For many people, choosing to become a photographer is as easy as buying a good DSLR camera, taking pictures of their family and friends, creating a free website and/or social media accounts and announcing to the world that they are ready for business. There are some very interesting statistics from the US Department of Labor on the number of photographers in the US broken down on a state by state basis. Larger metro areas have more photographers than rural countryside communities. Keep in mind, this data is only for the US. There is similar statistics available for the photographic industry for most other countries as well.
Per US Department of Labor Statistics, May 2013
The same report, US Department of Labor Statistics, May 2013, states that the mean hourly wage is $17.88 and mean annual salary in 2013 was $37,190 – a good chunk of change for the above average hobbyist as well.
Becoming a photographer has low cost of entry (entry level DSLRs with a kit lens are around $1000-$1500), low barriers to entry, (home studios or outdoor sessions) and in most cases an education or a photography related degree is not required. Often times, as with most other professions, it is not what you know but who you know. If you happen to have a huge social circle or attract clients who have huge social circles, word-of-mouth and viral social media posts makes you famous almost overnight.
Unfortunately, the same social media and online marketing can also have a detrimental effect on photographers. It is very easy for a new photographer, or even a seasoned one, to feel overwhelmed and demotivated. Feelings of jealously, lack of confidence or even self doubt are very common and occur often. However with a few simple but effective steps, you can get out of your photographic rut, end your pity party of one, and get back to the profession you fell in love with. These steps will help you invest time in yourself, invest time in your community, and invest time in your craft to differentiate yourself from your competition and get noticed by clients, both present and future ones.
#1 Start personal projects
Personal projects are a great way to fall back in love with the art of photography. Personal projects can be something within your genre of photography, or completely different. It doesn’t really matter, as long as it is something that peeks your interest and keeps you motivated. Be realistic in the time and cost commitment required for your personal projects. You may decide that you want to keep this personal and not share it with your friends and clients. That’s perfectly fine. If you choose to keep it private, take notes and keep a log. It will help you stay on track. If you share it with your online audience, make it interactive, ask for advice or even suggestions of topics from your friends and fans. There is no right or wrong as long as you are committed.
One of my personal projects is photographing with film – medium format and 35mm from a recent photowalk in Downtown Chicago
#2 Re-examine your portfolio
Do a through examination of your portfolio and see what areas need attention. Make sure your portfolio and website reflect your best work. If you feel you are lacking in areas that you want to specialize in, take note. Make specific goals and work toward filling those gaps. You know the age old saying – by acknowledging your weaknesses, you are one step closer to fixing them.
#3 Make friends in the industry
Reach out to other photographers in your area and invite them for a cup of coffee. Make friends. Remember to keep conversations light and general. Don’t be a ‘Debbie Downer
‘ in the your very first meeting. Be genuine and show interest in their business as well. Be honest and ask them for advice on how they got over a photography rut. Organize photo walks or photo excursions with your new friends. Often times, just being able to talk shop with another person in the same industry is motivating enough to help you get out of your rut.
My talented friends – lifestyle film photographer Sachiko Eubanks Photography and wedding photographer Aparna of Photography by Aparna Paul Jain
#4 Rebuild your portfolio
Do you still have the contact information for those people who first helped launch your career. Reach out and ask them if they would be willing to help you update your portfolio. Chances are your style has evolved and changed. These friends and followers helped you before, perhaps they are willing to do it again. But definitely make it worth their time; either offer a free session or a discount – whatever makes more sense for your current situation.
#5 Attend workshops, seminars, and online events
Like most other professions, the photography industry is continually evolving and changing. There are numerous workshops, seminars, and even free online events and tutorials to keep you busy during the slow season. Keeping abreast of the latest in any business is a good thing. It shows your clients, both present and future ones, that you value your business enough to invest in it.
Attending workshops provides a platform to learn new techniques, network with other photographers and updated photos for your portfolio
#6 Volunteer your services
There are many great organizations and services out there. Find a few that you are passionate about and reach out to see if they need a volunteer photographer. Remember to be honest about your time commitment. If you can only volunteer your services during the slow season, let them know so they can plan accordingly. Remember if you are genuine and true, your images will reflect that passion and people will respect you more for wanting to contribute to the community.
My time volunteering at the local humane society has been one of the most rewarding experiences to date – I would adopt all of them if I could!
#7 Join photography clubs and groups
There are many great online and local community resources for photographers. Meetup.com is one very popular site that has many different photography clubs. There are generally a wide range of photography enthusiasts in every club and it is likely that you will have a good time. Go with an open mind and not with the attitude of, “What’s in it for me?”.
Participating in photowalks and shoot outs with other photographers has given me the experience of photographing a variety of subjects like high school seniors
#8 Honesty really is the best policy
Don’t just give the elusion of staying busy – actually get busy. Be honest and upfront with your clients. It is perfectly okay to say you are experimenting with black and white, dabbling with newborn photography, or working on landscape photos. Prospective clients will research and find all everything they want to know about you via social media, so be truthful.
Equestrian photos on film – photo credit Sachiko Eubanks Photography during one of our photography excursions
Lastly, keep your chin up and roll with the punches. Everyone goes through tough times in their lives and businesses at some point or the other. The key is to recognize that this is just a phase and it too shall pass.