What If The Problem Is That You Suck?

yousuck

Photo of the author by Mike Eller

Even More Advice for the Aspiring Professional Photographer.

These days a lot of people seem to be offering advice in the area of becoming a full time professional photographer. Some of those folks like Greg Heisler, Jay Meisel, Gail Mooney and others have long careers and great inspirational advice for those who are beginning the journey.

Others, whose names I won’t mention, and hosts of FB, G+, and Flickr shooters want you to know that the life sucks, the cameras suck, the business sucks, and the whole idea of being a professional photographer is a total pile of crap – and it sucks, of course.

Count me among those in the first group, with some cautious understanding of where those in the negative group are coming from.

Let’s face some cold facts.

Being self-employed is not for everyone. The challenges of self discipline, fear of the unknown, difficult self motivation and a desire to not eat macaroni and cheese for every meal for a year is daunting to a lot of people. And it doesn’t make any difference if the self employed person is going into graphic design, plumbing or photography.

Being a professional photographer is not for everyone either. On top of the challenges of self employment, there is also a huge disconnect between what people think that world consists of and the actual world of pro photography itself. Huge.

Let me be perfectly clear here; I am not referring to wedding, maternity, ‘senior’ and family portrait photography. That is not a world I am expert in, nor do I really care all that much about. While it is most certainly similar in a few areas, the differences are vastly so in the aesthetic and the end use of the images.

I am only commenting on commercial photography and its many adjunct genres: architectural, editorial, food, fashion, product and travel. This is photography used for commerce – both directly and indirectly. Think of it as B2B photography – not B2C.

I know most of my readers are in this group, and I have a sizable contingent of those who do both commercial and B2C. In smaller markets shooting some consumer work may be a necessity for a commercial photographer, and some photographers love both sides of the business, so that is cool too! Freedom of choice works for me.

I have had the honor to work with a lot of emerging photographers and watched them grow from full time other job folks to full time photographer folks. Over at Project52Pros that is what we are all about.

In over 40 years of professionalismI have seen amazing success stories, and I have known some spectacular crash and burn scenarios as well. In most cases, the causes and reasons were the same for both. I have spoken with photographers who were crashing and instantly known why… some things are obvious. And the reasons are very much the same for most who are failing.

I would like to address some of these more obvious challenges and offer some solutions. Hold on, this may sting a bit.

To those of you who are struggling making the jump, here is some free, unsolicited advice.

Perhaps it is not the market, maybe you just suck.

C’mon… that could be it, right? I mean, other people are working and some are working their asses off. And you aren’t, and you don’t know why. Maybe you haven’t spent enough time making images, or building a book, or building a list or building a goddamn business! (It is important to understand that every photographer once sucked. Every damned one of them. The successful ones figure out how to not suck.)

No one who ever picked up a camera was guaranteed to be a phenomenal photographer with clients dripping gold infusions into their wallets with every snap. Most of the ones we see shooting the really cool stuff, the assignments we all want to get busted their asses to get there. They found ways to not suck.

To get over the suckiness that may be holding you back, let’s look at a few glaring challenges (traits) that those who are struggling usually exhibit.

  1. You suck at shooting enough pictures to make a difference.
    Getting a camera for Christmas and business cards for Easter may be a quick jump into the abyss of thinking it is the market failed you when actually you still suck. Make sure you are ready, and are able to make images that are amazing before you put yourself out there. This is very important.
  2. Your photographs suck.
    The images that you think are ‘good enough’ actually still suck. If you are measuring your work against others, make sure you pick high enough up the ol’ totem pole to make that comparison worth it. Being ‘better’ than the 1 ½ year shooter down the road may not be enough to make a difference to the people in your town and make them want to hire you. Only excellence moves on.
  3. Your marketing sucks.
    Recently I read a painful article from someone who was honestly hurting and was chastising all the other photographers he/she saw as crushing him/her with lowball pricing. Problem was, the author’s website totally sucked, there was no marketing message, the logo/presentation was amateurish and silly and the images were – well – meh. Not bad, not great… just… images.
  4. Your presentation sucks.
    Does your Website look like it was made in 1995 with a quick refresh in late 2000? You may have a problem convincing anyone that you are worth hiring. This is a competitive, creative world where PRESENTATION is an absolutely huge part of the equation. If you don’t know what good design is, why would I trust you to do good photography? They are hand in hand.
  5. Your list sucks.
    Your list… you do have a list, right? Right? If you do not have a list of people who could hire you, you are not really in business, you are playing like being in business. And that can be very painful. Of course playing at it is fun, but when reality catches up please don’t write a whining “I was crushed by the $200 Craigslist Shooters” post. It is embarrassing, it really is.
  6. Your client outreach sucks.
    No one knows you exist. I want you to reach out and touch a prospective client three times a day… that’s it. Just three times. If you do that, you will find success will follow (unless your work really does suck) and if you do more, it will come faster. MOST photographers do not market themselves to a targeted list. Waiting for the phone to ring from people who don’t even know you friggin’ exist is a fools game, ya know.
  7. Your portfolio sucks.
    You know, the portfolio that hasn’t seen a new image in 4 months or longer, has no current work in it, and totally misrepresents your new style and vision. The portfolio that has no personal work, tired old client crap and some nekkid chicks in the ‘aurt’ section will sink any photographer… fast. Get serious and get to work on the port.
  8. Your brand sucks.
    Not your logo, the one that you got from Fiverr… that totally rocks next to the fact that you have no personal look, never return phone calls, have no coherent message, no visual style and are late with every shoot. Seriously – next to that disaster, the $5 logo has it really going on, man.
  9. Your gear sucks.
    No, wait… I am not talking about the gear itself, I am talking about the way you hold it up as a substitute for the work. Owning a fancy camera with all the bells and whistles only requires a good credit score, not a quality image score. Using all your money to acquire the newest pixel machine may make you a hit on G+, but it will do nothing but suck your assets from doing something important to help your business. Gear Acquisiton Syndrome will suck the viability out of any emerging shooter.
  10. You suck.
    You are the type of person who sees everyone else as a threat or a competitor. You work against yourself in order to feel more powerful when comparing yourself to others… which you do at every opportunity. You treat other photographers and beginners as something less than human and have nothing but disdain for their wanting to be a photographer… like you. And instead of addressing the challenges of the business, you choose instead to ridicule the successful, and demonize the competition.

So here is a thought… do it this way and skip the sucking part:

Shoot photographs as often as you can, and get those images critiqued by people IN the business, not buddies or Flickr followers. Find art directors, graphic designers, other photographers (who aren’t total douchebags) to give you honest direction on that work.

Work to make sure your marketing is up to the level it needs to be. If you do not know, get some other eyes on it. Knowing eyes. Being a great photographer does not automatically make you a great marketer.

Or designer. Your presentation must be professional, clean and perfect. Websites do not have to be expensive to work beautifully, but they do have to have a sense of style.

Get a list. Put one together yourself from magazines, local business papers, contacts and referrals. Then use that list and start to market to them with email, direct mail, and personal phone calls. Don’t like personal phone calls? Who cares… suck it up and do it. Reach out personally to at least three of your contacts per day with either a phone call, email or some other marketing piece.

Make sure your portfolio is kept up. New photographs (see one above), personal projects, BTS shots and more can help you stay fresh in the eyes of art directors, photo editors and art buyers.

Make sure your brand is doing its job, and remember that there is no more powerful reminder of your brand than you, in all you do in your business, and how you present your work, and yourself to the world.

Spend the least amount that you can on gear that sits around waiting to be used. Shoot more, acquire less. Use your assets for creating stunning work, in awesome locations, and add cool new shots to your book instead of a new lens to the bag. (There may be a time when your accountant says, “Hey, you gotta spend some money this quarter….” That is when you grab that lens. If you actually, you know, NEED it.)

And above all, don’t suck. Be a mentor, be a friend, be a helpful person to those who are starting out just as you are. Be positive in your speaking and dealing with others and never give in to despair, and negativity although it may be difficult when you are having another macaroni and cheese dinner.

Success is not an overnight roadtrip, and failing to understand that journey and its ups and downs, forks in the road and challenges can be the greatest obstacle in front of you.

Know that it is an obstacle that can be overcome by hard work, careful attention to detail, knowing what you don’t know, and keeping the gaze forward will help deliver you to the ranks of professional photography. And, believe me, it is still a blast and a thrill to be shooting gigs for a living… no matter what anyone else tells you.

Oh, and try a little Tabasco on that macaroni and cheese. The additional spice breaks the monotony… trust me, I know.

My name is Don Giannatti and I have, on many occasions, sucked at photography. I overcame those times when I sucked, and had periods where I didn’t suck. I have had a 40 year career in this business that has been punctuated by thrilling highs and devastating lows. The challenge is to get back up after being knocked down, understanding that in order to be knocked that far down you must have sucked at something. And then you fix it. Don’t whine about it, or the competition, or the market, or the economy, just fix the damn thing and stop sucking.

You can find me at

www.dongiannatti.com

www.project52Pros.com

www.dongiannattiphotography.com

On Twitter and Instagram I am wizwow.

I suck at social media.

NOTE:

Thanks to PetaPixel for republishing the article.

petapixel-page

The article was also picked up by OnGoingPro. Thanks Hillary.

ongooingpro

The Internet Changed The Proposition of Value: Here is How to Fight Back

“Where photographers can succeed is if they abandon the consumers and editorial world who has been over-run by these value perception changes, and instead turn towards the same brands that still pay developers premium salaries for exclusive solutions. As Paul Melcher wrote those brands will drive the future of pay-to-play professional photography in the next decade, feeding photographers who successfully reinvent themselves.”

Jan Klier, photographer, NYC

AWESOME Opportunity to be Exploited! Wow!

AWESOME Opportunity to be Exploited! Wow!

Crowdsourcing… that is the new name for spec work, but worse than spec work this involves an outlay by the ones being expected to be used for nothing.

FORMER ADVOCATE OF PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHERS, Photo District News and Rangefinder have decided it is a great idea to have people send them money.

I mean, hell yeah… I like that. I would love to have people send me money.

Oh, you have to send some of your work in too… at $20 a pop. Seriously?

You are going to pay them for the opportunity to be turned down – and of course they keep the cash.

I wonder if they would consider it a good idea to crowdsource the editors?
I wonder if they would consider it a good idea to crowdsource the art directors?
I wonder if they would consider it a good idea to crowdsource the writers?
I wonder if they would consider it a good idea to crowdsource the advertisers?
I wonder if they would consider it a good idea to crowdsource the printing?
I wonder if they would consider it a good idea to crowdsource the distribution?

Yeah, I guess those would be bad ideas for – you know – a photography magazine.

But hotdamn boyhowdy it is a SUPER IDEA to crowdsource the photography – and get PAID to do so – which is the whole fkn point of the magazine to begin with.

What does this tell us about the people at these magazines that they feel they should be paid to look at the product they promote? Shouldn’t discovering new talent BE the reason for the magazine?

Or is it simply too much work to seek it out on their own. (Hey, there’s this thing called the internet, and you can find all… oh, never mind.)

Or perhaps it is those thousands of twenty dollar bills flooding in with the images. And we KNOW the images will get looked at, right? Right?

I am saddened and angry about this. it is wrong on so many levels I can’t even believe it.

Betrayed is the word that comes to mind.

And no, I won’t link it… you wanna enter, there’s this place called google and… oh never mind.

APPENDED BELOW:

The above is snarky… yeah, I can be snarky.

But instead of criticizing without constructive ideas, let me add this.

A Photo Editor (Rob Haggard) does this every week. His wonderful “Art Producers Speak” series presents new and exciting photographers suggested by art buyers in agencies.

FLAK does it too. They take submissions for their online site here.

So does Jorge Colberg at his Conscientious site.

Many online EZines also feature work of upcoming photographers. Sites like C-Heads and LadyGunn have plenty of emerging talent on display.

Some of these magazines have submission fees as well, but nowhere near the steep ‘pay-to-play’ fees of this proposed publication.

In these days of photographers being taken for granted, downisized fees, challenging market conditions and rising costs, it is very disheartening to see one of our own go this way. PDN and Rangefinder are publications that know what it is like for photographers out there. We should be able to turn to them for support, and call on them to be an ally.

“Crowdsourcing” is simply another word for “Spec” work. Something both magazines have taken a stance against. Something which most photographers consider working for free. Or worse when expected to pay for the opportunity to even get considered.

What would happen if ad agencies asked for a submission fee? Or magazines… want to see an AD with your book? Pull out your Mastercard.

Is that what we want this business to turn into? A feeding frenzy of self annihilation?

I sure hope not… but time will tell.

 

Are You a Commodity or a Brand?

humboldt

brookeBrooke from way back in the day… can you spot the ‘brand’ we were inspired by?

Why Thinking of Yourself as a Brand is More Important Than You Know

There are brands and there are commodities.

A brand is something or someone that people choose because of what they associate with the item – what intangibles that choice brings.

A commodity is something or someone that people choose because of price point or availability. Cheapest or easiest to get is what they go for.

A brand is not interchangeable, but a commodity is.

Cans of peas are commodities, Green Giant Peas are a brand. Some people will pay more for Green Giant Peas than any of the other brands. And if the store is out of Green Giant, they will happily take ANY of the others on the shelf – they are commodities.

Leica is a premium brand. Mention the name Leica and photographers instantly focus on excellence, vision, longevity and high value. Even people who are not photographers will perk up when they hear the word Leica.

There are dozens of other manufacturers of cameras – and each have their aficionados, but Leica can command high respect EVEN from the Canon, Nikon, Fuji, and Sony shooters who are also aficionados and fans of their own brands.

Looking for a premium bag, we may think Prada. There are other brands that we may think of, but Prada is Prada… and there is no substitute for that brand.

If we think about the bag as a commodity – not a premium, then almost any bag from any department store will do the job.
The Prada bag was not chosen ONLY because of its ability to hold things without them falling out. It was chosen because of what is associated to it, what makes it unique IS its brand uniqueness. It is better made, classier in style, more innovative or classic or whatever. It is a Brand that people associate with the bag.

The bag from the department store is utilitarian. It holds things without them falling out just fine. It comes with no other associations. One bag is totally interchangeable with another.

As a photographer, one of our most important part is our ‘brand’. If what we do is totally interchangeable with another photographer, or even a group of photographers, then the value becomes less, and the loyalty is simply not there.

Start to think of yourself as a total brand.

  • What you do.
  • How you do it… differently.
  • What values you bring.
  • What you value your own work to be.
  • How you deal with prospective clients.
  • What your visual strategy looks like (identity/graphics/website)
  • Does the visual strategy enhance your brand?
  • Will your clients be able to discern your value?
  • How do you deal with clients to introduce and enhance your brand?
  • How do your customers see your work – as a brand or a commodity? Don’t know? Ask.
  • If they see you as a commodity, how do you change that view?
  • If they see you as a brand, how do you enhance and engage that view?
  • Brand can include your images of course… that is a given
  • But also how you show the images: your portfolio, leave behinds, identity pieces
  • What your website looks like – Is it modern and cool, or a free crappola site
  • What your logo looks like. Is it professional? Does it speak to your brand?
  • Where you show your work. Do you have an office? Do you have a co-work space? Is it a local Starbucks?
  • What you wear when showing your work. Do you dress casually, formally, hip, classic, contemporary, eclectic?
  • What you wear when you are shooting. Does it match your work, how you showed your work, and what you think of the work?
  • What you wear… period. All three should match… and that gives you memorability.

Style, personal style, can go a long way toward building a brand.

It is why rockstars all look ridiculous… they do it to be remembered. It is why actors and actresses do outrageous things in public… to be remembered.

Do you have to do ridiculous and outrageous things while looking like a throwback to the Village People? OF COURSE NOT.

But you do have to maintain a style, a look, a personal brand that elevates your work from commodity status.

Here is the scary thing… if you are a commodity – an easily replaceable, easily interchangeable photographer – you will have a very tough time in a crowded market. It will come down to a buck cheaper or being the only one available that day. And that does not make for a career that builds.

A Brand photographer – YOU – is someone they want to work with because they want to work with you. Budgets are not a big deal (within reason) and the focus is on getting the best person (you) for their ad shoot, or brochure assignment. They WANT to work with YOU. You bring more to the experience than just great images. You bring integrity, values, wacky playfulness, serious classic styling, a relaxed working atmosphere, an intense working atmosphere… whatever it is that makes you – YOU.

Time for a personal assessment… look above at the list of statement / questions and answer them for yourself. Write them down. Answer them honestly and with no censorship – only you are going to see them.

Are you a brand or a commodity?

Knowing this will really help as you make decisions regarding your work, your fees and who you plan to work with as you begin to build your business.

Ideas on how to go from a commodity to a brand are plentiful, and I will offer some suggestions in the upcoming weeks.


 

ANNOUNCEMENT

I am very happy to announce that I will be working very closely with Robin Bramman on business branding and personal branding. We are planning on doing a workshop online for branding your photography business as well as yourself. It will be a free workshop for all of you LE folks, so watch for the announcement. Coming up soon. Visit Robin’s site for more on what she does for large corporations and entrepreneurs alike.

I will let Robin introduce herself here.

MEET-ROBIN-copy

“Hello, I am Robin, Lead Curator + Strategic Brand Partner at RobinBramman.com.

 

Think of me as your Brand Partner for your digital presence – with personal and business branding expertise, strategic planning skills, social media savvy, project management and group branding implementation insights, and straight-from-the-trenches entrepreneurial wisdom.

 

I’ve logged over 20+ years as a visionary strategist + interactive services project champion (translation: fine-tooth comb detail-wrangling for smooth-as-silk fully branded website launches). I am super collaborative and have a host of partners I call upon to take your brand from ZERO to launched.

 

Throughout my career, I’ve worn high-powered hats in corporate America in both healthcare and financial industries, owned + operated my own brick ‘n mortar clothing boutique, successfully flipped + sold real estate properties, and dropped it all to be a stay-at-home mom. I’m a big fan of personal evolution, breaking as many rules as possible, and building a POWER team to support your branding initiatives.

 

I hold advanced master branding certifications through Reach Communications Consulting, Inc. and am a part of an exclusive enterprise team that allows me to deliver comprehensive learning programs for individuals, group branding sessions and deliver personal branding keynote and corporate workshops in support of brand building for the organization.”


“In The Frame” is my weekly dispatch covering lots of tips and interesting points of view for emerging photographers. Some articles end up on Lighting Essentials, and some of them are only for my newsletter subscribers. No Spam, and we never give names to anyone.



Old Mama Dog – New Tricks…


“I am changing the direction of my photography as I shoot more film. Overall I hate my own results but I love the work itself. I’ve been all over the place trying to figure out what type of photographer I want to be when I grow up. As I get older I realize the small moments are just as powerful as the big ones. It’s been a long time since I’ve been a kid and yet I’ve never been more of a kid than right now.

So I’ll keep taking every kind of photograph like a kid in a candy store til the sugar high wears off, throw up or learn what kind is my favorite. Pretty sure it’s all about being human whether it’s in New York or my own little corner of the world.”
Virginia Smith