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Why Photographers Fail
Recently there has been a spate of very sad, and ultimately defeatist articles decrying the “death of photography”. We have no shortage of examples. Seriously.
In all their pain and detailed examples of how the art and business of photography have been “ruined” (their words), I can find little to no examples of the basic, most important reason that photographers are falling behind.
And that is;
Photographers are wildly devotedly, happily, and ecstatically in LOVE with the processes of photography. Like any devoted partner, they see the relationship as sacrosanct, and the most important in their lives.
And they are totally, 100% wrong to be so.
Photography is a process, plain and simple. Romanticizing it makes it more difficult to change, to adapt to new rules, and to find solutions that are not instantly visible.
While they are deeply committed to and in love with the process of photography, their clients are simply… not.
We call that a disconnect.
And a shame.
Let me give some examples.
The “LONG GAME” Approach to Photography
One of the things I notice about the culture lately is that there is more focus on the easy route, the quick way, ‘getting to done’ without really knowing what got done. There is a quickness to many things we do, and we expect it to carry over into everything we do.
I can get on a plane and be in NYC for lunch. I can shoot an image, and have a print in my hands in only a few minutes. I can send someone a note halfway around the world and hear back from them in a second.
And all of this makes us believe that quick and fast is the only way things get done.
Wanna be a rock star? American Idol… only takes 20 weeks!
Wanna play drums? Sample a drummer and throw it into ProTools.
Wanna write something? Take a “Weekend to a Bestseller” workshop.
And sadly these are now considered by many to be the de-facto way of getting anything done. Quick, fast, and easy.
You all know how I feel about easy.
Easy is a fool’s charade. Nothing worth doing is easy. Easy means everyone can do it. Easy places mediocre at the top.
So let’s talk about how we get suckered into thinking it’s easy.
1. We see people seemingly doing what we want to do with little effort.
The photographer who goes from being relatively unknown to shooting covers for Vanity Fair. The stylist who bursts out of seemingly nowhere to take on the biggest celebrities. We see this all around us. We refer to them as the “overnight successes” of our business.
And we call them that because to USit seems as though it was overnight.
Guess what? It wasn’t. We only see them now, at THIS point in their career, not at all the gigs they did for free, or the screwups that made them feel like they wanted to quit. We don’t see the all-nighters, the reshoots, the failed projects.
We weren’t privy to that, we only see them now, and somehow we take our awareness of the world and slap it on to their reality. “Dude, I didn’t know you when you were struggling, so I guess you didn’t”.
2. We only see their highlight reel.
Those awesome portfolios that make us think “how in the hell do they make so many great images”? Well – they are only showing you their great images. The turkeys, bad shots, shitty images don’t ever get posted.
Why would they?
So we see their best shots and think they must be their only shots. And we know that isn’t reality, but it affects us anyway.
3. They make it look easy.
You know, those photographer’s BTS shoots of awesome adventure camping and gorgeous models and helicopters and a full on crew. WOW, that looks like so much fun. (It is, BTW… it really is.)
But… what we don’t see is the preparation, the weeks of hard work and decision making, the meetings that can seemingly go on forever discussing the most minute of wardrobe changes. We don’t see the years of experience that gets them to the point where they can bid and produce such a shoot.
And the screwups… again, they don’t usually make the BTS video. Unless they’re funny… heh.
That photographer and her crew up on the glacier shooting some professional models for a national campaign didn’t happen overnight, it didn’t happen because she was ‘special’ or because of luck. Sustained hard work put her there, and that same hard work keeps her there.
The “long game” is a sustained effort as well. It is working today with no return. It is shooting images that few people see. It is working on projects that fail and projects that succeed. It is deciding on spending $300 on gas and motels or to sleep in your car and get some roadtrippin’ sunrise shots instead of a new thingy for your bag… that never goes anywhere.
The long game is not a sprint, it is a marathon that rewards those who keep running, and simply ignores those who bail out at the first 10K. The long game is the only game in town for creatives.
Sometimes people attribute luck to others success. Or they factor in crap like birthright or who their daddy was or some sort of class delineation. And there is no doubt that some of that comes into play… hey, life is what it is.
But usually it falls to this basic truth: They are simply outworking you. They are doing what you are not. They are making while you are not. All things equal, it is the performance that counts. We do or we do not.
And lastly, one of the things that separate those who are seemingly doing better than we are is the fact that they jumped.
They simply jumped.
“We must be willing to fall flat on our faces. Fearlessly putting ourselves out there is simply a required part of the process. At the very least, it results in the gift of humility and, at best, the triumph of our human spirit.”
? Jill Badonsky
Imagine being on an airplane to do your first skydive. You have practiced and taken the training and now it is time for you to make your first solo jump.
Scary as hell, that’s for sure.
But also a very simple choice.
You can either jump. Or not jump.
You have prepared for this moment for a long time. From jump school, to practice jumps, to studying for the test and passing it. Then the endless mental preparation… all leading to this moment of ‘jump or not jump”.
If you do, you will have become a skydiver. You have done something very few others have ever done. You will have conquered fear, and proved that you were ready to move to the next level in your desire to become a skydiver.
If you do not, you will simply sit down in the plane… no shame in not jumping. You decided that the risk outweighed the reward, and chose to remain risk-free. And you may go on to do other great and noble things for sure. But you will not be a skydiver.
That is your choice and no one should belittle you for it.
But you should know that if you do not jump, you will not soar, you will not face that fear head-on, and you will most definitely not become a skydiver that day.
That doesn’t mean putting yourself at dangerous risk, but it does mean that in order to soar, you first have to jump.
Might as well… heh.
The “Long Game” approach means working your ass off to become the best you can be, preparing for the work ahead both mentally and physically and then when the moment comes, be prepared to jump and soar.
FIND PHOTO CLIENTS NOW
– is an online class that I have created to help you prepare for a good jump.
It is free for all photographers, and it comes in the form of one class per week so you have plenty of time to study and implement the material. For more information and to ‘jump on board’, check the site out here.
I really enjoyed meeting Frederic and having a chance to discuss art, creativity, and purpose.
If you are interested in hearing me blather on about this stuff – and I do so love to do that – give the link a click and listen in. Frederic is a very good interviewer, and makes me sound pretty good. 🙂