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How to Become (and stay) A Photographer

The most popular blog post I have so far is the Top 10 Things You Should Have Before Starting a Photography Business, which I wrote over 3 years ago.

 

I quickly went through it and everything I said back then still holds true aside from of course updated software and more avenues for online marketing.

 

If you haven't read it, click here, that's the "how to be" part. Then come back here and continue reading below.

 

Because it's one thing to be a photographer and a different story to stay as one, maintaining enough business to live off of. Because I assure you, there will be times when it will be slow. It's inevitable. So slow that you might actually question if it's worth sticking out for. Times when you start entertaining thoughts of just doing it on the side while you work a 9 to 5 that will provide a steady paycheck.

 

It sucks.

 

Sucks big time.

 

I know 'cause I've been through it. A couple of times matter of fact. And it's a shitty feeling but at the same time revealing whenever I go back to pursuing photography full time.

 

Shitty because I realize how much time I've wasted pursuing something else. Something I do not enjoy, at all, for a mediocre paycheck. Realizing, each time I go back, that I could've done so much more had I stuck it out and not taking the easy way out.

 

But it's the best and most liberating feeling as well knowing that this time, this is it. This time, there will be no more fucking around. No more copping out in exchange for the security and comfort of a weekly albeit dull direct deposit.

 

If you're a creative and you really think about it, sinking into that steady life of what appears to be of comfort and security is pretty fucking scary. Waking up and going to bed at the same time 5 days out of 7 each week, to spend 8 hours of your day (not including your drive time) in a box, staring at a screen, doing paperwork, reports, and things you generally don't give a shit about, add to that the usual office drama and bullshit. Fuck. That is HELL. Being stuck in all that while your mind is constantly, I mean every fucking minute, thinking of the things you want to create, angles you want to try out on your next day off, blog posts you're itching to write. A life where your mind is always somewhere else where your body isn't.

 

Don't get me wrong, some people are cut out for this. They're amazing at working the office politics and they actually love the routine and their job. They like having a sense of structure with regard to their work and get a thrill out of climbing the corporate ladder. I have nothing but respect for those people. It's all good when you actually enjoy doing what you do and not just out of fear that you might not make it if you pursue what you truly love.

 

Keyword: might.

 

But, what if, it works out?

 

What if, you wake up every morning excited for the day ahead?

 

What if, you end each day smiling, already looking forward to the next?

 

What if, you stay firm and keep at it even when it's slow and things get tough?

 

What if, by sticking it out, you inevitably hone your skills and eventually become a master at it?

 

What if, people love your work?

 

What if, people spread the word?

 

What if, you make it?

 

Isn't THAT so freakin worth exploring?

 

And if it doesn't work out, jobs aren't going anywhere. There will always be people and companies who will be looking to hire somebody for services you can provide.

 

Always.

 

Now don't tell me you're scared that they'll be gone as well either.

 

But, chances are, I believe you'll make it. Whether things work out or not mostly depend on your thoughts and of course your actions that follow. To get in the game, you have to BELIEVE, truly believe, that you'll make it and there's no other way you'll have it. Small, consistent steps taken daily have a bigger chance of success than suddenly going big. Iknow that if you put yourself out there, consistently, meaning doing something, anything, everyday towards your goal, you will come across someone who will give you a chance. You will, at some point, get a break. You will make it.

 

I'm not talking about hustling and promoting yourself like crazy for 2 solid months and when things seem to stay the same, slowly lose your momentum and start giving up. Dude, this is for life. Don't expect 2 months of hardwork to immediately reward you with $$$. You have to keep at it every. single. day. You might have to work your ass off for the first several months when you start out. Plant the seeds so to speak. But as the years go by, as you gain more experience and clients, collect a number of good reviews and you've made some sort of mark online, you don't have to be as gungho as when you started. Just keep the pace and the momentum going. Never be cocky or too good for anything.

 

If right now, a bunch of things are already going through your head such as "But I'm afraid if it doesn't work out, I won't be able to feed my children" or "But where do I even start?" or "But I'm afraid to be a failure if it doesn't work out." Trust me, if anything you're about to say starts with a "but," it's nothing but an excuse. Maybe you'd rather call it a reason. And a legitimate sounding one at that. But at the end of the day, as harsh as it may sound, they're nothing butexcuses. That's the sad truth. Whatever it is. We'll come up with anything and everything we can think of to hide that we're simply scared shit of not knowing if we'll make it or not.

 

But wouldn't you rather be the person who tries and gives it his all than someone who backs out even before the whistle's been blown? If you make it, which you will, given you do have the talent and are never complacent, you'd inspire people, most importantly your children who most likely have that same creative spark, that it's possible to live the life of your dreams. You get to open up their eyes to a whole new world of living where you can create a better life for yourself by doing what you love and not just settle to be confined in a box, with work that is route and unfulfilling.

 

That's a long ass intro but I feel now you get the idea. You've read the Top 10 Things You Should Have Before Starting a Photography Business. Below are some helpful tips in staying as one.

 

1. Say yes more often.

 

You're never too good for anything. Always keep that in mind. If somebody wants to collaborate with you without an outright fee, don't be in such a hurry to say no, especially if you're not busy with anything anyway. Put yourself out there. Maybe there's more to the project than an immediate buck. Maybe you'll get to shoot something out of your comfort zone. Or perhaps simply meet interesting people you'll learn from or who can be future clients. Go out there and mingle.

 

2. Don't stop. Be consistent.

 

This isn't a 6 month contract. Nor is it freelance. You're in it for the long haul. So if a couple months' of hard work don't show immediate results, don't be disappointed. It happens to all of us. You never know, you're just on the brink of a big break but then you let your guard down and allow your energy to turn into a negative and you stop attracting the right things. Be consistent. For the rest of your life. Things will keep coming. It's inevitable. Keep yourself busy. Shoot for the fun of it (remember those days?). Write about non-photography stuff like what you do when you're not shooting. Create helpful posts for your potential clients like how-to guides. Run promos. Live. Go on a hike or visit a new place. Experience the world. Write about it. Learn new ways to improve your craft. There's a bajillion things you can do aside from actual shooting that will still help you towards your goals.

 

3. Ask for feedback. Collect reviews.

 

After each gig, I ask clients that if they have some free time to leave a review of my services. I used to have a few sites they could go to but have recently just stuck with Yelp to keep things simple and that's where most of my reviews already are anyway. Not all of them leave feedback right away but I'm always so appreciative when there's something new on there. People who need your services go straight to the internet and it's automatic for them to check out reviews from your past clients. It's that final checkbox that gives them that sense of security and that almost always seals the deal on whether or not they're booking your services.

 

4. Flawlessly deliver.

 

This is almost a no brainer but you actually have to deliver. Flawlessly. From the moment you receive an inquiry to sending them the final product. Respond quickly. And not just before they book you. Respond quickly every single time. Be friendly. Your website? Make sure you have everything they need to know on there. List everything you offer. Do not forget to include prices. Don't bother them by asking them to send you an email just to know how much you cost. Upgrade a feature. Offer a freebie. Send a thank you card. Show your fucking appreciation. These people just chose you, among a sea of vendors out there, to document their special day and pay you a handsome amount of money they worked for. Treat them as how you'd like to be treated if it was the other way around.

 

5. Consistently raise your prices to what you feel you deserve.

 

Don't look at other photographers' work or their prices. Trust me, I need work on this myself. But it's better if we don't. Look at your work and raise your rates accordingly. I've recently started transferring all my stuff from Flickr and I couldn't help but cringe looking at my work 5 years ago. Just 5 years ago. Dude, it screamed amateur. Especially those black and whites with a pop of color. Oh. my. gosh. But at the same time, I felt better as I gradually ended up viewing photos which became more and more recent. You can literally see the transformation in those few short years. It got better. Each year. And I cannot wait to look at my portfolio 5 years from now to see the difference. So accordingly, I raise my rates. Almost every 2 years in fact. I've read on the Lucky Bitch that you should raise it each year but my comfort zone right now is cool with 2.

 

6. Be yourself. Be kind. Be friendly.

 

Stay humble. Even if you've got mad skillz, be thankful you have it and never feel that your clients should be grateful for you because it's the other way around. Always be grounded. Be yourself. Don't be shy. Speak your mind. Allow people to get to know you. They'll either stick around if they like you or if not, you won't see them again. Works either way. Attract those that speak your language and naturally separate yourself from those who don't. You can't please everyone. That will never happen. And isn't that tiring, trying to change your personality with each client that comes your way. Just be yourself. Be kind, be friendly. Loosen up.

 

7. Market the shit out of yourself.

 

You don't have to be annoying. Just when a situation seems appropriate, seamlessly mention it into the conversation. Post your work and non-photography related stuff online regularly. It doesn't have to be everyday. I actually suggest against it. I tried this and it takes your creativity away eventually, having to come up with something to post everyday about the same thing. Leave some room for thrill among your audience and let them miss you a bit and actually look forward to what you have to show next. Once or twice a week is good.

 

8. Make a daily schedule for yourself.

 

For years I just winged it. Whatever I felt like working on, that's what I did. I guess that doesn't hurt for as long as you end up doing something. But it's so easy to fall into the trap of being lazy when you're working on your own. I've found that you have to have some kind of structure. That works for me at least. I have a master list of everything I want to do. Then I have another list of 2 weeks' worth of daily tasks I want to accomplish. I write down one thing for each day Monday through Friday. If I finish early with one day's task, I start with the following day's project. This is aside from the daily must do list I have that includes some exercise, meditating, writing down goals, checking sales, mailing orders, responding to inquiries, cooking, posting on social media, reading, writing and checking an inspiring quote for the day (Notes from the Universe easily does this for me).

 

9. Update your portfolio.

 

If you can do it each year, that's great. You might not notice it but you're getting good, real good, as the years go by. You do not have to flood the internet with your old amateur crap. I recently just found some of mine. I immediately dropped everything and didn't stop updating that gallery until it was complete. Showcase your most relevant and most beautiful work. Work that represents your skills right now. Displaying stuff from 5 years ago do you no good. This is when quality really trumps quantity.

 

10. Don't stop believeing. Hold on to that feeling.

 

I know right? Super cheesy but man that song never gets old. Especially those lyrics. Never give up. No matter what.

 

Again.

 

NO. MATTER. WHAT.

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