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

Are We Clear About What We Do as Photographers?

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Are We?

Two things recently formed today’s article. One was a note from a commercial shooter who was being setup to fail, and the other from a consumer shooter angry that the client kept wanting more and more retouching… and feeling trapped that it must be done.

To both I responded with one word: contract.

I know we all hate that contract crap… at least I know I do. It starts out a relationship saying “I trust you, but I really don’t so sign this.” Maybe I am being a little melodramatic, but it seems that way to me.

The commercial situation was this:

The photographer had submitted a bid for the job and the client said “Wonderful. We love the bid. It’s a go… with just a few minor changes. Of course.

1. We want every shot you take in RAW.
2. We want there to be very little Photoshopping on the images (how does that square with #1?)
3. We want the images to look like the images in your portfolio.
4. We want the images to look just like what we want them to look like although we can’t really tell you what that is until we see them.
5. We want 60 days to pay instead of 30.
6. We want the copyright to all the images forever.

He was concerned about these requests… as he should be.

Whether intentional or not, they were setting him up for a major fail. Conflicting expectations and demands that are clearly not in the normal way of working will always create confusion. And give the client something to use as leverage to bash your price down.

The photographer asked me to review his response which was lengthy and detailed with explanations of why he doesn’t feel good about giving the RAW files, and what copyright really means to him and how he wants to do a great job for them but is a little confused about some of the terms.

I simplified the response to only a few lines.

60 Days is acceptable (from billing date).
Backup RAW Files for the chosen 16 images.
Responsible client representative to art direct the imagery and/or provide a shot list.
Responsible client representative to approve images on set.
Copyright will be retained by the photographer, but client can have a buyout for chosen images for this much more money.

Done.

I always hear photographers talking about educating the client. Well, I am not one that believes the art department of a major corporation needs educating. They know this stuff, they are only playing politics.

By the way, they said yes to the revised bid with 5 paragraphs stating what the PHOTOGRAPHER was going to do.

If I sound jaded, I apologize only slightly. I have seen too damned much of it, and on occasion been on the receiving end. In my case it doesn’t last long because I have a contract and a clear method of working that prevents that.

I have a very simple contract that has the deliverables plainly stated. You get this. This way. By this date.

The client is responsible for the shot list, and someone with the responsibility to do so, must approve all images. Without client approval process, they get what they get. In writing this is.

The consumer shooter had a customer from hell… asking for more than 15 rounds of ‘editing’… from ‘fly away hair’ (shot in a breeze) to making a chin smaller and opening up the eye a bit.

The photographer was mad at the client for all these demands and that shouldn’t be the case. I am happy to make all the changes you want. At $90 per hour.

The contract should state what is included: Color Correcting, skin cleanup, some creative expression (hey, it’s consumer… gotta love them actions). Additional changes are happily made at $90 an hour (or whatever your charge is).

“While every attempt is made to provide a perfect photograph for you, changes in reality can be costly and time intensive. Digital liposuction/cosmetic alterations are supplied at a rate of $90 per hour and estimates must be approved before work commences.”

In the design/web business we call that “Change of Work Order”.

Since we were clear in what we are going to deliver, it is a change to that deliverable schedule when things are added. This also goes for the “Hey, you’re here with your camera already out… can you get a shot of the whole facility from that forklift?”

“Absodamnlutely I can. Hold on, that will require a change of work order… I have one right here. I can add the fee to it and we can get that shot.”

You will quickly find out if they want the shot that bad.

Or you can just go shoot it for them… I don’t care. Just don’t whine about being taken advantage of later. Gift the client that shot since you already had your camera out… or don’t. You have the ability to do either because you have a specific job to do.

Inherent in all of this is the comfort level you have for ‘walking away’. In Trump’s book, “The Art of the Deal” he makes a very important point several times; if you are not willing to walk away from the deal, you aren’t in the deal, you are taking an order. Desperation breeds a bad deal if you are the one that is desperate.

Your choice. Are you an order taker or are you negotiating a position or compensation. Being willing to walk away gives the confidence to make your demands known, and feel as powerful making YOURS as they do making theirs.

I don’t usually do full RAW file transfers. It’s rare. 16BIT Tiffs… whatever. But RAW generally stays in my purview, just like my negatives and transparencies. And I don’t transfer copyright. Ever.

I can negotiate most other things and depending on the client and the gig, I can be pretty flexible. But core principals will not be swapped away, and I am totally fine with walking away. No gig is worth giving up my core values and deeply held beliefs.

Be smart, be clear and be deliberate. Eliminating those things that can go wrong upfront is the best way to make the ending a smoother, more enjoyable one.

PS: If your contract requires a Harvard Law Professor to make sense of it, then it’s wrong. Plain old speech is fine. Spell it out clearly with clearly understood words… it’ll hold up.

Two Lenses: A Day in the North Country

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Yesterday I spent the morning wandering around an area north of Phoenix for a few hours. Joined by photographers Dennis Mong and Miachelle DePiano, we took a loop through a beautiful part of central / north Arizona.

I had no expectations other than hoping I could capture a few shots of the fall colors that seem to last but a moment each Autumn. We took the I17 North to Camp Verde, had breakfast while hoping the very gray skies would open up with some sun, but moved on toward Strawberry, AZ when that didn’t materialize. As we went up the mountain toward Strawberry, Pine, and Payson, the sun began peeking out just a bit. The resulting soft light was really pretty.

I used two cameras, with only two lenses. The drive wasn’t formally constructed to do that, but it ended up that I used a moderate wide and a telephoto for all the images.

Cameras:

Nikon Df, 35MM f2.0
Canon 6D, 200MM f2.8L

Gear Links

So I either chose a moderate wide or a tighter tele for all the shots I did, not once changing the lenses on the two cameras. That forced me to look for tight or compressed images or things that could be presented within a wider context.

I may do this again in a week or so… 28mm on the DF and 135MM on the 6D and look for shots that fit those two specific image views. Or not… LOL. I do not have any idea what I will do in a couple of weeks.

5 Photographs with the Nikon Df and the 35MM f2:

steampunk-cactusB prairie1-smallb buildings-payson-2b tree-red-wallb leaves-oneb

5 Photographs from the Canon 6D, 200MM f2.8L.

bush-wallb color-leaves-2b busted looped-plantsb stunted-treeb

Halloween Shoot: Project 52 Members

Halloween Shoot: Project 52 Members

The assignment was to illustrate a double truck (2 page spread) magazine story on the Origins of Halloween. Layout was furnished as a layered PSD file and the P52 students had to shoot TO that layout – reversed copy and all. The assignment was a great example of how photographers can take a single topic and make something totally different than other photographers. (NOTE: a few of our photographers are from areas in the world that do not celebrate Halloween. They chose something more in tune with their regions.)

The images:

Basic Systems for Commercial Photographers

hunts-tombMy recent Lighting Essentials post on “Systems” (Don’t Be Afraid of Systems) was an overview of some simple checklists that I use to keep focused and create content in an overwhelmingly busy world. The amount of people, information, education, entertainment and sheer braincell killing stupidity that competes for our attention at nearly every turn makes it hard to stay on task.

I have a few larger systems that work for me, and of course they are constantly being challenged by the fact that day to day, my days are usually not the same.

Being a photographer and a designer means that there are all kinds of distractions, and a constantly changing landscape of what must be done that day.

A shoot day usually means no design gets done. A heavy design day means lots of ass sitting (and you know how I feel about that). A day on the road kills creation for both the photography and the design. Getting any design done while transferring planes and flyint through bumps is not gonna happen, and the constant shift of attention makes a 30 minute time frame better for reading than actually designing or editin images. Most of the time.

I do get a lot done while traveling, but most of that output is directed to writing, reading and catching up with correspondence. (Once in San Francisco I was so intently working on a page design that I missed the boarding call. At one point I looked up and there was nearly no one in the area. I had to wait another 2 hours for a flight… it was a crazy evening.)

So my system has to be big enough, flexible enough and ‘open’ enough to encompass those wild swings of priorities.

The post on Lighting Essentials talked about checklists and systems for packing/unpacking gear and how to focus time through the day.

But focusing through the kind of days that photographers have is more difficult than a cubicle gig.

I use a ‘system’ that allows for serendipity.

Part of this system is to be very, very careful on promising delivery. I build in time, double check my schedule and make sure I can deliver when I say I can. Editing and post takes time, and we can sometimes find it takes longer than we thought it would. Finding a design problem may lead to more complex changes than were expected, and I want to be able to make sure that I always under promise and over deliver.

It is so much better to tell a client you will get it to them in two weeks and deliver it in a week than it is to promise it in a week and deliver it in two.

Trust me.

None of us like it when the promised due date goes by without nary a word.

MY SYSTEM IS FLEXIBLE AND ONLY HAS FOUR STEPS

1. Handle all emergencies as they spring up… UNLESS they are not really emergencies. If they are truly an emergency, we take care of it RIGHT NOW. Putting off the challenges only lets them stack up. Make sure you have room in your schedule for the occasional burning house.

2. Keep clients apprised. Nobody likes surprises – especially delivery surprises. If it is going to take a bit longer to get those files edited, let the client know as soon as you realize it. Tell them why it is going to take a bit longer and then under promise / over deliver.

3. Be prepared for all contingencies. Just as it is necessary to have a backup camera or two, it is necessary to have backups to your planning/productivity. Do you have someone who can step in and take some of this work off of your desk and let you handle a higher level priority? I hope you do, otherwise long, sleepless (and not nearly as productive as you think they are) nights await you.

4. Stay on top of marketing. No matter how busy you are, there must be time set aside for your marketing work. Don’t let the week go by without that scheduled email to go out to local ad agencies. If you have scheduled it for that week, make it a priority to get it out. We can be very busy, but if we do not keep the marketing forefront, we can then have the roller coaster of no business / lots of business.

If we are not marketing while we are busy, then we end up getting slow, and then we market like crazed banshees amped up on Red Bull till we get busy again and stop marketing.

And that is nuts!

I would also recommend Steven Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and David Allen’s “Getting Things Done”. Both are go-to’s on my shelves. And the great thing is you can adjust to fit.

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (Amazon)

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change (25th Anniversary Edition) (Amazon)

The most important thing is to make sure you have some simple systems in place to handle the bigger issues of time management. No, don’t go all nuts with huge spread-sheets and such. Just work it out so you have a ‘typical’ way of dealing with the rigors of running a small creative business.