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.
If you were to ask me about a specific time in my life when photography made a significant impact it would’ve been fall of 2011. For my birthday, my husband surprised me by taking me out for lunch at a tiny burger dive, and then stopping in at the local art museum. He’s not exactly an “art-lover” per say, so I was a little confused by the move – until he explained what they were showing.
There was an exhibit with every Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph since they started handing out in the prize in 1942. Each photo was blown up huge on the wall, with a long description from the photographer hanging next to it. I remember he told me not to plan anything for that evening, and instantly I knew why: I was going to read every, single, one of these descriptions.
Photos of war, of celebration, struggle, heartache, starvation, triumph. I couldn’t take my eyes away. These photos were beautiful, powerful, and gut-wrenching. Particularly the “vulture photo” by Kevin Carter (Google it, because there is no way I’m posting it here). The description next to the photograph was written by a good friend of Kevin’s, since he had committed suicide just 3 months after shooting it. That picture will haunt me for the rest of my life.
These Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs, they made you feel something, made your heart ache and tears well up in your eyes. They aren’t meant to be seen in passing, commented on and then never referenced again. They stick with you, forever.
That’s the kind of photographer I wanted to be, then and there. I wanted the camera in my hand to make a difference. A real difference, to someone, somewhere.
That difference doesn’t have to mean shooting from a helicopter in a war-zone, it just means using your camera to make something near you just a little bit better. If you’re interested in using your camera for a little more this year, here are a few ways to get started.
Baby steps are still steps. A great place to look to make a difference is in your own community.
- Volunteer at your a local charity to photograph a charity event. They can use these photos for their newsletter or to post on social media, and hopefully gain more people for next year’s event.
- Hit up your local animal shelter. It’s been proven time and time again professional photos help animals get adopted faster. A picture of a scared dog, in the back of a dark kennel, with red eyes surely doesn’t do him any favors. Bring him out in the sunlight and snap a few photos of him playing fetch. The faster the shelter moves animals out, the more they can bring in.
- Dole at free family photos at your local homeless shelter. Many families go their entire lives without decent family photos. Help Portrait has a great program for getting started in this area.
Work With an Established Organization
There are some amazing organizations out there doing unbelievable things. Of course there are a few organization pretending to be charities and really just taking in money, but let’s just skip over those hell-holes and focus on the good ones. PhotoPhilanthropy is a great place to point you in the right direction. There you’ll find photographer resources for working with non-profits as well as tips to get your own photo essays and projects off the ground. A few other amazing photography related organizations:
- Photographers Without Borders is another fantastic program, that allows you to sell your photos with the money going straight educational purposes of the country the photo was taken in.
- Operation Love Reunited is an organization that gives military families free family photo sessions before a family member is deployed. Get involved by filling out an application here.
- Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep is an organization that offers free remembrance photography for parents that have lost their newborn babies. These are often the only photos parents have to remember infants who have passed.
- Flashes of Hope offers free portrait service to children with cancer, giving them ownership of their new identities.
- 100 Cameras works to give cameras to kids in marginalized communities to help them tell their stories (that’s the extremely condensed version of course, they do much more than that).
These are just a few on a very long list of amazing organizations. If there’s another cause close to your heart, seek out a non-profit for that cause and email them! Very few organizations will turn away free photos, especially good ones that really help their cause.
Create Your Own Project
Just like Photographers Without Borders, you can also sell your own photos and decide exactly where the money goes. You can also complete your own photo essay, bringing awareness to a topic or cause you are passionate about.
You can work with a gallery or local business to print and hang photos in an exhibition. Use social media and shared networking (both of you combine email lists) to spread the word. See what other companies would like to get involved. You might be able to get the catering for a show donated, or part of the publishing costs covered for small book. Many companies are open to the idea of donating goods or services if project proceeds are going to a deserving cause.
Give a Free Class
Photography allows people to tell stories that would otherwise remain silent. You don’t have to teach your entire craft – just an introductory class at a high school or community center. Have a free class at your studio where you show kids how to use an old hand-me-down camera they bought at a yard sale. This may not seem like much to you, but you’re giving someone the ability to express themselves and create something entirely their own, which can be a drastic turning point to their lives.
Donate the Proceeds
Often the easiest and fastest way to get involved is to sell some of your current photos as prints and donate the proceeds. Even just simple landscape shots can go for something.
Another option is to use your skills and current market to donate a day’s worth of client proceeds. If you’re a wedding photographer, maybe the cost of one wedding per year is donated to a cause near to your heart. As a family photographer, you could have one day a year where the fees from any session scheduled on that day goes straight to charity.
Just Do What You Can
It’s all up to you to decide what you’re doing with your time. If you aren’t in a situation to donate an entire weddings’ worth of fees, than by all means, don’t do that, but if you can afford to take one day a month and shoot a few photos for the local humane society, than do it. Every little bit counts.
The bottom line is we tend to take our cameras for granted more than we realize. After years in this business, we can forget how powerful of a tool it is. Even if you don’t think a few photos will make a difference, chances are, they probably will.
Every time I write an informational blog post, I try to write two separate versions. The first version is a bit more straightforward, where I develop intelligent thoughts and place them on the page in a pleasing fashion, edit out most of the profanity and keep the rambling to a minimum. That’s the one that usually gets shared in other photography forums and blogs, and brings new members to my site. It’s the business post, the one that grows my email list and keeps me relevant in photography related discussions.
The second version is the one I write after reaching a breaking point and is posted with little to no editing.
The other day I wrote my 7 favorite tips for keeping your sanity while running a photography business. That was the first version.
This is the second.
Personally, when I think about that perfect work/life balance, I imagine my day starting something like this: I’ll probably wake up well rested, at the perfect time, without an alarm clock, with a smile on my face and my arms outstretched. Then I’ll do a quick hour of yoga in my sunny – but not too sunny – private exercise nook. I’ll eat a healthy breakfast of yogurt, oats and freshly cut fruit (which I grew in my private backyard orchard, by the way) and then maybe I’ll do a bit of morning journalling. I’ll take a quick shower, brush my teeth for the full dentist recommended two minutes, blow dry my hair, put on a perfect face of makeup and then head out the door looking and feeling fabulous.
And then I remember I don’t live in a fucking Ambien commercial.
That woman does not exist. That lifestyle does not exist. The only way I might even come close to a morning like that would be if my husband were out of town, my daughter stayed the night at her grandparents and I just murdered someone the night before and completely got away with it.
Yet for some reason, that continues to be my standard.
I also have an unrealistic standard for everything else in life. I have full Pinterest boards with just white furniture. White furniture. My husband and I have a 9 month old baby girl, 2 cats and 2 dogs. And out of all of us, I’m the messiest one! I covered the entire kitchen in taco salad the other day because I wanted to try flipping it in the bowl the way they do on Iron Chef instead of just mixing it with a giant spoon like the fucking amateur I am. White furniture wouldn’t last 20 minutes in my house.
But nonetheless, white bed cover, white rug, sheer white curtains flowing in the breeze, a white nightstand with a solitary white vase containing a perfectly formed Pink Rock Orchid? Fuck yeah I’ll follow you on Instagram.
This conventional idea of ‘balance’ is complete bullshit. It’s purely aesthetic, a level that exists solely for Instagram followers. Those people with houses filled with perfectly minimalist white home decor? I’m not sure they actually live in them. Or if they do, they don’t have kids. Or pets. Or hobbies. I mean if you’re single, germaphobic, agoraphobic and have a shit ton of money to blow than yeah, I guess that’s the setup for you, but then where do you go to experiment with the taco salad once in a while?
And while I really do try and follow my 7 rules for keeping my sanity, I certainly can’t follow them all the time. Some days I just can’t help but obsessively refresh my email or scroll through Facebook for hours. Some days I’m just not productive. I’m well rested, in a quiet, disturbance-free house, with plenty of work ready to complete at my finger tips and I’ll find myself whittling a pencil eraser into a miniature teacup. Some days work just isn’t going to happen.
My only real, tried and true technique for getting through the madness is to pick a date in the future when I know the madness will temporarily subside, and just focus on making it to that date. The current date in my head is August 1st. I have an enormously intimidating mountain of work to complete by then, all of it non-negotiable in terms of a deadline. I have no idea how I will get it done, but that’s all future Jenna’s problem. Present Jenna just has to worry about making it to August 1st, because on that morning, I know everything will have been completed.
My husband texted me today to ask how it was going at home. My daughter is teething again and is now completely mobile, which means I’ve got my hands full. And today was one of those days when she demanded my complete undivided attention. So we played. All. Day. Long.
She chased me around the house (by chased I mean scooted herself through the kitchen), we stacked blocks, we knocked them down, we pet the cat and then went outside and pet the basil plant. We threw the frisbee for the big dog and watched the cross-eyed dog dig a hole. We yelled at a bug. We ate sweet potatoes with cinnamon, then later tried blueberries and bananas (both were awesome). We sent a lot of weird Snapchats to dad (you can find me at jennamtphoto) and then pet the basil plant again.
I got nothing on my list done today. Nada. But tomorrow she goes to Nanna’s house and I’ll have to get an unreasonably high volume of work done in a small amount of time. Bring it.
That’s how I define balance. Some days I work like a mad woman. Some days I stack blocks with my baby girl. I know I need those good work days, they’re the entire basis for my income. But if more important shit comes up and I have to skip work and then double down on it later, so be it. When I look back, I don’t remember the days Chris came home and I told him how productive I had been. Those all fade. I do remember the days when my baby just had to be held though. The days she just had to be with her mamma, so the only “work” I could realistically get done was one-hand typing a blog post while she fell asleep in my lap.
Blog posts exactly like this one right now.
Today was for home. Tomorrow will be for work.
Fuckin’ balance, bitches.
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 email@example.com 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!
You will very rarely, if ever, catch me wearing a pair of matching socks.
I never match my socks. Ever. And not because I think it looks cool, or I lost some random bet or something, but for an entirely different reason.
Years ago (maybe 10? 12?), I read a published study that had broken down the amount of time the average person spends doing certain tasks in their lifetime. How much time they spend watching television, commuting in traffic, sleeping, and you guessed it, matching their socks.
It completely changed me.
The average person, I learned, spent about a month of their lives matching their socks.
In the scale of your entire life, one month might not seem like a shocking amount of time to spend matching socks, but to me, it was terrifying. I instantly pictured myself as an old woman, laying on my deathbed. A reel of my entire life was playing like a drive-thru movie, projecting on the wall in front of me.
I see my loving husband, alone, cooking dinner in our kitchen, the camera pans around the room to find me, but I’m not there. I’m in the laundry room, matching socks. A phone rings and I see it’s a call from my mom, but I ignore it because I can’t talk right now, I’m matching socks. Our family dog drops a Frisbee at my feet, but I can’t throw it, because I’m too busy matching socks. A comet streaks across the sky, my grandmother plays the piano, entire seasons come and go and I miss them all because I’m matching socks. In a small episode of admittedly, completely nonsensical paranoia, I pictured my entire life flashing before my eyes – and me missing all of it – because I was too busy, matching socks.
Right in that second, I vowed to never again, for any reason, spend any given amount of time searching for matching socks.
Then I had my daughter.
Being a mom was an entirely new role I wasn’t sure I would fit into. Babies are fragile, delicate little things and let’s be honest, no one has ever entrusted me with anything fragile or delicate in my entire life. That bag of flour “baby” they give you in high-school Home Economics class to keep “alive” for the semester? I baked a cake with that bitch and moved on. Babies have just…never really been my thing.
So as my due date loomed closer and closer, I became increasingly more anxious of what my future relationship would be with my newborn daughter. Would I stare lovingly into her eyes? Would I see a younger version of myself? Would she laugh at my jokes?
God I hope she laughs at my jokes…
But all that worrying was for nothing; on September 24th at 4:43 in the morning, my husband and I found ourselves holding the healthiest, hands down most beautiful baby girl we had ever seen. All that sappy Hallmark crap they tell you about holding your child for the first time – totally true. I was a mom, through and through.
After we got our bearings we did what every new parent does nowadays: took our announcement to social media. “Look what we made!” I proudly exclaimed on Instagram and Facebook. “Look at our adorable baby girl! Look how perfect she is! LOOK AT HER GODDAMNIT!”
We spent the entire day in the hospital, learning how to hold her, change her diaper and breastfeed. We learned that the little bit of dry skin around her hands and feet were totally normal, and just because she flipped off the lab technician that drew her blood doesn’t necessarily mean she’s a genius…although it could mean she does take after her mother.
As the day drew to a close, my husband lay sleeping on the couch, while I held our sleeping daughter against my chest. Very carefully, I reached for my cellphone.
I opened Facebook and read the many congratulatory comments from friends and family. My heart swelled with pride. I couldn’t wait for everyone to meet her! I stared at her picture again, then the photo of my husband holding his daughter for the first time. What an unbelievably emotional day. Just as I was about to put my phone down I hit the “news” section of my mobile Facebook app, and it took me to my feed. And out of complete habit, I did what every other person would naturally do…I started scrolling.
Before I knew it, I was browsing my Facebook feed like it was any other day: meme, pumpkin spice latte, clickbait article, diet product sales pitch, funny puppy video, sunset photo, political article, meme, baby, meme, baby meme…
For seven minutes.
After I put my phone down I looked at my little girl, and my heart sank. She was awake. What had she been doing for those seven minutes? Had she opened her eyes for a second to look at her mother? Did her mouth do one of those tiny, adorable reflex smiles? Did she open her hand to look for mine? And what was I occupied with that was so important to miss any of those moments? Browsing memes and latte photos? Oh dear god…
Almost instantaneously, a decade’s worth of worst fears was realized. While real life was happening right in front of me, I was missing it. I was elsewhere.
I was matching socks.
Look, I’m not going to condemn social media or delete all my accounts the second after I upload this post. I love social media. I love that in just a few seconds I was able to announce the birth of my daughter to almost all of my family and friends. I also love that standing in line at the post office or DMV is infinitely less boring when you’re browsing photos of cats with Trump hair. Hell I spent 20 minutes laughing at this video yesterday and at the end of my life you can bet your ass I’ll still consider it time well spent.
But social media can have its downsides, and for me, it’s the ability to pull focus from what’s happening right in front of me, right now. My mind is already a swirling pool of chaos, so when you throw in a mess of kittens, memes, political rants, cookie recipes and God knows what else, you end up with Pandora’s box of distraction.
So it’s time for me to address my relationship with social media. If one sock symbolizes actual, legitimate interaction with my online community, its partner sock would be the mindless, constant scrolling that comes with it. And how much time, at the end of my life, am I giving up to this scrolling? Will I really be laying on my deathbed, thinking to myself, “You know, I really wish I would’ve spent more time browsing Facebook.” Probably the same amount of time I would’ve wished I had spent more time matching socks.
And as you guys already know, I no longer have any room in my life for matching socks :).
Today is my 31st birthday!
But before I get on to that, I have to write this post. I need to write this post. And I’ll warn you now…this one’s got some language.
I used to be a birthday hater. I dreaded it. And not because I hated being the center of attention or because I was getting older or anything like that, but because I had been straight-up conditioned to hate my birthday.
My childhood, without getting too much into it, wasn’t the greatest. Our household was run by my adopted father, who was a literal – diagnosed and everything – psychopath. Birthdays (along with Christmas of course) were his favorite days. He’d give us gifts, only to make us watch him destroy them. He handed out abusive, creative punishments, without any reason except to “test them out for later”. Each week leading up to our birthday he’d grow giddy with anticipation, while the rest of the family lost sleep and wondered what horrible thing he would come up with. Each year, as my special day got closer and closer I’d plead to any powerful existential being willing to listen to please, please let my birthday go unnoticed this year…but it never did.
Every birthday I could ever remember had been controlled by this man, so even when I moved out, I remained terrified of my own birthday. The thought alone still made my hands shake and my stomach queasy. I kept it a secret from everyone I met. I wanted absolutely no part in it.
Then, one day, as a freshman in college, I got a phone-call from my dad. He screamed at me from the other end of the line. I placed the phone on the dresser and sat on my bed. I could hear his voice, but not what he was saying. I didn’t want to know what he was saying.
My roommate pointed to the phone and asked, “Who’s that?”
“My dad,” I answered.
“What’s he yelling about?”
“Nothing, really. He just calls to yell.”
She stared at me, then asked, “Then why don’t you just hang up the phone?”
I stared back for a second while I considered it. I hadn’t lived at home for years. He’s 8 hours away in a different state. He doesn’t pay for a cent of college. Everything I own (car, cell phone, etc.) is all in my name. There is literally nothing he could do.
So I hung up the phone.
“Better?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I replied. Then out of nowhere, I confessed, “My birthday was 2 weeks ago.”
“Really?!” she shouted, “We should celebrate!” and darted off into the kitchen.
Sitting in the kitchen of my dorm room, watching my roommate bake some cupcakes, it occurred to me that for the first time, I was actually going to celebrate my birthday.
And I. Felt. Free.
I’m not sure why it took so long. I had moved out long before I was 18. I’d had plenty of birthdays without him, but I still had the same frame of mind: that no matter where I was or who I was with, every year on October 16th my life would turn into a living hell.
What a bullshit way of thinking.
As understandable as it is that I should hate my own birthday, there comes a point when I’ve got to make the choice: let someone drain me of happiness 1 day of every year for the rest of my life, or to take back something that is rightfully mine, and goddamnit, it’s my motherfucking birthday.
So I’ve been making up for stolen time. Now, every year, I want a cake, loaded with candles. If I’m at a bar, I want a free shot. If I’m at a restaurant, I want free desert with the entire staff singing a horribly embarrassing version of ‘Happy Birthday’. I also want balloons and streamers and a birthday hat and any other cheesy birthday item that I’m technically too old to have. I want to be a kid again, every year, on my birthday.
And it’s worked – my birthday is now one of my favorite days of the year. There have been surprise parties and get-togethers with friends, quiet movie nights at home and long walks around the neighborhood. Hell my husband even asked me to marry him on my birthday.
Even if every single thing goes wrong, it doesn’t matter. My birthday is mine again. I have one extra day every year that I never had before.
We all have a part of our past that is holding us back in some way. Some sort of insecurity that just keeps hanging on or an outdated fear we’ve never confronted. Something that’s robbing us of a better day, a better relationship, a better career…a better life.
What do you have that is stealing thunder in your life? Is it a toxic person? A job that hasn’t challenged you in years? A reoccurring negative thought process? Whatever it is, there is always an opportunity to do something about it, and it might be something as small and simple as hanging up the phone.
Take a look around. If something is holding you back, I beg of you, sit down, take a few deep breaths, and confront it.
As for me, today is my birthday. I turn 31, it’s going to be awesome, and there’s not a damn thing anyone can do about it.
My brain is officially underwater.
Photographically, that is.
I see everything in terms of underwater. A friend shows me the gorgeous wedding dress she picked out, and I wonder what it would look like in a pool. My mother-in-law shows me a new chair she reupholstered and I wonder how well the color would hold up if it got wet. I’ve even made the mistake of approaching a potential model with an opening line of, “Excuse me, how well do you sink in water?”
I’ll admit though, starting out in underwater photography was pretty intimidating. I couldn’t afford my own housing, so I built my own, and it actually worked fairly well in the beginning.
I was still scrambling in every other aspect though, as I couldn’t find any decent information online that wasn’t primarily geared toward photographing fish or plant life. So starting from scratch, I slowly began exploring the world of underwater portraits…and making every single mistake along the way.
If there’s anything I wish I would’ve known in the beginning (besides the fact to never ask a stranger how well they sink in a pool) this would be it.
1.) Have An Open Mind
Everything is different under the water. Lighting, for example, follows different principles and patterns. Lights need to be about 6 times stronger than on land (roughly, depending on depth and distance to your subject), and since dealing with radio signals can be a huge pain underwater, your lights usually need to be either constant, ambient light or strobes that are connected directly to your camera.
That’s not all though; you and your models need to adapt to shooting in a near zero-gravity environment. Your props and wardrobe will act differently as well – a gorgeous, flowing dress on land could be a tangled, transparent mess underwater, and a prop you thought would be a fantastic idea might be downright dangerous after it gets wet (I learned this the hard way with a fur coat and a pair of roller-skates).
No matter how long you’ve been shooting, you’re about to enter into a field that will make you feel like a novice all over again – which is incredibly exciting! But if you go into it with a rigid idea of how photography works, you’ll quickly find yourself frustrated and discouraged. So keep an open mind and be prepared to see things in a whole new light.
2.) Buy The Right Housing
Sorry to say, but underwater photography housing is no place to be pinching pennies. When you’re putting thousands of dollars’ worth of gear in an environment that could easily destroy it with just the tiniest of leaks, you need to know it’s going to be taken care of.
I only wish I would’ve known this earlier. At the time, I didn’t really know if this was something I was going to be actively pursuing, so I didn’t want to make a huge investment. After using my own housing for a while though, I knew I was hooked. So I started the process of upgrading, all while trying to spend as little money as possible.
I ended up going through three different brands of cheap underwater bags, housing specifically made for underwater video and various hard housings. The bags all leaked at one point or another, the underwater video housing was NOT ideal for photos and the cheap hard housings were large and awkward. It was a mess.
Now, I use underwater housing from Ikelite, and for the life of me wish I would’ve just gone to them sooner. I could’ve saved myself a lot of time, money, stress and one very unfortunate, doomed 5d Mark II.
My advice – if you’re just looking to have some fun, consider renting some gear or buy a GoPro. Take some pics and see how you feel. If you decide underwater isn’t for you, at least you can return the gear or use a GoPro for literally anything else, and if you do decide this is something you want to pursue, sit down and have an honest look at the kind of underwater work you want to produce and the gear you’ll need to produce it.
3.) Know Not All Water Is Equal
Our cameras see light very differently than we do. A heavily chlorinated pool may seem clear to you, but it’s a hazy mess according to your camera. If you’re shooting in a pool that looks clear, but you’re images are turning out cloudy and useless, there might be an abundance of chemicals in the water that you aren’t seeing, but your camera is.
In my experience, I’ve found there’s really nothing better than a clear, freshwater lake, followed by clear saltwater, followed by a saltwater pool. I’ll avoid shooting in a chlorinated hotel pool at all costs.
There are also other factors that come into play as well. Oceans have currents and potentially dangerous animals, like jellyfish. Freshwater lakes here in Montana are insanely clear, but they’re also freezing. There’s always a tradeoff.
4.) Embrace Wide Angle Lenses
To cut down on the amount of water between your subject and your camera, you’ll want to shoot as close to your subject as possible. I mostly shoot at a focal length right around 25mm. Any longer and I have a hard time keeping my subject entirely in the frame, and I started running into additional focusing and clarity issues. Any wider and there is too much image distortion.
Not to say you shouldn’t break the rules a little bit though! If I know I’m shooting in an environment where outer distortion doesn’t matter (say on a completely black background), I’ll shoot with something as wide as an 8mm, and for close-up portrait work, I’ll shoot closer to 40-50mm. I’ve also taken my 85mm underwater to0 because, well, why the hell not?
5.) Learn To Sink
The key to staying underwater is not to hold your breath, but rather to let all your air out. The less air in your lungs, the less buoyant you are, and the easier it is to maneuver down there. It seems quite terrifying at first, but soon you’ll learn to work with the residual air in your lungs, and the more you do it the longer you can stay down. It’s not uncommon now for me to sink down 15 or 20 feet for the angle I need, while the model goes through a couple cycles of posing.
For some people though, the thought of letting all their air out before diving down is just too much to take, and in this case you can use weights or even dive equipment. If you’re having trouble, a great tip is to take a 25lb hand weight, wrap it in bubble wrap and then black felt (if you’re shooting in a pool, this helps to protect the liner), than hook your toe under it and pull yourself down. The model can do the same if she’s having a hard time sinking as well.
6.) Be Patient With Your Models
Underwater modeling is incredibly difficult. They’re modeling in completely new conditions, with water going up their nose almost the entire time. They also can barely see the camera – it’s mostly a blurry black blob to them. Plus, since you can’t talk underwater, they don’t even know if what they’re doing is what you’re looking for.
So give them plenty of time to figure this all out. For most models, first they need to practice letting their air out and sinking. Once they get the hang of this, turn your focus to facial expressions. Most people naturally make a variety of unattractive facial poses underwater, like squinty eyes and nostrils, chipmunk cheeks or “fish lips” (what I call the underwater version of the “duck face”).
After they learn how to keep their face looking natural and relaxed, move onto body poses. Reiterate soft hands, pointed toes and a long neck.
I try to give my models a list of poses before the shoot so they can practice them on land before going underwater, and then during the shoot I slowly walk them through the process, suggesting small movement changes a little at a time.
It’s also important that you are fully aware of the conditions your models are in. Personally, I never, ever wear a wetsuit. I certainly could, considering Montana water is more than cold enough to warrant one, but then I wouldn’t have any idea how my model felt. By being in the exact same conditions my models are in, I’m able to better gauge what is appropriate to ask of them given the current conditions.
7.) Learn to Shoot Fast
Even if the water isn’t even that cold, a long day of shooting will quickly wear on both of you. Your model will have water going up her nose and in her ears as she tries to move into different poses, and you’ll because exhausted from trying to maneuver that camera around underwater. You’ll both be swallowing plenty of water and will both feel sick at some point (I like to keep a few bottles of freshwater nearby, as well as a box of crackers to help combat water sickness).
From a photography standpoint though, shooting fast is important because things change underwater, primarily makeup and skin texture. Fingers become pruney, makeup will run and fade and skin will take on an unattractive dimpled, dead texture, which you definitely don’t want…unless you’re going for a zombie look or something.
So this is where good planning will come in. If everyone knows exactly what you want before you even get into the water, things will naturally move much faster. If you have a huge shoot coming up with a new model, meet her a few days before and do a kind of rehearsal shoot so she can practice. Some models pick it up in a heartbeat; some need 3 or 4 shoots to begin even looking somewhat comfortable in the water.
8.) Have Plenty Of Assistance
Any extra hands on an underwater shoot will not go unused. If you have lighting or other equipment that’s on land just out of reach, for example, it’s much easier to have an assistant adjust it for you while you do a test shot, rather than have to get out of the pool and move it yourself until you finally get the look you’re going for.
Plus, underwater shooting can be a little dangerous at times, especially when the model is not wearing something they would normally wear underwater. Large dresses can become tangled, props can become heavy or the model can become disoriented while trying to hit certain poses. Extra hands on deck help make your job easier while keeping everyone safe.
9.) Embrace Post-Processing
Water is a medium, and anytime you shoot through a medium, you’re going to run into some issues. All of those brilliant underwater photos you see on the internet, even ones by Bruce Mozert, are not entirely straight out of camera.
Shooting through water takes away image clarity and sharpness, adds a lot of background stuff to clean up (bubbles, backscatter, light reflections), not to mention that pesky blue cast that takes some dealing with (you could use filters to try and combat the blue cast, but personally I feel they cause even more of a headache).
If your images look less than stellar straight out of camera, don’t get frustrated. You don’t need to go out and buy a few thousand dollars in lighting equipment; you most likely just haven’t put them through the proper post-processing techniques yet.
10.) Understand This Takes Time
To be blunt – underwater photography is not easy. It’s physically exhausting, time-consuming and potentially very expensive. When I first started I was coming home waterlogged and sick, with red, itchy eyes, ringing ears and about 10,000 images to sort through…and only 2 would make the cut. But even then, I was completely addicted.
Don’t be too hard on yourself in the beginning. There are a lot of components that need to come together to make a successful photograph, and it takes a lot of practice to get to that point. Take it one day at a time, and you’ll be there before you know it!
And of course, if you’re interested in a hands-on underwater portraiture course, don’t forget to check out my workshops next year in Greece and Bali, and make sure and SUBSCRIBE for more posts like this, and follow me on Facebook, Instagram & Twitter :).
There’s nothing quite as depressing as the sound of silence in a cubicle.
The incessant buzzing of the air conditioner and the relentless squeaking of a run-down office chair fills the air, broken only by the telltale sound of an employee attempting to surreptitiously remove the Ceran wrap from his late lunch. Fingers scurry across keyboards, mouses click, and chipper voices answer phones with that identical artificially caring voice they’ve used for the last 10 years. I sit in the back, as close to the only window as possible, undaunted by the measly view it provides. The sight of the adjacent building, just two feet away, is the only connection I have to the outside world.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is my nightmare.
I have decided that an office is the ultimate prison; one designed to keep its prisoners willingly confined, brainwashed by the sight of the strategically placed metaphorical carrot just inches beyond their grasp. I feel as if I have signed a contract without reading the fine print, ushered ahead to the next important benefit while passing over the sacrifices needed to reach said benefit. Even the fluorescent lights above flicker to remind me of the task at hand, like the most effective of prison guards; jarring and emotionless.
I stare at the computer screen before me and click my pen against my teeth, the scent of Windex and carpet hanging in the air. This is not my computer. This is not my desk. This is Patty’s desk, and hers is the bar to which all following cubicles will be measured. Her functional knick-knacks confuse me, and I feel even more out of place. A container of goo meant to make fingers sticky (for turning pages) and a bottle of Germ-ex sit directly next to the keyboard. I do not own a bottle of Germ-ex. I welcome the dirt and grime of the natural world. Oh how I long for the touch of grass…
Next to a colorful array of pens (the likely only allowed form of creativity or self-expression), is a palm tree post-it note container, symbolizing the relaxing beach she has probably desperately been saving her vacation days for. She has months’ worth of vacation days saved up, yet her planner hangs on the cork-board to the right, rows of assignments filling it: typing, filing, interviewing, typing, staffing. Is this what my life will soon become? Am the next generation of Patty’s?
But the most disheartening trinket of all is the digital calendar on her computer that displays a different “inspirational phrase” daily.
Today’s? “Smile. I like your sense of humor.” Great, a computer is telling me it likes my sense of humor. I have already discovered that no one in this particular job likes my sense of humor, so it’s ironic that a computer would have that opinion. Rather, I think it’s mocking me. Mocking my lack of humor and instead exposing my dutiful, uninspiring appropriateness that has replaced it. Within two weeks my wit has given way to internal cynicism. I used to be funny.
My stare is broken by the flicker of the fluorescent prison guard. Back to work. Deep breaths…
That was me, just 4 years ago.
No, I’m serious – that’s an actual snippet from an old blog post dated August of 2011. While there is nothing wrong with working in an office, it wasn’t for me, and I was definitely not doing well.
Sitting in the office of my first counselor job straight after completing my Master’s, I was on the edge of a complete breakdown. I cried all the time. Once, while driving around on a random Tuesday, we passed an enormous house and my husband casually said, “Woah, I wish we lived there!” I replied with, “I wish it was Friday,” and burst into tears. Sometimes it didn’t even take a trigger; I’d just sit in the bedroom, stare at a pair of “professional work shoes” and cry.
I didn’t last long. Within 3 weeks I was fired for following a code of ethics that apparently my employer didn’t share with the rest of the mental health profession. I came home, told my husband the news and he and our friend Bill took me out for a game of golf (I drove the cart through a fence) and a night of never-ending beer and buffalo wings, which, as it turns out, is the perfect cure for that ‘just getting fired’ feeling.
The next day, I told my husband I was changing careers. I told him I needed to do something creative for a living or there was a chance I may just collapse in on myself like a dying star. He agreed.
I had no idea what I wanted to do though, so I made a list. I wrote down every single creative job I could think of…and I mean everything. I listed actor, musician, painter, cartoonist, interior designer, dancer, filmmaker, and about a bajillion other possible jobs. I narrowed it down based on location (I wasn’t moving), required education (I couldn’t afford to go back to school) and required physical development (it was a little late to start a career as a professional ballet dancer). I was left with a list of 3 options: writer, photographer and cake decorator. On a whim, I chose photographer.
I didn’t even own a camera.
Cue the unrelenting skepticism. People thought I had snapped. They thought I was going through a phase. I had been accepted into medical school and was set to attend in the spring – giving up an opportunity like that was nothing short of insane, they said. My husband was the only person who had my back at all times, while others just pretended none of this was happening. Friends asked when I’d be leaving for med school. Family mentioned when they heard of a new counselor position opening up. I was mocked constantly and openly. According to general consensus, I had just made the worst career decision of all time.
But wait…why am I telling you all of this?
Because today, I paid off my student loans.
Today, I paid off $40,000 in student loans that I acquired pursuing degree programs everyone told me would lead to a financially stable and satisfying career, all with money I made from a career everyone told me was the equivalent of financial suicide.
I spent $40k to guarantee myself a “real job” then paid it off with money made from a “hobby”.
Suck it, haters.
To be completely honest, I’ve spent an embarrassing amount of time fantasizing about how I would celebrate when this day came. Perhaps I’d buy a plane ticket to a faraway beach and sit under an umbrella while someone brought me a never-ending supply of margaritas, or better yet maybe I’d take a trip down to the Billings animal shelter and spend the day adopting every single pet in the mothafuckin’ place. Who knows, maybe I’d run through the streets of Billings shouting, “NO STUDENT LOANS, BITCHES!” all while throwing dollar bills in the air behind me…and then later going back to retrieve them of course because let’s be honest, I still need those and I’m not in a music video.
But now that this day is finally here, all I want to do is write about it. All I want is to let you know that if you’re in a similar situation I was in 4 years ago, where you feel completely trapped, depressed and utterly terrified at the idea of starting over, there is a way out.
We have these struggles in every aspect of our lives. Whether it’s a career move or a bad relationship, there are always changes we avoid making even when our gut is telling us, indisputably, that something is wrong. We’re terrified of all that time and effort (or in my case, 6 years and $40,000) being for nothing. It’s not easy, but there comes a point where you either make the decision to keep pouring in resources to a dead cause, or cut your losses and head in a new direction. Remember, time and effort already spent is not an indicator of time and effort to be sacrificed in the future.
Regardless of all the embarrassment and fear that comes with putting yourself out there, sooner or later all of it passes and all you’re left with are the consequences of the decisions you’ve made. Each day is an opportunity to take a small step in a new direction. If you’re unhappy, change something. Good things don’t come to those that wait; good things come to those that know what they want and work their asses off to get it.
Four years ago I was at the bottom of a massively large financial hole, stuck in a career path I had chosen to pursue, and scared stiff of the embarrassment I would face knowing I’d have to explain my decision to do a complete career 180. And just last week, I was finishing up a shoot at Flathead Lake, and someone mentioned having to go to work the next day and I thought to myself, “I am at work. This is my job. I’m getting paid to be here, right now, sitting in the sunshine on the shoreline of one of the most beautiful places in Montana. This is what I do for a living.”
“This is my life now.”
For any of you out there on your path to photography, I made something just for you. Something I really, really wish had been there when I first started.
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!
If you’re reading this article in secret, calm down – we’ve all been there. We’ve all struggled with that little voice in the back of our heads that takes every situation and spins it around to show us everything that could possibly go wrong:
“You know no one is ever going to print this…”
“Have you seen their work? Wow you’re so far behind…”
“What if no one hires you? Like, literally…what if not one single person hires you?
“What makes you think you know the first thing about running a business? Give me one example of another business you’ve successfully run.”
“What if all of this has been for nothing?”
These sentences are barely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to negative self talk. And even with the abundance of articles gently suggesting that you just, you know, “trust yourself” or “think happy thoughts,” I wanted to offer something a bit more practical. So instead of sticking with the rainbows and butterflies approach, I’ve made a list of my top 10 tried and true methods for combating self doubt.
1.) Find The Source
I’m not saying you have to go all the way back to childhood to figure yourself out. Sure, there was that one time when you were 8 years old and you drew a picture of a rainbow for your grandma and she told you it was rubbish and ever since then you’ve been unable to feel a sense of self-confidence. Get over it. You were 8, you’ve probably done better rainbow work since then, and we both know your grandma was usually drunk anyway.
But there is always a starting point. Is it the second you hear about a new assignment, or are you usually pretty excited about it until you get home and a concerned family member starts worrying aloud? Or are you an “end of the project” kind of person, like myself. I’m excited the entire time and then just as I finish up the editing process I begin thinking of everything I should’ve done differently.
By identifying the exact moment negativity starts creeping into our minds, you’re able to start nailing down a pattern, and this helps you determine if there is a specific situation or person that is making you feel this way. The sooner you know the source, the sooner you can nip it in the bud.
2.) Write It Down
Sometimes self doubt is all in your head and sometimes it isn’t. Writing your fears down allows you to see them as tangible problems in the real world, which is the first step in addressing them. Go ahead and write down any thoughts of self doubt. Then begin to examine them.
Let’s say you’re afraid of submitting to magazines because you’re afraid no one will write back. Ok, fair enough – now let’s examine that. What would happen? Would your career be over? Would you ruin your reputation? Would you lose money? What is literally the worst thing that could happen?
3.) Plan For The Worst
Go ahead. Think of the worst possible case scenario and then plan for it.
Let’s go back to our magazine example from Tip #2. First of all, understand that you will receive some rejections. Hell, just while writing this article I received a submission rejection. But what’s the worst thing that could happen? Drumroll please…you feel shitty. You feel a little embarrassed because no one liked your work enough to publish it. Okay, that’s life, but that doesn’t mean your career is over or you’ve ruined your reputation as a photographer. In this worst case scenario, the risk really isn’t as terrifying as your mind is making it out to be.
And in other cases, that risk really is a pretty big deal and planning for the worst case scenario is absolutely necessary. Maybe you’re considering taking out a loan to open a studio, for example. In this case, your partner isn’t being negative when they ask if you might go broke, they’re being a realist. By writing it down and discussing it, you can address many of the issues you both may have and determine whether or not this is a risk really worth taking. And if it is, you can plan for the worst in case things don’t work out how you hope they do. By creating a plan, you take away the fear of the unknown that naturally comes with so many of these risks. This will allow you to focus on what you need to do to move forward.
4.) Take It Step-By-Step
I’m a runner. I usually run a minimum of 6 miles a day, but other days I’ll go all the way to a full 13.1 miles, just to see if I can do it. I never walk out of my front door knowing I’ll be running 10 miles today though, instead I tell myself I’ll run for 20 minutes. I run in one direction – ensuring I have to also run 20 minutes back. At the end of the first 20, I’ll decide if I feel good enough to run another 10 minutes, and then maybe another (always in the same direction). The farther I run in one direction the farther I have to run to get back. I don’t think about the total 10 mile stretch, only the first 2 miles, and then one mile at a time after that.
It’s the same with business. In the beginning, it can feel overwhelming: build a website, create a price list, make social media sites, order sample items, streamline your portfolio, order business cards, draw up client contracts, contact other vendors and businesses, create marketing flyers, and so many other things. But you can’t look at it that way or you’ll never get past the first mile. Make a list of steps and then break those steps down into even smaller steps. Create a timeline. Determine exactly what it is you need to do and set a goal date for each step to be completed by. By creating a clear cut list, you simplify the process in your mind, thereby leaving less room for doubt to creep in.
5.) Set Yourself Up For Success
I write in the morning. As in, 2:30 in the morning. I don’t know what it is, but writing during the day is incredibly difficult for me. I can’t find my vocabulary, my brain is fuzzy and it takes forever to bust out an article. I get nowhere and I feel like a complete failure. Early morning hits though and I’m on fire. So I don’t write at 2:30 in the afternoon, I write at 2:30 in the morning. Don’t make things harder on yourself than they already are.
6.) Cultivate A Support System
We all need a little push now and then, and that’s where your support system needs to kick in. Are you dragging your feet for serious reasons or are you just being a pansy? Do you need someone to gently feed your ego or do you need someone to light a fire under your ass? Your support system can help point you in the right direction and help give you what you need when you need it most.
7.) How Would I Say This To My Best Friend?
The main problem with negative self talk is we say to ourselves what we would never say to anyone else. You’d never, in a million years tell your best friend, “Are you kidding me? No way you’d get accepted into that gallery! What are you even trying for? God, just give up already.” But when it comes to critiquing ourselves, our manners go right out the window. Next time you hear that voice talking down to you, try and think about how you would phrase it to someone you really care about, you know, like yourself. And speaking of being nice to yourself…
8.) Take Care Of Yourself
It’s pretty easy to think poorly of yourself when you’re already in a downward spiral. I can choose to start a project after I’ve binge-watched the entire last season of Game Of Thrones while eating a stuffed-crust pizza, or I can start a project after I’ve run 6 miles, taken a shower and had a fruit smoothie. Which one do you think is going to have a better effect on that little voice in charge of all my self-talk?
9.) Get Answers
The main reason we doubt our ability to do something is because we have no idea where to start. So figure it out! Find someone that knows something about the area you’re struggling in and ask them for help! Get on Google or spend some time on YouTube. Stop wasting time feeling sorry for yourself for not knowing anything when there is this thing called the freaking INTERNET right at your fingertips.
10.) Just Do It Already
Yes, you’ve gone through all the planning and you’re still unsure of yourself. Well…suck it up. I’m sorry to say but that is probably never going away. It’s likely there will probably never be a time when you will feel completely safe and comfortable as an artist, but isn’t that part of the excitement of it all?
If you’re really stuck in the mud, here’s a little tip: count to three, and when you reach three, go for it. Press the send button, sign the papers, post the image. It’s like diving into a pool or trying escargot for the first time. Sometimes you just have to go ahead even with that little voice screaming like mad.