I have been creating photos and articles full-time as a business model for over a decade now. Over the course of that decade I have discovered some concepts for photographers that truly work towards obtaining, maintaining, and growing your career. Here goes without any sort of order.
When my wife and I lived in Vail 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 so 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 he could give me 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.
Respect Your 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 necessarily wrong. You should do it in a creative and expressive way. Think of using something like “What if WE…” In the end if you lose that client because you tried to make the idea stronger, that client wasn’t worth working for in the first place.
Today’s world demands that we work as a team. In fact, studies have shown that some of the best solutions have come from a group of people working together for a common goal. So don’t be afraid to offer up your creative thoughts to help a project become better. At the same time don’t disregard suggestions and criticism from those you are working for and with. You vision will grow because of it.
Photograph What You Love
Don’t think for one minute photographing weddings is going to make you successful if you would rather be shooting bears in the Alaskan Wilderness. However, there is nothing wrong with photographing 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 as a photographer. Then being extremely honest that what you have chosen is what you love. And in the end if you decide you want or need a change, do that too. As you may be starting to notice, the key to following these concepts for photographers is that change is allowed and almost necessary to grow.
Compose, Compose, Compose
I don’t care how different your opinion is from mine on this matter, composition is the single most important aspect of photography. It is also the hardest to master. While many of you can dispute me by saying that light is most important aspect of photography, you will eventually come to grips with the fact that light doesn’t always produce what you have visualized. In addition, contracts don’t always give you another day to let your best work to happen. This is part of the professional photographer deal. If you can pull a composition out of thin air in any situation though, 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.
You Need to Spend Money to Make Money
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 career is careless. In fact it is probably as careless as handing your three-year-old boy matches in a dry hay field. Ok, maybe not this careless, but you need to realize that the world owes you nothing. You need to plan and planning has you putting a realistic budget and system in place. This will 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.
I am not talking about our fragile photographer egos 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 cannot be self-centered. You must give any and all people your time, no matter the situation. This will begin to instill balance in every part 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. This 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.
While the boastful egotist may succeed faster, you will surpass them in the end. 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. This is why they are boastful, it is a coverup, a sham. Discover your Chi and hold on to it. It won’t be easy because there are many forces acting upon you to change. Has this not been the Skywalker struggle for the last 40 years?
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 win the appreciation of those who follow you, you will win. They will help you become successful without blowing your budget from the marketing section of this post. It is a symbiotic relationship. They will help spread your energy and concepts that you share. My father always said, “What comes around, goes around.” Positive thinking and promotion will allow you to write your own ticket. Notice how you still have to write that ticket. NO ONE owes you anything.
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. You need to target your viewers with what they need or like to see. Separation here is okay, if different clients are going to different locations, but the brand message is the same for each destination.
Sell yourself and your quality regardless of the subject matter of your photos. We can specifically target our audiences fairly easy at this point so use all of the metrics to your advantage. Find your wedding clients and target them with wedding photography. Find your bear clients and target them with your nature photography. There will be very little crossover and the crossover clients will appreciate both so it will not matter to those few.
Hopefully these concepts for photographers help you to resolve issues in your own career. Finding balance in just about every aspect of life and career will drive success. Energy has a way of being infectious.
Have you discovered some aspect of life or career that has helped you understand your place in this world? Give us a comment!
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