed and used above.

These are just the more active of the professional photographers I first came to know working at The Temple News, the celebrated college newspaper of Temple University in Philadelphia.

So, in Philadelphia, where media jobs are shrinking, it might seem indecent for me to even suggest I could take photos, with so many better qualified, underemployed folks doing great work. (Seriously, if you’re not from Philadelphia, walk around town, you’re bound to trip over an award-winning photographer).

Is offering my admittedly lower caliber photography ability an insult to those folks who do it better? Like Rachel Playe, Bri Barry or Kevin Cook.

It may seem it, but I can’t help but disagree with my photog friend who questioned my self-promotion in this world of self promotion.

It’s about honesty. I have never, nor will I ever tell anyone I am a photographer of any note or celebrity. Really, the only abilities I am even offering are functioning motor skills, moderate vision and ownership of a computer and a (very) basic digital camera.

I am only doing what I am taught in the new age. A successful journalist is a multimedia journalist, someone who can manage  at least moderate gains in all media and show ownership of all the tools the in journalism tool box.

Believe me, photography isn’t the only example of this.

I am offering to help journalists set up a Web presence: a simple WordPress blog and sufficient social networking. Like this site, I would use a account and template. Of course, anyone with even vague knowledge of Web design knows that isn’t much at all. Really, I couldn’t offer much more if I wanted.

I flirted with HTML years ago but abandoned that along with any hopes (or really, sue me, any desire) to learn much about coding or real Web design.

Look, chains like Jiffy Lube have found a niche by doing something simple – oil changes and fluid checks – cheaply and efficiently. When I was younger I did those services on my own, but then $30 started seeming cheaper and I didn’t care to put the effort. If someone is fine with a templated Web site and an RSS feed to a Facebook page, are my cheaper rates and more basic service an insult to my friends who can more thoroughly design, like Santos, Sean Blanda, Brian James Kirk and Mike Korostelev?

Is my offering to write family or couple profiles as anniversary, wedding or birthday gifts an insult to Michael Vitez, the Pulitzer Prize, Philadelphia Inquirer features writer who offers just about the same service?

I don’t believe so. I think in this age of journalism, we all need to diversify our talents, but do so honestly. I am not going to make a pitch or close a deal with photography, and certainly not with Web design. But it can sweeten the deal. That is the difference.

Lead with what you know best, supplement with what you’ve learned or can manage.

Because you’ll always find folks who are better at what you do.

An addendum: If only for my own amazement at those damn photographers around me, it comes to mind that this print journalist can’t even take respite in those whose advice I seek. In addition to being one of my city’s best known filmmakers and having a work of his entered in the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, my old head (read, mentor) Eugene Martin happens to be one of the photographers I most revere.

George Miller, a fellow young (though far more accomplished) freelance journalist and assistant professor of journalism adjunct faculty member at Temple, whose advice I persistently request compliments his writing with an experienced camera-trigger finger. Also, I am one of many young reporters who know the professional details of Pulitzer Prize-winning multimedia journalist Jim MacMillan‘s career better than Chase Utley‘s.

All this kissing up serves a purpose. The artistic talent that is in close proximity to my Philadelphia circle isn’t lost on me.