• Skiing Winter Colorado Cat Patagonia by Jay Goodrich

    Brennen Fitzgerald looking out the window of the snow cat on Molas Pass.

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!

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus

10 thoughts on “8 Principles for Professional Photographers that I have discovered in My Career

  1. There is nothing cast in stone that these truths apply only to photography. I can identify with them in my small business start up.

    At present my partner and I are surrounded by what other might see as obstacles. Why, every direction we turn appears to be a rugged path. This month we presented our vision to others and immediately found one person with resources to help blow a hole in the obstacles around us. Then we developed confidence to tell the story again.

    Confidence in your goals will open doors to success. Develop your plan and follow through. Others will join you on the road to success of your dreams.

  2. Love the Gladiator reference. :-)

    For me, I’ve always had a sense of my place in this world, but often kept it alive in my head rather than giving it real life. For over 17 years, I wanted a tattoo (hang with me a minute…it’ll make sense). I never could figure out what I felt strongly enough about to give it such a permanent place. In my mid-30s, I finally knew what it was, and I created the design. It’s a bumble bee on a reel of film and it means, “be real.” At that same moment, I realized that I had a lot to share, in my own unique way, and, if I didn’t express those thoughts and ideas, no one else could or would. Granted, I’ve had to work on my delivery a bit, as some people tune out when things are too direct or “truth,” but what matters is that I’ve shared my perspective with the best intentions, and hung around long enough to help people work through things.

    Life always hands me opportunities to bring new perspectives to the table — in my friendships, professional career and my photography. Regardless of whether I am on the “right” or “wrong” side of things, I am happiest when I help people view the world in new ways, or consider things that were not considered.

  3. That’s an interesting perspective on life for sure. Believe it or not, I can see these emotions in your work. And I think that is the reason for your ability to make those connections…others see it too.

  4. Eeeek…”What does my work say about me?” That can be such a difficult question to face.

    There’s one more thing that I want to add in response to your question, but, of course, there’s a story. When I was 19, I took a break from college, and went to work for a DoD contractor. I was lucky enough to work with a group of guys who recognized my abilities, and I became a key player on a rather unique project. I spent a few years having a blast, doing a superb job and living out of hotel rooms as I traveled from site to site. To this day, that project, and my work, is used as a model.

    Fast forward – 2000. I moved to Austin to do some business consulting. I got a contract with a venture capital company to improve some of their business processes. The day I started, I met the general partners and their operations person. One of the general partners came out of his office, tears in his eyes, and gave me one of the warmest handshakes I have ever experienced. See, he worked for the company that was sponsoring the project I worked on almost ten years before. He explained to me that, at the time that the project was underway, his wife was diagnosed with cancer. The one thing she always wanted to do was travel around the world, but his schedule and finances would not allow it. Because the project went so well, and his company won the contract with the military, he was able to take the trip with her before she past away.

    That experience opened my eyes to the reality that, each and every day, we touch lives with our work, whatever that work may be. We may never meet the people we affect, we may not even know that they exist. But the dynamic is still quite real. That day taught me to be acutely aware of my place in this world, and the ripple effect of the work I do in any field.

  5. Great list, Jay! I agree with every single one of them and try to apply it to our business every day. I want to add another one: BE NICE! It always pays off! Go out of your way to help your clients and you will reap the rewards. Plus, no one wants to work with a diva, regardless of how many Time covers you have…the more fun you make it for everyone around you, the likelier success will be…(ok, my experience is very limited, but heck…:D_)

  6. Another great thought provoking article Jay :) I shall endeavour to include these elements in plans for trying to promote my photographic work.

    Perserverance struck me particularly, 3 and half years into photography becoming a passion I don’t think I could or would want to quit now. The desire to express my reverence for the world in which I live, in interesting light (one that suits the subject and time), is welded now into my soul. It makes me wake up early on cold mornings to go and explore the possibility of mists hanging in the valleys (I have never been a natural early bird!); to stand in gale force winter winds on the moor, to witness the land being bathed in on a cloak of gold and long shadows – as the clouds gather ready to swallow the sun before its sinks into a distant sunset; to stand in icy streams, below waterfalls as my toes numb in my wellington boots – to fine tune the composition I have seen in my head … just because I was struck by its beauty and energy.

    Self-belief without egotism seems a good way forward and I too am inspired by some of the quotes from The Matrix

    Looking deeply into our surroundings and allowing ourselves to see and absorb the essence of what strikes us about a place, at a certain time, can help us to portray a sense of invitation into a photo that encourages greater study of it – one that hopefully invites an emotional response in the viewer.

    Photos that strike a chord in people through an emotional depth are likely to have greater longevity in the discerning viewer’s mind than something that is merely technically sound as a composition, I reckon.

    Sharing bits of philosophy, reflective thinking and tips & some occasional tips or tutorials show a nature of generosity of knowledge and a sense of confidence – rather than arrogance…. which I hope inspires people to want to learn and develop skills through workshops in the future with photographers that interest them.

    In December 2012 I had my first solo exhibition of landscape photography and was blown away by the response – over a thousand visitors during the 6 days and some incredibly touching conversations and guestbook comments. I was particularly struck about how the photos had inspired many local people to take a much deeper observation of the countryside and coast around them – spoilt as we are with a National Park (Dartmoor) and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (South Devon A.O.N.B.) on our doorsteps. Many said they had moved to the area having been inspired by the beauty of it on an earlier visit, yet had so far not made the time to truly explore its beauty… one lady commented in my guestbook “Thanks for opening my eyes again” ….upon reading that comment, I felt I had done what I had set out to do.

    Keep up the excellent work Jay and enjoy every second of the exploring and creating that you do.

    Cheers, Phil 

  7. Best advice I could ever give? Plain and simple – be YOU. If you’re a photographer who cares passionately about what you’re about to shoot, it will come through in the way you address how you shoot, how you deal with clients and basically – how you are as a businessperson. Just be YOU; after all, YOU is a huge part of the brand identity you have in the marketplace.

  8. Jay, thanks so much for these – will remember these principles as I work toward developing a career in photography – wherever that takes me. Valerie Millet put me on to your blog on this, so kudos to her for that.

    - Greg Rodgers

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>