Upload & Sell: Off
| p.2 #1 · what advice would you give someone just starting in this field? |
Ahhh, professional photography. The most romanticized yet blatantly unromantic career any artist can choose to partake in. It just seems so easy to buy a camera and start pressing that shutter and selling your work for the world to see for big $. That is until you realize most people have to go to hell and back with a lot of hard work and $ to truly make it as a successful photographer. I'm in a big market, so this advice stems from that point of view. I also know a lot of photographers in smaller markets and after a lot of talking with them I feel this advice is good for a small market, too. The key is, are you willing to go to figurative hell and back to make it? If so, do you have what it takes to not be a bitter mess at the end of the tunnel when you become a respected photographer who actually makes money? This is the key to success in today's market and why the insane influx of photographers, both wedding and commercial, simply will not make it in the end. So many of the newest generation of photographers are taught to get rich quick by rock stars who aren't making it as photographers themselves. As my good friend who runs a busy photo studio once told me, "I don't possibly have time to teach people to photograph because I'm too busy photographing." I'd much rather learn from him than someone charging me a fee to sit in an audience telling me how amazing I'll be. But hear this: In a town like LA, I know a relative handful of pro photographers that are enjoying big success. Most of the tens of thousands (maybe more) of them are struggling. Some of them are in their 50's and still struggling to cope with the new norms of the photography industry. I can't imagine how scary that would be, can you?
It's unfortunate but it seems to me that hard work and patience and self value have suffered a lot. Are there people who can get busy very quickly? Of course! That's not saying it's not possible, but for the vast majority of successful photographers I know, meaning making enough money to buy a house and save money for retirement and paying for their family's health care, most of them are in their mid 40's to 50's. A few are in their 30's. What do you think would happen if you told the new school of photographers it'll take you -on average- 10-15 years of very hard work to become a successful, sustainable professional photographer? Do you think I could charge lots of money for them to come see me talk? No, and that's the danger of the rock stars. One of the most successful photographers I personally know is a paparazzi. The majority of pro "artists first" photographers I know are in debt, under employed, wondering what else they can do with their lives but still pushing on. Sad but a reality. But the point is to make it in photography you must realize it has nothing to do with art and everything to do with people and business skills. Annie Leibovitz became Annie Leibovitz because she has people skills. She could get into interesting situations with famous people. It's not because she was an amazing photographer at first. Once you hone your people and business skills then it becomes about the art. There's some young, super busy, very talented photographers coming in to the commercial photography world. Problem is they're very cheap and not charging usage and big companies are lapping this up to save money. But what happens when those photographers who have given their all, have an awesome portfolio built up, have lots of companies wanting their photographer suddenly realize they can't sustain their photo careers by giving their work away for free? They actually must charge a lot of money. What happens when you tell a company that you've been doing huge favors for just to get work that you now have to charge them? You'll be replaced by the next talented photographer who is working for cheap or credit and left to reinvent yourself. It is a completely unsustainable business practice that has caused the fall of the photography industry as we know it. The absolute best thing the new photographers can do is nip this problem in the bud now and place value on what they create. Is that hard to do? Yes. I'm constantly bombarded with people wanting cheap photography. I choose not to work with them. Same thing with weddings. You simply cannot sustain yourself if you partake in the underbidding war. The only reason my clients value what I do is because I personally place value on what I create.
So, my advice is, give it 2-3 years as a part timer and see if it's something you really want to do full time. I can't tell you how truly hard it is to become a successful photographer in any sized market, you just have to go through it. But dedicate yourself as much as you can. I'm personally teetering on the edge of really good success, and despite the fact it's been hard to get here, I've coped well with it and am a very happy person. I've fallen out of love with photography 3-4 times and every time I come back and love photography even more. My quality of clients have jumped greatly this year (in the midst of the massive recession) due to lots of very hard work, a little bit of luck, knowing the right people and sticking to who I am as a person and photographer.
But the worst thing you can do to succeed is to do what all the other new photographers are doing, and that is to not value what you do. I constantly see people write how they're not full time and therefore don't need to charge a lot. Or some business wants to use their image to make money with said business and they don't feel like they should charge anything because they're not a pro. Or they're full time and they think they'll be happy eating Ramen every night for the rest of their lives. I've seen part timers state full time photographers in their market closed shop because they weren't willing to compete with what the part timers were doing. They don't realize they CAN'T be cheap to compete and that they personally should have charged more so they could stop being part time and go full time like they really want to. These thought processes are so misplaced it's scary. You DON'T want to succeed? You're muting your own success as a photographer?! Why? Heck, if I were to go from full time to part time I'd still be charging as much as the market can possibly bare simply because that's what a good, sustainable business does.
Anyway, take this for what it is: A point of view.