Photographic Success – Are you thinking about this right?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how photographers are achieving success in our industry today. Specifically, I ‘m referring to the group of us that are wedding and portrait photographers. Is it skill, attitude, equipment or ingredient X?

As I read over posts from various industry gurus, I notice an unsettling trend towards just attitude, while ignoring the obvious. It’s not about attitude, or equipment or any of that really. It’s just business. They go on and on about how you have to have the right attitude, and dedication. How you have to stick it out and not give up. How you have to shake off negatives and stay true to your cause. And you know what? Some of that is true. But let’s look closer.

So many things have been written about the power of positive thinking. This is not a new trend. I remember hearing this phrase when I was in my teens, but it’s become more popular now. I’m a big fan of marketing guru Dan Kennedy who says the power of positive thinking is bunk. What counts is the power of positive work. Sitting on the sofa and thinking positively will get you nowhere. Point taken.

Negative thinking will certainly hold you back, and it’s so easy to get caught up in that. As we go through our day we are saturated by information. Some positive and some negative. Our mind filters this information with whatever screen we’ve chosen to use that day. Depending on our state of mind, we may only pay attention to the negative while we screen out all the positive. I’ve been in this trap – it’s not fun.

Alternately, the power of positive thinking switches that around so we only see the positive. Sounds about right doesn’t it? But wait. It’s a trap – go back. Turning a blind eye to the facts is a recipe for disaster as you ignore the warning bells and keep the ship headed right for the iceberg.

The trick here is to be neither. We must not just be passionate photographers, but businessmen. We have to look at reality and make our plans and run our business without a mind filter altering our judgment. There a technical term for this. It’s called common sense.

Years ago I was working for a company called Fisher Scientific in their educational materials division. I was in charge of the sales team for the central region. After a couple of years, we had an awesome year. Sales went up 32% in a single year. I was ready for a party. Instead, I was informed the division was to be closed down. I was rocked. How could this be after such a great year? They told me that in spite of the great year, what they saw was a declining market segment that was going nowhere. The “Return on Capital Employed” was going to fail in the next few years and they were choosing to put their efforts and capital into other areas with a greater potential return.

Not about passion, not about dedication, not emotional, just business. Clear thinking and good planning.

So as photographers what do we make of this. Should we hold on and keep the faith? Or is it time to find other areas with better return? To me, it’s all about the quality of our work. You either have it or you don’t. There was a time when even a mediocre photographer might be able to make a living, but I believe we’ve seen the end of those days. I think in today’s world, only the best will survive. I’ve heard industry consultants say the opposite, but frankly they’re usually in the business of trying to sell you something. Education, consulting, mentor-ship, and after all, why would they choose to limit their sales to just successful photographers.

So it’s what I’ve said for years. Get good, or get out. Sadly, not all of us have the artistic ability to survive as pros. We can learn and improve, but if we don’t have it we don’t have it. This is after all, an arts field. Yes, that’s harsh I know. But you have to take a serious reading. Failure to think about this as a business person may mean you spend a mountain of money and time going down a road that just leads to disappointment and disaster. The iceberg deal from before.

When I say these things I’m talking about professional photography where you are trying to make a living and support your family. There is nothing wrong with being a passionate amateur. The word “Amateur” comes from French meaning lover of. Some amateur photographers are far better than their professional counterparts. That’s where you put your love and not your business sense.

Are you ready to be a business person in the art of photography?

I see two paths here. One is for newcomers to the business, and the other is for established photographers. In today’s world the newcomers win. Period. They just win.

Why? Existing photographers are encumbered with old data. Information they gleaned from their years in the business and they cling to this as if it’s gospel, often turning a blind eye to new and fresher ideas. It’s true in any business. If what you are doing has been working for you, why change. Well, ask Microsoft. Once a giant in the industry that seemed unbeatable, they now grapple with Apple and Google to hang onto the industry they once dominated. They were blindsided. They didn’t see it coming. They clung to their old business model.

This is why newcomers to photography are going to win. They don’t have to get rid of old concepts, their free to learn new ideas and soak in the freshness of the industry.

That’s why I’ve chosen to re-discover photography. To forget EVERYTHING I thought I knew, and jump in as if I was a newcomer. Not trying to defend my turf, but thinking I don’t have a turf and I’m learning from everyone around me.

Humbling? Yes, a bit. But absolutely necessary. And it’s all business. Not emotion. Not passion. But pure common sense. If you were going into any new business you would first discover the potential for success. You find out about your competition, the market you’re in, and the future outlook for your product. You have to leave passion out of the equation and make cold, logical choices based on research.

Then, once you’ve made a logical decision to enter the industry, bring on the passion J

Let me know your thoughts.


3 Responses

  1. Wow. This really hit home. Thanks for telly it like it is, Kerry. So much food for thought. I'm struggling with redefining my identity as a photographer and figuring out what I want to do right now, too. After 15 years in business, I am discouraged. Not at all where I thought I'd be after all this time.
  2. Oops! That should be "telling" it like it is. Sorry for the typo.
  3. kapsh
    I think any of us that have been in business for a few years are facing the same issue. I think the time has come to re-learn everything. It's all different now. We have a Webinar coming up in late January from Travis Gadsby on just that point. It's free. You'll find it listed under Live Events/Webinars on the main menu. Kerry

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