8 Principles for Professional Photographers that I have discovered in My Career

I have been creating images and articles as a business model for a long time now. During that time frame I have discovered some principles for professional photographers that I have found to truly work towards obtaining, maintaining, and growing your career. Here goes without any sort of order.

1. Perseverance. When my wife and I moved to Vail almost two decades ago we had an amazing land lord. He owned two condos in East Vail, one of which he used whenever he had time to spare (which was very rare) and the other in which he rented to us. Based on his personality, there wasn’t any doubt in both of our minds why he was beyond successful. Every time he was in town, he took us to dinner to one of his favorite fine dining restaurants to see how everything was going. The discussions almost always went in the direction of business.

My photography and writing career were in the early stages of becoming a company and I asked Stephen if he had any advice during one of our meals. His reply was direct and to the point as if he had been asked the question several thousand times. “Honestly, the only thing I can offer you Jay, is that my success is based purely on the concept that I have been too dumb to quit over the course of the last twenty years.” Twenty years later and I still consider his suggestion words to live by.

2. Respect Clients. Notice how I am not telling you to like your clients. In fact, you can hate them to the point that you want to stab them in their sleep. Although, if this is your true emotional experience in a given situation, my advice might be to seek counseling or some new clients. The key here is that we are not going to get along with everybody. Especially in a creative industry. Everyone thinks they are right and more so when those people are the ones footing the bills for you.

However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t treat them with the respect that they deserve for getting to their position and shouldn’t expect to receive the same respect from them. Voicing an opinion that is different than a client’s isn’t wrong and if in the end you lose that client because of it, that client wasn’t worth working for anyway.

3. Shoot What You Love. Don’t think for one minute shooting weddings is going to make you successful if you would rather be shooting bears in the Alaskan Wilderness. However, there is nothing wrong with shooting bears in Alaska and shooting weddings if you have a true love for them both. Money and success come to those who put passion into what they are trying to achieve. I don’t care if it is building software, cars, electronics or crunching numbers as an accountant. The best and most qualified people in any field are the ones who love that specific field.

If you hate numbers don’t be an accountant. If you love people, shoot portraits, and if you hate your fellow man go out into the woods and get eaten alive by mosquitos. The key here is coming to the conclusion of what it is you are going to focus on.

4. Compose, Compose, Compose. I don’t care how different your opinion is from mine on this matter, this is the single most important aspect of photography. It is also the hardest to master. While many of you can dispute me saying that light is most important, as you realize your professional career, you will come to grips with the fact that light doesn’t always go the way you visualize and contracts don’t always permit you another day to allow your best work to happen. If you can pull a composition out of thin air in any situation, you can make everyone happy. A strong composition is always the connection to your viewers emotions. Work it, master it, and never drop the ball when looking through that viewfinder. You will never regret it.

5. You Need to Spend Money to Make Money. The key here is business and very few businesses succeed without marketing and an official marketing plan in place. Why would you want to fly by the seat of your pants and always worry about paying your bills? Photography is no harder to succeed at than any other self-made career, which makes it REALLY HARD to achieve your wildest dreams. We may live in the world of opportunity, but thinking for one minute that the world cares about you because you got the cover of Time once in your life a decade ago is as careless as handing your three-year-old matches in a dry hay field. You need to plan and planning has you putting a realistic budget and system in place to show the world that you are not only good at what you do, but that you can get them what they need. Market yourself, your style, your subjects, and your successes and others will come.

6. Confidence. I am not talking ego here. I am talking about bonafide confidence in one’s self. Confidence does not mean that you are cocky. It means that you are content in your place in this world, on this planet, and in your surroundings. You are not self-centered, you give any and all people your time, no matter the situation. You are balanced as best you can be every minute of every day. Tai Chi is the study of Yin and Yang. Most people think of it as a meditative martial art, the true masters find and achieve an equilibrium with the planet, that in turn, finds them as close to indestructible as anything in existence. If you can strive to discover this kind of power, you will in turn succeed. You will know that you are the best that you can be and others will feel that energy. The confident egotist may succeed faster, but in the end you will surpass them. You will steal their bits of good energy and learn how to use it against them. The cocky egotist is truly lacking any and all forms of self-confidence. Discover your Chi.

7. Win the Crowd and You Win Your Freedom. “Proximo: Listen to me. Learn from me. I was not the best because I killed quickly. I was the best because the crowd loved me. Win the crowd and you will win your freedom.” – Gladiator. I know we may be headed down a road of abstractness here, but if you do win the appreciation of those who follow you, you will win. They will help you become successful without blowing the budget in number five of this post. They will in turn win from your shout outs of their shout outs. My father always said, “What comes around, goes around.” Positive thinking and promotion will allow you to write your own ticket. That would be the ticket for your next project that you think will allow you to achieve numbers three and four of this post as well.

8. Consistency. Do everything that you can to achieve consistency in your photography, your brand, and your professionalism. People will notice and the more people that notice, the more success you will discover. Remove the disconnects, like I said earlier it is ok to shoot weddings and bears, but think about how those clients will look at your identity if they are both coming to the same place. Who will be turned off and who will be turned on? Which side of the fence is greater? Separation here is okay, if different clients are going to different locations, but the message (brand) is the same for each.

I am a contemporary photographer who creates imagery and stories of adventure and architecture, but if you are not an architect, you are not coming to the site (that would be this site) that highlights my roller coaster of life. However, you are seeing the same contemporary imagery and brand identity on the site that I do bring you to.

Have you discovered some aspect of life or career that has helped you understand your place in this world? Give us a comment!