Life spent in the photography trenches is what so many of us openly desire. While you may not be ready to turn that page just yet, you can still get the upper hand on positioning for the future you want right now. Here are a few thoughts on how.
Prepare for the Reality of a Fiercely Competitive Environment
Up front, apologies to you non-sport loving people for the following references. When you are in business for yourself there is no center fielder, or free safety, no goal keeper in sight to back you, and the costly mistakes you will see yourself make along the way. This is all you, brand master of all things your business represents. Peering over a hopeful horizon, confidently you step out into the brave new world of an entrepreneur. At this moment the game clock starts ticking down. Exhibition season is over, you have to snap the first playoff as prepared as possible. If not, after a series of stumbles, you very well could be exiting the field and may not again see your way back in.
Rushing through the early, non-pressure-filled learning stages of photography into a overnight business, in most cases, catches up with you in the long run. Your half-baked product will be competing directly with established, existing brands mature in the market. Are you ready to dance?
Build Up a Strong Foundation With Elements of Those Who Are Successful Mixed In
Pretend as if there was a giant final exam waiting for you in order to be move from hobbyist to professional. Or better yet, pretend the fate of the photography Jedi rests on the completion of your training. Would passion and enthusiasm alone be enough to pass? Probably not, unless you are just gifted like that; some are. For the rest of us non super hero types, technique, knowledge, and valuable experience will also be necessary to press on.
I'm reaching way back into my memory for this one, because I am old. Remembering when as a teenager, like many others, I picked up the guitar, and through countless hours flipping pages of magazines (no Internet back then) and wearing out compact discs that featured the best in the business, I had learned to play the songs that I loved the most. Methodically, working through these songs eventually allowed me the skills to later form the backbone of the originals I would one day write. It was exciting to play along in my bedroom, and show off those guitar chops to my friends during weekend campfires. But that was not really the holistic goal. I wanted to learn the craft so I could create my own music and not just straight copy note for note what others had already done. But without those endless practice hours, reproducing the technique of my idols, the inspired originals that later followed would simply have not come to pass. I was building for myself a foundation.
Let me ask, if you build a home on a cracked and sinking foundation, does it matter how well you model above it when what’s holding it up is faulty? I would say no, that new shower curtain will only go so far. It will always be a house of cards waiting to be compromised at any time, ready to come down around you. If you assessed today, is your foundation as a photographer a completely solid one? If you are not all the way confident on a resounding yes, then wait just a bit longer before making this your means to put food on the table. Keep strengthening that foundation.
See Past What It Is You See
You can practice photography often throughout the course of a day without ever needing to pick up a camera. Back to my music reference, after a while I started to develop an ear for the music that was playing. I imagined the instruments and how the artist played them as opposed to just being a witness to the song playing. After some time I could play songs after only hearing them a few times. I began to understand the artist’s play style, and it’s the same for me now with photography.
I no longer just look at an image without seeing the layers involved in its making. I have an eye for it now; what lens was used, why the depth of field made shallow, why the colors in the image together were utilized, why the style of light chosen, the postproduction, and it goes on and on. It’s at this point that we all get to, that we understand we are not nearly a finished product but certainly on the right track, and seeing things on another level as a photographer and not just a casual viewer. Now you are ready to create on demand what a client needs from you. Now you are ready to compete.
You're Not Your F**king Khakis: Separate Gear and Self
This last point is really a cautionary tale that purchasing camera gear straight from the top shelf, much to my chagrin, will not bolster your resume as a photography business. No long and detailed camera store sales receipt will place you to the top of your market's Google search listing. And if you are not careful, it will achieve for you a complete broke makeover. Driving the speediest car off the line at your local car lot, may very well make you feel like a race car driver, but that pricey sports car engine alone does not make you a professional race car driver. Don’t go to hard to fast. Pace your spending, pace your obsessing over material objects, and invest only when absolutely necessary to move things forward. Simple economics set in, you will never recoup all the money that is lost on reselling gear at used market prices.
Where your business goes has a large possibility of changing direction. Hey, people change. If you were to start as a plumber, then two years in decide being an electrician is a better fit, it’s going to cost you to retool for the new job. It’s no different in photography if you decide a couple years in that you are not selling enough prints and want to give weddings a try and move off of landscapes. The same photography tools won’t all apply and lose value as you transition the equipment in your bag. And equally important to that money you carelessly lost to the bottom line is the time and energy you spent on needless gear that should have been invested in your business’s most valuable asset — and that asset being you.