How To Fail As A Photographer

Joined
Jul 24, 2007
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Toronto
From Sports Shooter http://www.sportsshooter.com/news/2082

Self-help gurus want to sell you on success. I prefer to do the opposite. I'd rather tell you how to fail because failure is more insightful. What’s more, you’re probably already on your path to failure. You’re already doing the things that increase your chance of failure. And by the end of this article, I hope you’re so livid at me that you change your trajectory. So without further ado, here'’s how to fail as a photographer.

1. Shoot consistently
The hallmark of a professional is their ability to perform a task consistently. You shoot consistently. So consistently that your skills as a photographer have not progressed in years. You accept mediocrity not because you’re a loser, but because you don’t make time to improve. You were the kid who thought that "practicing piano" consisted of playing that same song as fast as you could. You were the kid who thought that a scrimmage made you a better player. And you’re the photographer that believes that shooting the baseball game the same way week after week will turn you into Brad Mangin.

You see Donald Miralle trying new techniques and perspectives all the time. But you’re still content to pull out the same old zoom from the same old position because you’re "too busy."

Getting better isn’t about putting more actuations on your camera. It’s about deciding that you want to improve an aspect of your game, methodically breaking down the steps to get better, and practicing.

2. Create a Blog
It’s the information age! Age of the Internet! Get online! Print is dead! Build a blog!

You spend hours and hours building a blog believing that it’s a must in today’s world. Gotta be SEO, dude. But it ain’t gonna work. Why? Because nobody wants to read your blog, and no one is.

A blog is not an online journal. No one cares if you hit a creative rut, and decided to shoot a picture of a flag through a raindrop. I don’t care if seeing Bert’s work inspired you to rent a 4x5. No one gives a rat's *** about your crappy Polaroid. That crappy Polaroid is called practice and you shouldn’t show anyone.

There are two reasons for a blog: 1) You have something so incredibly interesting and viral that people can’t stay away, and 2) SEO.

You do not fall into category 1, and you never will.

If you really cared about SEO, then you wouldn't be posting about what a bad day you had. If you're a wedding photographer, you'd be creating posts about your services, location, rates, testimonials – all specifically designed to get your name to the top of Google when someone types "New York Wedding Photographer."

If your blog comes up first when you type in your own name, you have failed. If someone already knows your name, they already know how to find you, therefore, your SEO isn’t generating any new marketing.

Don’t give me any crap about how it’s cathartic to write. Write in a journal. Don’t put it online. Take some pictures instead of updating your Twitter status every 5 minutes. No one cares, and it’s not making you money.

One image was shot for $400, the other for $1500. Can you tell the difference? The answer is: it doesn't matter. If I can charge $1500 for one, I should charge more for the other.

3. Work Really Hard For Your $300 Day Rate
The time & effort it takes an individual to build a $100k business and a $1 million business is the same. If you’re a sole proprietor and you’re working your *** off to make $100k, I guarantee you that some jerk just made $1 million with the same effort. He’s just smarter than you. So the fact is, either you really love photography, or you’re an idiot.

That isn’t to say that you’re capable of creating a $1 million business because you’re not. This isn’t an indictment of you, it’s just a fact that there are a finite number of opportunities in the world to create a business of this size. But the point is that you need to think about how you’re spending your time and whether the incremental efforts are worth it.

Why work so hard for $300 when there are $500 jobs? Why work so hard for $500 jobs when there are $1000 jobs? The newspaper might have a small, fixed budget for photography, but the newlyweds have a much bigger budget because people only get married once (or twice or three times, but not every month).

4. Diversify
Everyone tells you to diversify. They tell you that diversifying your photography is just like diversifying your stock portfolio. But the difference is that you’re not individually managing 100 stocks. You have a broker, or you’re in a fund. With only so many hours in a day, diversifying is an easy path to failure because becoming good at anything takes time. And you can’t reasonably become a good wedding photographer, photojournalist, stock shooter, portraitist, etc. If you were really that good, you wouldn’t be working so hard.

So diversify, but pick and choose wisely. You can’t shoot, and blog, and be the local chair of your NPPA chapter.

5. Believe that Good Photos Matter
There are ethical, moral and artistic reasons for good photos. I love good photos. You love good photos.

But businesses love good enough photos. The whole free debate that we’ve witnessed over the past few months is simply about photos being good enough and free. The average person does not have the visual IQ that you have. They don’t give a **** about the fact that your photo is slightly better. And no matter how many of us say we won’t work for free, someone else is always willing to.

This does not mean that you shouldn’t strive to take good photos. It just means that while you are going about your day, realize that for most of us who don’t shoot major commercial jobs for a living, good enough is indeed good enough. Don’t be so naïve to think that you’re going to convince that SID to hire you for $500 when some weekend warrior is willing to do it for free for a credential. You’re only setting yourself up for disappointment.

Focus your efforts on the people that will appreciate and pay for a good photo. Don’t trade access for payment. Fighting the free debate is an exercise in futility.

"I shot this image for free because I had access. Is it good enough to run in SI? Probably not. Good enough for your local newspaper? Probably."

6. Read as Many Business Books as Possible
The academics of a good business are incredibly simple.

1. Create a unique value proposition
2. Ensure that you have a large enough addressable market
3. Make more money than you spend

Everything else is preventing you from doing a meaningful analysis of your own situation. For example, you want to shoot weddings in Honolulu as a primary source of revenue. I can almost certainly guarantee that you will fail because you most likely cannot get around #1 and #2.

So then you say, "I’ll create multimedia instead of stills. That’s my unique proposition!"

But your excitement about #1 makes you lose critical analysis of how many people are actually interested in multimedia wedding presentations in Hawaii. Answer? Not enough. Nationwide? Not enough.

There are ways to be successful. You just need to strive for objectivity in your business analysis. Reading more books is insightful, and you can never have too much knowledge, but don’t lose sight of the three basic tenets.

7. Buck the Trend
The industry will continue to change at a much faster rate than we could imagine or would like it too. The solution is not to start shooting video, building multimedia, or blogging. The solution is to be realistic and be smarter. If you love photography, then do the things that will allow you to chase the jobs that pay well (read: commercial). If you don’t love photography, then find another career. Finally, if you’re idea of productive use of time is to write a 1000 word response to my essay, you've learned nothing. Go sell a picture
 
Joined
Jan 27, 2006
Messages
462
Location
Kingsville, Ohio
Good observations

I agree with most of what is said, although the rules are changing quickly in the current economic environment. I've seen weddings take a real nose dive this year and people are not spending as much (or even paying the balances on their weddings to get their files).

At this point I have nothing booked for next year. Everybody is shopping for price.

Commercial has dried up, but I'm a long ways from corporate centers that do that kind of buying.

I really agree with the blogging stuff. Why should I care if Joe Nikon shot Jim and Betty's engagement session in the park this afternoon and three darling girls the day before? So what. That's his job. What makes that special enough to share with the world?
 
Joined
Mar 5, 2008
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Wilmington,Delaware
That only works in Canada.Here in the States we have learned to settle for anything.Good enough is good enough for the masses,so you can get by.
 
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Joined
Dec 11, 2007
Messages
1,329
Location
Janesville, WI
...work smarter, not harder.

Exactly. I used to try really hard at getting people to buy pics, but it wasn't going anywhere but in the red, so I stopped trying so hard, and pulled back to rethink my strategy. Sometimes I tend to think that the next strategy is to stop wasting my time with people who want shots for free(read: everyone I've met) and to go back to what I was doing before, which is just shooting to better myself, and not stress out about people who think my stuff is quality, but don't want to pay for it.
 
Joined
Feb 5, 2007
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2,722
Location
Banff National Park, Alberta
Exactly. I used to try really hard at getting people to buy pics, but it wasn't going anywhere but in the red, so I stopped trying so hard, and pulled back to rethink my strategy. Sometimes I tend to think that the next strategy is to stop wasting my time with people who want shots for free(read: everyone I've met) and to go back to what I was doing before, which is just shooting to better myself, and not stress out about people who think my stuff is quality, but don't want to pay for it.

Which is pretty much, nearly everyone in society. Society on the whole feels that art isn't something that should be paid for and bought. It should be something that is enriching, and viewed for free. And when they do pay for it, they certainly don't want to compensate you for what your actual capital invested and time is worth. I've displayed in many galleries, had ribbons hang beside my work, and even collected sizable prize money from contest wins. But the most I've ever sold a print for (12X18 matted and framed in a 28X22 opus frame) is $220. Nothing to balk at, but consider it was shot with an 80-200 2.8AFD ($1000), a D70s (acquired through a trade, the items traded to acquire the camera totaled close to $900), not to mention my time and gas, or all the time and gas spent on all of the other pics in portfolio that I haven't earned anything on. I, like many others on this forum can print out any number of stunning 12X18's. The problem is how do you convince the average person that your work is worth hundreds of dollars when they can just go to wally world and get a picture to hang on the wall for $30. All that being said, I don't feel that it is wasted time.

Really, this article is not named correctly. It should read how to fail as a professional photographer. Not how to fail as a photographer. van Gogh's success was posthumous, did he fail as an artist? By some of the tenants in this article, yes he was. van Gogh made paintings that mattered but were not appreciated at the time. According to the author he was 'wasting his time'.

Landscape photography is only a viable income source for the top elite. I have a skill that pays me enough to pay the bills. Just like the elite I'm out there just about every sunrise and sunset. I want to be the next great landscape shooter, and like the article states to become good at anything takes time, and I'm going to dedicate all my time to being the very best I can be. I don't have the time to diversify just to make a few extra dollars. Just because I'm not earning a certain percentage of my income through photography doesn't make me any less committed. Working 10 hours a day, shooting for 4 and post processing for 2 doesn't stress me out. Working as a pro wedding shooter for 10 hours a day and then shooting landscapes for 4 and post processing my 'real work' for another 2 probably would. Sorry, but I don't have the patience to try to convince some soccer mom that I should be taking pictures of her little Johnny for $400 instead of her going to wal-mart to get it done for $50. There are those of you out there who do it, and god bless you. But I'm not one of them. I hope to one day attract an agent and consistently get published doing the stuff I'm passionate about. On that day I will learn a larger percentage of my income from photography. If that day never comes, well it's been a very rewarding ride anyway.

I absolutely agree with the first point. I work really, really hard at photography. But my work flow and techniques are different than they were a year ago. I am always trying to do something different and as such my work is constantly evolving. The day my work flow and technique stays the same is the day I've peaked. I hope to never come to that day.
 
Joined
Jun 8, 2008
Messages
1,078
Location
Corpus Christi TX
so so correct

I went to the Art Institute of Houston to pursue commercial art. It fairly quickly became apparent that was going to be a long and hard road to follow and the tuition was way more than I could pay. The teachers even tried to discourage us by telling us how it really is in the field. So I got into airbrushing and glossing surfboards and murals on vehicles. But the same old thing...nobody really wants to pay. The top people in the field do make good money but they are the few. I may never sell a photograph but I will always pursue photography because I love it. I just don't have any wild-eyed ideas about how far it might go.
 
Joined
Jul 24, 2007
Messages
632
Location
Toronto
That only works in Canada.Here in the States we have learned to settle for anything.Good enough is good enough for the masses,so you can get by.

Canada? This was written by an American for an American audience!
 
Joined
Mar 5, 2008
Messages
1,055
Location
Wilmington,Delaware
my bad,(the Canada thing was a tease) I'll still stick to my statement,as long as the masses settle for mediocore photography,and shop price there is someone willing to provide them that.And these guys can make a living.
 
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