The economic effects of COVID-19 are still being felt by photographers, but glamour photographer Nino Batista built a strong foundation under his business that allowed him to weather the worst of the storm. What did he do to make his business recession-proof?
Nino Batista is an internationally published photographer whose work can be seen in magazines like Playboy and FHM, and he’s also been a featured instructor or contributor for most of the major photography outlets in the business. But even Batista wasn’t safe from the economic crash of COVID-19. As shutdowns swept the country, Batista’s photography business, like so many others, had to be restricted. His income didn’t dry up, though, because Batista had made smart business moves early on in his career.
When a business diversifies, it builds safeguards that protect it from financial failure when a single market goes dry. During the worst of the COVID lockdowns in the US, Batista was still paying his bills with online mentoring, the sales of his actions, and putting together a tutorial for retouching. He began to diversify early in his career, with things like workshops and Photoshop plugins, and since he took the time to establish himself before disaster struck, he had a name people recognized and trusted.
He also has a reputation for the kind of photography that companies and magazines look for, which required years of consistent effort and high-quality work. No brand is built overnight. During the course of the interview, Batista and I talked about business practices and other things photographers can do to not only find success but to safeguard themselves against unexpected fluctuations in the market. The following advice summarizes the pertinent points in our conversation.
The best way to become a trusted professional is to deliver high-quality products and services when you’ve agreed to deliver them. It’s impossible to hand over a quality experience or fantastic products if you’ve never taken the time to grow the technical skills you need to make great photographs. The same is true for the skills needed to run a successful business. Before photographers can have a reliable income, they’ve got to develop their skills.
Experiment and Fail
Try new things, fail at them, and try again. Every failure is a lesson, and every wrong path gets you closer to finding the right one. Whether it's genre, technique, or marketing, you have to try things to know whether they’ll be a good fit for you and your business. Learning where you don’t want to go is just as important as knowing where you want to be.
As mentioned above, diversifying your income stream can protect your business from fluctuations in the market, but how do you decide where to diversify?
What do you like to do that is related to your current discipline and shares the same audience? Many photographers move into video, some sell photography-related services or products for their peers.
Keep your offerings cohesive, and don’t choose products that are so far from your current discipline they come as a shock to your audience or customers. Making a living as a wedding and newborn photographer might not be much of a stretch. Even selling tutorials or backdrops still falls naturally within the photographic preview. But selling fine art prints and wheelbarrows is a bit of stretch.
Make sure you have the time to set aside for learning about your new discipline. If you’re including 3D as a new product, you had better be sure you can afford the time it takes to learn, because you’ll be competing with 3D artists who specialize. If you don’t have the time to devote to learning a complex new art form, consider where there are other products or services you can offer instead.
Don’t try to diversify as an answer to current financial problems. Leaning into new markets and establishing yourself enough to make a steady income from your new venture is a long-term play. Just like photography, your new skills and offerings will take time to master and market. Diversify for the future.
Beware of the novelty effect. People might want your new thing because it’s new, but the mark of success is consistency over a long period of time.
It’s easy to stagnate when you have a successful skill set, but the market is constantly changing and demands the same from businesses if they want to remain relevant. Set aside time to learn something new, whether it’s advances in technique, post-production, posing, marketing, or other business skills. The more you know, the more you are capable of.
Value Your Time
There are very few ways to condense time, so be prepared for the long game and cultivate patience. You likely won't find huge success right away. Meeting your 10,000 hours for mastery, whether in art or business, takes... well, 10,000 hours. You can and should outsource what can be done by someone else if possible, but the weight of time will still be on your shoulders.
Follow Your Passion
Chase what you’re passionate about. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do what you need to do to earn a living, but when you’re truly invested in your work, when you care about the why behind your work, you’ll be happier and more productive. That passion also translates to your clients, too, and they’ll be more inclined to work with you.
Be a Person to Your Clients
Batista told a story about having his headshot taken years ago and the sudden and unexpected difference that photograph made to his clients. Rather than some faceless entity, they began to see him as a person they could relate to, and it resulted in an uptick in paying jobs. Don’t forget that you need to be present for your clients and build relationships. That effort will reward you.
Just go. Make the thing. Do work. Don’t allow yourself to be paralyzed by what-ifs and maybes. Yes, you should take time to think and plan your way forward, but if you find yourself frozen by decision paralysis, the best thing you can do is move forward and start working anyway. If you’re moving, you can change direction, but if you’re standing still, you’ll never get anywhere. There is no such thing as perfect, no guarantee the new direction will be a success, no promises you won’t fall flat on your face, but you’ll never know if you don’t take the first step forward.
Batista has had a long and successful career, and much of what he has learned has been hard-won. When he gives advice about business, I listen, because I know that knowledge comes from the trenches and is given with the intention of seeing other photographers succeed.
Lead image shared with permission of Nino Batista.