Is It Enough to Be "Just a Photographer" Anymore?

Is It Enough to Be "Just a Photographer" Anymore?

We may be pro at all things photographic, but is it enough for us to succeed as photographers in this day and age? What are the other components for the winning formula?

I'm not going to lie, when I first started out in photography, I actually thought the actual process of shooting will take up the biggest part of my existence which was quite naive, wasn't it? Sure, if photography doesn't pay your bills, you can actually remain in that honeymoon phase with photography for a long time. For the rest of us who do want to succeed professionally in one photography area or another, we need to arm ourselves with a handful of other skills that will help us get ahead because photography isn't all about simply taking "good" photographs. Each one of us can find something unique to add to our photography, both to appeal to potential customers, and also to give ourselves some fresh diversity in the type of work that we do.

Design

Designing a finished product, be it a wedding album, marketing magazine or brochure, a virtual poster advertising your services, a print book showcasing your personal photographic projects, it's all a skill you will eventually run into as a photographer. In my personal experience, many clients enjoy the ease of booking someone who is also capable of helping with design queries. Sure, you don't need to become an expert in using complicated design software but knowing the basics can help you, both by saving money outsourcing a relatively simple task for your own design needs and also by appealing to your customers as a "one stop shop," where simple tasks can be added on top of the photography fee they are already paying you. I find that using my design skills, which are fairly basic, I can show my personality more. It allows me to put together simple iBooks or PDFs without having to outsource it, the only issue is the additional time it requires but that's a sacrifice I am willing to make.

A laptop on a wooden desk.

Photography or Videography

If you're a photographer, it may be beneficial to learn the basics of videography, and vice versa. You don't need to invest a lot in buying new equipment but giving yourself something completely new to learn and explore can help you expand your skill set. I don't intend to become a videographer, but learning more about filming, editing, and uploading YouTube videos is something that really challenges me and will eventually give me enough confidence to add something different to my photography sessions. You don't even need to do it for your business, it might be something that allows you to share your photography ideas and tips with others or gives you a enough knowledge to implement it into documenting your family and friends. 

Business

It goes without saying, knowing how to set up and run a photography business is more fundamental in your success than creating breathtaking images. Generally, it isn't even the breathtaking images that will help you land the jobs, it's the ones that have a demand in today's market. Whether you choose to focus on a very narrow and exclusive audience or you're targeting lower income clients and count on quantity, you still need to understand who's your client and whether your services are right for them. Taking classes or watching explanatory tutorials or podcasts in business is something you most definitely should consider as a photographer who wants to work in professional capacity. 

The only time it's enough to just focus on taking photographs is if you have a partner who takes on all-things-business while your responsibility remains with the shooting process. If you don't take your business knowledge seriously, you may get lost in trying to create beautiful photographs but end up neglecting what actually makes your business move forward.

Editing

Now, this may seem obvious but it has only become the norm with the arrival of digital cameras. There are plenty of individuals and companies that offer editing services, from minor adjustments to professional beauty retouching and composites for various types of photography. Knowing how to create a composite of ten images in one isn't a requirement for wedding or portrait photography, but if you're wandering into the commercial world, it can become a big bonus for clients looking to book someone who can go from an idea, to shooting it, and creating a final product all in one place. Sure, you could factor in the outsourcing fee when giving your clients an estimate but if you're committing yourself to this, it could be helpful to know how to do it yourself. Not simply for saving money, it can make it easier to know exactly how to arrive at that promised final product.

Personality

This is a slight diversion from the rest of the things discussed, but I think it's important to mention it. When I started out in photography I figured I will be generally working on my own and only meeting up with clients as and when. However, one thing I hadn't actually considered was whether I am actually the right person to dive into social photography. Are you able to remain calm and professional when emotions get high during important life events, such as births or weddings? Are you able to converse with people from all walks of life? Can you sustain good relationships with your clients in your written and verbal communication? It may initially appear as a logical "yes" to all of the questions above for most of us, but it's something you have to be able to reflect on. You might have the potential to become a successful wedding photographer, but if you don't have the guts to go out and work with people, it will hinder your prospects. Treat your personality as a skill - you can work on it, you can improve it, and it will help you succeed.

Children playing at a fairground during sunset.

Social photography has made me more confident and open to new opportunities.

Final Thoughts

You don't need to become a "jack of all trades" because it's impossible to become revered and recommended for everything. Instead, think of skills or services that can benefit you or your business to make it more complete. There's no harm in trying things out to find what truly fits, because how can you know if you don't? I have dipped my toes in many avenues but it helped me find the ones that I feel are suited for me and how I want to lead my life. Having said that, I still keep learning and developing myself because my way of living doesn't allow me to stand still for too long.

What about you? Have your perceptions of what it means to be a photographer changed since you started working as a professional? Have you found yourself using a skill set you never thought you will need? Let us know in the comments!

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8 Comments

michaeljin's picture

Depends on what you do. For most real estate photographers, no. At this point, you're generally expected to not only photograph properties, but you're expected to offer virtual staging, 360-degree tours, video tours, drone photography and video (even if it's not strictly legal), and draw floorplans after taking measurements. Of course you can outsource certain things, but the more people get involved, the smaller your cut and the harder it is to manage everyone's schedules.

EL PIC's picture

Photography is now a secondary or less skill.
Ask any news editor who will say 1. Get the Story 2. Edit the Story and 3. Photograph or Video-graph the story.
That is the 3 requirements for working these days.
Gone are the days of the staff photographer who does nothing more than take pictures
Most Say .. Viva Lowly Paid Freelance Do It All’s ..

Darren Loveland's picture

Maybe that's the case for journalism, but I wouldn't subject all genres of professional photography to being a "secondary or less" skill. Still many areas where photography is critical for the success of the project or subject.

David T's picture

Secondary doesn't exclude critial. I also think most photography genres put vision, creativity and story-telling first. Except for very technical genres like repro or product photography.

Can't do a fashion shoot without knowing what's "in" and why, can't shoot portraits without people/communication skills ("what should I wear, I look fat, I can't smile, my head looks weird, ...."), ...

What really helps is being good at--or even an expert in--the the things you photograph/make videos of. From chefs turned photographers, to mountain climbers like Jimmy Chin taking up a camera, that's what really separates you from just another "gun for hire." As for things like marketing, finance, design--you can hire people for that. But you can't hire someone to climb the mountain with a camera for you. Well, unless you're the producer, but that's a different job...

Scott Mason's picture

Great points, Anete. In 2018 I finally decided to purchase a mirrorless camera for the purpose of taking on more videography, and it has since been great for business.

Anete Lusina's picture

I'm still struggling with videography, with photography it just comes very natural to me but video is a whole another world!

Jonathan Dade's picture

Great ‘real world’ article Anete, thank you. I shoot for small businesses and the real estate industry and being a one stop shop is a must. Photography, videography, floor plans, copywriting, drone are all essential to be able to do. You also need to know something about editing, printing, IT, management, social media, marketing, business and so on. It is not possible to do it all and do it well. I contract out work and outsource some too so I can get some sleep, look after my health, and some time for a social life. I focus on doing the things that generate income and outsource things that don’t.