Lessons From a Decade in the Photography Industry

Lessons From a Decade in the Photography Industry

Today marks 10 years since I first filed paperwork to start my photography business. It's been quite the roller coaster, and I've learned a lot of things about photography, business, and myself that I didn't expect. Here are some of the highlights from my first 10 years.

It's Not About Us

I don't know when the idea of the rockstar photographer got started, but it's a false narrative. If life is a movie, we're not the lead actors; we're a mix of stage crew, cameramen, and sometimes directors. Our objective is to tell a story and put our subjects in the limelight. We are not the stars of the shoot, and we can't provide our clients with a great experience if we think we are.

It's humbling and flattering to be hired because of our unique style or vision or whatever a client sees in our work, but they're seeing a movie in which they wish to star. This, at its core, is a service business. The needs of the client come first, and our job is to creatively fulfill them.

It's Never Enough

One thing that nobody tells you about success is that when you're ambitious, you'll never find it. At least, you won't find it for long because reaching one goal always means setting another. One of the keys to staying happy in a creative career is to let yourself enjoy the milestones along the way. Whenever you land a new client, make a new top sale, or get into a new publication, take a moment to be grateful for how far you've come. It's easy to forget that part when you're clamoring to constantly break your own records.

An early career milestone, photographing my favorite musician on my 23rd birthday. Appreciate the wins, big and small.

Project Your Value

Your price is not your value. It's just a number on paper. Your value is what your potential clients will judge against your price to determine if they want to work with you. Everything you put forward reflects on your value: your work, your marketing and branding, your attitude, your language. These are all pieces of the puzzle that are entirely within your control.

Protect Your Reputation

I live in the biggest small town in America, where even though the population is edging ever closer to half a million people, everyone seems to know everyone. There are not six degrees of separation between anyone here, and when you strip it away to just the photography community, the circles get much smaller. In this industry, establishing and protecting your reputation is paramount.

Treat everyone you meet with respect. When you're on set, treat interns and assistants well. Every person you interact with contributes to your collective reputation, and your number one job is to protect that. The hard reality is that the higher up the ranks you climb, the more people will try to tarnish your reputation. If you establish it strong and early, it's much more difficult for them to do so.

Reading Is Therapy

I find the majority of my inspiration in non-photography-related places, particularly comedy and books. I stand by my assertion that "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee" is the greatest show for photographers to watch, but I digress. Books are where the real juicy goodness is. Books can take me from absolute burnout to insatiable motivation in the span of 20 minutes. They shape my understanding of my work and my raison d'être and they give me the fortitude to forge ahead.

Looking for an inspiration double-shot? Read books about comedians. Their world is shockingly parallel to ours, and the things you can learn from them are incredible.

Pretty much any job that takes you to Ireland is a job worth doing.

The Work Is Hard, the Perks Are Amazing

The old adage of working 80 hours a week for yourself to avoid working 40 for someone else is absolutely true. It can be a huge drag sometimes, because when you set your own schedule, you often forget to include time off for things like vacation, weekends, or lunch. Still, the places this job has taken me, the people I've met, and the things I've gotten to experience have been absolutely priceless. The hard work actually does pay off, and that's something worth remembering when you're on your fourteenth twelve-hour day in a row.

On That Note, Take Time Off

Schedule regular, guilt-free time off. Take vacations. Give your brain time to play and your body time to move. Do yoga. Eat well. All of these things constitute the basics of simply taking care of yourself, because when you're the machinery that makes your factory run, maintenance is crucial. When you go full time in this industry, it can literally be full time, so be sure to factor in your own health and wellness.

I never would have thought that I'd be photographing things I loved and then writing about it for Fstoppers. That's pretty wild. I'm looking forward to what the next 10 years has in store.

Aaron Patton's picture

Aaron Patton is a commercial and portrait photographer in Wichita, Kansas. He loves to travel, particularly by boat, keeping him anchored in the middle of the Midwest more often than he'd like.

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Great article. Thanks for the insight!

Yes great article, guess I’ll keep my day job at Unpainted Arizona for a while longer.