Exposed! :: Wanted: Photographer for well paid, exciting assignments ::
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"Wanted: Photographer for well paid, exciting assignments"
Starting a business
This ad is rarely seen in the careers section. Aspiring photography enthusiasts often dream, though! Most well paid, successful photographers work hard to create their "lucky breaks" and top jobs. In this edition of 'Exposed!' we investigate what it takes to achieve dreamy photography work.
The traditional staff photography job is becoming increasingly rare and there are few paid, full-time photography positions left. Most working photographers are freelance contractors selling their services to clients. In effect they're business people whose tools include cameras and computers.
Commercially successful photographers require significant skills:
- business savvy & financial awareness
- people skills
- patience and persistence
- drive to succeed
- photography skills are also useful!
Success represents different things to different people. It can refer to stunning photos. It can mean financial rewards. Success can refer to fame and respect in the arts world. Defining your version of success is the first step to pursuing it!
So what does it take to become a successful photographer?
Business savvy & financial awareness
This is one skill aspiring photographers seem to overlook the most. The finest photos in the world will not sell themselves until they have found a market, a niche or a potential client. Creating quality photos is tough. Finding a way to earn a living from these photos is tougher.
- People skills
Convincing someone to give you work is challenging. Impressing them enough to hire you a second time takes real talent. Returning calls promptly, delivering on time, producing as promised, correctly interpreting intangible needs and making the client smile add to the value of a good photo.
- Patience and persistence
"Five years... it was five years before I saw a penny!" Wise words from veteran commercial photographer Pierre St Jacques - he was kind enough to offer advice when I approached him with early photography business questions. There are few instantly profitable photo businesses. It often takes significant staying power and years to build a profitable photo business - this is often grossly underestimated.
- Drive to succeed
Waiting for an apple to fall into your hands is a sure way to go hungry. Pursuing the apple with smart work and determination helped commercially successful photographers like Karsh, Steve McCurry, and Freeman Patterson.
This type of imagination has nothing to do with the actual photograph. It has everything to do with finding a way to reach the elusive apple. Getting the right people to notice and pay for your work is a creative pursuit in itself!
- Photography skills
Technical photo skills are desirable, too. Photo skills alone account for only a small portion of success in commercial photography!
I trepidatiously entered the world of stock photography as the industry was painfully reinventing itself. I blundered. I goofed. More importantly I kept reevaluating and adapting. I am tenacious and determined. My mum calls me stubborn. This "stubborn streak" helped me overcome obstacles, mistakes and disappointments in the early days of my business.
My business took many years before turning a profit and more years before it represented a living. I supported myself with a part time job, living frugally - Revenue Canada couldn't believe I could live on so little. I now enjoy a more robust business. If I had worked smarter and been more diligent in my areas of weakness it could have been easier... but less adventurous!
Don't touch your camera!
If you are interested in a business answer the following with paper and pen:
What do you want to achieve with photography? Quantitative, measurable answers please! ie Earnings on par with your current job... Profits of $50,000 in ten years... three gallery shows per year?
- Evaluate your assets and skills.
- Develop goals and action plans - Quantitative, measurable answers please!
- Brainstorm some ideas! How are you going to achieve your photo goals?
- Reevaluate progress and opportunities every 6 months.
It's been tough.
It's been fun.
It's not for everyone.
Running a business can have some pretty rewarding elements.
Take photos. Have fun!