The School Bell is Ringing.
The Other Learning Curve
The Two-Headed Professional
A Citizen of the Photography Community
Participate in your Local Business Community
The Fear of Failing
The Price is Right
Less is More
Expand your Interests
Be a People Pleaser
Shoot for Yourself
Your Brand Should Be a Reflection of your Clientele
Constantly Re-Evaluate for Improvement
Your only Competition is You
Develop More Than One Niche
- 2013 Photographer's Market: The Most Trusted Guide to Selling Your Photography
- Best Business Practices for Photographers
- The Fast Track Photographer Business Plan: Build a Successful Photography Venture from the Ground Up
- Group Portrait Photography Handbook
- The Best of Family Portrait Photography: Professional Techniques and Images
- 500 Poses for Photographing Group Portraits
- Selling Your Photography: How to Make Money in New and Traditional Markets
- Starting Your Career as a Freelance Photographer
- Photographer's Survival Manual: A Legal Guide for Artists in the Digital Age
- Legal Handbook for Photographers: The Rights and Liabilities of Making Images
- Taking Stock: Make money in microstock creating photos that sell
- Going Pro: How to Make the Leap from Aspiring to Professional Photographer
A PhotographyTalk Special Report
Whether you measure photographic success in terms of the quality of your images or the revenues of your photography business or both, you can build a foundation for success with the following 17 principles.
Photography is certainly a creative experience, but even the greatest artists of any medium had to go to school to learn the craft behind the creativity before they were successful. Almost no one grabs a brush or a camera and demonstrates a high level of creative or commercial success with the very first canvas or frame.
If you’re serious about photography, then be prepared to go to school, maybe literally. Even with a formal photography education, learning can never end; for, when it does, your opportunity to succeed can quickly and easily end as well. Creativity and, by inference, success, simply can’t occur in a stagnant mind relying on old ideas and techniques. Even the most experienced and distinguished photographers reserve time in their schedules to be a student. Many highly paid professions, such as medicine, law, insurance and real estate, require continuing education and many states require it to acquire and maintain accreditation.
The pace of technological developments in computers, the Web and communication can certainly become overwhelming, especially if you’re old enough to remember when these tools were not available to photographers…or anyone. As you grow older, you can become set in your ways and believe that the communication and business-operation methods you’ve always used work just fine. Plus, it’s easy to convince yourself that you don’t have time to learn how to use the newest technological tools, even if you agree that they would help you become a more successful photographer.
Again, you can take a measured approach; you don’t have to buy the latest gadgets and utilize every Web-based platform to display your photos and to tell the world about your photography business. You can’t neglect them either. Make it another part of your continuing education. Learning about new technologies before you take the plunge will help to alleviate any fears, open your mind to their value and help you focus on those that will contribute the most to your success.
As a professional photographer, you share the same challenge as many professionals marketing their individualized skills…architects, graphic designers, interior decorators, etc. You progressed from a passion, a love, for your art or craft to it becoming a business. You didn’t decide to start a business and then chose what kind of business you would operate. That’s typically the path of the entrepreneur.
Your challenge is that you can’t reserve all of your love for photography if you expect to succeed. You must also come to “enjoy” the process of operating a business. Although you should develop a team of support that includes an attorney and accountant, it’s unlikely your photography business generates enough income to hire a full-time business manager, so you can spend almost all of your time taking pictures. Success as a photographer requires that you also develop a head for business. You don’t have to know everything, but you must learn the basics, with a heavy emphasis on sales and marketing. It’s another part of your educational curriculum that you can’t avoid. Fortunately, Amazon is filled with business books; there are online courses and seminars; and there are many programs for small business owners, including the support of a business mentor. Don’t hesitate to ask your attorney and accountant to recommend information and sources; after all, you’re paying them for advice.
Working in any creative medium is typically an isolated experience. It’s just you, your camera and the subject matter…day after day. It’s easy to think you are alone and no one “shares” your isolation and the anxiety and uncertainty that often result. With this kind of mindset, it is no wonder success seems so difficult to achieve. The solution is rather simple; it’s taking the necessary action that is often the barrier for many photographers.
You must think of yourself as a member of a community…and quite a darn nice one. The only activity photographers enjoy almost as much as taking pictures is sharing ideas and their images with other photographers. It’s not just the camaraderie (which can be a psychological boost when you feel isolated), but also the creative stimulation and even the business stimulation that occur when you become an active member of the photography community. This principle also relates to your continuing education because you’ll discover that you are apt to learn the most when you participate in multiple dialogues with other photographers.
Much like the principle of being an active member of the photography community, your success is also dependent on participating in your local business community. Even if your clients or targeted clients are not geographically located where you are, there are many advantages to hobnobbing with other small business owners in your community. One or more of them could become very supportive business mentors, even if they are not photographers. Consider joining local business groups. Many have continuing business education resources that are only available to members. Of course, you also provide a service that many local business owners are likely to need and they are more likely to call you if you are a member of the same organization.
It’s like that shiny new bike for your 10th birthday, the red sports car you were finally able to afford or the designer fashions you can’t. Photography equipment has the same allure and strong magnetic attraction for many photographers. At a practical level, you can cripple your opportunity to succeed as a photographer simply because you spend too much money on gear. At another, and maybe more critical, level, you come to rely on the latest equipment as the panacea for your creative roadblocks and your lack of commercial success. That is a mighty deep pitfall, my friend.
Today’s digital photography gear is certainly a technological marvel, but slap yourself once hard across the face and remind yourself that despite all the whiz-bang, the equipment is still a tool. You are the creator and source of your success, not the newest camera or another lens.
If you find yourself in this trap, then a good method of escape is to return to a simpler, older camera and capture just as creative images with its limitations. This will force the creativity to come from within you instead of looking for it to emerge from the camera. This is also an excellent principle and exercise for beginner photographers and hobbyists, so they won’t learn this bad habit as so many new photographers do.
One of the greatest barriers to success for the photographer or any professional is the fear of failing. To be honest, many people are raised as children to think that failure, any kind of failure, brands them as total failures. Of course, this thinking is entirely backwards. Many of the most successful people will tell you that without experiencing failure they would have never been successful; and that failures teaches you much more about how to be successful than experiencing success.
Successful photographers are those that are willing to receive rejection of their portfolios by a number of potential clients before they find those that will hire them. This process may be the best and…only…way to learn exactly what kind of photos will convince clients in a particular niche to hire you. The path to success almost always leads through the dark forest of rejection…and it’s the direction you must take.
Another principle of the successful photographer is the willingness to take risks. This relates to the fear of failing above. Every time you promote yourself or place your portfolio in front of a potential client, you are taking the risk that you will be rejected. This is a calculated risk, however, because “sales” is a numbers game. Generally, the more people who see your work, the more likely you’ll find one or more that want to hire you.
You can jeopardize your success, however, if you take wild risks. Risk-taking is a developed skill because you must carefully weigh the upside and downside. Again, the most successful photographers will tell you that without a bit of risk, you’ll never truly succeed.
You must have confidence that the quality of your work is just as valuable as any other photographer in your niche, and price it accordingly. Nothing will derail your success quicker than thinking that potential clients make their decision to hire you or any photographer solely on price. They certainly don’t want to pay more than they should, but in more cases than not, they are willing to pay for quality work and excellent customer service. If you know you can deliver these, then make your prices right. You may have to do some research of the market in which you compete, but that should be a continuous exercise. When you know potential clients will pay X for the kind of work you can produce, then price your services in the same range.
This is a principle that also applies to the creative and compositional process when you’re behind the camera, but here it relates to your portfolio and the sales process. It’s easy to become your biggest fan and convince yourself that this photo and that photo must be in your portfolio because they are equally good or great. That may be true, but what often convinces a potential client to hire you is seeing the high quality of your work in the fewest numbers of photos, not the most. Just from a practical point of view, they don’t have time to look through long, seemingly endless portfolios. Regardless of the quality of your work, a thick portfolio can easily be rejected without even looking at the first photo. Have the confidence to understand that potential clients will recognize you have many other great photos when they see great work in a just a few of your best.
Another irrefutable photography success principle applies to most all photographers: Expand your interests beyond photography to include totally unrelated hobbies and pursuits. This will lead to success on many levels. First, it’s important to free your mind from the concerns and challenges of your photography and your photography business by participating in other activities. Second, other interests will stimulate your creativity, opening your mind to new subject matter for your camera that you didn’t know existed. Third, you’ll expand your relationships and contacts, which can result in new clients and a broader and stronger network of support to help you succeed.
You may be a photographer who takes pictures, but in the final analysis, your job is to make people happy. Photos that your clients like are not enough, however; they must also like you, as a person and professional. To be a successful photographer, therefore, it’s incumbent upon you to develop an engaging and positive personality and become the kind of person that attracts and holds the attention of other people. The glowering, angst-ridden artiste that is solely engaged with his or her “art” and prefers to interact with clients as little as possible will have trouble succeeding. If self-examination reveals that you’re a bit introverted and not necessarily comfortable chit-chatting with clients, then, again, there are courses and seminars that will help you break from your shell and use the power of personality, if only in a small doses, to become a more successful photographer.
A successful photographer is also one that schedules some time to shoot just to satisfy his or her creative passions with no thought to the demands of clients and the marketplace. This can be another learning experience that has a direct and positive effect on giving your clients much more than they expected, which will lead to greater success.
Branding your photography business correctly…and successfully…need not be confusing or require that you read stacks of books or attending college courses on the subject. Some of that knowledge is important, but the one principle that works best is to brand your business according to the profile of your target clientele. For example, if you’re a high-end wedding photographer for very affluent families, then every form of communication or interaction with them must brand you as a professional that matches their perception of the kind of wedding photographer they prefer. Conversely, if your clientele is high school seniors for portrait work, then you might want to brand yourself a bit more hip and youthful…without appearing silly.
Just because you’ve experienced some success doesn’t mean you are as successful as you could be. Have a process in place to re-evaluate not only your photography, but also the course of your business. In the heat of the everyday battle to achieve success, it’s easy to wander from the direct line to your goals. Here’s another opportunity to utilize the support of a business mentor, whose fresh perspective will help you to recognize how you’ve strayed and what measures to take to return to the path toward success.
One of the benefits of being a regular participant in the photography community, such as the PhotographyTalk Forum, is that you’ll quickly learn that there will always be photographers better than you. Success as a photographer is not about besting them, but constantly improving yourself. When you can honestly say that you are a better photographer today than yesterday or last week or last year than you are a success.
One of the primary secrets to any kind of business success is to develop multiple revenue streams. There’s nothing wrong with specializing in one type of photography or another, but don’t make it your sole source of income. All businesses go through cycles of “feast and famine.” If you’re a wedding photographer, then it’s likely there are more opportunities from spring through fall, and fewer during winter. If you shoot weddings, then your skills and experience should easily translate into photographing indoor corporate events, holiday family gatherings or holiday parties during the off-season.
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