This one’s primarily aimed at those who’ve picked up the camera as not only a means of making a life but of making a living. I’m not going to powder-coat this for you – it’s tough out there. I get email after email from college students, all of them looking the same-ish
Dear Mr. duChemin (that part always creeps me out), I am a college student and now in my final year have decided that you have the perfect job EVER and I want to do it too. Please tell me how I can do this so I can travel the world and take photographs and become fabulously wealthy with very little effort.
Ok, they aren’t quite like that. But some of them come close and I never quite know how to answer. I want to be encouraging; I think they’re right, I do have the best job ever and I don’t for a moment take it for granted. But if you’ve been around these parts for long you know it took me a long and winding road to get here. Lots of ups, downs, victories and defeats. I could be brutally honest but while I want to disabuse people of the notion that this is an easily-gained fairy tale life, I also don’t want to discourage them from fighting to live their dream. Anyways, I’ve been thinking about this stuff this weekend and this is one of the things I keep coming back to.
You need to do an inventory and become very aware of what’s in stock and on offer. Approached as Brand You, the questions are: What makes you unique? What differentiates you from other photographers? What unique spot in the marketplace do you occupy? These questions then get answered by asking yourself other clarifying questions, all of them aimed at identifying your inventory.
What do you love?
Love kids? Generally we shoot best that which we love best. And spending your days shooting things you love is a great way to make a living, it can energize you, prolong your sanity, and improve the quality of your creative work. Better work, marketed right, can mean better prices.
What Past Experiences Have You Had?
If you’ve done a PhD in Marine Biology you’re uniquely poised to be a marine or conservation photographer. Expertise is not only profoundly saleable but it likely points towards a deeper passion. When stacked against another photographer who shoots food you have a distinct advantage if you spent years as a chef in Paris, and that advantage makes you more saleable than the photographer who just shoots food for the money.
What are you good at?
I love writing. Writing is not photography. But writing about photography allows me to give back to the industry, establish an area of expertise, and develop another area where I can both express myself, work in and for the industry, and contribute to my income. It might not be writing for you. It might be re-touching or composite work. It might be video work. Live lecturing. Cleaning sensors. Multiple income streams can free you to be choosier about your work and gives you a fighting chance when the bottom drops out of one thing. It also provides an outlet for creatives with short attention spans, allowing them give their best work without getting drained.
Alternately, why not look at things in reverse. So long as you’re looking at the shelves and counting your inventory, where are the empty spaces? What are the areas you don’t like, the areas you’ve experienced the least amount of success or creative satisfaction? Those empty shelves likely mean one of two things – an absence of passion or an absence of talent or skill. You’ve got two choices in this regard; use that knowledge to define the gigs you don’t want so you can focus on your strenghts, or put your energies into shoring up the weak spots and stocking those particular shelves.
The truth is, there are hundreds of thousands of photographers out there, skilled and otherwise. It is not generally your singular ability to wield a camera and pick an f-stop that clients want, it is your unique passion, individual vision and style, and your unique skillset, that will determine which clients find a match in which photographer. Knowing the ongoing state of your inventory, selling that particular stock, and doing something about the empty shelves, these make it all significantly easier to put your craft on offer in the marketplace. Hitting a dry spot? Just starting out? Close shop for an afternoon and do some inventory. It’s easier to sell what you know you have.