This Is Why Photographers Don't Succeed

A couple of weeks ago, I published a piece on the Jack of All Trades Photographer, which covered the plight of the gigging photographer just starting out, doing what he or she can to build portfolio content and generally begin to make a living from it. Imagine my surprise when just a few days later, the topic was covered by straight-talking, commercial super talent and formerly of this parish, Scott Choucino!

I love Scott's channel. I discovered him fairly recently, and ever since, his videos have brought me enlightenment, affirmation within my own career, and quite regularly, dread, worry, and anxiety over whether I had and have what it takes to progress and start to make waves in the Capital. Moving to London was a big jump for me and my career, and I quickly worked out that things aren't the same here in the commercial photography world. It's big, it's scary, and it's competitive. It's also incredibly rewarding when things pay off and you know you've put in the hard work to start getting noticed. 

I won't prattle on about content I've already written (you can find it here), but if you want a straight opinion, from an industry expert at the top of his game, Scott's your guy. There's a ton of content on his YouTube channel, and if you're anything like me, you'll likely turn on your heel quick-sharp and think seriously about giving the whole thing up for a job in the city. However, what Scott's material did inevitably do for me was drive me to pull my finger out, work hard on portfolios, invest (sensibly!) in more essential kit (namely lighting, boy is that stuff important, who knew!), test-shoot regularly, research trends, and really delve deep into how my work can progress and develop to match what's happening out there in a truly electric and exciting creative world. 

Again, I must warn anyone indulging here. This man knows what he's doing. He creates short, punchy, and articulate opinion pieces on all manner of subjects that the vast majority of us will be able to relate to in one way or another. Grab yourself a coffee and get stuck on his channel.

Michael Barrow's picture

I'm a food and lifestyle photographer, currently living and working in London.

I’ve worked as a writer and educator in photography and maintain a deep and unhealthy relationship with food and cooking. As such you’ll always find me in the kitchen at parties.

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The thing about being a jack of all trades or at least working in a large range of photography genres is that you can learn so many nuanced tricks and techniques that you wouldn't always learn in other genres. I've learned SO MUCH working with and as a real estate photographer and learning their workflow. Same is true with say beauty photography and the retouching that goes into that. I've now been able to take those techniques and apply them to pretty much anything I'm working on where as I'd probably not learn some of those tried and true techniques as say a wedding photographer or landscape photographer.

To play devil's advocate a little more, another big thing you can learn from working in different genres is the business of photography. Some genres don't really rely on licensing or being paid a day rate or a retouching rate but once you learn how other people are making money in different fields, you can adopt some of those techniques into your own work.

One great example was from Monte Isom while filming his tutorial Making Real Money. He noticed that every editorial shoot he did had a small day rate that was set in stone but that they always allowed for other expenses like digital techs, travel, and gear rental. So he just started his own rental LLC and started listing the going rental rate for the gear he would need to rent and billed that separately. It was brilliant because once that gear was paid off, every shoot he did afterwards had an extra profit of $500-$2000. I would have never thought of that working in say the wedding field or as a food photographer.

Good points especially about knowing how to bid a job. I learned how to do that as an assistant while overhearing telephone conversations between photographers and clients as they haggled over costs. Accceptable upcharge fees for incidentals are not going to be the same everywhere. I have no idea how people can learn how to price that any way other than working directly in the market. There's no universal standard and it's different everywhere.

I agree with him and wrote a similar opinion as a comment in your earlier article on the subject.

Nobody needs to figure this out ahead of time. It happens on it's own. One day, after 5-10 years of making a living solely with photography, you'll realize that you've become a specialist at your particular market. That's because you've been concentrating on what pays and that's all that matters in the end. Usually, you don't really know ahead of time exactly who is going to hire you and for what assignment. You figure this all out after it happens. Remember, the only people that have opinions on this topic that matter are the ones who have already succeeded. Everybody else is just purely conjecturing.

Patrick's right about trying everything at first. That's exactly the right place to start.