It’s time to drop these bad habits and clean up your photography act in 2020. Head into the next decade like a warrior.
Stop Expecting Work to Show up on Your Doorstep
You shoot a few photographs, stick them on your website and social media platforms, add the requisite hashtags, chat with other photographers in online communities, leave a few nasty comments on articles, and then wonder why you aren’t getting enough clients to pay your bills.
My dear fellow photographers: you need to learn what marketing is and figure out how to make it work for you. You need to figure out who your client is and create advertisements in the places they spend time. And you need to do it all the time. You can’t throw out a sporadic Facebook ad and then expect clients to turn up at your door. You may get a few random jobs, but unless you’re actively advertising yourself to potential clients (and targeting and tracking them), you aren’t going to earn enough to make a living. You need word of mouth, you need business relationships, you need to cultivate client relationships, you need to be tracking down the kind of people who buy work like yours and drag them through your metaphorical doors. And you have to do it consistently. As soon as you stop advertising, it’s only a matter of time before the flow of clients drops to a trickle or dries up altogether.
So, stop sitting around expecting clients to just show up. Go out there and find them.
Stop Spending Money in the Wrong Places
Do you really need another lens, another set of actions, or another cool photography gadget? You might. Those things can be awesome and help immensely when they’re actually required. But it’s worth looking at where you spend your revenue to find out if the expenses are actually benefiting your business. Could that $1,200 have been spent on an advertising plan? On a portfolio review? On a mentorship? Take some time to look at your budget and make sure your money is actually being spent in places that will take you and your business to the next level, and stop spending on things that feel good for a while but make no lasting impact on your work.
Stop Worrying About What Settings Other Photographers Used
Look, I understand the impulse. You see a great image, and you want to know how it was made. But the problem is that each image is taken under a unique set of circumstances, and there are too many variables to rely on a single set of numbers to understand how and why a photo was made. The settings just don’t reveal as much about an image as you might hope. You’d learn a lot more about the creation of a photograph if you asked the photographer why they chose the settings they used. After all, it’s those creative decisions that are the why behind the final result and will give you a much more comprehensive picture of how an image was made than numbers that could be combined in several different ways for a well-exposed photo.
Stop Worrying so Much About Gear
That new lens isn't going to make you a better photographer. Only practice and experience can do that. Don’t get me wrong, there are absolutely reasons to buy new gear or upgrade what you’ve got.
Sometimes, you really do need a faster lens, more consistent color temperature, better low-light capabilities, or a lighter body. But the most important part of being a photographer is what’s between your ears, not what’s in your hands. You don’t need the best body on the market to be the best photographer you can be. You don’t need the most expensive lens to get the best shots. You do need to understand light, know the capabilities of your gear, and be able to think creatively. You are no less a photographer for having older gear, or off-brand lights, or cheap modifiers. If you use what you have to its and your full capability, you’ll make amazing photographs.
Stop Trying to Avoid Failure
This may sound crazy, but mistakes are how we learn. Failure is a sign we are trying new things, pushing our comfort zones, and growing. It’s tempting to set everything up so that we never fail, but lack of failure means lack of trying. I’m not saying you should try crazy, untested things with your clients, but you should set aside time to try things that allow you to fail. You never know what you’ll learn or how those failed experiments may change and improve the way you work. Highly successful people cannot be risk averse, not in their creative pursuits and not in their business. This year, try that thing you’ve avoided because you were afraid of failing. It might teach you something invaluable. More importantly, it might teach you to be brave.
Stop Measuring Worth by Likes
Social media validation feels good, but it is by no means the end-all, be-all of photographic life. What’s more important than Instagram likes is what your clients think and say about your work. Some of the most successful photographers have almost no social media presence, because they spend all their time working, advertising, and catering to their clients. They’re networking in real life, not just following pages on Facebook. How random people mindlessly react to your shared photographs isn’t a guarantee for how your clients will react. Instead of measuring success by likes, try measuring it by happy clients.
Stop Chasing Trends
If you spend all your time chasing trends, you’ll never invest the time you need to create work that represents who you are as an artist or craftsman. Your work will never be anything more than an endless repetition on a tired theme. It will remain derivative. Instead, spend time figuring out who you are as a photographer, what you love and what motivates you to pick up a camera, and focus on making work that represents your voice. Then, instead of clients hiring you to replicate something they saw on Pinterest, they’ll hire you for the work only you can produce.
Stop Picking on New Photographers
Please, please stop this. We all started somewhere. Most of our work was utter crap for the first couple of years, but we persisted (more often than not with the help of kind photographers who knew a lot more than we did), and our work became something we didn’t need to be ashamed of. But if you spend your time on social media cutting other photographers down, particularly new photographers, well, you’re a jerk. There’s really no nicer way to say it. Not only are you wasting your time doing something unproductive, you’re crapping on someone who is just doing the best they can with what they know. We can’t complain about a toxic community and then treat new members like junk. So, stop it. For real.
Stop Doubting Yourself
This was on last year's list, but it bears repeating. There are so many reasons to doubt yourself: you haven’t been a photographer for very long, you don’t have expensive lighting equipment, other people are “better” than you, you can’t make what is in your head show up in your photos, or you have difficulties it seems like other photographers don’t have. I can promise you, every photographer has these doubts or has struggled with the same things you’ve struggled with. You are not alone. There is no such thing as a photographer who has it all together, who never struggles, or is always confident. If the photographers you admire can make work they’re proud of, you can, too. If they made it, so can you. You have something to share with the world, and there is someone out there who needs to see it. So, keep creating and stop doubting.
Stop Expecting Success to Happen Overnight
When we look at photographers who seem successful, it’s easy to make the mistake of thinking they’ve always been at the top. We look at our own careers, five whole years long and full of struggles, and ask ourselves why we haven’t “made it” yet. Then, we sink into a creative depression, because despite all our hard work, we’re still having trouble paying our bills.
But success, in whatever form it takes, is complex and doesn’t happen overnight. It’s the result of hard work over time, plus a dose of luck, and it rarely happens to any two people the same way. The road your idol took isn't going to be the one that works for you, and the struggles they faced aren’t going to be the ones you’ll encounter. But whether it takes you five years, ten years, or twenty years, I can guarantee that beneath every successful photographer are mountains of failures, setbacks, and self-doubt. They didn’t become successful overnight, they fought every battle, got knocked down, and climbed back to their feet, swinging. And you can’t just get up once, you have to crawl to your feet over, and over, and over again.
So, stop expecting yourself to meet the unrealistic expectation of immediate success; it’s a myth. Several factors must come into play, but the one thing you can be certain of is hard work over time. Don’t give up. It will be a struggle, but it will be worth it.
I know this article says 2020, but the truth is that every day, every hour is a new chance for you to be a better photographer and a better version of yourself. Work hard. Don’t give up. Run your own race. We’re going to make it.
If you could give any advice to photographers in 2020, what would it be?
Lead image featuring model Jenae Rex.