How to achieve success as a photographer: one thing that most photographers won’t tell you
Photography is a noble vocation. It’s a passion-based career choice. To be able to make a living doing something that you love is the ultimate dream. The cliche goes “if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day of your life”, and it is a shared pursuit of many, yourself included.
But think about that for a moment. No one really loves everything that they do. That’s why we call it “work” after-all. Sure, the hope is that most people will do something in a genre or a field that they enjoy, but I would place a bet on the fact that the majority of people today do not love everything about what they do.
Most people do not love everything that they do
Ask a teacher who loves to inspire young minds if he also enjoys trying to round up a chaotic classroom of twenty-five 12-year olds and maintain classroom management.
Ask a nurse who loves the hustle-bustle of the ER and the quick decision-making if she also loves the long hours and sleepless nights that are associated with night shifts.
My point is this – there are things about every career choice that are undesirable. And photography is no different.
Don't listen to the mountain climbers
The story he tells goes something like this:
It's easy for you to listen to a photography educator who “sells” an exciting perspective, or a simple path to success, but you also have to remember the context. Is their message relevant to you? Remember … where they are is not necessarily where you are, and sometimes that makes all the difference.
There is no “get rich quick” scheme for photographers. There's no “simple path to success” or a “magic bullet”.
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Sure, the idea of focusing on just the one type of photography that you would absolutely die for works for many established photographers, but that may not be the best advice for you. Sure, the idea of only working with a very specific type of clientele works for many photographers who have spent years refining their style, but that may not be the best advice for you. Sure, many experienced photographers can be selective with their bookings and say “no” to clients, but that may not be the best advice for you.
What I'm saying is that you have to be careful when listening to the mountain climber. The perspective is different from the top.
If you want to make a living in photography, read this …
If you want to make a living in photography, I’m going to tell you something that many others will not. I am going to tell you the truth. I’m going to unlock a secret that will allow you to run a successful business, book tons of clients and make a living with your camera.
(How's that for a catchy phrase?)
Here it is. Sometimes … you have to just do the work.
Let me repeat that. Sometimes … you have to just do the work.
The truth of being exclusive, luxurious and expensive
I am a wedding photographer who charges a premium price, and I provide an even higher value to my clients who hire me. Sure, in my area, I may be seen as being “expensive” to some, but I believe (and so do my clients) that my prices are fair for the work and experience I provide.
But that doesn’t mean that I am any better than anyone else. I’m not better than you, I'm not better than any other photographer. And I'm certainly not better than any prospective client who wants to hire me.
I am not better than anyone. I am just me, and I am a photographer.
Sometimes, that means that I have to be … well … a photographer.
What do I mean? Sometimes, that means I have to just do the work.
Sure, I would love to tell you that I only photograph high-end weddings every weekend with the best couples who perfectly connect with everything I do and give me complete creative freedom. But that would be like the teacher telling you that all he does all day long is inspire young minds and doesn’t have to deal with the staff-room drama, the parent-teacher interviews and the cold school-yard duty in the middle of the winter.
I do photograph high-end weddings for great couples who perfectly connect with everything I do and give me complete creative freedom. But not every weekend. Not even necessarily every other weekend. Sometimes, I have to do the work. Sometimes that means putting my own needs aside and photographing for my clients.
A story of two weddings …
A few weeks ago, I photographed a really great wedding. My couple first met and fell in love when they were in high-school. Like many young relationships do, they drifted apart, each going to separate post-secondary schools and eventually moving on to other relationships. They went on living their own separate lives for over 25 years. They re-connected about a year ago, felt that same spark they experienced back in high-school, and decided to make the commitment to spend the rest of their lives together.
The wedding was emotional, joyous and literally straight from a Hollywood love story.
You’re thinking “Sounds great, Bryan. I don’t get it. Where’s the catch?”
They booked me 2 weeks before the wedding. The ceremony consisted of the bride, the groom, the minister, and myself. Wait … the minister also had his wife come because they needed two witnesses (I was one of them). The ceremony took place on a Tuesday afternoon. The couple hired me for 30 minutes of coverage. I made a few hundred dollars.
Did I sell out?
I am a photographer, and I capture warmth, romance and joy between people. Sure, three days before this wedding, I photographed a beautiful full-day wedding for a couple who booked a package that was 30x the price.
But did I sell out? No. I need to make a living, and that doesn’t always mean taking only prestigious, expensive, exclusive jobs.
By the way, this doesn't mean that I discounted my services. A full-day Saturday wedding with an album, parent albums, prints and an engagement session is much more of a time commitment than a quick, no-fuss 30-minutes of coverage on a Tuesday afternoon.
What I am ultimately trying to say is that we need to get out of our own heads. We need to get ourselves off of the pedestal. I love what I do, and of course I love being paid well for my time and talent. But that doesn’t mean that I am unreasonable. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have to be fair. It doesn’t mean that I don’t take on jobs that aren’t exclusive and expensive and luxurious.
For both weddings, my time was valued the same. The only difference is that I made the conscious decision to be ok with taking on smaller jobs as well as the big ones. Because I need to make a living, and I would rather make a living with my camera than have to hang up my camera and make money flipping burgers because I was too proud to be reasonable and fair with my time and prices.
Sometimes you have to just do the work. And that's ok.
For me, sometimes that means that I cover a corporate event. Sometimes that means that I do headshots. Sometimes that means that I photograph the local Town Council. Sometimes that means that I cover a local street festival. These are all great jobs, and while they aren't the type of photography that I would consider myself to be “in love” with, it's much better than the alternative: having to find another career because my ego got in the way.
The perfect life, perfect clients and perfect business
It’s great to fantasize about living the perfect life with the perfect clients and the perfect business. And maybe you'll get there one day, but most photographers just need to suck it up sometimes, do the work and make a living. And making a living means making a living. You will have to work for it. And you probably won’t love everything.
[Tweet “Sometimes you just have to do the work. And that's ok.”]
But neither does the teacher or the nurse. Or anyone else for that matter.
You are a photographer. Go make pictures. Go capture moments. Go make people happy. Go and give them something to hold on to for the rest of their lives. Go create magic. And it’s ok if it’s not always your perfect client, because after all, you were given this gift, talent and vision. Don’t judge. Make great images and be happy that you get to wake up every day in a career that you truly do love. That’s more than most can say.
Don't listen to the mountain climbers. Let me be the one to tell you that it's ok. It's ok to not love every single thing that you do. It's ok to make a living doing something you love for people who appreciate it. It's ok to just do the work.