As many of you know, I’m a resolution fiend. I love New Year resolutions. I love making them, I love writing them down and I love re-evaluating them every few months to see if I’m on track. I make huge lists every year and then break down each resolution into smaller goals. What do I need to do each month? Each week? Every day? There’s something incredibly comforting to me about the entire process. It’s like watching the impossible slowly become possible. It’s exhilarating.
Of course if you’re not quite as resolution crazy as I am, no worries – here are my top 10 photographer resolutions for 2017.
If you’ve been following me on Instagram at all, you’ve probably seen a pattern in my most recent posts. The last few years, my husband and I have slowly been decluttering everything in our lives, from our closets to our pantry to our furniture. We no longer buy things brand new just because something old breaks. Now we question every purchase: is this going to add value to our lives or just take up space in our home?
The result has been amazing: less stress, more time, less worry, more money. I’ll tell you all about that journey later. Problem is, decluttering is a bit easier said than done when it comes to your photography gear.
I’ve come to believe that old, unused lenses are the equivalent to the “fat pants” that sit in the back of your closet. You don’t use them, you aren’t going to use them anytime soon, but you still keep them, collecting dust, “just in case”.
All of us have gear like this. I’ve got an old Rokinon 8mm lens in the bottom of my storage chest, along with a couple flashes, gels, some old photo books and who knows how many timers, remote shutter clickers, filters and random novelty photo toys I “thought” I would need but have hardly ever used once.
You don’t need this stuff. I don’t need this stuff. Sell it. Donate it. Do something with it. It’s not serving you any purpose besides taking up space.
And while we’re on the same subject…
2. Evaluate Your Gear Needs
The photography world loves to tempt you with new gear. Lighter, faster, more megapixels. Sleeker finish, new colors, silent shutter. Countless blogs will inundate you with comparisons between the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 and the Canon 85mm f/1.2. If you want an 85mm, buy an 85mm, but if you already own the Sigma f/1.4 for the love of God don’t stay up all night reading the comparisons between the two and stressing out over whether or not you should sell your Sigma and splurge for the Canon. Whatever you have is fine.
Sometimes we need new gear, and sometimes we just want new gear. We want the promise of what we think it will bring: better photographs, more clients, more money. New gear does not guarantee any of these things.
Better yet, get the gear you need, and invest your money in education. Take an online business marketing class, or attend a conference or workshop. Money spent on education (provided it’s from a legit source) is rarely wasted.
3. Rethink Your Social Media Game
In previous resolution posts, you’ve read my advice of embracing social media. I’ve told you to explore new platforms you haven’t used yet to see if they could help with your business. And while I still stand by that advice, this year I’m personally planning on moving in a slightly different direction.
Social media can be a dangerous animal, and while we as photographers absolutely need it to market our business and round out our online presence, it can be easy to get lost in the world that isn’t real.
You don’t have to be everywhere. You don’t have to post every day. It’s better to have a cohesive, beautiful Instagram timeline where you only post twice a week than it is to have a disorganized, disjointed feed because you’re desperately trying to keep up with last year’s 3x a day posting goals.
This year, focus more on taking beautiful photographs, posting when you can and living your damn life. Social media is just one of many marketing tools. Don’t get lost in it.
4. Take More Photos of Yourself
I was genuinely proud of how many photos I took of my family this year. Everywhere we went I took a few photos or a short video. At the end of the year I was so excited to go through everything until I quickly noticed one very depressing trend – I was missing in nearly everything. I have countless memories stored of my husband throwing our daughter in the air, teaching her to walk, chasing her around the house; and if I’m lucky it’s a video where you can at least hear my voice. Otherwise, it’s like I was never there.
This year, commit to not only taking more photos of your friends and family, but also to being in these photos. If that means I have to forcefully shove my camera into my husband’s hands and demand he keep clicking until he gets something in focus than so be it. 2017 is not the year to disappear behind then camera.
5. Have a Travel Camera
I spend a large part of my time outside and I hate lugging around my giant DSLR. It’s not easy to carry and it’s expensive – which means I’m stressed the entire time I have it with me. If you don’t have a problem with carrying it around than by all means go for it – but no way I’m hanging out at our local blues festival with my pain in the ass Mark III hanging around my neck. I want to dance and drink and air guitar make questionable decisions just as much as anyone else.
In that case, have a smaller, travel camera. Something small enough to fit in your pocket. Anymore, your phone might be a reasonable alternative, though personally even my new phone takes a second to focus and doesn’t work worth shit in low lighting. There are some amazingly small, lightweight and inexpensive point & shoots available now. Consider picking one of these up and make your life a little easier this year.
6. Organize your inspiration
If you’re anything like me, you spend a fair amount of time on Pinterest pinning to your various boards – and then you never look at them ever again. I have no idea why I do this. I have countless recipes pinned on my cookie board, then when it’s time to bake cookies what do I do? I search for a new cookie recipe. I could just look at the damn board. That’s what it’s there for.
I do the same with photography inspiration. Pin and pin and collect and pin. Then I never look back at it. The act of pinning to your board (or collecting magazine pages, or saving websites, or whatever it is you do) is not the final step. It’s just the beginning. This year, take some time really going through all of that inspiration you’ve been collecting and let it lead somewhere useful and productive…something like Resolution #7, for example.
7. Work on a long term project
No matter how busy you are, we all need a long term project to light that fire inside of us. Something that excites you every time you work on it. Sit down and take a close look at your newly organized inspiration we just talked about and see what strikes you.
Then, just take it step by step. No matter how large a project you’re interested in doing, just break it down and begin working on one piece at a time. If you want to make a photo book, break it down by chapter and content. What photos do you want in the book? How do you go about setting up those individual photoshoots? How can you get the maximum exposure for this book when it’s released (can these photos be shown as a gallery show to coincide with the book release)? Who can you team up with the help this process run as smoothly as possible?
If you’re looking for suggestions for the new year, consider reading my recent post on using photography for good, Philanthropy Through Photography, or consider joining our 2017: 52 Week Photography & Business Challenge.
8. Avoid the Snooze Button
We all have a photography snooze button. We know the most beautiful light is 5:30 am but we just don’t want to get up that early. The snow outside looks so beautiful to shoot in but it’s just sooooo cold and there’s coffee inside. We could put together the most amazing shoot but we have to get the wardrobe together and schedule a time with the studio and we’ll just do it later after we edit these client photos.
Stop putting off your creative shoots. Get up early, make the call to the studio, do what you need to do to get this shoots done and in the books. These are the shoots that feed your soul and keep you from burning out. You need them!
9. Narrow down what you’re truly passionate about
If you’ve been shooting non-stop all year, it can be easy to get wrapped up in the hustle. We begin taking jobs because they pay, and before you know it you’re shooting anything anyone will pay you for. This may seem exciting at first, but you’ll usually end up worn, ragged and confused by the end of the year.
As you become a better photographer, you’ve got start narrowing down what you’re actually passionate about, whether that’s weddings, families, landscapes, concerts, fashion or something else. That doesn’t mean you have to cut out all paying jobs, but it does mean you can start adjusting your marketing strategy to hit more of your target audience.
10. Print your photos
Every year I make this resolution, and every year I do make a little progress, but it still deserves a spot on the list. Print. Your. Photos. Hang them up in your house, send them to grandparents, put them in your wallet. Our process is never truly complete until you’re holding that photograph in your hand. Print your photos. I can’t stress it enough.
I don’t miss much about my pre-photography days, but what I do miss is a very specific type of freedom. The freedom to say, “Take it up with someone else, I’m off the clock!” That feeling of getting in your car and literally driving away from any work-related responsibilities is amazing. Once you’re checked out everything is no longer your problem.
But as a business owner, everything is your problem. No matter how big or small or what time of day it comes up, it is your job to take care of it, and that can be pretty exhausting.
Thankfully, as time has gone on, I’ve developed a few personal rules to keep me from completely losing my mind while running my photography business.
1.) Outsource What You Can
Our natural instinct is to do everything ourselves, especially when we’ve developed our own little way of doing things. And yes, you are a one of a kind, super special snowflake of unique creative energy, but your office tasks? Not so much.
The fact is, there are so many things we do as a business and only a fraction of those things really need your creative input. The rest are just time-sucking tasks you can outsource.
Make a list of everything in your business you don’t absolutely have to do yourself, then write down how much it would cost to outsource those things and how much time you would save doing so. Maybe you can delegate just a few of the larger items, or maybe you can hire a part-time assistant for all of it.
2.) Learn to Say ‘No’
As time goes on, you will learn what to accept and what to pass on to others. One example: I now have a rule where I don’t shoot friends’ weddings. I used to shoot friends’ weddings and gradually I learned that it’s an awful experience. I don’t get to hang out with anyone because I’m taking pictures of everyone. I don’t get to eat a normal meal, I have to shovel food in my mouth as fast as I can get because I have to hurry up and shoot the first dance. I’m not in any of the photographs because I’m the one taking them. I don’t get to relax in even the slightest amount because I’m in work mode the entire time. I. Do. Not. Shoot. Friends’. Weddings.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t still get asked, and I have to say no in the nicest possible way, because people genuinely don’t understand why I wouldn’t want to shoot their wedding. It’s difficult and it sucks to say no, but I can gladly say now I get to watch my friend’s get married with my own two eyes, not through a lens. I get to eat cake, and dance, and be in the photos and laugh and reminisce when they talk about their crazy uncle Joe splitting his pants on the dance floor because I actually saw it because I was there dancing too.
‘No’ is not a dirty word. Learn it and use it often.
3.) Turn Off Social Media Notifications
That goes for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and whatever else is constantly pulling your attention away from a certain task you’re working on. The only notifications I get anymore are basically calls or texts.
This seems counterintuitive, the the fact is, notifications are significant distractions that pull you away from important business tasks. Set aside specific times to post to your social media accounts, then get out. No checking back every 10 minutes to see if anyone has commented. That’s nothing more than an ego trip that has virtually nothing to do with your photography business. Post, tag, and then shut that shit down.
4.) Check Emails Twice a Day
I used to think a quick email response (and by quick I mean immediate) guaranteed me the edge over my competition, but that very rarely turned out to be the case. Answering emails immediately turned out to be just as much of a distraction as checking Facebook every few minutes.
Now, I check my email once in the morning and then again right before I close down shop for the day, usually some time around 4:30 pm. Sometimes I’ll check it again after dinner when my daughter is asleep and we’re finally settling down in front of the tv, but that’s really out of boredom. If I see one or two emails I can quickly respond to quickly before Game of Thrones comes on I’ll take care of it, but otherwise, it’s twice a day and that’s it.
5.) Time Yourself During Monotonous Tasks
For most photographers (including myself) editing is not necessarily the fun part of your job. Editing used to take a lot longer for me, and it’s because I saw myself as needing to complete a specific task, not work for a specific length of time. Now instead of “I’m going to edit these senior photos” which is a very vague goal, I tell myself “I’m going to work like a crazy person for the next 30 minutes” and then I set a timer for 30 minutes and literally work like a crazy person.
I take a short break at 30 minutes, then reset the timer and go at it again. Editing that used to take 4 hours now takes 45 minutes. Emails that used to take 45 minutes now take 15. Anytime I’m about to start a task I absolutely am in no mood to do, I set that timer.
6.) Schedule Time for Yourself
I run in the winter and I swim in the summer. Yup, in January in Montana I’m the crazy girl running with mittens in -30 degrees. But it’s just something I have to do. It keeps my head clear. And if I try and “find” the time during the day, it’s never going to happen.
Now, it’s scheduled in just like anything else. If a client wants to meet on Tuesday, they don’t get the option of 2:00 pm or 4:00 pm, they get 4:00 pm and that’s it. At 1:55 the running shoes go on.
Whatever it is that clears your head, whether it’s going for a walk, a round of yoga, playing your guitar or baking cookies – schedule it in. You are just as important as your clients, so make yourself a priority just like you make them one.
And this doesn’t just include little daily breaks – schedule vacation time as well. Pick a time in your down season and take a trip. Doesn’t have to be expensive or extravagant, just spend a weekend at the lake with the family or spend a couple days binging on Netflix with your spouse or best buddies. Whatever recharges your batteries!
7) Ignore the Inaccurate Information
It’s pretty easy to think you’re the only one struggling to keep up when everyone else seems to have this shit on lock. But know that’s what they want you to see. Keep your chin up, focus on what you need to do and keep moving forward and stay off of Facebook!
Do you have any tips that have helped you keep your sanity? Share them in the comments below!
I have to admit, when I first started my photography business I didn’t think it was going to be that difficult. I thought I’d get a camera, take some photos, put some stuff out on Facebook and people would start hiring me. They would give me money, I would give them photos – done deal! How tough could it be?
Well…as it turns out, it was a bit more complicated than that. But most of what I could find still focused on the photos – and I was struggling more with the business side of things. So for anyone else out there still in those beginning stages, here are a few things I had known for getting your photography business up and running.
*Sidenote – most of the examples in this post are for wedding photography because that’s how I started. Now I’m a professional underwater portrait photographer. So if you go to my site and don’t see any wedding photos – that’s why. I figured these examples would be more relevant than underwater examples ;).
Price Your Work Correctly
It’s tough to come back from bad pricing. I shot my first wedding for $650, and it went awesome! That couple recommended me to everyone…as a wedding photographer that did great work and only charged $650. It took me awhile to realize I was actually losing money shooting weddings at that price. I didn’t know how to account for gear, insurance, travel costs, editing time, ordering costs and a whole lot of other stuff too. Bad pricing almost killed me in the beginning.
Finding your pricing sweet spot is kind of like a cruel treasure hunt. My advice for your first step – see what others are charging in your area. Not to compare yourself – but to research. This will at least give you a general idea of where the market is. Successful photographers aren’t shooting in a price range because they drew that number out of a hat, it took a while for them to get there, which means you can learn just as much from their price range. Here in Montana, for example, most wedding photographers stay around the $2,000 – $4,000 range. If you shoot in California or New York your average market prices are probably going to be a bit higher.
Then take a close look at everything that goes into your entire shoot – from planning all the way to delivering the photos. I’ve found that personally, between what I offer and what I have to spend (editing time, travel costs, everything), I was breaking even somewhere around $1,200.
Everyone is different, but this should give you at least a starting point.
Insure Your Gear
Chances are, if you’re just starting out, you’re spending a huge chunk of your savings (if not all of it) on new gear. You’ll need a camera and a couple decent lenses for almost any kind of photography you choose to pursue, and that doesn’t come cheap. Granted, with how fast photography technology is moving you can get a fantastic camera nowadays for a fraction of the price you’d have paid a few years ago, but it’s still going to leave a dent in your bank account. And if something ever happens to your gear (which something most definitely will), do you have the money to start over? Probably not. Insure your gear. It costs about $28/month to insure your gear with PPA. If it’s between that or a new lens, get the insurance.
Learn to Edit Efficiently
Of course you’ll want your shots to be the best they can be SOOC (straight out of camera), but part of what a client is paying you for is your post-processing skills. Skin retouching, color correcting, removing or adjusting things in the background (like fire hydrants or drunk in-laws): all these edits take time. And your time is valuable.
Try and develop a series of steps to editing, and get to know your shortcuts in Photoshop and Lightroom. For example, in Photoshop, pressing ‘B’ on your keyboard gives you the brush tool. It may not seem like much, but pressing ‘B’ instead of manually selecting the brush from your toolbar every single time makes a bigger difference than you think. The more shortcuts you use the more milliseconds it shaves off per photo, saving you hours of editing time.
And for the love of God go easy on the clarity and saturation sliders. You’ll thank me later.
Draw Up a Contract
I didn’t know I needed a client contract until a client asked for one. Whoops.
Thank God I got one though, because when you’re shooting weddings for as low as $650, you get taken advantage of, and without a decent contract there’s a couple times I probably wouldn’t have been paid at all.
Depending on what you shoot, there are countless different contracts you should be using. I shoot portraits, so I need a portrait agreement and a model release. My clients also receive digital files with some packages, so I also need a print release. I have a consignment agreement for art that is sold in galleries, plus a digital works agreement for my work that is used for book covers, websites and album covers.
For a basic portrait agreement, you’ll want to include spaces for both your company information and the client’s information, product or services to be agreed upon, deposit amount, cancelation terms (by both parties), date of delivery, and additional information, like travel fees, or shooting requirements. Almost all wedding photographers, for example, have a clause that ensures they are fed on the day of the wedding. My wedding photography contract guarantees me a piece of wedding cake because, well, I like cake.
As much as we want to believe the best in people, a handshake does not ensure you’ll be treated fairly. You’ll want at least something down on paper.
Learn to Network
A hugely significant way photographers find clients is through referrals; referrals from happy clients and referrals through like-minded businesses. A wedding photographer should be working with local wedding venues, wedding planners and jewelry stores. A newborn photographer should be working closely with local baby boutiques, delivery centers and wedding photographers. A landscape photographer should be working with local magazines, hotels and tourism centers. No matter what you shoot, there are businesses and people you need to know. Don’t be shy here – if you want to run your own business you’ve got to put yourself out there.
Contact these companies and start building a relationship. Maybe you’ll give a venue free photos of every wedding shot at their place, and in return you’re first on a short list of recommended photographers they give to couples getting married at their facilities. Think about what you can offer them and what you want in return, then ask for a meeting!
Have an Online Presence
All those people and businesses you should be networking with? Without an online presence it’s very difficult for them to recommend you. They need a website they can send clients to, a Facebook page they can tag you in and an Instagram account they can pull up to show your work. When people hear about you, the first thing they’re going to do is whip out their phones and Google you. Make sure something comes up.
Get Your Marketing Materials Ready
Since I started out shooting mostly weddings, I thought I’d hit up a local bridal fair. So I printed some flyers, set up a booth and was quickly embarrassed. My “flyers” were a joke. I don’t have an actual example, but let’s just say they looked something like this:
Needless to say I got no new bookings, and the next day I tried to create my own handouts based on a few I had seen at the fair. It was a massive failure. Turns out, creating marketing materials is much more of an in-depth process than I originally thought. I probably should’ve just bit the bullet and bought a few templates to get me started, because I was just flat out no good at it and because nothing says “I have no idea what I’m doing” more than really crappy marketing materials.
Develop Your Portfolio
They always say, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” You can also apply this to your portfolio. You want it full of photos that will lead you to the clients you want, not necessarily convey the clients you have.
For example, if you want to shoot destination weddings, you’ve got to get some portfolio shots of somewhere other than where you live. My first year I took a greyhound bus to the California coast, slept on peoples’ couches and gave out free “wedding-styled photoshoots.” Clients stepped back into their dress and a tux and we took pics at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, at the beach at sunset in Los Angeles and in downtown San Diego. I came back with a treasure trove of photos that looked nothing like Montana. Now it actually looked like I had shot some destination weddings.
Be Prepared to Explain Yourself
You know why I shot my first wedding for $650? Because that’s what they said they’d pay me, because that’s what they thought was fair. They didn’t know everything that goes into wedding photography, and that’s not their fault. If you’re going to charge enough to make a living, you have to be able to explain yourself to clients who think otherwise.
Practice this before your first sales meeting. You want to be confident in your answers. You aren’t asking them for charity – you’re explaining why your services are valuable.
Figure Out if this is Right for You
People told me I’d never enjoy photography if I did it for a living instead of just as a hobby. Are you freaking kidding me?! I do not love photography any less because I get paid for it. Getting paid for it just means I ABSOLUTELY LOVE MY JOB! No way would I trade this in. All the stress, the sleepless nights, the responsibility, everything – totally worth it. I wouldn’t go back in a heartbeat!
Of course, I have friends that have gone full-time and hated it. They liked the part where they pressed the shutter button, not where clients are badgering them 12 hours after a shoot wondering where their photos are.
Running a business isn’t for everyone – and there’s nothing wrong with that! If you want something stable without all the responsibility, maybe keep your day job. If you’re like me and have gotten fired from almost every job you ever had because you have a tiny problem with authority, running your own business might be a perfect fit.
Bonus Tip: Ignore the Facebook “Pros”
Oh, dear God, virtually every photographer on Facebook is lying. Yes they may be booking clients, but they are also dealing with horrible clients and cancelations, and broken gear and unexpected business expenses. No one posts about these things because it doesn’t look great, but trust me, that doesn’t mean they aren’t going through it.
No one is wildly successful from day one – we’re all just as much of a hot mess as you are – but what people post on Facebook is meant to convince you otherwise. Don’t fall for it. Just skip over it and focus on what you need to do to get better.
And if you’re starting out and you’re a bit overwhelmed – that’s why I created PhotoFern. Meant to be a complete resource for photographers, we have classes, downloadable client contracts, fully customizable marketing templates, a combination of 300+ Photoshop actions, Lightroom presets, textures and overlays as well as a lively and supportive community all focused on the same thing: making our photography business a success. Use the code PHOTOFERN16 and enjoy your first 2 weeks free, and if you have any questions, feel free to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or message me on my Facebook page. Be sure to follow me on Instagram and Periscope if you’d like to watch some of the underwater shoots from under the water :).
Alright 2016, let’s chat for a sec…
Last year I wrote about my 10 Best New Year’s Resolutions for Photographers and I’m happy to say I followed most of them. I even printed my photos, which means there are photos of my husband and new daughter in my house right now as I write this. Fellow photographers I know you know what a big deal this is, so just allow me a moment to bask in the glory of all your collective high fives.
*basking…basking…basking…a few more…is that everyone?*
Ah yes, thank you. That felt good.
But as great as a hypothetical high five feels, it isn’t going to pay the bills. The reality is, no matter how amazing your photos are, if your business is struggling you’re back to the grind of the real world. Back to bartending, back to living with your parents, back to justifying your “hobby” as a legitimate career choice.
And then finally, back to nursing school.
And that’s no way to ring in the New Year. Unless your end goal really is to be a nurse…or a bartender.
Hence, instead of making another photography resolution list, I thought it wiser to make a photography business resolution list. Let’s make this the year you aren’t staying business by just the skin of your teeth. Let’s make this the year your career choice actually turns into a career.
So here they are. My Top 10 Photography Business Resolutions:
1.) Plan for Growth
Growth doesn’t just magically happen. If you want something more than what you currently have, you’ve got to hustle for it, and you’ve got to plan for it.
Gather your goals for the year and break them down. You want to make $70k this year? Great. Now how exactly are you going to do that?
If you’re a wedding photographer, for example, exactly how many weddings will you have to book per month? What months are going to be your biggest challenges, and how can you prepare for them? Do you want to take on more destination weddings? What steps do you need to take to make that happen?
After you have the answers to those questions, break them down further. And further yet.
The more you break down your larger goals into smaller, specific, detailed goals, the easier they will be to accomplish.
Then keep on it. You want to re-visit this plan a couple times each month to make sure things stay on track.
2.) Embrace Change
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
What a horrible, horrible business mantra. Just because something currently works doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way to do things. Before this year gets too underway, sit down and take a look at every aspect of your business and see if there is somewhere that can be improved. A good place to start is with the following three principles: organize, cut, and automate.
Organize: Receipts, expenses, client contracts, project proposals, schedules, email lists
Cut: Excess gear, outdated backdrops & props, old portfolio photos, bad clients, bad employees
Automate: Social media posts, email subscriptions, website analytics, product orders, invoices
This not only clears out the clutter, but it also frees up more time. Just imagine what you could do! So much room for activities!
And speaking of embracing change…
3.) Explore New Social Media
Look, I get it. There are a million different social media platforms out there and just thinking about learning the ins and outs of all of them can be downright exhausting, but this is the world we live in. Social media is an essential marketing tool, and if you stick with the old versions of marketing, you’re going to get left behind.
At the start of this year, the vast majority of my social media marketing was done through Facebook and Instagram. Now, as Facebook reach slowly dwindles, Periscope and Snapchat have risen through the ranks. With Snapchat, I can connect with a younger audience, and show how I make backdrops and prepare for shoots. With Periscope, I’m able to broadcast live, interactive photoshoots from under the water. I can’t do that with Facebook and I can’t do that with Instagram. In fact, Periscope has been so instrumental in my business that I’m actually speaking at their next summit on a panel for photographers. Had I stayed in my tiny little social media bubble, I’d be missing out on an incredible opportunity to connect with my target audience.
So for 2016, spread your wings a bit. It is frustrating to learn a whole new social media platform, but if you want to grow your business, you’ve got to be up-to-date on the most effective marketing practices.
4.) Rethink How You Feel About Expenses
A common mistake many new business owners (including myself) make is to categorize expenses as a “debit” to their potential income. They see expenses as a bad thing, as something that deducts from the overall net profit of their company.
Expenses are investments. They are ways to grow your company. You aren’t looking for ways to eliminate expenses; you’re looking for ways to get the most return for them.
If you’re spending $100/mo on a particular serice and it isn’t doing much for you, don’t think in terms of “If I cut that service, I’ll be making an extra $100/mo.” Think instead in terms of how you can re-direct that $100/mo into a more profitable return.
Don’t cut the expenses, re-evaluate them.
5.) Network Your Ass Off
Never assume someone in a different industry can’t give you valuable advice about your own. Believe it or not, my most valuable business insight did not come from fellow photographers, but instead from authors, graphic designers, a bicycle shop owner and a professional scrapbooker (yes, that’s a real job).
Don’t limit your networking circle to people from the same perspective. Email a local business that’s been killing it lately and buy them a cup of coffee to talk business; even better if they aren’t direct competition, since they’ll be more likely to share their success strategies. Ask about their marketing campaigns, what works and what doesn’t. Ask how they keep such a high rate of return customers. Ask how they got featured in that large publication you saw them in.
Then listen. There is a treasure trove of information to be had there.
6.) Improve What You Have To Offer
It goes without saying your product or service in your 5th year of business should be more valuable than it was in your first year of business, but time alone will not guarantee it.
So improve your photography! Take a class, attend a workshop or just get out there and shoot, shoot, shoot! Create a Pinterest board of your favorite photographs and figure out why you gravitate to them. Is it the editing style, the content, or the overall feel of the image? Are they clean and minimal or busy and detailed? Are they bold with high contrast or soft and dreamy? When you know the exact elements of what you’re trying to capture, it makes it easier to apply those elements to your own work, and the higher quality your work, the more excited you are to promote it.
7.) Update Your Online Presence
Folks, we’re in the 21st century, which means technology is running our lives. If you don’t have a website (and ideally, a blog and a strong social media presence), you’re well on your way to being obsolete.
Get a website that works. You want one that’s responsive to different screen formats and has a decent mobile version. It should be easy to navigate, with links to your bio, contact information, portfolio and social media accounts. I run my website through Squarespace and I absolutely love it.
8.) Get Rejected
If you aren’t annoying someone, you aren’t doing it right. Get out there and sell yourself! I was rejected by the same company 3 years in a row before they finally took me on. They ignored my inquiries the first 2 years, sent me a rejection email last year (at least “no” is better than nothing), and then finally accepted me as a company ambassador this year. The lesson: rejection is not permanent. If you get a “no” just put it in your back pocket, improve what you need to improve and try again next year.
9.) Make a Decision Already
Your time is valuable, and standing around splitting hairs is a productivity killer. Some business decisions that take some serious thought and time to work through, but the majority are not that intense. Can’t decide on a font for that flyer? Just pick one. Stuck on a background color for your website? Just pick one. Debating between bringing muffins or donuts to the morning meeting for the love of God just pick one.
Sidenote – this is the entire reason I created Photofern.com. So often we become paralyzed by everything we have to do in addition to taking photos, like editing photos, drawing up client contracts, creating marketing materials – yeah, that’s all available for download right over here. Save yourself some time to get to the important stuff.
10.) Schedule Vacation Time
You can’t go 100% all the time. You’re literally going to work yourself into the ground. Set your email and voicemail with an automated “out of office” message and take a long weekend once in a while. Take the family out to the lake, have a crazy night on the town and spend two days recovering, or just curl up on your couch and binge-watch House of Cards.
Tune out for a bit and hit the ground running when you get back. Trust me, you need this.
Here’s to business success in the New Year!
Support is a funny thing.
As an artist, 96% of our career is spent dealing with rejection. Rejection from friends, family, other artists and even the art world itself. Making a living from art can be a very long and lonely, misunderstood journey, especially in the beginning, and having a decent support system can help make that early journey a little more bearable.
But just as we’re often learning the ropes of how to be an artist, we also know that you’re learning the ropes of how to best support us. We need you, and here are the best ways you can help us out.
Please Respect What We Do
All of that time you spent devoting yourself to learning your craft, whether it be accounting, nursing or even actual rocket science, we’ve devoted to learning ours too, so don’t diminish our ability by saying your kid could do what we do, or you yourself could probably do the same thing if you just had a little extra time. No, you couldn’t. I certainly couldn’t carry out nursing duties for a full day anymore than you could shoot an entire wedding or make a composite of 60 photographs into one believable art piece. Every profession has a learning curve that people spend years to overcome, and ours is no different.
This IS Our “Real” Job
Any job that puts real food on the table and real money in our pocket is a real job. Some of us have part-time jobs, some of us have full-time jobs and some of us have reached the point where we can survive off our art alone. Some of us don’t want to strictly survive off our art. We’re all different, and no matter how we bring income into our home, including from our artistic endeavors, it all still counts as a real job.
As a photographer, I have several real jobs. I sell prints through galleries and license images for use on book covers, but I also teach and even shoot the occasional wedding. Each of these jobs are just as real as any other – none of them better or worse.
It’s Okay if You Don’t Understand
We know we’re odd. Frankly, if we weren’t at least a little quirky we’d probably make some pretty boring art. So even if you don’t understand our process, like locking ourselves in a room and listening to the same song on repeat for 16 hours, or hiking back to some remote cabin to get us out of a slump, that’s okay. You don’t need to understand it, and we really don’t expect you to. All you need to understand is that this is our process, and this is what we need to be most creative and most productive. Please don’t criticize us for the weird things we do to find inspiration – we promise we’ve already attempted the more socially acceptable ways, and they just didn’t work.
Don’t Ask Us To Work For Free
Please, please don’t ask us to work for free. We have to put the same amount of work into each piece we create, regardless of the price. The fact is, asking us to work for free puts us in a really awkward situation. It’s tough to say no to close friends or family. Don’t do that to us. If you want a piece of mine hanging in your home, buy it just as everyone else does. If you want several of my pieces hanging in your office, ask to lease them, just as everyone else does. It may seem like great exposure, but really, it’s a couple thousand dollars to print a whole collection and have it hung. On the off chance that one is sold (not a whole lot of art buyers walking through the halls of a tanning salon), it still doesn’t make my money back. Please, please don’t ask us to work for free.
Promote Our Work
And if you can’t buy our work (totally understandable) than at least try and promote it. Sharing my work through social media is the easiest way to help me out. Seeing that someone pushed the little share button next to a photo of mine is an incredible boost of encouragement.
Get to Know Our Craft
Sometimes, the reason it’s so difficult to support us is because you don’t realize what we really do. My mom thought it was impossible to make any money as a wedding photographer until I had her tag along one day on a 12-hour wedding shoot. The next day, I had her come over to the house while I showed her the process of culling down the images and editing them to perfection, then briefly showed her how I order prints, albums and everything else. I still had a good week’s worth of editing to do, I explained. She looked at me with complete exhaustion in her eyes, and asked how much the couple paid me for this amount of work. About $5,000, I replied.
Of course there’s more to it than that, but just those 2 days were enough to open her eyes a little bit. I’m doing a lot of work for a comparable amount of money, just like any other job.
When I slowly moved out of weddings and concentrated more on the art and teaching side of photography, she didn’t doubt me for a second. Now that she knew the logistics of what I was doing, she trusted me enough to make a smart decision for myself.
If you’re having trouble letting us pursue our dreams for fear that you’re watching us “throw our lives away”, get to know our profession first. You might be surprised how similar a career in art is to other, more traditional career paths.
Accept That Our Work Will Evolve
I started out my photography business shooting weddings, but then I started making singular art pieces and after that I began teaching. Now I absolutely love teaching and I can’t imagine giving that up. I’m very, very selective about the weddings I now shoot (I maybe only do 2 or 3 a year), and I spend most of my time creating and selling art and teaching others.
It may seem like we’re bouncing all over the place, but that’s okay. Just as anyone tries to find their niche, we’re trying to find ours too.
Stop With The Jokes
Let me be very, very clear on this one – your jokes, as lighthearted as you think they are, are not funny.
To you, it may seem like a clever bit of humor every now and then, something we just need to “lighten up” about, but understand that you are not the only ones making fun of us. Those little jokes don’t seem like much, but when you’re getting them from all angles, all the time, they can really add up. From an artist’s point of view, it’s a never-ending, constant bombardment of utter humility. For our entire lives we’ve been a little different, and people have always been very keen on making sure we’re well aware of it.
When we chose a career on the artistic side of the tracks, we knew what we were getting into. We accepted the fact that we’re going to have to put up with a lot of negativity and a lot of ridicule – but not from you. If you’re going to be on our side you’ve got to be on our side all the way. No backhanded comments, no sly double-meanings; and no slipping back and forth between encouraging and demoralizing. If someone makes a joke on our behalf, we expect you to stand up for us. That’s what a supportive person would do.
Allow For Open Lines of Communication
It’s going to be tough for us to make a living, especially in the beginning. And if we’re constantly trying something that isn’t working, while we bang our heads on the counter and our life savings slowly drains away, we’re going to need someone to talk to. Don’t berate us with “I told you so” and suggest we hang this shit up and get a “real” job already – help us with the logistics. Is there a reason why we aren’t making sales? Maybe we need to adjust our marketing campaign. Maybe our work just flat out sucks right now and we need to supplement our income in other ways while we work on improving. If we’re not making money, suggesting we get a second job isn’t mean – it’s realistic. Help us brainstorm ways to make this work.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Your words and your actions speak very different. You can’t give us the thumbs up but then point and laugh as soon as we can’t see you.
Think of it this way: if you were a football coach, you’d want me to come to your games. It shows I support what you do. It doesn’t matter if your team is any good or even if the game is an important one; just the fact that I come is appreciated. But everything gets canceled out if I’m ass about it. If I sit in the stands and complain that football is the most boring, pointless sport ever, and keep asking when we can leave, that’s not supportive. If I crack jokes with friends about how sad and pathetic your fans are for actually enjoying this, that’s not supportive either. As a coach, you’re part of a community, and respecting that entire community is part of supporting you.
It’s the same in the art world. You can’t come to my show and then sit in the corner, complain about how bored you are and make fun of the other artists. You can’t come to my live music performance and then mock the “idiots” in the crowd that “actually like this kind of music”. This is my community, and I’m a part of it. If you’re going to support me, you’ve got to support my community as well.
Speaking of My Community…
While we’re on the subject of community: all those people that come to my shows like the men with the weird beards and the funny scarves or the girls with crazy makeup, odd haircuts and homemade clothes? Yeah, a few things about that:
1.) These people are either my friends or my clients, both of which are incredibly valuable to me. Without them, I’d have a pretty difficult time making it in this industry. So if you want me to succeed, you better hope more and more of these strange little misfit creatures keep showing up, and on the off chance you get to interact with one, be nice.
2.) Keep in mind – I’m one of these misfit creatures too! I’m just as slightly off-kilter as everyone else, and when you make fun of them you’re also making fun of me.
3.) Take a look around – you’re in very, very unfamiliar territory. We might seem like awkward, fragile little things in general everyday life, but at one of our shows – we’re kind of the shit…and you’re vastly outnumbered. As Seth Rogan’s character wondered aloud in the movie Funny People:
“I wonder if Tom (from MySpace) and Craig from Craigslist ever got in a fight, who would win? Tom has more friends…Craig has weirder friends though…Craig has friends that are willing to do a lot more for cash, I’ll say that.”
Trust me, you do not want to piss off a collective group of people that don’t follow the same logic that you do.
Know That We Want You With Us
In the end, you’re more important than you realize. Sometimes we’ve got to just shrug it off, say we don’t need any kind of approval from anyone and who gives a shit what anyone thinks (believe me, I’ve been there too), but no one wants to do this alone. We want to be able to come to you when we make our first print sale or when we book our first huge event. We want to be able to talk to you when we’re feeling frustrated and hopeless. We want you on our side. In all honesty, we’re doubting ourselves 90% of time we’re creating anything, so having someone standing beside us is a really, really big deal. Even the slightest bit of encouragement from you can really go a long way towards helping us along, and that’s what you can provide for us.
Plus, a healthy support system also helps us create better art. New and interesting interpretations of our work help challenge us and help us to develop further, and as someone that we know has our best interests in mind, we can fully open ourselves up to your input. That’s a pretty safe space we’re letting you in there.
So keep supporting your artists, and we’ll keep putting great art back into the world :).
And if you’re looking for a little support yourself, know that I’ve been there too! Feel free to send me a message on my Facebook page, Instagram or Twitter, and don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE HERE for more posts like these!
I love New Year’s.
Halloween, Christmas and National Cat Day (obviously) are high on my list too, but New Year’s holds a special weight for me. It’s the resolutions that I’m so addicted to.
I love making them. I love hearing them. I write them down and put them in tables and graphs and color-coordinated folders and oh my god resolution party at my house tonight, don’t be late. The idea of a clean slate, filled in with good intentions and exciting possibilities just makes me bubble with anticipation. Yes, I realize I sound like a delirious 12-year old, but my entire personality is a bit like a delirious 12-year old…plus the New Year is here and I’m all sorts of giddy!
Now, my own personal resolution list is broken into categories and then subcategories with smaller, realistic goals in each step (like I said, I love making resolutions), but when it comes to photography, these are the New Year’s resolutions that I credit for the largest leaps in my photo development over the years.
Stop Hiding Behind Self Doubt
I’ve been there. I know how terrifying it is to submit to your first publication or to contact your first client. How scary it is to post a photo because in social media terms, zero positive comments can feel just as shitty as the possibility of one bad comment. Putting your work out there, putting yourself out there, especially in a field that is bombarded by a never-ending stream of insanely skilled and talented people, is terrifying.
But no one gets anywhere by playing it safe. You will never be completely confident trying something for the first time. That fear will always be there, and believe it or not that’s a good thing – it means you’re in a new realm outside your comfort zone. Acknowledge it, calm down, and take another tiny baby-step forward.
One way to start those baby-steps, is to do things as a practice run, then count to three and push the button. If you want to submit something to a magazine, for example, write out the email, include all the images and everything, telling yourself the entire time that it’s just for practice. Then at the end count to three and push send. Who cares if there’s a typo. Who cares if they never write back. This is just to get you used to the process and actually pushing “send” at the end.
Just remember, you get nowhere if you don’t try and as scary as it is, it gets easier every time.
Organize your shit. Assemble your gear so you know exactly what you have and where to find it. Classify your photos on separate hard drives in folders by dates and tag-words. Set up an interactive calendar and update it constantly. Classify email contacts as they come in. Ever heard of 17Hats.com? or PhotoFern.com? They’re amazing. Sign up and start using them.
Seek Useful Critique and Shut Your Mouth in Response
As I wrote here, in Dear New Photographer…, my fiance and my mom love me to the moon and back, but they’re horrible people to give me feedback on my photography. They’re waaaaaay too biased and they don’t know the first thing about what makes a good image. I’m guessing, your rock solid support system is the same way, so this year ask a real pro – not a Facebook “pro”, but someone established and reputable within your specific area of photography – to review your work and give you feedback.
And when they give you feedback, shut your mouth. Don’t argue, don’t try to defend yourself and don’t shut down. Really listen to what they are trying to say. You don’t have to use it, but if you’re asking for advice, don’t fight them on every little bit they try and give. Helpful feedback isn’t usually easy to hear, but it’s how you develop and move forward. Suck it up, take it like a champ and get better. This year.
Don’t Let Your Gear Impede Your Development
We all want bigger and better gear. The quality of photography gear out in the world today is astounding, and it’s improving so fast you’ll barely catch a glimpse of the latest and greatest before it’s overshadowed by something even better. Even as I’m writing this article I’ve got an Ebay tab open just to stare at things up for auction…stuff I drool over but can never realistically afford…maybe just pet through my computer screen. It’s so pretty…
But the gear does not make the photographer. When someone says, “I could take photos like too that if I had your fancy camera,” hand them your camera. Go ahead. They usually snap one or two photos (if that), panic and hand it back. It’s not about the gear itself, it’s knowing how to use it to create the vision you see in your head.
And the fact is, amazing images can be created with very basic gear. Yes, there are certain things that are essential to certain fields (a pro sport photographer is going to have a very hard time getting competitive shots of a Braves game with just a 50mm lens), but I’m talking about the bigger picture. Let this be the year you blame your gear no more: examine all possible options for improvement before asking yourself if it’s your lack of megapixels that’s holding you back.
And speaking of gear…
Come to Terms With Photoshop
Stop hating on Photoshop. It’s just another tool to add to your belt for Christ’s sake.
There has been push-back at every stage of photography. When digital first came out, diehard film addicts declared it the “death of photography” and that it “doesn’t count” if you aren’t shooting on film. Even when the first zoom lens was introduced, people complained that zooming any way besides moving your feet was lazy (that last one is hearsay of course, it’s not like I was alive when the first zoom lens came out). In any case, you get my point.
Photoshop is not the death of photography. It’s just another tool that allows you to create the image you’re going for. Keep an open mind and learn to use it in a way that best suits your photography goals.
Shoot Personal Projects
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy…”
People get into photography for the fun of it, but the less you shoot for fun and the more you shoot for work the faster you can get burned out. Personal projects allow you to get back to your creative side and embrace photography for the reasons you originally started. Seek out that which you love and shoot it; once a week if you can, once a month at the bare minimum. Put together a creative fashion shoot or try out some crazy technique you saw on YouTube at 3:00 in the morning. Follow some of your favorite photographers and get inspired! Personal projects are the best way to move forward with your skills while reminding yourself why you started in the first place.
Get Along With Other Photographers
For the love of God let this be the year you stop avoiding other photographers. Not only are they great networking (one wedding photographer can’t shoot all the weddings in a season, they have to be referring to someone), but they’re also just awesome people! You will learn a ton and develop an amazing sense of community. Yes, some of them can be dicks but every town is bound to have at least a couple sour grapes. Avoid the assholes and you’ll be fine. The vast majority of photographers in your area are probably some of the most awesome people you could ever hope to meet.
If you’re a beginner, don’t be intimidated by pros. Reach out to them and start a dialogue. If you’re a pro, welcome the newbies. They just want the same thing you do. Slamming them for low prices isn’t doing anyone any good; they don’t know any better and they would very much like to get out of the low price nightmare, so help them out.
Take More Photos of Your Loved Ones
As photographers, a strange thing happens when we look at the end of our year in photos. Typically, we have plenty of new images in our portfolio of brides and seniors and parents with their smiling children, but we don’t have a ton of our own lives. The vast majority of photos I took of my fiance last year were iPhone photos. And they definitely weren’t very good ones. How awful is that?
So this year, turn the camera around. Take just one day, set it up on a tripod, set the 2-second timer and set the shutter to just keep clicking. Sit in front of it with your kids or your dog or spouse or whoever and just let it run. Do this and everyone will be thanking you for it for years to come. Which actually brings me to Resolution #9…
Print More Photos
How long have you owned a picture frame containing the photo it came with?! Are you kidding me? You’re a freakin’ photographer for crying out loud!!
I yell because I care…and also because I’m really yelling at myself. I continue to make this exact same mistake year after year after year. I have so many unused frames right now it’s downright shameful. I’m so embarrassed.
Stop looking at your photos on a computer screen and print the damn things already. Blow them up and plaster them all over your walls. Print out little sizes for Grandma and Grandpa to keep in their wallets. Print out a whole truckload of 4 x 6’s and 5 x 7’s and mail them to your friends and relatives. Print. Your. Photos.
Use Your Photography For Better
Photography is an amazing thing. There’s a reason people run back into a burning building for the family photo album; because photos are a part of our identity. As a photographer you have the ability to create an image that someone will cherish until the end of time. What an amazing power!
So this year, use that power for something more than paid family sessions or artistic creations. Donate your time and skills to a local charity (I shoot for the Rimrock Humane Society and Help Portrait). Run your own fundraiser for a good cause or use your photography to tell someone’s story that desperately needs to be heard. The ability to take a great photograph is more powerful than you know – embrace it and use the crap out of it.
Did I leave any off that deserve to be in the top 10? Let me know!
Oh, internet, you bright and shiny fantastic thing, you…
Please don’t hurt me.
Let me be very clear here: I’m not exactly what you might call a “delicate flower.” I thrive on the idea of being in over my head, of being the underdog or flat out being told I can’t do something. I’m cool and calm when shit hits the fan and I’m scrappy as all hell in a fight. Trust me, when the zombie apocalypse is upon us, I’m the one you want holding the machete. Ain’t nobody taking me down.
When it comes to online negativity though, it’s a whole other animal. Not only are my preferred coping mechanisms (usually something involving fire) rendered completely useless, but for some reason, when someone writes anything negative on one of my posts or photos, it kills me.
Maybe it’s because I feel like if they knew me in person it would be different…like if I could just explain where I’m coming from, any compassionate human would naturally agree with my point of view and we’d hug it out and then spend the rest of the day eating cheesecake, climbing trees and throwing little rocks at bigger rocks (yes, I am 12).
But that’s not what happens. And even though all published scientific data points to the undisputed conclusion that it’s 100% impossible to please everyone, I can’t help but try. So when a troll inevitably finds their way into my happy little circle, here are a few ways I keep from losing my freakin’ mind:
Understand The Audience
Want to know why I don’t read the comments when someone else reposts one of my articles? Because it wasn’t written for that audience. I’ll read the crap out of the comments written on my own page and posts, but that’s because everything I post has been curated just for you guys. I know there will be mostly positive comments, and if there are any negative ones, I know they will be respectful and have a point that can actually be discussed. I’m not guaranteed any of those courtesies on another person’s platform. Their audience hasn’t been interacting with me for the last 6 months. They don’t see me as a real human being with 6 pets and an obsession with dancing and jet-skis, they see me as a an author byline. And 99% of the time, their anger and contempt isn’t even directed at me, it’s directed at the person that shared something of mine in the first place.
No Content = No Attention
Do you really think someone that types, “u suk ass 0/10 wud not bang” really has any chance of being reasoned with? Of course not. The same goes for the folks that use the opposite approach; just because something is eloquently written with long, intelligent sounding words and perfect grammar does not mean they have a relevant point. There are a lot of very, very bitter English majors sitting around in their parents’ basements right now making “ur face look like fish taco beiber rocks” sound like glorious, glorious poetry. Don’t fall for it.
Agree To Disagree
Just like every other human on the planet, I don’t like hearing negative things about something I’ve created and put into the world. If I write a blog post, it’s mean to be as informative, useful and helpful as possible. It takes me days, if not weeks to write a single blog post because I research the crap out of it before posting. Dear New Photographer took forever to put together. Everything You Need To Know About Selling Art in Galleries took even longer. I want to help people and I want to inspire people. So when someone leaves a comment pointing out how I’m a talentless fuckface, I gotta say it sure doesn’t feel that great. But that doesn’t mean it’s true. There will always be at least one person that rejoices in the opportunity to take someone down a peg or two, and if you can’t have a civil discussion about it either agree to disagree or move on to step 5.
Find The Humanity
Last year one of my old high school friends commented on one of my photos on my Facebook page. I hadn’t spoken to him in years besides random online chit-chat, so when he left a bitter, rude and downright mean comment completely out of the blue, I messaged him and asked what the hell his deal was.A few seconds later my phone rang with him on the other end, crying. Turns out his dad has passed away a few days before, and he was in a horribly dark place. He wasn’t some internet troll – he was a real person going through a terrible time.
As hard as it is to try and feel any sense of compassion for “DCyogurtman2640” lighting you up on YouTube, just try and think about the person behind the avatar. They may be jealous, threatened, depressed, lonely or maybe the only sense of joy they ever feel comes from sitting at their keyboard at 3:00 in the morning desperately trying to break someone else’s soul. This is not a happy, functional human being, because happy, functional human beings don’t participate in that type of behavior; they have families and jobs and friends and other awesome things to attend to. So as hard as it is, cut them a break.
Learn To Love The Ban Button
The ban button is your very best friend. The ban button does what you probably wish you could do in real life: make assholes disappear indefinitely. If someone is spending their Saturday night filling your feed with unwelcomed, nasty critique, ban ’em and never look back.
Personally, I find the act of banning pairs nicely with homemade peanut butter cookies and a healthy glass of Cabernet Sauvignon :).
The occasion will happen where you’ll receive a negative comment that makes perfect sense, and in that case, own up. Sometimes genuinely useful feedback comes in the form of a counterpoint. If you’ve got a whole swarm of people begging you to reconsider your position, it’s probably for good reason. It takes a big person to admit when they’re wrong or when something needs improving, but you’re an adult and that’s what adults do.
Once It’s Gone, Let It Go
The great thing about the internet is it’s quick to blow over. Whenever I post something on my page that I’m hoping to receive a lot of interaction, I know I have to leave it up as the top post for that to happen. The second I post something else and it’s moved down by just one slot, the interaction completely stops. That’s how quick things change online. The second something new comes across the news feed, everything else is old news. So if you’re still stewing about something someone wrote last Wednesday, you’re wasting your time, because you are literally the only person still thinking about it.
Online negativity can make you feel rotten, alone and paralyzed, but it doesn’t have to be that way. For every troll there is always 10 genuine people who are fully supporting you. Focus on the good, weed out the bad, and as always, come join me on my Facebook page, Instagram and Twitter if you’re ever feeling completely hopeless. There’s a great group of artists/photographers over there who are more supportive than you could ever imagine :).
And don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE for more posts, tutorials and giveaways!
I’ll admit, there is a lot to learn if you’re hoping to start selling art in galleries. How do you approach a gallery, and then if you do finally get a meeting, what do you say? What are they even looking for? When they ask to see your portfolio, what does that even look like? Do you price your work or does the gallery price your work? How much commission is the normal amount for a gallery to take?
And on and on and on and on…
Well, I’m going to try and answer all of those questions and more, all in a single post. Wish me luck.
Where Am I Getting This Information?
I’ve displayed in several galleries throughout my career, but the most I learned about this subject was at Fotofest.
For those of you that don’t know what Fotofest is, I’ll give you a brief description:
Basically, it’s a biennial (the next one is in 2015), 4-session festival where there are portfolio reviews, workshops, art displays and much more. Each session is a 4-day period with different reviewers, workshops,etc. Each portfolio review session, you meet with anywhere from 20-30 reviewers. These reviewers are fantastically well established people in the photography/art/publishing community. They are gallery owners and curators, book publishers, magazine editors and private collectors. You sign up for a session (and pay about $1000) and you get a 20 minute slot to meet with each of the reviewers on your list. You have exactly 20 minutes to pitch your portfolio and get feedback. At best they love you and either buy some of your pieces or book you for a show. At worst they hate you and you leave feeling them burn a hole in the back of your head with their very disapproving eyes.
That last part is an exaggeration. The vast majority of reviewers I met with were full of incredibly useful feedback. One was a complete witch, but she’s been banned from ever reviewing again, so good for Fotofest!
Here’s the other thing though, there are 2 very important lessons of Fotofest I wish I had known:
1.) The only reason you would attend 2 sessions instead of only one is if your work is extremely well-established and you’re looking for connections, not feedback. Trust me, after you’ve been through one session, you don’t want to show your work to anyone ever again until you’ve gone home and worked on it. No matter how well you do, having your work picked apart by 30 people in a 4-day time frame is brutal, and you definitely need some rebound time to go home, get drunk under your kitchen table, reevaluate every artistic decision you’ve ever made and then get back at it the next day.
2.) Each session naturally becomes very specialized; the photojournalist/documentary reviewers naturally all gravitate to one session, the abstract/conceptual art reviewers all gravitate toward another, the book publishers all gravitate to another. They all know each other, they’ve all communicated before hand to see who is going to which session, and they book their own tickets accordingly.
Quick tip: there is a Facebook group for people signed up to go – join this group and ask other photographers what kind of work they do and which sessions they are attending. If this is their third time and they do the same work you do, sign up for whatever session they are in, because they probably made the same mistake I did the first year and they’re still having nightmares about it.
I didn’t know either of these rules so I made both mistakes of attending 2 sessions instead of one and signing up (on accident) for both the abstract/conceptual group and the photojournalism/documentary group. Needless to say, my style of photography did not go over too well with the documentary group.
No…that did not go well at all.
But, after the first day in the documentary group I learned what was going on, and knowing these people were very knowledgeable in the art community, I didn’t want to waste my time showing them a useless portfolio. So instead, I’d sit down for my 20 minutes, push my portfolio box to the side and say, “Look, you don’t want to see that, I’m in the wrong group and I know it. But I do know you’ve owned a gallery for 25 years, so instead I’d like to talk to you about the process of pricing, sizing and limited editions.” They’d respond with “Absolutely!” and we’d get down to business.
I met with over 50 reviewers in my two sessions at Fotofest, and combined with my own experience of working with galleries, here is the gist of everything I’ve learned:
Finding the Right Gallery
Even if you get into a gallery, if it’s the wrong fit you’re in for a giant waste of time and money. Here are a few things to do before even approaching a gallery for display:
Check their website – Is it updated? Do they have photos and descriptions of current artists?
Any gallery you are going to work with needs to have a strong online presence. That means they need a calendar of events, up to date artist bios and portfolios, pictures of the actual gallery space, functioning social media buttons and a newsletter signup link. You want to know they make it very easy for people to keep in touch with them. The less steps a buyer has to make to buy the art, the better.
Also check out the overall look of the gallery. Is it well lit or dark and dungy? Is it clean and clear of other items, or does it appear cluttered and messy? Do they have a million little trinkets on desks, tabletops or even draped over other art pieces (aw hell no), or do they have clear spacing between one art piece and the next? You want as little distraction as possible. People are there to see your art, not to dig through budget finds at a flea market.
Do they sell something other than art?
Let’s say they are also a coffee shop, or a furniture shop or a restaurant. This usually means their main business is not selling art, it’s selling something else. If your art is displayed in a furniture store/gallery, for example, you are accepting that most of the people walking through their doors are coming there to buy couches and dressers, not art. There is nothing wrong with displaying in a combo gallery/other business, but it does affect the amount of commission they can ethically collect each time you sell a piece (we’ll get to that later).
Visit them in person – how does the staff treat you?
If you walk in and the owner waves to you in between a conversation they’re having with a friend in the back, and then you do a complete circle, walk towards the door and receive a half-assed “Thanks for stopping in!” as you leave, this is not a gallery you want to display in.
You want someone to meet you at the door and ask how your day is going, if you’ve ever been in before and if there’s anything specific you’re interested in. If you’re looking on one display, someone should be there saying, “Doesn’t he do amazing work? You should see his next collection, Memory Fields, that’s set to go up next month on the 21st. He’s got a few sample pieces on his website (listed right here on his business card she gently hands you). I’d be happy to show you more if you’re interested.”
This is important because this is how they will act when you have art hanging in the gallery. Do you really want to be showing in a space where someone just sits in the back and bullshits with their buddies? No. You want someone that is going to treat every person that walks in that door as a potential sale – because they are a potential sale.
Exactly what kind of art do they sell?
If you specialize in, let’s say, surreal portraiture, a gallery that displays strictly Japanese flower photos is not going to be interested in your portfolio. Don’t even try and push it on them; they know what they like, and it isn’t you.
What kind of price point are they selling?
If the art they have displayed is upwards of $30,000 and you’ve never made a sale, just keep moving. Those works are selling for that price because they are established artists. And you are definitely not an established artist…or you wouldn’t be reading an article about how to start displaying in art galleries. Find a gallery that is selling art for something at least relatively similar to your own price point.
Approaching & Submitting to a Gallery
Approaching a gallery seems intimidating, but in reality…actually never mind, in reality it’s just as intimidating as it is in your head. But you’ve got to remember, gallery owners are people just like you and they would much rather be approached by a proactive enthusiastic artist than drag along an insecure artist that has no idea what they’re doing. So suck it up, and do the following:
The In-Person Approach
If you’re hoping to schedule an appointment with a gallery owner, go in person. All you’re doing is asking if they ever meet with potential artists or do portfolio reviews. DO NOT bring your portfolio to the gallery. This is essentially saying, “I am so unbelievably talented, you’re definitely going to want to stop what you’re doing and take a look at this.” It’s cocky and presumptuous. Bring a business card in your back pocket and leave your portfolio in the car.
They will either respond with 1 of 3 things: 1.) No, they are currently not accepting artist submissions, 2.) No, they do not do in-person appointments, but they do have an online submission process (which they will direct you to), or 3.) Yes, they do offer portfolio review sessions that cost (x) amount and they have an opening on (x) day and time.
If you are asking for a portfolio review know that you’re going to have to pay for it. Their time is just as valuable as yours and they aren’t in the business of handing out charity review sessions. A portfolio review is a great way to get your work in front of them though. They will either give you great feedback or like you enough to talk about a future show.
The Online Approach
Most likely, they will direct you to an online submission process. This will be on their website and will have very specific instructions. Follow these instructions – they are there for a reason, and chances are if you don’t follow them exactly as they are written your application will immediately be thrown out – this is no time to go rogue.
Usually, they will ask for a CV (this is your artist resume), your artwork list (title of your collection, medium [the type of paper it’s printed on], your piece dimensions, edition sizes and pricing for each), your contact information, links to your work and sometimes a few low resolution example images.
Your artist resume is basically exactly the same as any other resume. You’ve got your contact information, your website, a short bio and description of your work. Then start adding on anything that is relevant, like art/photo-related education and awards, publications you’ve been featured in, teaching experience, recent exhibitions followed by recent solo exhibitions. Do a quick search for “artist resume” and you’ll see plenty of examples of the layout.
Sizing, Editions & Pricing
Everyone has specific sizes according to their art, so this is going to be very general, but there is basically one rule that every, single, gallery owner told me to follow: have no more than 3 available sizes. The reason, simply put, is so you aren’t (accidentally) taken for a ride for other galleries.
Let’s play the hypothetical game for a second. Let’s say you have square format photos, that come in 5 sizes (in inches) 10 x 10, 20 x 20, 30 x 30, 40 x 40 and 50 x 50. Great. Now let’s say you’re applying to 20 different galleries and 2 of them love you and want to feature you. One wants you January – March, the other from April – June. The first gallery prefers the 30 x 30 size, the second gallery prefers the 20 x 20 size. That means you have pay for the cost of printing, framing and shipping a whole other show (which can range upwards of $3000). Limiting your sizes isn’t going to cause a gallery to shy away. If the second gallery likes you and you only have 30 x 30 instead of 20 x 20, they’re going to take the 30 x 30 – which means you can just move the first show to it’s new location when it’s done. This keeps you from having to pay a fortune for 2 different shows in 2 different sizes.
Your sizes also need to be spaced enough apart to be used for different purposes. You want one small size (10 x 10), something people can hold. A “little jewel” as it has been explained to me by curators. Then you want your main size (30 x 30) that is large enough to hang comfortably in someone’s home – this is the size you will be displaying most often in galleries. The largest size (50 x 50) is specifically for art collectors and for lease agreements. This is usually the largest size you can print without losing quality. Your large size will probably seem a bit comically large, but that’s kind of the whole point – it’s a statement piece.
You don’t have to edition your pieces, but…let’s just say I’ve never met anyone who suggested against it. Having limited editions increases the value of your artwork. People aren’t just paying for the actual art piece, they’re paying for the exclusivity. Edition sizes range anywhere from 3-500, and it really depends on the kind of art you’re doing. A photographer that has one size of print, may have a total edition size of 25, for example. That means they can only sell 25 prints of that photo, and then they’re done. No more selling of those prints once the edition has run out (there are reintroductions of an edition, but if you’re ever in the situation to reintroduce an edition, you’re probably super famous…and also dead).
Sound kind of scary? It’s supposed to. In all actuality, you rarely sell out of editions, but it creates a sense of urgency and exclusivity among buyers. The edition sizes also get smaller as you go up, creating even more significance. My pieces, for example, follow this basic pattern:
Size (in inches):
10 x 10, Limited Edition of 15
30 x 30, Limited Edition of 7
50 x 50, Limited Edition of 3
Pricing can also be a tricky subject, and needs to be dealt with on a very case by case basis, but at least this will give you a jumping off point.
Labor + costs of production + printing & shipping costs + profit = Price.
It’s also important to research your local market to see what comparable art is selling for. While some people may advise against this, since art sells for virtually anything nowadays, I still think it’s just plain smart to know what your competition is doing. The art market in Montana, for example, is much different than New York. If I were to price my art in Montana for the New York market, I would probably have a very, very hard time being taken seriously.
I also take the gallery’s opinion into account on my pricing. The reason being, they know the market better than anyone and they know exactly what range they can sell to their current client base. They need your prices high enough to show value, but low enough to be comparable to other artists they’ve had in the past. If you’re priced the same as a well-established artist they just showed in their gallery but you don’t have near the track record, it makes it difficult for them to pitch your work to clients. They have their own credibility and reputation to protect, and that means they can’t sell on potential alone, so price your work accordingly.
It’s also important to note that you can move up, but not down. I say to ask local galleries about the local market because if this is your first gallery, this is probably where you’ll be displaying. But know that if you start in New York, then try and display in a gallery in Montana, you can’t lower the cost of your pieces to match the market. That’s illegal.
Some artists also raise their prices as editions start running out, since they are, in fact, more valuable. It’s up to you.
Costs & Commissions
Typically, it’s up to the artist to pay for the costs of the show. This includes printing, shipping and framing. Since you’re selling your pieces as art, they need to be printed on archival certified paper. The gallery typically handles all of the hanging of the art. It’s important to work with the gallery on this process. My fine art pieces are typically either matted and framed or simply mounted and hung floating off the wall, depending on the gallery. My underwater photos have been displayed both mounted and floating off the wall or hanging on clear fishing line so they have a slight sway and movement to mimic the surreal motion of the water.
Every gallery is different, but most galleries take somewhere around a 50% commission from pieces you sell. Some take 40%, but rarely do any take more than 50%.
Some galleries take a very small percentage in exchange for a monthly payment. Say it costs $300/mo to display in the gallery, but they only take 30%. If you can, avoid this type of gallery – and here’s why: you want to show in a gallery that only makes money when your art sells. By charging a monthly fee to display, they are essentially covering their costs without having to worry about the art selling, which means it’s taking away their incentive to promote the art. If you don’t sell anything they don’ t really care – they’ve already covered their costs on your monthly fee, get it? You want to display where they don’t make a dime unless your art sells.
Let’s also revisit the idea of combo galleries: places where they run a completely separate business while also displaying art for sale. Places like this should be taking no more than 30% commission at the most and here’s why: their commission is your way of paying a gallery for all that they do. That’s all the promotion to bring in potential art buyers, their contacts of past buyers that will be interested in your work, events that are specific to the art-buying community and much more. All the promotion a gallery does goes toward selling your work, and that is worth 50% of the commission.
In a combo store, however, a very small portion of their income might go toward bringing in potential art buyers. If they’re a coffee shop, for example, the vast majority of their marketing and promotion is going to getting people to come in to buy coffee. If someone happens to walk in and buy a piece of art, fantastic, but they aren’t actively pursuing it. Since only 20% of their income goes to promoting the art in their store, they should receive only 20% commission.
Contracts can be pretty complicated, and while there are many details that ideally you’d have your lawyer look over (you know, the one we all have on retainer), here are a few things to at least make sure of:
How much you will be paid and when. This is generally your percent commission and a date your commission will be distributed, usually at the end of the month.
How long the contract lasts for. Most contracts are about 3 months long. If your contract has a possibility of being renewed, most galleries will need new work to display in the new period.
How your art is displayed. You want to make sure either your entire collection or at least 50% of your collection is always on display. Some galleries show part of the collection and then rotate pieces out throughout the contract period. In this case you need to know exactly how many pieces are guaranteed to be on the floor at all times.
How soon you are notified of a sale. I require to be notified within 24 hours of a sale. This is extremely important to make sure you don’t sell more than you have available and that your clients will get the exact edition number they were promised.
Who is in charge of damages while the art is held at the gallery. If the gallery catches on fire and your art is destroyed, that should be up to the gallery to cover. Some require you to have insurance of your own to cover any damages that may happen while it is in the galleries care, but to be honest, it’s very difficult to file an insurance claim for a piece of art that you haven’t even seen for 2 months. If it’s at the gallery, it’s the gallery’s responsibility.
How the contract can be terminated. If something happens, you need to know what the penalty would be for terminating the contract on either side. Just as you could be liable for a fee if you pull your art before the end of the contract period, the gallery can also be held liable if they don’t display your art for the entire contract period.
Who can sell your art. This will cover who else is allowed to sell your own art, including yourself. If this is a solo show, for example, you may not be allowed to release any images online or have them displayed at any other location. This is also relevant because if you are selling art on your own, without any referrals to the gallery, they can choose not to promote you…which is fair.
Think about it – if they spend all of their efforts handing out your business cards and sending potential buyers to your website and then a buyer contacts you to buy a piece and you make the sale completely independent of the gallery, all that work on their end would be for nothing.
Therefore, it’s good to have an agreement that if you have pieces in a gallery, and buyers come to you that were clearly introduced to your work through the gallery, you need to refer them back so the gallery can collect their commission. It might feel like a very difficult thing to do (especially when it’s cutting your profit from the sale in half) but it’s the right thing to do, plain and simple. Plus, the more loyal you are to the gallery, the more they will promote you, because they know they can trust you to send potential buyers their way.
Ask for previous artists’ references. I have been in galleries before that have been very unethical in the way they do things (I don’t want to name names or anything so let’s just make up a pretend one, like, I don’t know, the BeHuman Gallery located in Houston, TX). Had I spoken to previous artists about how this gallery does business, I probably would’ve come to the very obvious conclusion not to display there. Lesson learned.
Selling Your Work at the Opening
One of the most stressful parts for any artist is selling their art at the opening. You’re going to have to convince who knows how many people to try and buy one of your pieces, all without conveying that if they don’t buy anything there’s a good chance you will be homeless by the end of the month.
I get it, and thankfully while I definitely struggle in some areas, selling my own art at an opening is most definitely not one of my weaknesses. Not even kidding – I can sell the shit out of my own art at an opening.
And so can you. For those of you that are terrified of even the thought of talking about yourself for 4 solid hours to complete strangers, here’s a little script:
Step 1: Introduce yourself, thank them for coming and let them know you’re available to answer any of their questions.
Step 2: Answer any question they ask in great detail.
Step 3: Refer to more of your work for as examples.
Step 4: Answer following questions in great detail.
That’s it. Really. You want to go into great detail with your answers because the more they know about it, the more they want to buy it. They don’t want something they can hang up in their hallway, they want something they can point out to guests in their home and explain how awesome it is. Here’s an example dialogue:
Me: “Hello there! I’m so glad you took the time to come out tonight. If you have any questions on anything, don’t hesitate to ask, I’d more than happy to answer them!”
Client: “Oh! Thank you so much! Are you the artist?”
Me: “I am! This piece right here is mine, it’s called Insomniac.”
Client: “Oh I see! I was looking at these tree roots here, that’s so interesting!”
Me: “Thank you! I actually had to individually draw those out of a different photo. It took about 100 hours of straight editing time to achieve that effect.”
Client: “Wow, I had no idea! Hey honey, did you know this took over 100 hours of work?”
Client’s Spouse: “Oh you’re kidding!”
Me: “Not at all! This piece over here, called Keeper of Spring, took about 80 hours. It’s a combination of 46 separate photos.”
Client: “Crazy! So how does that work exactly?”
Me: “Well first I set up a tripod, and then I have to click the first photo, and then (yada, yada, yada).”
See how that works? Now, instead of just looking at an interesting piece of work, they are thinking of everything that went into it. The excitement they feel right now is the exact excitement they want someone else to feel when they tell the story later. And that folks, is how you sell an art piece.
I know working with galleries seems like a very intimidating and complicated process, but the important thing is to take the first step and understand that they are people too. They got into this business because they genuinely love the art community, and they want to help in any way they can. Don’t go in with guns blazing thinking you’ll get taken advantage of. Just let your work speak for itself and keep an open mind. Hell I got my first show by walking into a gallery and showing them a photo on my cell-phone. True story.
If you know anyone that might benefit from this post, feel free to share below!
Dear New Photographer,
I’m writing this post because I was up late last night on a Facebook forum, reading close to 200 comments about new photographers and what slime they are to the industry. How they’re stripping photography of it’s “art” and destroying any decent business practices. I read every comment, feeling more and more sick to my stomach the further I scrolled down the page.
“Who do these people think they are? Don’t they remember when they were new and making all the same mistakes?”
I know this year has probably had it’s ups and downs for you; the excitement of booking your first paid gig, the confusion of all that “must have” photography gear and the hurt and guilt of being single-handedly blamed for “ruining the industry.” I know the phrase “what to charge for engagement photos” is probably one of the first things to come up in your Google search bar, and secretly you’re still wondering why using the eraser tool in photoshop is such a horrible thing.
I also know that you’re afraid to ask for advice at every turn because for every established photographer that is willing to help, you’ve got 30 more breathing down your neck that are doing everything they can to cut you down. I’ve been there too – I’ve had my work ripped apart online by a “reputable” photographer (who went out of business earlier this year), I’ve bought things I didn’t need because some famous photographer endorsed them and I thought it would make a dramatic improvement in my work (it didn’t), and I’ve used the crap out of the eraser tool (layer mask, folks).
So what I wanted to do here is give you a heads-up. A bit of a rant mixed with some advice I wish I had known in the beginning, this is just about everything I wish someone had told me the first day I got that used and slightly beat up (but still very new to me) camera in my hands.
Beware The Vultures
– “Clients” will use you for free photos.
Countless people are about to ask you for free photos. New parents will adamantly lend you their newborn baby to “practice” on or will offer up their family to help you grow your “portfolio”. Magazines and businesses will ask for those landscape photos of yours in exchange for “exposure”. Don’t confuse these requests with paid shoots or even as complements, they are neither. These are people wanting free shit, plain and simple.
Now in the beginning, you are going to have to do some things for free – you need the experience and you need to build your portfolio – but know this: anything you shoot for free that isn’t related to what you eventually want to be paid for, or a personal cause, is a waste of your time. I knew from the beginning I didn’t want to shoot newborn photos, but I was interested in shooting weddings. So between two non-paying jobs, I took the one that added to my wedding portfolio and referred the newborn shoots to someone else.
Don’t take this to mean you should specialize immediately – you shouldn’t. You should shoot as many different things as you possibly can to try and find what your really passionate about, but don’t feel obligated to take any free job that comes along.
– Other photographers will use you as an unpaid assistant.
I highly, highly recommend interning, but the point is to get something out of it. If all you’re doing is running errands, getting coffee and carrying heavy gear, you’re getting taken advantage of.
If you’re in an internship, ask questions. Ask about the camera settings, the lighting, the posing; everything! Why are they using one light when earlier they used another? Why do they keep telling the model to put her chin down? What aperture do they shoot at for large groups? Is there a reason they prefer one lens to the other? Some of these are questions better asked at the end of a session, when the client is gone, but if you have a question, ask. If the photographer you’re interning for blows it off or won’t answer your questions, find someone else to intern for. This person is after the free labor, not in mentoring an upcoming photographer.
P.S: Look out for any mentor that requires you to sign a No Competition Clause or a waiver saying you’ll work for free for any given amount of time. If they bring this up – RUN. Oh my god, run.
– More experienced photographers will try to sell you things.
As a newbie, you are actually part of a growing market; a market where you’re willing to pay money for a short track to success, and there are a many other photographers ready to pounce. People are going to try and sell you workshops, gear, actions, presets, tutorials and more. All taking advantage of the fact that you’re willing to pay for something you don’t already have.
Now, I am a huge supporter of photographer education – the main reason I created PhotoFern.com was to help newbies get their businesses up and running. I teach workshops, give online coaching, and give away actions, presets & texture packs all the time, but you should know how to find the good ones. If you’re thinking of attending a workshop, ask to see references or testimonials from other workshop attendees. Ask to see an itinerary of everything you will be learning. Email the instructor to start a dialogue and see if your skill set is at the right place to be learning what they are teaching, and make sure any images you take at the workshop belong to you. You want to walk away feeling like you’ve actually grown in your development, knowing that all images taken by you belong to you, and that the money spent was worth every penny.
Seek Out Meaningful Criticism
– Know where to go for the feedback you’re looking for.
I love my mom and I love my fiancé, but when I’m looking for good, constructive feedback on my latest work, neither of them are the best people to go to. For one, they’re incredibly biased, and two, they know nothing about photography.
When I need good, quality feedback, I approach a successful photographer that is knowledgeable in the field my photography is in. I shoot fine art portraiture; a landscape photographer or photojournalist that loathes the use of Photoshop isn’t going to get me anywhere. In addition, neither is a Facebook, self-proclaimed photography “Pro”. Seek out the people that will give you unbiased, professional, relevant feedback. That’s how you grow.
It takes a little bit of effort to get that kind of feedback. Email a photographer you respect or try and schedule an appointment with a local gallery or editor. Sometimes you have pay for these kind of things, but it’s worth it.
– Be impartial about gathering advice, but very selective in applying it.
No matter the advice you receive, people don’t know you. I was once told that my images were far too commercial to be considered art, and I should instead pursue work in fashion. All fine and well, except I didn’t want to do fashion work – I wanted to sell in galleries. Convinced I needed to shoot more fashion, they gave me plenty of advice about how to further commercialize my images, so I sat there and I took all of it – and then did the opposite. Their advice wasn’t necessarily right for me, but the knowledge was still very valuable. Now gallery sales are a large part of my income.
– Know you probably aren’t going to like what you hear, and shut-up when you hear it.
The whole point of feedback is to get better, which usually means something you’re currently doing can be improved. It never feels good to hear you’re weak in a particular area, but the sooner it’s pointed out to you the sooner you can do something about it. I’ve stated in other posts how valuable my time at Fotofest was – not because of the positive feedback I received (I did sell 4 pieces), but because of the feedback where I was slaughtered. Brutal honesty hurts, but I learned more in two weeks than I had in two years, and my work has made a dramatic improvement because of it.
– Shrug off the jerks.
There are plenty of people out there just dying to give feedback to a new photographer, simply on the basis of cutting them down. Some old, jaded, bitter photographer that still can’t get over the fact that this whole digital “fad” hasn’t worn off yet. Yes, film is awesome, but so is digital and wet plates and colloidal tin types and God knows how many other forms of photography there are in the world today. Be very aware of the narrow-minded.
Value Business Skills AND Photography Skills
– Just because there are a lot of photographers does not mean there is no room for you.
As with any other business, the quantity of vendors does not determine the success of a new vendor. A new vendor’s success is determined by the quality of their product or service, their reputation, their marketing plan, their community involvement, their prices and countless other things. Every business is different, just as every photographer is different. Figure out what it is that you can offer that is different than what is out there already and run with it.
– Get ready to work…a lot.
I can’t honestly remember the last time I had a day off. If I’m not shooting, I’m editing, or answering emails, or sending out submissions, or planning, designing, and budgeting the next shoot. Every ounce of free time is spent doing something photography related – which is pretty awesome…mostly because I’m utterly obsessed with photography. If you aren’t obsessed though, this isn’t going to be the best career for you. You need to know your workdays will be long and your days off will be few, and if that’s the kind of thing you’re looking for, than welcome aboard.
– Use the business model that works for you.
Hey guess what, when it comes to client work, I’m a shoot-n-burner. I shoot entire sessions, edit out the best photos and give clients the digitals. It’s what works best for me. I don’t build my business around the idea that I need to make money on prints. I make money on the cost of the sessions. Could I be making more if I sold prints? Probably. Would it be worth my extra time? Not to me. I don’t want clients coming back 8 months from now asking for 8 x 10s. I’d rather focus on booking another wedding, teaching another workshop or emailing another gallery. Each of those things has a much better value to me than filling another order of 11 x 14s and 5 x 7s.
Don’t feel bad, for one second, about begin a shoot-n-burner, charging less than everyone else, shooting for free or doing anything else other photographers are going to berate you for. The fact is, you have to shoot some things for free in the beginning and you have charge less in the beginning. It would be unethical not to. You don’t have the skills, the experience or the portfolio to be charging what established photographers do. And in all honesty, if your low price is taking business away from them, they’re doing something wrong, not you.
– Raise your prices when you’re worth it.
All that shooting for free or at very low rates is no way to make a living though. As soon as you’ve got a decent portfolio together, you’ve got to start raising those prices to something more reflective of the kind of images you can produce. And yes, you’re going to lose some clients, but the truth is anyone paying you $50 for a full photoshoot isn’t a client anyway – it’s someone taking advantage of an exceptionally good deal.
– Never underestimate the value of social media.
Learn how to use social media or get left in the dust. I can’t remember the last time I picked up a magazine, saw an ad for a company, remembered that company, went home and googled them, ended up at their website, searched for whatever product I saw in the magazine, and bought that product. I can, however, remember the last time I saw something scrolling through my Facebook news feed, clicked the link and bought it. That happened earlier today.
– Other photographers are your best friends.
Great photographers slowly become more specialized over time. It’s only natural that the more we shoot, the more we begin to refine our skills in certain areas. Which means every photographer in your town won’t be shooting the same thing you are, and the ones that do, won’t all be going after the same target audience. If you’re a wedding photographer, be friends with other wedding photographers. There are countless weddings in various price points; way too many for one person to shoot them all! If you shoot weddings, refer newborns to the newborn photographer, lingerie shoots to the boudoir photographer, seniors to the senior photographer and they’ll all refer weddings to you. It’s a two-way street where everyone wins.
– Get over your goddamn watermark already.
1.) No one wants to steal your images right now. You’re not that good. There are a lot better photos out there that people could steal.
2.) Putting a giant watermark in the middle of your photo does not keep people from stealing it, it keeps them from enjoying your work.
3.) If they really want to steal it, a watermark isn’t going to stop them. Hell just last week I had to use one of my photos for a flyer, and I didn’t have the original on hand. So I took one from Facebook, cloned out the watermark and pasted it on the flyer. Worked for exactly what I needed it to do and it took all of 6 minutes. The watermark didn’t even slow me down.
4.) “But my watermark let’s people know who took the photo! And removing it shows criminal intent!” Fair enough. In that case put it in tiny letters a corner somewhere, similar a signature on painting. If it’s not taking up the whole photo people will be much less inclined to crop it out anyway.
Redefine How You Feel About Failure
– “Getting it right” is subjective.
So much about photography is finding your own personal style, and that’s usually done through making a lot of mistakes. I remember the first time I accidentally left my shutter speed too low (because in the beginning I didn’t know how fast a shutter had to be to stop movement) and a huge number of my photos were blurry – and I LOVED it! Soon I learned how to control that blur and use it in a way that I wanted. What would’ve been a complete failure by conventional terms was actually a huge step forward for me.
– Welcome the mistakes.
Learning from mistakes now will help you from making them in later, probably more crucial situations, so be a little more liberal with risks in the beginning. A mistake in your first wedding probably isn’t going to kill you; no one knows who you are and you’re shooting it for free for a family friend anyway. That same mistake at a wedding where they’ve put down $6K and you have a business and a reputation to uphold is probably going to be much more damaging.
– Learn all the rules, then break them.
As much as I hate rules, they’re there for a reason. The first time I heard about the “Rule of Thirds” my mind was blown. I quickly began rearranging all my images to fit, and I was pleasantly surprised. And then I was bored. The “Rule of Thirds” is now one of my favorite rules to break – but it’s broken with intent, not by accident. There’s a difference.
– Challenge yourself.
It’s easy to get stuck in a rut in this industry. A 365 day project or a 52 week challenge is a great way to change things up a bit. In addition, start shooting things you aren’t necessarily familiar with. If you’ve only ever shot families, take on a pet shoot. Take a drive to somewhere new and shoot a few landscapes or try your hand at some street photography. You may not completely switch gears, but you’ll no doubt learn some new skills you can apply to your current photography.
Keep Reminding Yourself Why You’re Doing This
I love my job. I love waking up every day to take photos. I even kind of love slaving away in front of the computer spending 40+ hours editing a single photo because I know at the end of it all it will be worth it. I also know that there is plenty of room in this industry for newer, upcoming photographers and the world would be a lot better place if more people loved going to work every day just as much as I do. So overall, dear New Photographer, don’t ever forget that end goal. Keep plugging along, keep learning, keep growing, keep researching, keep shooting and keep taking things one step at a time.
I can’t say that this roller coaster ever really stops, and I can’t say that you’ll ever stop feeling like a newbie, but in a way, I don’t think we ever should. The second we think we know everything is the second we should probably pack it in. I hope I’m a newbie forever :).
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To quote a recent article I read titled “Do What You Love” Is Horrible Advice: “It’s easy to confuse a hobby or interest for a profound passion that will result in career and business fulfillment. The reality is, that type of preexisting passion is rarely valuable.”
If you haven’t read that article go ahead and take a trip over there when you get a chance…or not, if you’d rather not be fuming the rest of the day. The author is a great writer, with many other fantastic articles, but this one was just so…wildly inaccurate. I tried to just label it as one of those unfortunate things orbiting the internet, but it was just gnawing at me. How many potential artists are out there now, squashing their dreams because they’re reading fear-mongering articles like this on the internet?
Well hopefully not a lot, but still, the thought of some teenage kid selling his guitar because too many people told him music was a “hobby” and not a career choice just kills me. He’s a teenager. Anything is a career choice.
Of course people are all entitled to their own opinions, right?
Exactly, which is why I’m going to spout mine off right now.
Unconditional Support May Fade Fast…
As we’re growing up, we’re told we can be anything. We’re told we can be astronauts, painters, unicorn tamers and anything else our little minds can dream up. A 5 year-old proudly proclaims she’s going to be a “rockstar” and the adults laugh and smile and say, “My goodness honey, of course you are!”
Then somewhere down the line, we’re told to get real. We’re told to “get our heads out of the clouds” and start putting our efforts towards a feasible career. The idea of following our passion becomes a joke, and we’re told that art, in whatever capacity, is a hobby. People list off countless things they themselves are “passionate” about but could never get paid for, and then recite a mountain of inaccurate, old wives-tale statistics:
“You know you have a greater chance of getting struck by lightning than you do of ‘making it’ as an actor…right?”
Now there are two arguments here: 1.) Passion alone doesn’t get you anywhere, and 2.) Where is the market? If there is no one to pay you for it, even if you are good, how can you make a living?
And for those points I have two responses: 1.) The concepts of talent and passion are widely misunderstood, and 2.) There is always a market.
Now this is the part where many people will say I have entirely overstepped my boundaries and have finally reached the point where the advice I give new, emerging and struggling artists does them more harm than good. That in this era of realism, dreams serve the sole purpose of glittery fairy tales we tell our children until they reach puberty and then we shove a spatula and a job application in their hand while cynically smirking, “Life’s not fair, deal with it.”
Well, fuck that – and here’s why.
1.) Talent and Passion Are Not What You Think
Talent is no more than a word people use to describe a person’s skill level when they haven’t been around to witness first-hand the process of developing that skill. Musicians, dancers, painters, all of them, did you see their work when they first started out? They sucked. The hit wrong notes, had two left feet and couldn’t paint between the lines to save their damn lives.
They were absolute shit.
In fact, it wasn’t until they had already put hours and hours and hours of time in, before people started saying, “Wow, you’ve got a real talent for that.”
Because here’s the thing, while some people do naturally gravitate to box of colored pencils instead of a calculator, the act of producing art itself is still a skill, and I cant stress this enough – skills can be learned.
In fact, many features we take for naturally occurring personality traits (i.e. willpower, creativity, focus) are actually skills; all of which can be further developed with deliberate practice.
Quick side-note – I promise I’m not just blowing smoke up your ass and I would gladly link to peer-reviewed journals listing the relevant scientific data for all these claims, but it’s 3:30 in the morning and I just don’t want to. I will tell you though, that I have personally studied all of this, as I have a Master’s in Psychology, specializing in neurological processes and behavioral health. If you don’t believe me I encourage you to schedule an appointment with your local psychology professor.
Okay, so what does passion have to do with anything?
The word “passion” is far overused in today’s common conversation. You hear people say, “I’m incredibly passionate about rock music,” when what they really mean is, “I, like, really, really like this one band I saw in concert last week.”
Passion is not just a love for something, it’s an obsession: an obsession capable of motivating people to practice a specific skill for an unrealistic amount of time. All those things that people list off to you as examples of things they are “passionate” about but could never get paid for – they’re right! But those aren’t passions they’re just stuff they like…as a hobby. And yes, if photography is your dream job but you dedicate the same amount of time to it as you would to any other hobby, you absolutely won’t be able to find anyone willing to pay you for it. However, if you’re really passionate about photography, you’ll spend every waking second trying to improve. You’ll stay up late on YouTube researching various lighting setups and editing techniques, you’ll make your own gear when the real thing costs too damn much (like this underwater camera housing) and you’ll take classes and workshops to further your skills, and all that extra time really adds up.
To put it bluntly, passion can get you everywhere, because it means you have the desire to put in a highly abnormal amount of work to excel at a particular skill; a skill, that when taken to a whole new level, is absolutely marketable.
So while you may suck right now, that’s okay, you already have the most important tool to producing amazing results. What you need now is practice and time.
Now on to my other point…
2.) There is ALWAYS a Market
The article above (along with countless others spanning the internet) lists one question as the one you should be asking when pursing your dream job: “Will people pay me for it?”
But that’s not the right question. Instead, what you should really be asking yourself is, “How can I prove to people my work is worth paying for?”
I’ll explain. Here’s a line I’m sure we’ve all heard many times: “Well maybe you should still get an accounting degree or something. You know… just in case.”
Ah, yes. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard someone give me “just in case” advice to prepare myself for inevitable failure…well let’s just say I’d own an impressive collection of jet skis by now.
You never hear people tell accountants to get another degree, “just in case.” No one ever tells med school students that maybe they should learn welding, or construction or some other trade skill so when this whole “being a doctor” phase wears off they’ll at least have something to “fall back on”.
The fact is, people only pay for things they either want or need, and when your passion falls into a field that meets an obvious market need, following it is completely acceptable. People need doctors. People need accountants. Supply and demand; it makes perfect sense.
Art, on the other hand…
Art is seen as a “want”, which means that people have a harder time understanding the market for it unless they themselves are a part of that specific target audience. Someone that would never consider buying a piece of art for $1000 will have a very hard time reasoning how anyone else could possibly make a living selling art for $1000.
But there surely can’t be a market for everything…
Yeah, actually, there pretty much is. You can make money doing virtually anything nowadays, provided you market it correctly. Ever heard of the NYC Naked Cowboy? He plays a guitar and sings songs in his underwear and a cowboy hat. And now he’s sponsored by Fruit of the Loom and has a net worth of over 2.5 million dollars.
Take that, guidance counselors of the world.
The point is, whether the market exists or not isn’t the problem – it’s real and it’s there. Reaching it is the issue. So develop a strategy – figure out what the hell you have to offer and how you’re going to get it out there. Who is your target audience? What value are you offering them? How do you explain to them that what your selling is going to benefit their lives in some measurable way?
I’m not saying that you can quit your day job, buy an art kit, take a modern watercolor class and begin a successful painting career next week – I’m saying that creating a career out of something you’re genuinely passionate about is a very, very real possibility, and contrary to popular opinion you’re not doomed to a life of waiting tables while you try and make something out of those “doodles” you’re always working on.
Put in the effort to hone your skills and create a comprehensive marketing strategy to sell the application of those skills. That, is how you begin a successful career of doing what you love.
And for the future photographers of the world – here’s a little something I made just for you to get you on your way.
As you may have known, I’ve spent the last month living in New York City. The opportunity arose to assist Lindsay Adler for a month and without hesitation (of course) I took it. I had been home one day from Fotofest (which was another amazing experience, soon to be recorded in blog form) when I made the decision. A couple days later I found myself on a flight to the Big Apple.
First off, let’s state the obvious. New York is about as different as you could possibly get from Montana. Literally everything: the landscape, the people, the smells, the stores, the food, the entire way of life, is the complete opposite of what I’m used to. And while different can, at times, be very overwhelming (How the f*ck do you get out of Penn Station?!?!) it can also teach you a few valuable lessons in the process. And when it comes to New York, there are definitely a few things about I believe everyone could benefit from.
1.) Toughen Up
We all have our insecure moments, but New Yorkers don’t show it. Everyone in the city is trying to make it; whether they’re an artist, a musician or even a broker, literally everyone is gunning for success. And when you have that much competition floating around you, you either step up your game, or slowly wither away and move to Spokane (sorry for the cheap shot Spokane, but you’re still on my shitlist from last year).
New Yorkers have a gritty, self-assured kind of confidence, primarily because if you look like you can be taken advantage of, you will be taken advantage of. The people are just as nice as anywhere else I’ve been, but at some point you’re just in in the damn way. People will yell at you on the street and cars will honk at you because it’s Tuesday, but defend yourself a little bit and they back off. There is no convenient time to be a pushover.
2.) Make a Decision Already
Personally, I tend to stall on the decision-making process. I waste far too much time tossing around an idea when I could’ve moved on to much more important tasks weeks ago.
New Yorkers don’t seem to have this problem, and when you have shit to do and a very limited time to do it, it’s easy to understand why. Besides the commute sucking the time and energy out of your day (I had a good hour and a half commute from New Jersey to Lindsay’s studio everyday), you always have someone breathing down you neck – literally and figuratively. When met with a crossroad, don’t stand back and hope the right choice will just “come to you”, because while you float around in Lala Land, someone else is already assessing the situation and putting all the pieces together. Hard decisions are just as time-sensitive as easy decisions, so get on it.
3.) Be Genuine
I’ve always known this was an essential part of doing business (as well as living a good life in general) but I didn’t realize how much it’s truly appreciated until I came to New York. With the population being what it is – a little over 8.3 million – you’ll find yourself interacting with hundreds of people each day. In addition, so many interactions consist of people wanting something from you and you can see right through them. It’s easy to go into autopilot and tune out for a while…but don’t. The smallest genuine gesture can mean a world of difference to someone that has been seen as a virtual pocketbook all day long.
4.) Walk More
I’ve literally rediscovered walking. You should too. It’s awesome.
5.) Examine Your Risks
You all know how much I love taking risks. At this point it’s almost more of a not-so-adorable side hobby, but New York has made it into a fine art. A single well-calculated risk can make your entire career, but an brash decision can destroy it. It’s up to you to roll the dice, but you’ve got to stop being so damn scared all the time. Some chances are worth taking and others are not. Learn to tell the difference and make a move.
6.) Take A Break
In general, I tend to thrive best with my head just barely above water. Comfortable to me is synonymous with boring, and I just can’t grasp the idea of not having too much on my plate. That being said, everyone needs a break once in a while, and New York has a not-so-subtle way of reminding you that maybe, just maybe, you need to get away for a little bit before you go postal on the train to Jersey.
And if you ever need someone to talk to feel free to talk to me – I answer best through email or on my Facebook page, Jenna Martin Photography :).
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I can vividly remember the first day I opened my photography business. I had spent weeks getting everything in order, from my official business license to my website to my own, handmade personal logo. I had all my release forms printed out, a folder to keep them organized and a calendar all laid out, complete with color coded markers I would use for each different session I would (hopefully) be booking in the near future.
Oh yeah…I was fancy.
I was also naive. I took advice from anywhere I could get it, regardless of the source. Fellow photographers, internet business articles and Facebook photography groups were my best source of information, and honestly, it was quite a mixed bag. There was a lot of information that was complete (pardon my french) bullshit, and I wish for the life of me there was a way to go back and talk some sense into my early photographer self. However, since I’m still not the proud owner of my very own, personal time-machine, I figured spilling the beans to the rest of you might be just as productive.
Myth #1: The Photography Market is Over-Saturated – There’s No Room For You
I heard this little tidbit countless times during my first year as a photographer: that I better have a backup plan, that I shouldn’t invest too much money into my business because it was only a matter of time before I realized it was doomed for failure.
Here’s the thing – photography is an over-saturated market – with mediocre photographers. There are plenty of people out there with cameras calling themselves “photographers” that shoot on auto and have no idea what the hell “ISO” and “DOF” even stand for. And that’s okay! Those people aren’t your competition.
Your competition is the photographer that is doing exactly the same business model as you are, which (as you’ll read in the next point) probably isn’t happening. I’ll give you an example:
There are hundreds of professional photographers in my town, but I’d say the number of truly, truly exceptional ones are under 20. Of these, they all specialize in different areas. I know of maybe three utterly fantastic weddings photographers, two unbelievably talented newborn photographers, a couple boudoir specialists, a few senior photo pros, one fashion shooter, a couple insanely talented photojournalists and one unbelievable landscape/interior photographer. Then there is me who shoots fine art. There is plenty of room for all of us. Which brings me to Myth #2…
Myth #2: Fellow Photographers Are Your Worst Enemies
For semantic’s sake, I put this as the second myth, but really it should be #1, hands down. Your fellow photographers aren’t your competition – they’re your best allies! Let me explain:
Wedding photographers, for example, can only shoot one wedding a day (and many times, only one wedding per weekend), so what happens when someone calls for a day they’ve already booked? They refer out to other wedding photographers! As a fellow wedding shooter it’s in your best interest to have a fantastic working relationship with every other wedding photographer in town. If they can’t do the job, you’re first on their referral list.
Plus, with everyone specializing in so many things, it only makes sense to work together. Many wedding photographers aren’t interesting in shooting newborn babies, but you can bet a year after a couple gets married the first one they’re going to call as soon as they’re expecting is their wedding photographer. So refer to your favorite newborn place, and in turn they’ll refer weddings to you. Why wouldn’t they? A wedding sent to you is a guaranteed client the following year!
In addition, getting to know your fellow photographers also give you the chance to collaborate with something amazing. The photographers in Billings are now some of my closest friends and I would be miles behind in business if I hadn’t gotten to know them. Besides, who are you going to share nerdy photographer humor with? Because contrary to what you might think, your cat is not laughing at your random jokes about shutter speed and F-stop.
Myth #3: You Can Finally Get Out From Behind That Computer
Sorry folks, but not quite. As a fine art photographer, the vast majority of my time is spend sitting behind a computer screen, editing individual pixels one after the other, but it’s similar with others in the business as well. The time you spend shooting is actually a very, very small percentage of how you’ll spend your time, and most of it will be on the computer. Editing, marketing, submitting content for publishing, writing blog posts, filing, accounting, and a thousand other things I can’t think of right now because I’m in the middle of Myth #4.
Myth #4: Owning Your Own Business Means Making Your Own Hours
Oh…honey. Owning your own business means working all hours. See this is where a photography business has the exact same quality as every other small business that has ever been in existence – you’ll work far more than 40 hours/week. It takes literally every ounce of time you have to get your business off it’s feet and moving in the right direction.
Myth #5: Your Photographs Sell Themselves
Oh dear God no they don’t. I admit it’s very difficult to sell in the beginning, especially since you’re fully aware of your lack of experience in the photography arena. If you’ve only been a professional photographer for three weeks it can be very difficult to convince a client they should hire you without sounding like you’re begging. But sales is all part of the game and the sooner you learn to sell yourself, the better.
Myth #6: A Successful Photographer Makes a Lot of Money
A successful photographer makes enough to support themselves as a photographer. That is all.
Myth #7: You Should Specialize. Immediately.
Woah, calm down there. Photography is such a vast field, it takes a while to find out what you’re truly passionate about. I’ve gone from portraits, to night photography, to weddings, to pets, to fashion to fine art and loved every one of those genres…for a while. Then I moved on to something else.
Don’t tie yourself down in the beginning. Feel completely free to branch out among other areas of photography. Try a boudoir shoot or tag along for a wedding. Attend a fine art photography workshop (hint hint: here’s an awesome one coming up soon) or take on a couple senior clients to see if that’s something you’d be interested in.
Myth #8: “Natural Light Photography” Is A Thing
Calling yourself a “Natural Light Photographer” simply means you don’t know the first thing about alternative lighting. Don’t get me wrong, natural light is fantastic (it’s definitely my preferred method of shooting), but you can’t use it as a crutch for not learning how to use proper equipment. Intern at a studio and banish this phrase from your website.
Myth #9: It’s All About The Gear
You know the fastest way a photographer breaks someone of this thought? As soon as someone comments on how amazing our camera must be to take such awesome pictures, we hand it to them and let them snap a few on their own. Everything changes after that.
Because it’s not about the equipment you have, it’s about whether or not you know how to use it. I’ve seen photographers with incredibly expensive gear take some downright embarrassingly bad photos, while witnessing other photographers take spectacular photos on their iPhones. Don’t run out and throw a bunch of money at the newest thing – it’s better to have something modest and then spend your money learning how to properly use it before moving on to bigger and better equipment.
Myth #10: You Can Do Every Aspect Of Your Business By Yourself
You know that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when a friend tells you they’re saving money by having their cousin photograph their wedding? Yeah, that’s the same feeling every accountant in the world gets when they hear you’re saving money by doing your own taxes. Certain things (like taxes and photographing someone’s wedding) should be left to the pros.
Myth #11: You Will Eventually Get Sick of Photography
I’m not going to lie – life as a photographer is tough, hectic and never seems to end, but here’s another secret – I love every second of it. In fact, the reason my work/free time lines are so blurred is because the first thing I want to do when I have some free time is shoot!
Think about it this way: I recently had a conversation with a friend about retiring. She said she’d happily retire ASAP while I told her I didn’t think I’d ever retire. She stared at me with wide eyes until I asked her what she would do with her time off and she replied with, “Photography.”
And if you ever need someone to talk to feel free to talk to me – I answer best through email or on my Facebook page, Jenna Martin Photography :).
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Photography is a strange beast – we all know this. The second you first get a camera in your hand it’s almost impossible to put it down. Everything has potential to be an amazing photograph. You go from landscapes to portraits to pets to fine art to fashion, and slowly you begin to find your niche. You begin to identify that one subject you can truly become obsessed with. That’s an awesome feeling, isn’t it? To be completely in your own realm?
Of course it is! But soon, as with any artistic profession that has ever been, you gradually come up against a creative wall and you become…dare I say it…bored.
Not with photography itself, mind you (I don’t think I could ever be bored with photography), but with where you currently are in your skill development. It’s something you can feel – you’re producing good work, but not exactly great work. Not exactly the kind of work you dreamt about that first night you went to sleep after having played with your new camera all day. The night you stayed awake dreaming of all the amazing photographs you were going to take – just as soon as you figured out what the hell ISO meant.
Well don’t worry – this is completely normal. Every amazing photographer worth their salt goes through this phase. What separates the greats from the rest of the mob is who figures out how break past it, and lucky for you, I’ve listed out a few tried and true ways that seem to do the trick every time.
1.) Write Out Your Goals – Correctly
Writing down your goals is a classic slump-busting technique – but only if you do it correctly. Writing “Be more successful” or “Make more money” isn’t going to get you anywhere. You need to be sure of four things:
1.) Your goals are clearly defined.
2.) Your goals can be measured.
3.) Your goals are realistic
4.) Your goals can be broken down into smaller goals.
This may be quite difficult at first, but push through it. The more specific, measurable and defined your goals are, the more obvious the steps that need to be taken to achieve them become. Pretty soon you aren’t grappling with how to “Get published” but instead making lists of magazines and contacts that might have a good chance of publishing your work.
Writing down your goals does more than just put them in front of you to see everyday – it forces you to actually define your hopes and dreams in realistic terms.
2.) Get Critiqued
And not by your mom, your best friend, or your intern that idolizes you and knows hardly anything about photography. Get critiqued by someone that knows their sh*t. Someone that not only understands the principles of great photography, but is also familiar with the style of photography you’re shooting. Personally, my work contains a decent amount of photo-manipulation, so I don’t stand to gain a lot from someone specializing in documentary or photojournalistic styles of photography. Trust me, I’ve been critiqued by that person. It hasn’t gone well.
There are many ways to do this. You can schedule an appointment with a local gallery for a portfolio review, or attend a festival like Fotofest or Photo Lucida. Email a photographer you are obsessed with (we all have them) and see if they could take a second to look at your work. Sure it might be a long shot, but they might say yes!
I’m also not going to lie here – getting critiqued is rough. The entire point is to learn what can be improved, so even if your reviewer absolutely loves your work, they are still going to point out a weakness or two, and no matter how thick your skin is, it can be tough to hear. Here’s the great part though – now you know something specific that you can work on. You have a concrete aspect of your work that you can improve. That gives you a direct homework assignment…which brings me to Step 3…
3.) Join a Community
The best way to give yourself an assignment and stick to it is to do it alongside someone else. Join a 365 project, a 52 week project or even just a “Hey let’s go out a shoot” running group. Collaborating with other creative professionals is a fantastic way to break your mind out of its little innovative box it’s stuck in. Plus it’s great networking!
If you can’t find people in your nearby location to hold you accountable (I’m about as flighty as they come, so I totally understand), join an online community or do a mentorship with a photographer you respect. I offer online mentorships, and you can bet there is homework involved. All you really need is something or someone actively forcing you to create. Sounds awful? It’s not. Being complacent and stagnant is awful.
4.) Donate Your Skills
This is hands down, my favorite way to break out of a slump. Nothing makes you appreciate what you do for a living as much as seeing the good it can do, and there is A TON of good that a great photographer can do. Volunteer to take family photos at a nearby Women’s shelter, photograph a fundraiser for your local Humane Society, give a free senior session to a kid that has fought tooth and nail to graduate.
The photo above is of one of the many, many pets I’ve photographed at the Rimrock Humane Society here in Billings. Better photographs mean the animals get adopted faster, which means there is more room and resources for animals that are brought in off the street. I can’t even begin to explain how much I love working with them. It’s honestly one of my favorite things I get to do as a photographer.
5.) Switch Sides
Sides of the camera, that is. It’s amazing how much of a difference 180 degrees makes. Behind the camera I am confident and enthusiastic. Put me in front of the lens and I turn into an awkward 6th grader. I don’t know what to do with my hands and I am all of a sudden extremely aware of my eyelids. Do I always blink this much? Do I look straight into the lens? I’m biting my lip? What the hell do people usually do with their lips?
But feeling what it’s like on the other side of the lens is essential to know what you’re clients are going through. Schedule a session with a photographer friend and photograph each other. What do they do that makes you more comfortable? Of the photos they take of you, which are your favorites? Do you remember what they did to get those photos?
This isn’t just applicable if you shoot portraits. Self portraits literally force you to see your environment from the opposite perspective. Just recently a friend of mine photographing a landscape flipped his entire setup around after he stopped midway through to take a picture of himself in the landscape and saw the sky behind the camera had turned into something ahh-maze-ing. He’d been so focused on one area he failed to see what was going on behind him. Thank god for a random selfie break.
And if you ever need someone to talk to feel free to talk to me – I answer best through email or on my Facebook page, Jenna Martin Photography :).
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We’ve all heard of the “365 Project” for photographers. And while I attempt to do one every year (I’m in the middle of another one right now), let’s be honest for a second here – not everyone has the time to take and edit a photo every single day. So instead, I’ve created a 52 week project that’s a bit more realistic.
If you head on over to my Facebook page (Jenna Martin Photography) you’ll see an album titled “52 Week Photography Challenge”. I upload a single photo each week to introduce that week’s theme and then you leave your photo in the comment section! Don’t worry if you missed a particular week – just leave your photo in the comment section anyway! You all know I’m not a huge stickler for rules. ;).
So if you’re in the mood to up your creative game, head over to my Facebook page and see what you can come up with! I look forward to all the different interpretations every week!