My wife came up with the idea that I could actually become a professional photographer. Earning my salary with photos, that thought never crossed my mind! She suggested I should look into apprenticeships. I registered at a school here in town and I needed to find a photo studio I could work at. I then got some addresses and travelled around to introduce myself personally rather than just making phone calls. Raoul was the only one who was interested in hiring someone. He was working alone at the time and for some reason he saw something in me and the printed portfolio I showed him. Looking back, I have no idea what it could have been though, that portfolio was... well... awful to be honest! Fast forward eight years: I'm still working at the same studio! We have grown into a great team and it would be a shame to drop that. We respect an trust each other, which has built a solid foundation for the business.
During my apprenticeship I visited school in parallel to work, which is the way this works here. Don't know if that's how it's done everywhere, you could let me know in the comments! Anyhow, I loved school. Especially now that all I got to learn was stuff that I cared for! I always liked the technical stuff so it sometimes seemed like I was the only one who wasn't bored to death when Jean, our teacher, talked about the math that goes into all the calculations in photography. I learned so much about the basics, the inner workings of cameras, lenses, composition, computers and retouching photos. But I also learned a lot about the passion for the craft. When Jean talked about his work as a photographer and all the adventures they had back in the days, the smile on his face grew by the minute and his eyes got all sparkly. I loved discussing all the newest gear with him, although he's a Nikon guy and I've been in the Canon camp back then. Well nobody's perfect I guess!
While Jean would go deeply into detail about all those things, Raoul was exactly the opposite: "I have no idea why it works like this, but it does!" was usually the conclusion to everything he taught me. In the end, that was the best answer he could have given me! Because he taught me to ask why. Because I needed - and wanted - to figure it out by myself. And I did, I guess.
Apart from the basics of Lightroom and some other programs we use, I'm not sure if he actually ever taught me anything too technical. He showed me how the things he needed me to do had to be done, of course, but the things I really learned at work went much deeper than that. All the stuff that surrounds the business of photography, customer contact, how you talk to them before and during the shoot, I learned all of that by watching him and by thinking about what he did. The way he behaved, so that he would calm down the people in front of the lens. We didn't really talk about it much but I observed and took it in. In the last years that has changed big time, we talk about these things constantly, but that's completely different. What I'm trying to say is that essentially, I somehow learned by myself, but it would have been impossible without him guiding me. He didn't teach me in the classical sense but he inspired and influenced me in such a way that I ended up with a deeper understanding of what was going on. I had to come up with the explanations myself which I think cemented them even further in my mind. With his perfectionism, his love for detail and the fact of him taking criticism or dissatisfied customers very personal, he pushed me in that same direction. I think that in the end, I really learned why things should be done in a certain why so that I'm not simply repeating after him but I'm able to speak for myself.
I've always loved to read a lot about photography. I buy a lot of magazines, read blogs, reviews and tech rumors. I look up to a lot of famous photographers and could stare at their work for hours on end. Ahem... which I do on a regular basis. In the end though, I'm convinced that I wouldn't have gotten all that far without those people helping me find my feet.
Thanks for reading and letting me know in the comments if you liked this post! I'd also be interested in hearing about how apprenticeships work in other countries. Or did you take a completely different path? If you enjoyed my ramblings, thanks for sharing this on your networks!