3 Tips for Becoming a More Successful Professional Photographer

Being a successful professional photographer is no easy task, and it takes the ability to simultaneously juggle a wide variety of different skills and responsibilities. If you want to give yourself a better chance of finding long-term success as a photographer, check out this great video that will give you three tips to help you find success. 

Coming to you from John Gress, this quick and helpful video tutorial details three tips that will help you become a more successful professional photographer. Of them, one that I think is particularly important is staying curious and taking the initiative to practice new ideas on your own. Of course, you do not want to try new ideas when you are with a client and unexpected problems can arise, but you never know what they might ask of you in the moment, and the more things you have tried and mastered, the better able you will be to tackle whatever requests clients come with with confidence. And beyond that, you will have a much greater creative palette from which to draw, which can only serve to expand your output and strengthen the style that makes clients seek you out in the first place. Check out the video above for the full rundown from Gress. 

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12 Comments
Doug Levy's picture

Don't experiment during the shoot until you get what the client needs. Then you HAVE to experiemnt. Give them something unexpected. Some of the best photos often come during that time. My goal is always to get to the, "This is either going to be a delete or the best photo of the day," phase.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

Sounds like you stuck to your guns all these decades. Unwavering. Uncompromising. Which also means you failed to adapt. C'mon man, after almost half a century, you'd be a fool to think everything would remain the same. There's no one to blame but yourself. And, if "nerds" are taking away from your business, you should be embarrassed, seriously. Adapt or die.

Lee Christiansen's picture

Firstly I'll say that Jerry's attitude to computer "nerds" destroying the industry is total rubbish. Digital has merely opened up a world of possibilities and made post production exciting. There are those that do it badly, but for those that do it well, they're contributing to an art form in all its glory. I shoot digital and I do post work on every image, but I'm not talentless.

However, the business whilst not dead, is suffering greatly and the mantra of "adapt or die" is very wide of the mark.

I'm consistently losing work in both TV and commercial photography by cheaper photographers who can rely on digital being cheap to shoot and technology delivering "good enough." And because images are not often committed to expensive print runs anymore, but having a lifespan of just days on social media or easily replaced web pages, there is a misconception by paying clients that "it will do."

And the amazing images that phones can deliver, offer a misconception that good pictures are easy - because everything looks good on a 6" screen. Clients often don't think further than that, or at least subliminally they don't.

In my area there are a bundle of so-called headshot photographers. Most of them are absolutely dreadful. But they are cheap. Amazingly, potential clients can't see past this difference, and so I'm just the expensive guy.

Educating clients doesn't do it.
Super fast service doesn't do it.
Great Google reviews don't do it.
A stunning portfolio doesn't do it.
A great website doesn't do it.
Being in the top 3 on Google searches doesn't do it.
Having a dedicated studio doesn't do it.
Offering prints doesn't do it.
Great retouching doesn't do it.
Free parking doesn't do it...

But if I was 1/4 of the price... well that might do it...

Massively cheaper is not a realistic option as we know. Dropping prices doesn't bring in the required multiples of extra work. It's simple maths.

And sure, the argument is that "they're not your client" but they would have been before the price war went silly. And the number of clients who do value quality has reduced, (at least when the option of acceptable-for-cheap is on the table). So when the number of suitable clients drops below critical mass - we have a problem.

So we could diversify...? To what...? I'm fortunate in that I can shoot broadcast quality TV with top-end kit, but that market has too been eroded by commercial clients shooting it themselves (and yes the quality drops), or being replaced by the newbie who'll do it for 1/4 of my rate, but who will be out of business in 2 years because that's not sustainable.

I have a wide portfolio, but I see the problem in all areas. And the drop in prices, coupled with the easy increase in competition creates a bigger issue than can be compensated by increasing my range of offerings.

I'm now proficient in:
Photography - multiple genres. 16+yrs
(Headshots, events, product, PR & editorial, architecture)
TV - skilled DoP, Directing, Editing 20+ yrs
Grading
Retouching
Printing / framing
I have my own studio
Can teach, (but colleges here in the UK aren't interested).

But with each new area, it thins out the ability to market ourselves, so having new skills doesn't automatically bring in a subsequent build in business. Wouldn't it be nice if it did.

In the days of film, photography required talent from the get-go. Otherwise you'd shoot an entire day only to find out later that everything was underexposed or poorly focussed. And film cost money so every frame needed to be taken with care. So years ago we didn't have every person claiming to be a professional photographer.

Digital came along and things got easier but it was expensive. So this created a bar to the untalented and we didn't have a price war to the bottom.

Phones came along, as did cheap video cameras - but they were rubbish... phew...

But then they got better, and better - and cheaper and cheaper... Now there wasn't a bar to entry and everyone gets in on the act. Now in TV I see quite awful camerawork with zero ability in lighting or composition - because the cost of entry is low, so untalented newbies get in easily and screw up the market.

I've adapted. My whole career has one of adaption.

But sometimes, when battling against the cheap-and-rubbish with clients who value £££ more than anything, it doesn't really matter what I'm offering if the only question is "how much."

Or sometimes (more in events and weddings), we have the weekend warriors who deliver great images but don't need to earn a living because it's just a sideline. They undercut the market with good images but they are cheap because they can be. They have no intention of charging a professional rate for a professional service, and they don't care if the pros go under whilst they do. (Aren't they lucky that being an accountant is so dull, no one wants to do the same to them...)

So whilst the tired phrase "adapt or die" is easy to repeat endlessly, it just isn't that easy. And whether you're based in a city or the outskirts, the problem can be the same.

We'll always hear how people have found markets and they're booming. And some will escape the problems through skill or just dumb luck. 5 years ago I could almost print my own money. I had clients that paid £14,500 (nearly $17,000) for party photography with a single album. But a couple of small things happened to that delicate eco-system and now that is all gone, not to be clawed back.

I've had decades of doing very well and in part that is because I have constantly evolved. But after a point, if the only adaption is to drop prices so low we'll be joining the thousands who can't sustain a business model, then adaption doesn't help so much - and it gets a bit insulting to hear it churned out so gleefully.

Problem is that half of the people who write here, aren't actually doing it full time - so they speak of things they don't know when it comes to professional work in the media sector. Sounds good in theory but in real life...?

(I once had a junior runner who had a sudden brain wave on how to build my business... "Just get more clients" he announced - feel quite pleased with his sudden stroke of genius. Now why hadn't I thought of that simple thing?)

The colleagues I know who are still doing well in photography or stills, are often partly just lucky that the fan hasn't hit them yet. I've seen talented people lose work and they've got more business savvy than I have. I was one of those guys and couldn't understand complaints from others, until I was the other side of the fence.

"Adapt or Die" is like telling someone with a tsunami coming to "learn to swim", or "get a boat". Or maybe they should "live somewhere else."

It is easy to say. Not always applicable.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

Other forms of adapting:

-- Youtube
-- Selling presets
-- Workshops
-- Affiliate links
-- Invent/create a product in collaboration with a name brand. Like Manny Ortiz's beauty dish with Westcott. And, Lindsay Adler's optical snoot with Westcott. Jerry Ghionis's Ice Light with Westcott.
-- SquareSpace!

And, sometimes, sometimes, maybe It's just time to move on to greener pastures.

Lee Christiansen's picture

They are certainly options. However most of those require a decent following which is a tricky thing to achieve.

To make money from YouTube requires a huge following to monetise it with advertising revenue. There's an excellent chap called Scott who posts here often and he tried his hand at monetising YouTube - and he reported back after a year of sustained effort. His output was excellent and engaging, but his findings were that the hourly return for the effort wasn't worth it. Sure there are exceptions, just like there are the 1 /1000 entrepreneurs who will gamble and win, but it is usually something that comes almost by accident.

Selling presets - well that requires a decent following and a marketing strategy to really make decent £££. If I go to download options form the Adobe Marketplace there is an insane competition. Simple LR actions don't cut it, and so some IT savvy is required to create an interface. Great if it works but £££ down the toilet if not - and the % chances are that it will be in the NOT category.

Workshops... I thought of doing this once. So I talked to people who do this. The ones who have massive followings can do in-person tutorials or market on-line options, and they can be very profitable. But those who don't have that "celebrity" pull, have to market very hard - requiring exhibition stands, advertising... and it can be all consuming. Forget being a photographer any more unless you're those celebrity types.

Invent a product... I've actually done this, twice. But I have no celebrity pull and so the brands weren't interested. And one of them transformed the way audio was recorded on full broadcast Sony cameras like no other could match. And the cost of implementation was just £0.68 The other was a cute little addition to the Profoto range - a sure seller, but too small for me to market individually, easy to market within an existing range. But I'm not a "name," so they weren't interested. (I've also created a mod to Profoto beauty dishes that vastly improves the character of light with a D1 / B1, at a cost of £1.50 but again they're not interested. So with all the above I was the only one to benefit. Do I have the marketing capital to get these out on my own - heck no. (And the products that are "designed" by celebs aren't really of course. They just take a little input from them and they add the "name" for marketing pull.

You might as well have added "become a brand ambassador" as an equally valid option.

When people used to say we should create a blog - but then shrank away when I asked them how I'd create a following to read my blogs. (I tried with a blog for over a year - got me no where, literally zero).

The suggestions are all valid because they've worked for a few. But the % chance of them working is very small and requires an existing status. They fall into the "great in theory" bracket. And most of the time when these things are suggested, the people who flag them up haven't done any of them.

I've been in business a long time, and if it has taught me anything, it's that I need to look at the % chance against the noble idea. Because for every 1000 who succeed, there are 999 who invest heavily (in time or money), and see no reward. It would be better to work part time at McDonalds.

And this isn't being negative. It is a reality check. If time put into a venture delivers less than minimum wage returns, or has very very low % success rates, then only the brave or foolhardy should attempt them. (Remembering that acquiring a "celebrity" status is the cue for most of the above.

The last suggestion of moving to greener pastures... well it did make me smile. Next time someone worries about getting old, I'll suggest they jump off a cliff - because that's an excellent way of avoiding that problem.

But good that you're thinking out of the box.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

As far as follower status, I think many of those successful now started with nothing and their earlier videos were pretty cringy. It didn't happen over night.

Funny you mention McDonald's. I was going to bring up In-N-Out Burger store managers average $160K a year.

Moving to greener pastures and jumping off a cliff are so totally not even the same thing. Picking up and starting a new is different than giving up and offing yourself. Way, way different.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

--- "You and your computer geeks probably haven’t a clue what a Sinar even is"

I have no interest in going backwards. That's a fool's errand. End result, bitter, angry, and disgruntled. That's all you have done on this site for the last 2 years. The industry has passed you by and you're mad as hell about it.

Lee Christiansen's picture

Jerry, changing your camera isn't adaption. And telling people who shoot digital that they're computer geeks probably says more about your willingness to adapt than anything.

I've splurged out a long post above, and whilst I agree with you that the industry is certainly in trouble, blurting out insults that make zero sense - makes well... zero sense.

If it worries you, yes I know what a Sinar is. Lots of us do.

Wayne Myers's picture

5 years in business now, John is on point. My advice to any good photographer, learn about business, network and don’t be afraid to talk to people. The rest will follow.