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!
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 December. I love Christmas, I love all the sparkly lights and gingerbread everything, not to mention the fact that snow makes for fantastic photos. But besides all of that, I also love that it comes right before clean-slate January.
I’ll be honest; I make a lot of mistakes during the year. I’m either completely missing that little voice in the back of my head that warns me not to do something, or it’s completely drowned out by the other voice screaming at me that it’ll make for an epic story later. Either way, it’s not exactly a fool proof way of going through life, so by the time December rolls around, the mistakes have added up, and I’m very, very ready to see just how many of them were worth it.
That’s where these people come in. See I’m not necessarily interested in assessing measurable forms of progress at this time – that’s for later. This is about evaluating whether or not I’m anywhere closer to the kind of artist and person I want to be. Call me crazy, but after 7 years of college and 3 degrees that I don’t use but definitely pay student loans on, I’m no longer interested in just drifting along and hoping “things will work out.” No – if something isn’t working, it’s up to me to do something about it.
So at the end of the year I turn to my biggest inspirations in photography and business, and ask myself these questions:
– What qualities do they possess that I find so rousing, and am I any closer to possessing those qualities myself?
– What do I need to do to further become what I find so inspirational in others?
– Where have I strayed from the artist I want to be and how can I do better in 2015?
And to answer these questions, I give you my top 5 inspirations in photography and business, and exactly what I’m hoping to take away from each of them.
My background is in psychology, which might give some insight as to why I love Kubrick’s work so much. To him, everything is important. In The Shining, there are several long camera shots of Tommy riding his trike throughout the hotel, alternating between carpet and hardwood. The sound he makes on the carpet is barely audible, while the sound of the hardwood is enormous and uncomfortably loud. That rhythm: peaceful, near silence broken by harsh, jarring uneasiness is an actual torture tactic used to break people. How brilliant then, to include it in the early scenes of a horror movie.
In addition to his painful attention to detail, his work ethic was unparalleled. He used to shoot the same scene hundreds of times, until the actors were completely exhausted and even delirious. That scene where Jack Nicholson breaks down the door with the ax and yells, “Heeeeeere’s Johnny!” was a complete improvisation. If you watch the behind-the-scenes footage, just before the last take he was waving the ax around the room like a madman, laughing and dancing and making everyone pretty damn nervous. After 100 takes, that was the mental stage he was in, and it worked.
Kubrick actually holds the Guinness record for most takes in a dialogue scene in a movie (also for The Shining), and he was working on film! That kind of work ethic is pretty tough to find anymore. Where others may have shrugged after 40 takes and thought to themselves, “We’ll just make one of these work”, he didn’t. If something wasn’t working he stuck with it until it did. He was obsessive, detailed, persistent and never settled for anything less than his original vision – a perfect artist philosophy if there ever was one.
Alton Brown is a chef and author on Food Network. He originally had a show called Good Eats but you probably know him more as the host of Iron Chef America.
Admittedly, I love Food Network, for some right reasons and some wrong reasons. I love to cook, and I really do attempt the recipes I see on Giada’s show, though I’m saving Ina’s recipes for a time when I’ve got some extra cash to burn and am comfortable enough in my cooking skills not to royally screw up any ingredients I’m paying top dollar for. On the other hand though, Food Network is also my guilty pleasure. I don’t watch reality shows and I don’t watch dramatic soap operas, but when I’m in a horribly bad mood I watch the crap out of Food Network while texting my mom memes of the various “stars”.
But Alton Brown is an entirely different person altogether. On his show Good Eats, puppets explain the discovery of saffron while he builds homemade cooking contraptions that require the use of goggles “just in case” something goes wrong. It’s like taking a cooking class from Bill Nye the Science Guy. With puppets. And a shitload of valuable information.
What makes him so inspiring though, is he doesn’t just show how to put a recipe together, he shows why that recipe exists in the first place. I don’t know how many times I’ll be watching someone cook something and think to myself, “Screw that, I’ll just stick it in the microwave and then I won’t have to wait 3 hours.” During Alton’s show he explains the chemistry of why you definitely do not want to put this in the microwave – and that’s what makes a great educator. It’s not about giving you a quick fix, it’s about giving you a solid foundation to build upon so you can move forward on your own. The more you understand how something works, the more confident you are in experimenting with it.
So many “educators” are actually very stingy with the information they hold, and I hate that. They want you learn, but not too much – that would be threatening somehow. Alton Brown doesn’t care about any of that; he genuinely wants people to get as much information out of his show as they possibly can. That is a true educator: someone that is entirely unselfish about sharing their knowledge in the most effective way possible.
I hope I can live up to that standard; of being so utterly passionate about my field that I can’t wait to share the information I collect over the years. And I hope I get to meet Alton Brown someday. He makes homemade cooking equipment and I make homemade photography equipment. Maybe we could work together to build a camera that also cooks you up a grilled cheese sandwich. Don’t you want something like that? Of course you do. Make the meeting happen and it could be a reality.
Anthony Bourdain & Hunter S. Thompson
A few weeks ago I received an email that told me I have the same, “snarky, cynical writing style as useless ex-cokehead Anthony Bourdain, and the same rambling incoherence as Hunter S. Thompson.” I was thrilled. When my fiance got home I read him the good news and he congratulated me. Relating me to either Anthony Bourdain or Hunter S. Thompson is a joke of a comparison; they’re both actual, published writers and I’m a photographer that occasionally pens a rant-style blog post at 3:00 in the morning, but who cares?! As far as step one goes, it was a very good day in the Martin household.
Anthony Bourdain is another chef, author, and traveler of virtually everywhere. You might know him as the host of CNN’s Parts Unknown or the Travel Channel’s Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. I idolize him because he’s curious, has an in-depth knowledge of food, an open disgust for convention and corruption along with a deep respect for other cultures. Hunter S. Thompson is another brilliant writer, most famous in my generation for writing the book the movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was based on. He did a lot of other noteworthy things (some good, some very bad), but if his name sounds only vaguely familiar to you, there’s a good chance that’s where you know it from.
More importantly to me though, both of these men have been brutally authentic and have made no attempts to hide the parts of their past that others may have found “unsavory”. Instead of censoring themselves or creating some fabricated public persona, they’ve lived their lives essentially the same way they would’ve had they not been famous.
All of which make them two of the most “real” individuals on the short list of people I have never met but still look up to.
See, by traditional standards, I’m not a very perfect person. I’ve been fired from a number of jobs for what we’ll call a “lack of verbal filtration”, I believe any personal conflict can be solved with fire and besides the last 6 years (when my fiance realized he was dating a klepto and gave me an ultimatum), I didn’t really pay for much of anything. Once you’ve become fairly skilled at stealing shit, it’s pretty tough to make a conscious decision not to. But I can proudly say I’m about 6 years sober – besides a small relapse a couple years ago when I did some damage on a bottle of tequila and unsuccessfully tried to steal a cop car…while dancing…
But all those little imperfections and mistakes are also what attracts me to others. It’s how I relate to people. The fact is, if you’ve got a squeaky clean background…I don’t trust you. I’m not very interested in meeting, or learning from, an overly happy, lab-engineered, fake-as-shit personality meant to sell me some fantastical, non-existent concept of reality. How can you trust someone who is always, cheerful? Who describes every, single life experience as breathtakingly awesome? You can’t, because you know at some point or another, that person is lying. There is no way I can rely on one’s sincerity to convey life’s most truly stunning moments if they use the exact same vocabulary for life’s shittiest moments. It just doesn’t add up.
(Of course, no one says it better than Louis C.K. Push play. Trust me.)
That’s what I find so inspiring: they support my theory that censorship is boring, that value can still be found in a genuine voice with a candid message and that sugarcoating is completely overrated. When Anthony speaks highly of a specific restaurant, I know I can trust him, because if it were an absolutely shithole that should be avoided at all costs, I know he would tell me it’s an absolute shithole that should be avoided at all costs.
I like that my writing reflects almost perfectly the tone in which I speak: blunt, slightly sarcastic, fairly grammatically incorrect, inappropriate at times and usually dotted with some (if I may say so myself) exceptionally placed profanity. These two give me the green light to embrace that style; to write exactly what I feel needs to be written, minus the flowery language that would make it more digestible to the more delicate-minded masses. They inspire me to be honest and authentic to those that matter, and unapologetic to those that don’t.
As a sidenote, I really do hope I get to meet Anthony Bourdain in real life someday. Typically, on an occasion such as this, I’d crack some awkward, sexually explicit joke that no one gets, laugh at myself for too long and then look up only to wonder where the hell everyone went. I have a feeling he’d appreciate an awkward, sexually explicit joke though, so in the hypothetical world I’ve created (and frequently visit), Anthony Bourdain will think I’m hilarious and we’ll spend the day bullshitting while getting plowed on Montana brewed beer.
Without going into too much detail, let’s just say my childhood wasn’t really all that great. If we’re going by statistics, the probability of me becoming a heroin-addicted stripper was undoubtedly much, much higher than the probability of me gaining an income through legal means, dating a nice respectable young man and driving a car that doesn’t double as a getaway vehicle on the weekends. But hey, somehow I ended up on the happy and productive side of society, so I’ll take it.
But, as many of you probably know, those demons don’t just go away, and my personal theory is you can either get very, very good at hiding them (for the short period of time before you spontaneously combust), or you can embrace them and put them to good use. My mom is a perfect example of putting them to good use. She turns that craziness into straight focus. When I was in high school she wanted an ice cream truck, but she couldn’t find one, so she bought the pieces and built it (we run it every year here in Billings, it’s called Mr. Pugley’s Ice Cream). When she wants something she goes out and gets it, and when something is in her way, she either finds a way around it or she quite literally goes out, buys a torch and welds her way straight through it.
Honestly. I’ve seen it done. Welded the doors clean off.
She doesn’t see her past as a crutch, she sees it as a badge of honor. From what she’s been through, there is no possible way of breaking her now, and she knows it. She’s afraid of no one, she’s intimidated by no one and she wastes no time dealing with people that don’t have her best interests in mind. When there’s a problem, she fixes it. She’s basically Winston Wolfe from Pulp Fiction if he had been an Italian/Basque woman with a flair for cooking and a much better sense of humor.
Those two life perspectives of living through a horrible situation and using it to better yourself, as well as openly accepting whatever demons might be there is what I find so inspiring. Over the past few years I’ve learned to take a bad situation, pull a few lessons out of it and apply them. Once you’ve been through some real scary shit, the idea of being afraid to submit a photoshoot to a magazine is a joke. There are much more frightening things in the world. I know because I’ve lived through them. Push the button, send the email, move on with your life.
I’m proud that I am becoming more and more like my mother every day. Last year, my future mother-in-law and I were talking about how your childhood can shape who you are, and she asked if there were any parts of my dad that stuck with me. I said no (probably not entirely true, but I like to think so anyway), and she said, “But you’re not afraid of anything! And you’re…kind of crazy…” I thought for a second, then smiled and said, “Nope. That’s still all Mom.” 🙂
I am, hands down, my mother’s daughter, and if I grow more and more like her every year, I’ll count that as a win in my book.
Decide For Yourself…
Now that you know my main inspirations, and what I hope to gain from them, I want to hear from you! Who are your inspirations? Who do you look up to and why? What characteristics do your greatest inspirations possess? We all have someone we have in the back of our mind that does something right, so who is yours? Take a second and let me know in the comments who your greatest inspirations are and why you choose to follow them. I want to know! 🙂
“They stole my idea.”
Oh, honey, sure they did.
Ok, bearing in mind that we all tend to get a little defensive when we think of something brilliant and then aren’t given credit for it, yes, getting your idea stolen sucks. But here’s another little tidbit to keep in mind:
Get over yourself.
Side note: I understand this can be counterintuitive in the world where our art is our living. A person going around and stealing our work could be a very dangerous thing. But I’m not talking about straight up stealing our work. I’m talking about someone that creates something, all on their own, that ends up looking remarkably similar to something you have already created.
Your Ideas Are Not As Unique As You Think They Are
Yeah, this might sting a little, but we’ve got to address it. Thinking you were the first one to ever think of a concept is just plain egotistical. Just because you’ve never heard of a concept doesn’t mean the thought hasn’t already existed – all it means is that you don’t know anyone in your immediate circle with the same idea. In fact, it really only means that you haven’t casually come across anyone else, online or in person, that has actively expressed the same idea. And when it comes to having the “original” – all that means is that of all the people in the world with the same exact thought, you were the first one with the resources to execute it.
Having the “original” doesn’t make anyone any better or worse than any other artist out there. It doesn’t give anyone the right to shame all those that come after them for being “unoriginal” or “uninventive”. Contrary to popular opinion, the timestamp is not more important than the art itself. Who executed it first, who marketed it first, who put it out into the world in a widely receivable form before someone else could claim its “genius” – that’s not what makes a true artist.
A true artist creates. A true artist is inspired by something, then puts the effort into creating the concept they have in their mind. They don’t do it so they can stalk the web and condemn anything similar that comes their way. Having the “original” doesn’t devalue any work following it. They came up with an idea, all by themselves. They babied it, they took care of it, they molded it into perfect piece of art they had dreamt up in their head. Why wouldn’t they deserve to have just as much credit as anyone else with the same idea that just happened to post their finished artwork first?
I remember the first time I saw an image similar to mine. One of my fans left this comment on my photo on the left, “American Beauty”, on my Facebook page: “Reminds me a lot of this image” with a link to the image on the right (belonging to Mandy Rosen). As innocent as it seems, I was crushed. I genuinely thought I had created something that hadn’t been done before. I put in so much work, so much blood, sweat and tears, only to find my whole world blown apart. .
Now come on, these look pretty damn similar. Granted, her dress is made of butterflies and mine is made of rose petals, but look at the bigger picture. The colors (red standing apart from a muted, brown palate), the horizon line, even the arm positioning. If I were Mandy perusing the internet at 3:14 am, with maybe a small bottle of tequila, I might have a bone to pick.
And here’s the weird thing – even though I hadn’t even slightly copied (I’d never seen the image before, nor had I ever heard of Mandy Rosen, who does awesome work, btw), I felt like I had. I felt like even though I’d had a brilliant idea and spent countless hours bringing it to fruition, I was too late in executing it. All that work I had put in was wasted because someone else had already posted something similar.
It’s the same feeling I got when I wanted to show one of my friends my “Dreaming in Key” photo – so I Googled it, thinking it would come right up. But instead, I found many others, like this one by Anka Zhuravleva, and was again, crushed. You mean someone else thought of this photo idea? I wasn’t as brilliant and creative as I thought I was? I had been so proud of myself…
It took awhile to get over that shot to the gut, but soon I realized that just because someone else had the same idea with a timestamp earlier than my own, it doesn’t mean that my image is any less significant. Plus, I made leaps and bounds in editing skills putting this thing together. If I had seen her photo before mine, I probably would’ve scrapped my idea and done something different. And I’m glad that didn’t happen. I love the image I created.
Here’s another example. My image, “Rough Drafts” is on the left and Von Wong’s is on the right.
I actually did get called out on this one, with a random message in my inbox reading, “Hey, you didn’t happen to see our image, did you?” Which, honestly, was pretty annoying. Not because of the message itself (which I still haven’t been able to figure out the tone…), but because the photo I ended up with wasn’t even my original idea. In the image I wanted to create, I was going to be standing on the beach with the typewriter floating in the air in front of me. I didn’t want to be sitting on the ground typing; I figured it would be too easy. After hauling it down to the beach though, it became very apparent; that typewriter was heavy as fuck, and there was no way I was going to be able to hold it in any kind of realistic position in front of me. So I said screw it and sat it on the ground in front of me instead. This wasn’t a copy – it was the result of a botched idea to begin with. An entirely new idea was concocted in just enough time to get something done as the light was running out.
And this is one of my favorite photos I’ve ever made, regardless of how similar it accidentally looks like someone else’s. Which brings me to my next point…
An Idea Is Not A Physical Object
If you stole my camera I’d have a real problem. I wouldn’t be able to take pictures, and I wouldn’t be able to pay my bills. I’d also have to buy a new camera, and in the meantime I would spend a large portion of my day figuring out what the hell I could steal of yours that would ruin your life. Not to be vindictive or anything, just because…well, I’m a little crazy.
Also I like to steal shit.
But ideas are different. Ideas aren’t all-inclusive objects that come in a nice, neat little package. If you steal my idea it’s still just a concept – it’s up to you to nurture it, mold it and bring it to realization. And if you do have the dedication and drive to bring it to fruition, good for you! That kind of work ethic should be respected, not condemned.
Just a couple weeks ago I was browsing Instagram when I came across this image, belonging to Brei Olivier (once again, fantastic work). Mine is on the left, hers is on the right.
This is freaky – this could literally be the same model in each photo! And if I had run across this earlier in my career, I would’ve freaked the hell out. I was still so arrogant, so full of myself, that I probably would’ve thought she had copied. That there was no way anyone else on the planet could’ve possibly come up with a similar concept all on their own.
But I didn’t freak out, because of the examples above. The fact is, this kind of shit happens, and it’s no one’s fault. After I contacted her I learned that even as similar as these two images are, the thought process was even more similar. She said she was inside and wanted to practice dropping an image in the background. In my case, I was locked inside doing literally the exact same thing. So how the hell does that make mine “better”? Just because mine was “technically” posted first on some social media site doesn’t take a single thing away from her photo. In fact, if anything, it shows how similar we both are. If we ever get to meet in person, I’d have to have a pic of both of us holding up our own version of this photo – proof that we were meant to be friends from the beginning.
What’s more, are so many artists are feeling paralyzed, because they come up with an idea, see it already done and then scrap their own concept even though they thought of it with no influence from anyone else. They were just so afraid of being accused of copying, that they stop producing work. How the hell does that facilitate growth in the art community?
To be honest, I’m glad there are so many ideas already out there. Not only does it force us to be even more creative, but it forces us to develop our own specific style. Plus, it helps us discover other artists that are similar to ourselves. I have met an amazing community of fine art photographers, and I never would’ve met any of them if we didn’t all start out with somewhat similar images. We actually laugh about the fact that so many of us have similar images in the beginning of our careers:
Yup, two of those are mine (the other two belong to Tara Denny and Two Creative Birds). What’s really funny, is the one on the bottom left is a stock image. That means there are enough images on the internet of people floating through windows that it’s become a stock image. Does that mean people are all copying each other? No, it probably means they are creating the same idea. And good for them! It’s how you learn! Is each image copyright? Of course! Is the concept of levitating through a window copyright? Of course not.
Now I’m not saying copying in general is a good thing – yes, be original, and push yourself to come up with new ideas, but don’t be so arrogant as to think that every idea you have ever had is original – it isn’t. Sometimes, believe it or not, someone else has already had the same idea and brought it to life. And in that case it’s not copying; it’s two people executing the same concept – a concept they each dreamt up without any help from each other.
Here’s another example: a few years ago, I thought of a book that I wanted to write. I wanted to interview various photographers about the best photo they haven’t taken. What was the photo? Why didn’t they take it? Maybe they didn’t have their camera, or maybe the situation was one that warranted no pictures, but I wanted to write an entire book where photographers had to describe, in words, the most amazing photo they missed. I would call it “The Photograph Never Taken.” And it would be awesome.
Then, while buying some photo gear on Amazon, the little, “Other people that bought this also bought…” tag came up, and look at what was right there, staring me in the face:
My first thought was that this was my idea. Someone else had “stolen” it. But no, they didn’t. I only told maybe 5 people about this idea before. Surely Will Steacy wasn’t hiding in the bushes the day I decided to tell one of my friends about it. And honestly, I may even still write the book I have in my head, but this book, already being published, doesn’t take away from my own creativity. He had the same idea, with the means and resources to execute it. And I’m glad he did, because my second thought was, “Damn…I really want that book…”
So if you see one of those articles where one artist is bashing another for “copying” their idea, tell them to shove it. We don’t have copyright on our ideas, we have copyright on the result of the execution of that idea, and no one has any right to destroy another artist for having a similar artistic thought process.
How about you guys – have you ever run into this before? Have you ever seen another image that looked uncannily similar to yours? How did you feel? What did you do? I want to know!
And if you ever need someone to talk to, feel free to talk to me – I answer best through email or on my Facebook page, Jenna Martin Photography :).
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To quote a recent article I read titled “Do What You Love” Is Horrible Advice: “It’s easy to confuse a hobby or interest for a profound passion that will result in career and business fulfillment. The reality is, that type of preexisting passion is rarely valuable.”
If you haven’t read that article go ahead and take a trip over there when you get a chance…or not, if you’d rather not be fuming the rest of the day. The author is a great writer, with many other fantastic articles, but this one was just so…wildly inaccurate. I tried to just label it as one of those unfortunate things orbiting the internet, but it was just gnawing at me. How many potential artists are out there now, squashing their dreams because they’re reading fear-mongering articles like this on the internet?
Well hopefully not a lot, but still, the thought of some teenage kid selling his guitar because too many people told him music was a “hobby” and not a career choice just kills me. He’s a teenager. Anything is a career choice.
Of course people are all entitled to their own opinions, right?
Exactly, which is why I’m going to spout mine off right now.
Unconditional Support May Fade Fast…
As we’re growing up, we’re told we can be anything. We’re told we can be astronauts, painters, unicorn tamers and anything else our little minds can dream up. A 5 year-old proudly proclaims she’s going to be a “rockstar” and the adults laugh and smile and say, “My goodness honey, of course you are!”
Then somewhere down the line, we’re told to get real. We’re told to “get our heads out of the clouds” and start putting our efforts towards a feasible career. The idea of following our passion becomes a joke, and we’re told that art, in whatever capacity, is a hobby. People list off countless things they themselves are “passionate” about but could never get paid for, and then recite a mountain of inaccurate, old wives-tale statistics:
“You know you have a greater chance of getting struck by lightning than you do of ‘making it’ as an actor…right?”
Now there are two arguments here: 1.) Passion alone doesn’t get you anywhere, and 2.) Where is the market? If there is no one to pay you for it, even if you are good, how can you make a living?
And for those points I have two responses: 1.) The concepts of talent and passion are widely misunderstood, and 2.) There is always a market.
Now this is the part where many people will say I have entirely overstepped my boundaries and have finally reached the point where the advice I give new, emerging and struggling artists does them more harm than good. That in this era of realism, dreams serve the sole purpose of glittery fairy tales we tell our children until they reach puberty and then we shove a spatula and a job application in their hand while cynically smirking, “Life’s not fair, deal with it.”
Well, fuck that – and here’s why.
1.) Talent and Passion Are Not What You Think
Talent is no more than a word people use to describe a person’s skill level when they haven’t been around to witness first-hand the process of developing that skill. Musicians, dancers, painters, all of them, did you see their work when they first started out? They sucked. The hit wrong notes, had two left feet and couldn’t paint between the lines to save their damn lives.
They were absolute shit.
In fact, it wasn’t until they had already put hours and hours and hours of time in, before people started saying, “Wow, you’ve got a real talent for that.”
Because here’s the thing, while some people do naturally gravitate to box of colored pencils instead of a calculator, the act of producing art itself is still a skill, and I cant stress this enough – skills can be learned.
In fact, many features we take for naturally occurring personality traits (i.e. willpower, creativity, focus) are actually skills; all of which can be further developed with deliberate practice.
Quick side-note – I promise I’m not just blowing smoke up your ass and I would gladly link to peer-reviewed journals listing the relevant scientific data for all these claims, but it’s 3:30 in the morning and I just don’t want to. I will tell you though, that I have personally studied all of this, as I have a Master’s in Psychology, specializing in neurological processes and behavioral health. If you don’t believe me I encourage you to schedule an appointment with your local psychology professor.
Okay, so what does passion have to do with anything?
The word “passion” is far overused in today’s common conversation. You hear people say, “I’m incredibly passionate about rock music,” when what they really mean is, “I, like, really, really like this one band I saw in concert last week.”
Passion is not just a love for something, it’s an obsession: an obsession capable of motivating people to practice a specific skill for an unrealistic amount of time. All those things that people list off to you as examples of things they are “passionate” about but could never get paid for – they’re right! But those aren’t passions they’re just stuff they like…as a hobby. And yes, if photography is your dream job but you dedicate the same amount of time to it as you would to any other hobby, you absolutely won’t be able to find anyone willing to pay you for it. However, if you’re really passionate about photography, you’ll spend every waking second trying to improve. You’ll stay up late on YouTube researching various lighting setups and editing techniques, you’ll make your own gear when the real thing costs too damn much (like this underwater camera housing) and you’ll take classes and workshops to further your skills, and all that extra time really adds up.
To put it bluntly, passion can get you everywhere, because it means you have the desire to put in a highly abnormal amount of work to excel at a particular skill; a skill, that when taken to a whole new level, is absolutely marketable.
So while you may suck right now, that’s okay, you already have the most important tool to producing amazing results. What you need now is practice and time.
Now on to my other point…
2.) There is ALWAYS a Market
The article above (along with countless others spanning the internet) lists one question as the one you should be asking when pursing your dream job: “Will people pay me for it?”
But that’s not the right question. Instead, what you should really be asking yourself is, “How can I prove to people my work is worth paying for?”
I’ll explain. Here’s a line I’m sure we’ve all heard many times: “Well maybe you should still get an accounting degree or something. You know… just in case.”
Ah, yes. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard someone give me “just in case” advice to prepare myself for inevitable failure…well let’s just say I’d own an impressive collection of jet skis by now.
You never hear people tell accountants to get another degree, “just in case.” No one ever tells med school students that maybe they should learn welding, or construction or some other trade skill so when this whole “being a doctor” phase wears off they’ll at least have something to “fall back on”.
The fact is, people only pay for things they either want or need, and when your passion falls into a field that meets an obvious market need, following it is completely acceptable. People need doctors. People need accountants. Supply and demand; it makes perfect sense.
Art, on the other hand…
Art is seen as a “want”, which means that people have a harder time understanding the market for it unless they themselves are a part of that specific target audience. Someone that would never consider buying a piece of art for $1000 will have a very hard time reasoning how anyone else could possibly make a living selling art for $1000.
But there surely can’t be a market for everything…
Yeah, actually, there pretty much is. You can make money doing virtually anything nowadays, provided you market it correctly. Ever heard of the NYC Naked Cowboy? He plays a guitar and sings songs in his underwear and a cowboy hat. And now he’s sponsored by Fruit of the Loom and has a net worth of over 2.5 million dollars.
Take that, guidance counselors of the world.
The point is, whether the market exists or not isn’t the problem – it’s real and it’s there. Reaching it is the issue. So develop a strategy – figure out what the hell you have to offer and how you’re going to get it out there. Who is your target audience? What value are you offering them? How do you explain to them that what your selling is going to benefit their lives in some measurable way?
I’m not saying that you can quit your day job, buy an art kit, take a modern watercolor class and begin a successful painting career next week – I’m saying that creating a career out of something you’re genuinely passionate about is a very, very real possibility, and contrary to popular opinion you’re not doomed to a life of waiting tables while you try and make something out of those “doodles” you’re always working on.
Put in the effort to hone your skills and create a comprehensive marketing strategy to sell the application of those skills. That, is how you begin a successful career of doing what you love.
And for the future photographers of the world – here’s a little something I made just for you to get you on your way.
I can vividly remember the first day I opened my photography business. I had spent weeks getting everything in order, from my official business license to my website to my own, handmade personal logo. I had all my release forms printed out, a folder to keep them organized and a calendar all laid out, complete with color coded markers I would use for each different session I would (hopefully) be booking in the near future.
Oh yeah…I was fancy.
I was also naive. I took advice from anywhere I could get it, regardless of the source. Fellow photographers, internet business articles and Facebook photography groups were my best source of information, and honestly, it was quite a mixed bag. There was a lot of information that was complete (pardon my french) bullshit, and I wish for the life of me there was a way to go back and talk some sense into my early photographer self. However, since I’m still not the proud owner of my very own, personal time-machine, I figured spilling the beans to the rest of you might be just as productive.
Myth #1: The Photography Market is Over-Saturated – There’s No Room For You
I heard this little tidbit countless times during my first year as a photographer: that I better have a backup plan, that I shouldn’t invest too much money into my business because it was only a matter of time before I realized it was doomed for failure.
Here’s the thing – photography is an over-saturated market – with mediocre photographers. There are plenty of people out there with cameras calling themselves “photographers” that shoot on auto and have no idea what the hell “ISO” and “DOF” even stand for. And that’s okay! Those people aren’t your competition.
Your competition is the photographer that is doing exactly the same business model as you are, which (as you’ll read in the next point) probably isn’t happening. I’ll give you an example:
There are hundreds of professional photographers in my town, but I’d say the number of truly, truly exceptional ones are under 20. Of these, they all specialize in different areas. I know of maybe three utterly fantastic weddings photographers, two unbelievably talented newborn photographers, a couple boudoir specialists, a few senior photo pros, one fashion shooter, a couple insanely talented photojournalists and one unbelievable landscape/interior photographer. Then there is me who shoots fine art. There is plenty of room for all of us. Which brings me to Myth #2…
Myth #2: Fellow Photographers Are Your Worst Enemies
For semantic’s sake, I put this as the second myth, but really it should be #1, hands down. Your fellow photographers aren’t your competition – they’re your best allies! Let me explain:
Wedding photographers, for example, can only shoot one wedding a day (and many times, only one wedding per weekend), so what happens when someone calls for a day they’ve already booked? They refer out to other wedding photographers! As a fellow wedding shooter it’s in your best interest to have a fantastic working relationship with every other wedding photographer in town. If they can’t do the job, you’re first on their referral list.
Plus, with everyone specializing in so many things, it only makes sense to work together. Many wedding photographers aren’t interesting in shooting newborn babies, but you can bet a year after a couple gets married the first one they’re going to call as soon as they’re expecting is their wedding photographer. So refer to your favorite newborn place, and in turn they’ll refer weddings to you. Why wouldn’t they? A wedding sent to you is a guaranteed client the following year!
In addition, getting to know your fellow photographers also give you the chance to collaborate with something amazing. The photographers in Billings are now some of my closest friends and I would be miles behind in business if I hadn’t gotten to know them. Besides, who are you going to share nerdy photographer humor with? Because contrary to what you might think, your cat is not laughing at your random jokes about shutter speed and F-stop.
Myth #3: You Can Finally Get Out From Behind That Computer
Sorry folks, but not quite. As a fine art photographer, the vast majority of my time is spend sitting behind a computer screen, editing individual pixels one after the other, but it’s similar with others in the business as well. The time you spend shooting is actually a very, very small percentage of how you’ll spend your time, and most of it will be on the computer. Editing, marketing, submitting content for publishing, writing blog posts, filing, accounting, and a thousand other things I can’t think of right now because I’m in the middle of Myth #4.
Myth #4: Owning Your Own Business Means Making Your Own Hours
Oh…honey. Owning your own business means working all hours. See this is where a photography business has the exact same quality as every other small business that has ever been in existence – you’ll work far more than 40 hours/week. It takes literally every ounce of time you have to get your business off it’s feet and moving in the right direction.
Myth #5: Your Photographs Sell Themselves
Oh dear God no they don’t. I admit it’s very difficult to sell in the beginning, especially since you’re fully aware of your lack of experience in the photography arena. If you’ve only been a professional photographer for three weeks it can be very difficult to convince a client they should hire you without sounding like you’re begging. But sales is all part of the game and the sooner you learn to sell yourself, the better.
Myth #6: A Successful Photographer Makes a Lot of Money
A successful photographer makes enough to support themselves as a photographer. That is all.
Myth #7: You Should Specialize. Immediately.
Woah, calm down there. Photography is such a vast field, it takes a while to find out what you’re truly passionate about. I’ve gone from portraits, to night photography, to weddings, to pets, to fashion to fine art and loved every one of those genres…for a while. Then I moved on to something else.
Don’t tie yourself down in the beginning. Feel completely free to branch out among other areas of photography. Try a boudoir shoot or tag along for a wedding. Attend a fine art photography workshop (hint hint: here’s an awesome one coming up soon) or take on a couple senior clients to see if that’s something you’d be interested in.
Myth #8: “Natural Light Photography” Is A Thing
Calling yourself a “Natural Light Photographer” simply means you don’t know the first thing about alternative lighting. Don’t get me wrong, natural light is fantastic (it’s definitely my preferred method of shooting), but you can’t use it as a crutch for not learning how to use proper equipment. Intern at a studio and banish this phrase from your website.
Myth #9: It’s All About The Gear
You know the fastest way a photographer breaks someone of this thought? As soon as someone comments on how amazing our camera must be to take such awesome pictures, we hand it to them and let them snap a few on their own. Everything changes after that.
Because it’s not about the equipment you have, it’s about whether or not you know how to use it. I’ve seen photographers with incredibly expensive gear take some downright embarrassingly bad photos, while witnessing other photographers take spectacular photos on their iPhones. Don’t run out and throw a bunch of money at the newest thing – it’s better to have something modest and then spend your money learning how to properly use it before moving on to bigger and better equipment.
Myth #10: You Can Do Every Aspect Of Your Business By Yourself
You know that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when a friend tells you they’re saving money by having their cousin photograph their wedding? Yeah, that’s the same feeling every accountant in the world gets when they hear you’re saving money by doing your own taxes. Certain things (like taxes and photographing someone’s wedding) should be left to the pros.
Myth #11: You Will Eventually Get Sick of Photography
I’m not going to lie – life as a photographer is tough, hectic and never seems to end, but here’s another secret – I love every second of it. In fact, the reason my work/free time lines are so blurred is because the first thing I want to do when I have some free time is shoot!
Think about it this way: I recently had a conversation with a friend about retiring. She said she’d happily retire ASAP while I told her I didn’t think I’d ever retire. She stared at me with wide eyes until I asked her what she would do with her time off and she replied with, “Photography.”
And if you ever need someone to talk to feel free to talk to me – I answer best through email or on my Facebook page, Jenna Martin Photography :).
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Photography is a strange beast – we all know this. The second you first get a camera in your hand it’s almost impossible to put it down. Everything has potential to be an amazing photograph. You go from landscapes to portraits to pets to fine art to fashion, and slowly you begin to find your niche. You begin to identify that one subject you can truly become obsessed with. That’s an awesome feeling, isn’t it? To be completely in your own realm?
Of course it is! But soon, as with any artistic profession that has ever been, you gradually come up against a creative wall and you become…dare I say it…bored.
Not with photography itself, mind you (I don’t think I could ever be bored with photography), but with where you currently are in your skill development. It’s something you can feel – you’re producing good work, but not exactly great work. Not exactly the kind of work you dreamt about that first night you went to sleep after having played with your new camera all day. The night you stayed awake dreaming of all the amazing photographs you were going to take – just as soon as you figured out what the hell ISO meant.
Well don’t worry – this is completely normal. Every amazing photographer worth their salt goes through this phase. What separates the greats from the rest of the mob is who figures out how break past it, and lucky for you, I’ve listed out a few tried and true ways that seem to do the trick every time.
1.) Write Out Your Goals – Correctly
Writing down your goals is a classic slump-busting technique – but only if you do it correctly. Writing “Be more successful” or “Make more money” isn’t going to get you anywhere. You need to be sure of four things:
1.) Your goals are clearly defined.
2.) Your goals can be measured.
3.) Your goals are realistic
4.) Your goals can be broken down into smaller goals.
This may be quite difficult at first, but push through it. The more specific, measurable and defined your goals are, the more obvious the steps that need to be taken to achieve them become. Pretty soon you aren’t grappling with how to “Get published” but instead making lists of magazines and contacts that might have a good chance of publishing your work.
Writing down your goals does more than just put them in front of you to see everyday – it forces you to actually define your hopes and dreams in realistic terms.
2.) Get Critiqued
And not by your mom, your best friend, or your intern that idolizes you and knows hardly anything about photography. Get critiqued by someone that knows their sh*t. Someone that not only understands the principles of great photography, but is also familiar with the style of photography you’re shooting. Personally, my work contains a decent amount of photo-manipulation, so I don’t stand to gain a lot from someone specializing in documentary or photojournalistic styles of photography. Trust me, I’ve been critiqued by that person. It hasn’t gone well.
There are many ways to do this. You can schedule an appointment with a local gallery for a portfolio review, or attend a festival like Fotofest or Photo Lucida. Email a photographer you are obsessed with (we all have them) and see if they could take a second to look at your work. Sure it might be a long shot, but they might say yes!
I’m also not going to lie here – getting critiqued is rough. The entire point is to learn what can be improved, so even if your reviewer absolutely loves your work, they are still going to point out a weakness or two, and no matter how thick your skin is, it can be tough to hear. Here’s the great part though – now you know something specific that you can work on. You have a concrete aspect of your work that you can improve. That gives you a direct homework assignment…which brings me to Step 3…
3.) Join a Community
The best way to give yourself an assignment and stick to it is to do it alongside someone else. Join a 365 project, a 52 week project or even just a “Hey let’s go out a shoot” running group. Collaborating with other creative professionals is a fantastic way to break your mind out of its little innovative box it’s stuck in. Plus it’s great networking!
If you can’t find people in your nearby location to hold you accountable (I’m about as flighty as they come, so I totally understand), join an online community or do a mentorship with a photographer you respect. I offer online mentorships, and you can bet there is homework involved. All you really need is something or someone actively forcing you to create. Sounds awful? It’s not. Being complacent and stagnant is awful.
4.) Donate Your Skills
This is hands down, my favorite way to break out of a slump. Nothing makes you appreciate what you do for a living as much as seeing the good it can do, and there is A TON of good that a great photographer can do. Volunteer to take family photos at a nearby Women’s shelter, photograph a fundraiser for your local Humane Society, give a free senior session to a kid that has fought tooth and nail to graduate.
The photo above is of one of the many, many pets I’ve photographed at the Rimrock Humane Society here in Billings. Better photographs mean the animals get adopted faster, which means there is more room and resources for animals that are brought in off the street. I can’t even begin to explain how much I love working with them. It’s honestly one of my favorite things I get to do as a photographer.
5.) Switch Sides
Sides of the camera, that is. It’s amazing how much of a difference 180 degrees makes. Behind the camera I am confident and enthusiastic. Put me in front of the lens and I turn into an awkward 6th grader. I don’t know what to do with my hands and I am all of a sudden extremely aware of my eyelids. Do I always blink this much? Do I look straight into the lens? I’m biting my lip? What the hell do people usually do with their lips?
But feeling what it’s like on the other side of the lens is essential to know what you’re clients are going through. Schedule a session with a photographer friend and photograph each other. What do they do that makes you more comfortable? Of the photos they take of you, which are your favorites? Do you remember what they did to get those photos?
This isn’t just applicable if you shoot portraits. Self portraits literally force you to see your environment from the opposite perspective. Just recently a friend of mine photographing a landscape flipped his entire setup around after he stopped midway through to take a picture of himself in the landscape and saw the sky behind the camera had turned into something ahh-maze-ing. He’d been so focused on one area he failed to see what was going on behind him. Thank god for a random selfie break.
And if you ever need someone to talk to feel free to talk to me – I answer best through email or on my Facebook page, Jenna Martin Photography :).
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