VisionMonger Questions

In VisionMongers by David9 Comments


This one might win for lamest illustration I’ve ever posted. Remember the buttons I (over)did for a while? Any more of these and you’ll be begging to go back to them.

The other day Peachpit hosted a webcast chat with me and about 70 other folks. It was a fun conversation, though these things always feel a little one-sided to me. I talk and talk and never get to just sit back and listen. And even with all that talk there were many questions left over. I can’t get to all of them, but here are my responses to a few more. Some of them are actual responses, others are links to more thorough responses I may have addressed elsewhere. Q stands for Question. R stands for response, a word I’m more comfortable than ‘answer’, which is so definitive-sounding.

Q: Is education as key as business savvy?
R: I think you get business savvy through education. That education might be the school of hard knocks, a book, a mentor, or some other way of learning, but as neither the photographic industry, the industries we serve, nor the business world in general, stay still for very long, I think you need to be learning constantly

Q: How do you figure out exactly who you are & what your brand is?
R: I think that’s very much a journey of self-discovery. But it begins with your likes and dislikes, the things you love and will do for a buck, or for free, and the things you wouldn’t do for all the money in the world. It includes the skillset you have, and the benefits you offer to a certain market. Brand You is simply the whole package of who you are, communicated in a clear, benefit-oriented way to your market.

Q: Why is it hard to make the leap to a fulltime gig of being a photographer in a lacking economy?
R: I think you might have answered your own question. It’s hard enough doing it in a strong economy, isn’t it? I’m not really sure what you’re asking, but I’m open to clarification. Leave a comment. If what you’re asking is how do we overcome that challenge, that’s a long answer. Economies have cycles, and if you’re playing the stock markets you buy when others are selling. That’s where you make the money, on the buy. So the question is, when the times are hard where are our opportunities? And though I hate to do this to you, the answer is one you’ll have to dig out relative to the market you serve. Running a business is a creative game as much as making images. But it begins with educating yourself, understanding your brand and your market, and knowing how to use your financial and marketing tools to you can make the best use of them in times when the economy looks more challenging than usual.

Q: How much time/week do you spend on your business?
R: All of it. My business is not a hobby, and I don’t seperate my photography activities from my business activities. I work at least an 50-hour week, usually more. But it’s work I love and much of the time it feels more like play. But I will say this, if you go full-time and you don’t hustle at least as much, or more than, you would a full-time job for someone else, you don’t stand a chance. You can start slow, you can climb the mountain one step at a time before you quit your day-job, but once you decide – or are forced into – giving this a shot, you need to work your tail off. These dreams are not going to chase themselves while I sleep in and only pretend to be self employed. One can just as easily be self-unemployed. The only difference is how hard you work and how much you earn.

Q: How much time do you spend on self development and in what areas?
R: Similar to my reply above, I spend a lot of time on development. I don’t seperate my activities out, to me they’re all one and the same – I am my brand, my product, and whether I am shooting, learning, blogging, or talking to clients, I am building value into my brand so I can shoot better and serve my clients better. At minimum I’d say you need to spend time developing your business skills and knowledge, your marketing and financial skills, your creativity, your ability to remain current and skilled with your gear, including cameras and computers and related hardware/software. Activities might include your own personal work, attending Photoshop World, reading one book a month on business and one a month on photography. Whatever it is, be proactive about it.

Q: Are we getting carried away with the desire to make money from our art?
R: Possibly. But there are so many people who just want to shoot, so I’d say they balance us out. The fact is, this is an expensive hobby and even for those to whom this is not vocational, it costs a good chunk of money, so any chance to recover some of that is pretty appealing i think. A more interesting question, I think, is are we allowing the desire to make money to cloud our vision and misalign our passion?

Q: Who would win in a duel. You or Joe McNally?
R: I think this depends on the weapons of choice. But Bob Krist went up against Joe and did OK, so I think what Joe has in experience (Yoda), I have in youth (whiny Luke Skywalker when he still had both hands and wasn’t wierded-out when thinking about Leah). I like to think it would be a draw. Unless there are cameras involved, then the odds are in Joe’s favour. Flashes? No contest, wouldn’t even try. You can look for me in the canteena getting drunk with Chewbacca.

Q: Where do I start if humanitarian photography is what I would like to do?
R: I wrote an article about that HERE, that would be a good place to begin.

Q: How do you approach potential sponsors?
R: Check out this article about sponsorships HERE.

Q:What do you do to stay grounded in your creativity?
R: The short answer is that I stay active in my creativity. I don’t let the paint sit for too long before I paint with it. The long answer is the reason I wrote The Inspired Eye, Notes on Creativity for Photographers. If you haven’t read that yet, I suggest you consider that a good place to begin. Our creativity is our biggest asset, it’s the ground on which all this is built, so it’s key to keep it fed.

Got more questions related to making a life and a living in photography? Leave them here in the comments and I’ll do what I can to reply to them over the coming weeks. The only thing I ask is that you read VisionMongers first. I know, lame thing to ask, but seriously, that’s like not reading your camera manual and then nagging Nikon customer service about how to turn the thing on. This is an invitation to a conversation, not to re-hash something that I’ve already written, and in greater detail than I’d go into on the blog anyways.


  1. and Broch, …while you’re at it, why not offer the opportunity to sponsor a child and provide school supplies for one year, …or four years.

  2. @Broch – Have you thought about asking people in your community to sponsor senior portraits for a child? You could approach churches, educational foundations, & businesses who are interested in education and giving back to the community.
    You might need a brochure and a small website to show why these children need/deserve senior portraits and what the donation will provide (what the photo package will be). Scott Kelby featured a video on his blog today that might give you several ideas:

    Good luck with this project, …let us know how we can help.

  3. I started in on “VisionMongers” last night. Did my usual skim read focusing on aspects that peaked my immediate interest. What an awesome book and resource. I truly can’t wait to dig in deep over the next few nights when the house is quiet (three young kids and a wife here…lol).

    I don’t have any questions, but would like to make two comments:

    1) I am very interested in sponsorships and how they might apply/work withing my business. This is a subject I have always wondered about. I am looking forward to that section.

    2) Your section on Finances and your personal disclosure, I found to be a real inspiration. Your intro to that section really underscores the difficulties yet shows us all we can turn things around under the worst of conditions with passion and drive.

    Thanks again for this wonderful book and resource. I know you have a new book on the way too. With that I will say… Keep them coming!!

  4. Just got the book and enjoying it. Making me even more desperate to make the break from my day job(which I truly hate).
    I want it so much that it hurts but constantly come back to “am I good enough” Hope I can find the strength to do it.

  5. Great read David, thanks! BTW, after seeing the Joe McNally shoot-out w/Scott Kelby (“Off the Jumbo-tron…”) for a burger, I’d say you should consider a book “write-off” with Joe… THAT would be interesting! Keep on keeping on…

  6. I’ve been reading Visionmongers for the past few days, and it is awesome! My question probably isn’t unique, and I hope that an answer to it would be beneficial to several of us who may be afraid to inquire. I have been a lifelong photographer, as a hobby. My wife is a high school special education teacher, and many of her students are unable to afford senior portraits. Most of them cannot even afford pens/pencils or notebooks for their assignments. For the past 4 years I have been shooting portraits for these children at no charge, as they have worked so hard to get to where they are, even more so to graduate from high school. Do you have any suggestions as to how to keep from entering the poor house myself, while still being able to offer no-cost portraits to these deserving children? I used to do enough for-pay work to cover my costs, but have let that slide to keep my time available for the kids.

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