Keys to Being a Successful Photographer (Part II)

It takes more than just having pretty pictures to make you a successful photographer. You could be the best photographer in the World, but if no one knows about you or sees your work, you’re nonexistent. In this second part of the Keys to Being a Successful Photographer, I’ll dive into your brand identity.

Quality Control
When you first start out shooting, you think everything is great! You want everyone and their moms to see it. You do small jobs and you hand over all the images to your clients. But by doing so you are not doing the clients any favor and you’re hurting yourself in the process. The client hired you for your artistic eye, use it to select only the best to share with the World. Be the gate-keeper of your work. Doing this early in your career will help you with your brand later on.

Photo Editing
I’m not referring to photo retouching, I’m talking about making your image selects, finding the “hero” shots. After a photoshoot, I use Bridge (you can use Lightroom) to sort through the images. In my first initial run through I don’t look at the details, I’m focused more on the composition, color and mood. (1 star these) Don’t spend too much time on this process, if it pops out at you, star it, if it doesn’t, move onto the next image.

In the second round, I look at the details of the image like facial expressions, posture, clothes, etc. (2 star these) I spend a little more time on each image. Round three, I select similar images and compare them side by side. I three star the better one. In the final round, I look at all the three stared images. (Command click the 3 starred images to have them all appear in the preview window so you can compare them side by side) I four star the images that my eyes gravitate towards. Next I upload the 3 star and up images for the clients to review, I give them my 4 star recommendations, but if they prefer the 3 star images, I can live with it because I’ve already gotten rid of the fat.

Brand Identity
When most people think of branding, they think of website, colors, fonts, but branding goes way beyond that. Branding is the holistic view of what your client perceives you as. It’s the way you portray yourself, the perception of what people view you. It’s how you represent yourself on-set. It’s what people classify you and associate you with. It’s the tone you set in your marketing. The tone you set with interactions with your client. Just like a well-known brand name versus a generic brand, people are willing to pay more for the well-known brand names because they associate better quality with it. Same can be said for photography. You have to create the illusion of success and exclusivity, and charge accordingly, whether it’s true or not.

Of course this only works if you have the product to back it up. You have to have talent. People can spot an imposter from a mile away.

Photography Website
Now that you have a collection of kick ass photographs (because you use the above step to weed out the crap), your next step in branding is your website. Ultimately this is probably where clients will initially come across your work for the first time. You have roughly 15 seconds to impress so make the most out of it. Here’s how:

Design your own website from scratch. I suggest that you don’t use a template, even though there are well-known photographers out there that uses templates such as view books. Like everything else in life, you want to stand out. Your photography is unique and so should your website. Don’t be a follower. You want them to remember you, so when your website is the same as everyone else’s it’s not going to help your brand.

Stand Out From the Crowd

Make sure your images load fast. The attention span of people these days are limited. Art directors and art buyers have busy schedules, consider yourself lucky if they take the time to visit your site. Don’t make them wait. If your images can’t impress them within 15 seconds they won’t bother digging deeper into your site. Your website navigation needs to be intuitive, easy to move around. Your images need to be big so potential clients can see all the details, anything can look good thumbnail size. Whatever you do, please, please do not add music to your website. Finally, make sure you have a mobile site for iPhones, Androids, and iPads. Update your images regularly.

Start a Blog
Create a blog that’s in lined with your brand identity. The blog creates another extension of yourself, it shows potential clients your personality. Don’t just blog about yourself, reach out to the community and write about what’s relevant, along with other photographer’s projects that you think deserves attention. Be transparent with your blog, meaning admit to your downfalls and what you can do to improve. Put everything out in the open, the less secrets you have, the more people will appreciate you.

Social Media
Create a social media presence that’s in lined with your band identity. Facebook Fan Pages, Twitter and Google +, make sure the content for each one is slightly different. Nothing is more annoying than connecting all three to have the same content. If someone is following you on all three, they don’t want to see the same update. 

Pay it Forward
Take a newbie under your wing. Teaching is a good way to give back to the community and it may help you learn things that you didn’t already know. By taking in interns, you’re helping them advance their careers, thus creating a blanket of photographers who look up to you and will spread support of your work.

Personal Projects
When you’re not shooting for clients, make sure you take that time and shoot personal projects. Push the limits, try something new, these projects have no limitations, it’s what you want it to be. Most of the time, my personal projects are what draws in potential clients.

I hope that you found this post helpful. Feel free to leave feedback. Stay tune for Part III.

Keys to Being a Successful Photographer (Part I)

Heck I don’t know, let me know when you find out. Just kidding.

Attitude is Half the Battle
I find that the first key to success is attitude. I’ve always been a positive person, and I’ve found that the more positive you are, the more positive things gravitate towards you. Negative thoughts feeds negative energy. Stay clear of the mindset that photography is too difficult and that you can’t succeed, everything takes time. Know your limitations and weaknesses, by doing so you’ll be able to fully work on them. Some people are too close to their work and can’t critique their own work, if this is the case, get colleagues in your field to give you feedback.

Know Your Camera
With the ease of technology today, anyone can take a photograph. The cameras all have auto focus and preset modes. Being able to press the shutter, does that make one a photographer? Sure. But being a successful photographer takes more. Learn your camera inside out. You want to be able to adjust your camera settings on the fly without hesitation. Know how to adjust your camera settings to get the output that you need in your images. When you’re on a job, time is money. You must be able to work efficiently. When I got my camera, I read the manual from front to back, then shot in different scenarios to put the theory to use.

Mistakes are Part of the Process
Know that it’s okay to make a mistake. You’re not a surgeon. If you make a mistake, someone is not going to die. By not being afraid of mistakes, you give yourself the freedom to explore. Try new things. Sometimes an accident can create something magical. When I first started shooting with strobes, I would make sure I forced myself to use a new lighting set-up every time I shot. I didn’t want to get into a comfort zone where I was doing the same things over and over. There were definitely some UGLY images, but that was acceptable. Take notes of what worked and what didn’t.

Whether it’s formal education in an institutional setting or like myself, you attend the School of Hard Knocks, you learn on your own in the real World. Either way, education is key. You must know at least the basics before you can get anywhere. Another route to take is photography workshops, but make sure you do some research to see if it’s the right one for you. Check out who’s teaching the class. Do you like the work they produce? Check out the testimonials, feedback, or ask people who have attended. This past weekend I put on a two day workshop on photography lighting and retouching with Pratik of Solstice Retouch. An attendee came up to me at the end and told me that she had learn more in two days then she did in her four years in school. This isn’t right for everyone. People learn differently. Know yourself.

The most valuable form of education is an internship. Like the workshops, you have to pick the one that’s right for you. Research photographers in your field of focus that you look up to, reach out to them and inquire about an internship. Remember though, an internship is not an easy walk in the park. Later this week, I will focus on what makes a good intern to help you mold yourself into the photographer’s right hand man (or woman).

Join a Gang and Go Shoot People
Different kind of gang and completely different kind of shooting. Reach out to photographers in your area, make friends, having a community is a great way to learn, talk shop, share ideas, build a relationship. I know that I recommend other photographers to potential clients who can’t afford me or we have conflicting schedules, and the photographers that I recommend are the ones I know and trust.

Hard Work
It’s pretty simple, you have to work hard at it. Nothing comes easy or else everybody would be successful. Work begets work. Simple equation. I am consumed with photography. If I’m not physically working, my mind is thinking and is always open to inspirations for photos. Here’s my personal quote, “Work while other people play. Retire while other people work.”

Stay tune for other parts of this Keys to Being a Successful Photographer series.

How Do I Get More Paying Work?

One of the common question that I get from photographers is, “How do I get more paying jobs?”

When you first start out as a photographer and learning your craft, it’s understandable that you have to do free work to build up your portfolio. I mean who’s going to want to pay someone for a service if they don’t have a portfolio to back it up? I’m certainly not going to commission an artist to paint me a masterpiece if he’s never painted before. It’s a catch 22, but as you hone in on your skills and techniques you have to make that leap and decide, “ok, my book looks pretty good, I put alot of time and effort into this, my skill has a value now, let’s stop working for free.”

When you get to this point, you have to do a little research and be honest with yourself. Look at your work with an objective eye, now find photographers who your work is comparable to and see what their rates are at. If you’re a wedding photographer, you would look at the rates of other wedding photographers, not the rates of commercial photographers, etc. Know your market. Rates in the metro area are going to be different then rates in Alaska.

There are more photographers now then ever because everyone can afford a good DSLR, so the market is now flooded with GWCs. They’re just excited that they get to take pictures, so they willingly do it for free. But those people don’t realize that in order to get paid work, you have to decline free work, and sometimes they never break this cycle. My rates aren’t cheap, but would I rather work 2 well paying gigs or 10 gigs that will add up to the 2 gigs? The math is pretty simple. Now I have more time to work on personal projects versus client projects. If you value your work, so will other people. (be objective) =)

If you’re a seasoned photographer and you’re drastically undercutting everyone…well there’s not much I want to say about that except that you’re not doing the business any favors and you’re certainly not doing yourself any favors in the long run either. You’re basically setting the bar for client expectations in the pricing.

As to how to get more paid jobs? There’s no magic recipe really, it’s a combination of things, it starts out with your body of work. I a firm believer that if you create excellent work, the path will pave itself. Repeat business, word of mouth, marketing, and declining free or underpaid jobs will help you get there.

Good luck to you.