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.

5 thoughts on “Can I offer services in photography, Web design without formal training”

  1. HA! Nice picture to use – thanks for the link.

    Don’t count me as someone who thinks that you shouldn’t offer photography. I’m personally not someone with a great deal of formal training in photography. I took a few courses during college, but for the most part I’ve taught myself.

    Many photographers seem to worry (too much imho) about competition from other photographers, specifically those that “just pick up a point and shoot” or cheap digital slr and show up.

    In an age with autofocus and and programs like iPhoto becoming more easy to use and increasingly more powerful this can seem scary to us pros, and I get that.

    However, if you’re a professional photographer like myself you’re not going to be trying to compete with someone taking pictures that an amateur can take. Now Chris, I wouldn’t call you an amateur – I think you understand enough to take a decent picture and you’re not giving yourself enough credit. That said, its my job to be a better photographer than you.

    If I’m losing work to you, the problem is not you’re offering your services, its that what I’m offering isn’t right for the client, or its simply not as good as yours. In either case, more power to you.

    There are literally thousands of people out there who are amazing photographers. Same with writers, producers…etc If you do something well, and its what your client is looking for then do it.

    I will caution you to understand the value in the services your providing, and carefully consider how much you charge for different services – but do not be discouraged to offer photography. Its a fun and rewarding medium and as a freelancer it can earn you a decent amount of money – even if you don’t think you’re that good.

    But here’s a tip – let the clients decide if you’re good enough.

  2. Thanks for the kind words about my site. Sorry we didn’t end up chatting at Kirk’s. No worries though…we can have lots of online interactions to make up for it.

  3. Loved your comments.
    I love photography and after 40 years of taking amateur shots etc, I can tell what is worthwhile and what is not.
    ” let the clients decide if you’re good enough.”
    I work in an area where I am a specialist. I have used Photoshop from version 1 and a host of other apps commercially in prepress, have taught, have presented at MacWorld, run my own business blah, blah. Does not really matter.
    I have worked with news photographers in a news environment and reporters.
    Yet I have never seen such egos that care that their byline is correct and present. You would think they were the only ones that had used a camera or written a sentence.
    Tell me why it is important to have your byline when you work for an employer who is paying your inflated salary?
    In the area of waht is acceptable. The client or you employer decides.

  4. Thanks to the link. Some interesting thoughts you have there. I understand that all of us have to dig with in us and see what we can create to supplement our main talents.

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