How to survive in a diminishing industry….or is it just changing?

Is your dream to work in an area that is “unprofitable”, has “stiff competition” and very few opportunities over the next few years? If you believe what’s written about the career prospects of Photographers on Service Canada’s job futures website, your photographic aspirations may well remain at the hobbyist level. Being a hobbyist or stating ‘I just do it for fun’ is a roundabout way of saying ‘I make no money’.

If you are reading this, it’s because you want to be creative and express yourself, and you want to do more than take snapshots for birthday parties and vacation slideshows.

So, then what does it take to make a career? How does the “earning money” bit in the equation change things? When we start to think of how to monetize what we love, we have to then take different approach to it. A “let’s get down to business” approach. Some would say you’re getting serious about your work- though seriousness certainly implies no fun. Anyway you say it, what it really means is finding a group of people who will buy your creative work. And more importantly is how you define what is your creative work.

Where are the Photography jobs?

The prospects of finding a job as a photographer, with a steady paycheque are dwindling. Your only source of traditional employment will primarily come from positions vacated by photographers who retire or leave the occupation; and that’s assuming the employer will hire to replace them. The position as “staff photographer” that many media outlets once had has been consolidated into other jobs such as graphic designers, journalists and marketing staff.

Even if you found a job, think you can get promoted once in those jobs? Hardly. You may get a leg up if you leave to set up your own shop and get hired on contract as director of photography or working other larger projects that involve multimedia.

Sounds dismal. Worse yet, “it should be noted that the labour market status of graduates of the photography Attestation of College Studies (AEC) is even poorer than that of DEC and DEP graduates. Only a small minority of them find a job in their field, still less join this occupation.” the government site says.

Still photography is attracting more and more people. A number of schools offer programs and churn out dozens of graduates each year, not to mention the photo-enthusiasts and self-taught photographers. The marketplace is crowded. The traditional job of photographer is in a downward spiral.

If you want the security of a paying job, you may have to look at broader industries such as the art world as well as the realms of theatre, architecture and design. There is no guarantee the jobs are there, so you’ll just have to hit the pavement, make the calls and get yourself in front of people who can hire you.

Change everything.


What then sets a photographer apart?How do you ensure your success in the face of seemingly large odds? The answer is change everything and be part of the change.

The photographic medium has changed to be completely digital; the tools have advanced so that anyone can pickup the latest camera and get a decent shot; the internet has changed how we consume news, information and social communications, the nature of work has changed with much more part-time, contract and an on-demand labour force. Indeed, the only constant has been ongoing change.

3 key factors:

Consider these 3 key factors that you should have or strive for to ensure you stand out:

1) Persistence

Rather than an afterthought, persistence is the most important quality you can have. It’s the “keep going when the going gets tough” mentality. It’s finding another way when the path you’ve selected seems to have a road block. It’s in part believing in yourself and having strategies or something in place so that you don’t become discouraged and want to give up. Some people have plenty of tenacity, others need a trusted friend to give them the straight talk. Help keep your goals in front-and-centre focus by creating a vision board, a goal statement or wish list at your workstation at eye level. Looking at it every day, consciously or not, it will work it’s way into your head.

2) Setting yourself apart by the quality of your work

Always work at your best. Always work on something. Only by working on something will you continue to exercise your creative muscles and develop. It is much better to shoot bad pictures everyday than it is to try to shoot a masterpiece once a year. What you’ll find is all those bad pictures actually take you a step closer to the masterpiece. You can’t shortcut it here. Your best work is the work you are doing today. Your creativity and unique style will flourish by working on it daily and that in turn boosts the quality of your work.

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3) Establishing solid contacts in the field.

How many people believe they have lots of contacts by the fact they have so many linkedIn connections or facebook friends? Maybe some do but I think the litmus test is whether you can show up on these ‘friends’ doorsteps and ask for help or their ideas. The social tools we have are a great connector, they are not a relationship builder. We are likely to help the people we know and trust. A relationship, even a professional one, requires some time, requires sharing of ourselves and shared experiences. It is not enough to ‘Like’ someone’s page. You won’t be setting yourself apart, you aren’t giving anything, aren’t sharing anything. The focus must be on building relationships.

Take it as an opportunity

When there is this much change going on simultaneously, it’s hard to know where to start. Start with yourself, with what you have now and what you can do, then add in resourcefulness. With no preset path, you are free to create your own job. Daunting as this may sound, it’s probably your best chance at a career using photography. Every person is unique, with unique skills, experience and history. Make these work for you. Figure out what is your unique offering and take it to the world.

The opportunities are out there for you to create the career you want. Figuring out how to get there, well that’s why you are reading this blog.

Don’t miss any posts on how to be creative and business minded, be sure to follow the blog using the links at the bottom of the page.

 

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11 Myths About Running A Photography Business

Dusk Thoughts

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

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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.

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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.”

Exactly :).

RoughDraft

 

Jenna has recently returned from a month long stint in New York working with fashion photographer, Lindsay Adler (aren’t we jealous?!) To learn more about Jenna and her work, visit her website.

jennamartinphoto@gmail.com

 

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Introducing Yourself as an Artist

By Alyson Stanfield on January 15, 2014

I’ve been surprised at how difficult it can be for artists to introduce themselves as artists.

“I’m an artist” doesn’t seem to roll off the tongue easily for some people. And yet it’s critical to be able to say it with confidence.

Stephanie Hartshorn and Holly Wilson get to know each other at Art Biz Makeover this past fall. Photo by Regina-Marie Photography.

Stephanie Hartshorn and Holly Wilson get to know each other at Art Biz Makeover this past fall. Photo by Regina-Marie Photography.

Why It’s a Struggle

It seems to be easier for people with art degrees to pronounce their profession to the world. This might be because there is a piece of paper that says you completed a curriculum to the satisfaction of an institution.

There isn’t a governing body that confers the title of artist. You don’t have to pass any state licensing boards or get certified.

For most people, there is no turnkey moment when they say, “NOW I know I’m an artist.” It’s more of a slow, steady slog on the way to the title.

This is why it can be difficult to introduce yourself when you are in the process of becoming.

Why You Should Care

But this shouldn’t stop you from trying.

Introducing yourself as an artist is the beginning of your professional relationships. Not introducing yourself as an artist results in missed opportunities.

When you stop apologizing for your art . . . when you stop waffling on your purpose . . . others begin to view you as an artist. And even though you may not be perfectly comfortable with the title, this buy-in from others will help build your confidence.

So stop introducing yourself with a label from your day job. Lead with, “I’m an artist.”

What You Should Say

It’s all about how you respond when someone asks, “So, what do you do?”

This isn’t an opportunity for a commercial about your work. It’s a chance for real connection.

When someone asks what you do, let’s face it, they are mostly being polite. They are exploring how far they want to carry the conversation. They’re looking for something to relate to.

You just have to say, “I’m an artist.”

You’re looking to engage the other person, not to control the conversation. If there is interest, the other person will ask questions.

You should be prepared to follow up with a brief (!) sentence or two about your work. Again, you’re looking for conversation, so make sure your language is inviting and intriguing.

Don’t inflate your position. Don’t be that person.

Make it natural, but own it. Say it with confidence.

Those with whom you were meant to connect will respond positively. Don’t worry about the rest. You have higher things to concern yourself with. You’re an artist.

“Your Compelling Introduction” is part of module 4 in Art Biz Bootcamp, which starts today (January 15, 2014). Join us if this is something you’d like to practice with us. Click here to read about it.

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