From now on everything is different – Creating steps toward your new direction

Brunch IMG_2504It was a sunny Fall morning in Montreal. Entering the equally sunny resto for our monthly brunch we greeted each other with friendly eyes and in typical Quebec fashion, the double cheek kiss. Today I want to hear about how Alex Tran went from being a biologist studying electric fish in Panama to photographing the range of human personalities with his portraits and wedding business. It’s what we all wonder, how to dive-in to photography full time.

The café lattés, the elegant eggs and fruits that graced our plates only enhanced the experience, the candid and real conversations that took place. Coming to the monthly brunches offers the chance to have a tête-a-tête, a one-on-one up close and personal with a person who is an example of how to create your own success. Many times many people say that in creative fields, and especially photography, today, it is difficult to earn a living. I would say that may be true if you are assuming the conditions exist as they did 20 years ago. Times have changed. From now on everything is different.

Each of us has our own creative journey.  Today you may still be working at that JOB while squeezing in your passions around your busy life, wondering when and how to shed the corporate shackles to do what you were meant to do.

It starts with one action, a one degree change today. You cannot change your destination overnight but you can change your direction overnight.  This one small degree of movement or action if harnessed and focused can lead to dreams realized.

Here are some of those small degrees of action that you can take today to move you toward your destination. As small as it may seem, each step you take changes your direction. Make it one that truly fulfills you.

Alex’s list for making a move:

1. Listen to Podcasts:

 I just love the medium of podcasts because I multi-task like crazy. I learned basic SEO, client interactions and customer service, basic business practices. Check out:

2. Find your system to Get Things Done:

All those ideas, administrative tasks, maintenance tasks, unfinished projects, new projects, marketing, networking, prospecting, producing work and so-on, it’s no wonder it feels like we can never get anything done. I progressed by having a clear direction and system. I like  the “Getting Things Done” philosophy.  What I found works for me is:

  • Get Things Done system starts from bottom up in organizing your tasks.
  • Keeping track of all client inquiries (date, type of assignment, etc.)
  • Getting to zero in my email inbox every day.

3. Start now – Things I wish I started Earlier:

  • Ask for client testimonials. It’s a win-win. If it’s a good testimonial, it’ll help in attracting more clients. If it’s neutral or if they refuse to write you one, this is your opportunity to ask why, which serves as important feedback for you to improve upon. Here’s a link that shows how you can ask for great testimonials.
  • My Blog. I did start it early, but I was running across different platforms and only settled with WordPress a few years ago. Between two otherwise equal websites, Google will rank you higher if you’ve been around longer, if you post frequently and just recently (April 2015) if your site is mobile friendly. So start now even if you feel you’re not good at it.
  • Keep in touch with past clients. After assignments, I’d mentally “check them off”, be happy it’s done and move on. Keep in touch! Ask them how they’re doing. Ask about their projects. You never know when they’ll be having a conversation with someone who mentions they need a photographer. If you maintain a friendly relationship with them after the shoot they’ll be much more likely to refer you to others. This leads me to my next point.
  • Thank everyone who referred you. This might sound obvious, but thank everyone who mentions that you’re a photographer to someone else, regardless of whether it leads to a job or not. Word-of-mouth referrals are super important in photography, and if you show real appreciation to those who made the effort of mentioning you to someone else, they will be more likely to do it in the future.
  • Ask people where they found you. Be specific about it, “I found you on Facebook” wouldn’t be enough for me. I’d want to know whether it was because I tagged a friend, or whether it was because they saw a specific blog post. Don’t just ask clients that book you, ask people who say no as well. You might find interesting patterns, like “People who contact me from my Instagram page are much less likely to book me than people who contact me after finding me on Google”.

4. Now it’s your turn:

Finally, I want to leave you with something actionable. I hate finishing a CreativeLive video, or reading a book, or reading a blog post, being super inspired, but not knowing what to do next.

Pick a date in your calendar right now in the next month or two. That’s the deadline that you have to replace your worst 5 photos in your portfolio. Do what you need to do to replace them with 5 better ones. Contact people/organizations you’ve been wanting to photograph, learn a new technique, read a book about posing. Write it in your calendar and stick to the date!

Thanks Alex for your inspiring ideas and actionable steps. It will set us on a new direction.

See Alex’s work at:  alextranphotography.com

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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.

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