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In light of two big losses in the creative space – first that of Kate Spade and then that of the much loved and idolized Anthony Bourdain, there are a lot of questions being asked in the creative industry around success and personal happiness.
Why did this happen? What could have triggered these terrible tragedies? How many more are silently suffering? Is there such a thing as too much success? And alternatively what does success truly mean to us creatives?
Before I go any further with this article I have to make some things very clear. This article is not intended to make light of the situation(s) that lead to the demise of either Kate Spade or Anthony Bourdain. If anything, I really want us, the creative industry, to really sit up and take notice of the challenges and difficulties we all face in achieving our own levels of success.
I still use my Kate Spade wallet. In fact, it was the first wallet I gifted myself when I landed my corporate job 15 years ago. There was something about the Kate Spade brand that really resonated with me at that time – it symbolized femininity, freedom, success, and achievement.
Anthony Bourdain inspired me to dream big dreams and instilled a love of travel and people unlike anyone else I had ever seen. The fact that both of these global icons were lost in such similar situations really pushes us to ask those difficult questions around success, hustle, and challenges that go hand in hand.
So let’s start by addressing some of the most common fears that we photographers face on a day to day basis.
Let’s deal with the elephant in the room – I don’t think there really is a correct way to answer this question. Just as there are hundreds of genres of photography – from the super-niche to the really broad – there are hundreds of ways to make money with your photography.
Some of the most commonly explored ones are around consumer photography services, photography education, product sales, commercial photography, visual branding, etc.
I am of the opinion that diversifying your portfolio to include a few different revenue streams is a smart way to do business as a photographer. Diversification not only gives you the creative freedom to explore different genres of photography but also encourages you to learn new techniques and skills.
Additionally, earning a steady income during the off-season helps reduce the anxiety around money.
Photography is as much a science as it is an art form. If you don’t believe me just take a look at your camera user manual. To really get good at the art of photography you need to understand the technical terms as well as the soft skills like composition, posing, communicating, etc. There is a lot of stuff to learn and understand to really excel in this craft.
Luckily there are many online classes as well as in-person workshops that teach and train you in various aspects of photography. While you can really learn a lot from free courses, articles, and videos, there is a lot of value to be had in workshops and classes. Not only do you get to connect with professionals in the areas that you want to specialize in, you also get to meet others who are in the same boat as you.
Don’t view other photographers as your competitors. Instead, view them as your peers. These are the people who understand you and the passion you have for this field because they have it too. Focus on building your community of friends, peers, and people who you can connect with when you have difficulties and challenges.
Having a strong support system is really important especially in creative fields.
Let’s break this down into one simple question. What does one need to create an image? The answer is a camera!
It truly does not matter what camera you have. Just google iPhone photography and you will find some amazing artists who are creating phenomenal work with just their phones. Similarly, if you search for photographers who use entry-level DSLR cameras, you will find many great photographers who still work with a basic DSLR camera and a kit lens!
You don’t need the latest full frame or mirrorless camera and pro-grade lens to create great images. Focus more on learning and understanding the technical skills than on the gear.
When you are just starting out, experiment with different cameras and lenses to see which ones feel right. Rent or borrow gear from other photographers so you can become good at creating great images no matter the gear.
For the first two years of my business, I only had one camera and one lens. I rented the gear I needed depending on the job which helped me keep my costs low. There are many ways of being successful without going broke.
In any field of work, the only way to produce great work is to do the work. There truly is no such thing as overnight success. You might look at someone who seems to have achieved a lot (which is really subjective by the way) and think that they have it easy.
But you don’t see the true reason for that success. You don’t see the late nights, the hustle, the constant planning and execution, the anxiety over money, the failures, the challenges and the struggles. You don’t see them because they are generally not talked about openly.
So before you question how to produce great work, go ahead and consistently do the work. Get out there and photograph even when you don’t want to. Photograph in different lighting situations to understand light. Work with different subjects so you know how to interact and communicate to get the look you want.
Reach out and connect with other creatives and collaborate on projects. Everyone who wants to make it big is willing to do the work, are you?
You can have the best portfolio, the best website and the perfect studio space. But it all means nothing if you are not getting a steady stream of inquiries and clients.
The only way to really get clients and bookings is to actively go seek them. One way to seek new clients is to put yourself out there as a photographer/creative artist. Network with people from different industries, pitch your work to your ideal clients, market your work effectively and the inquiries will come.
Sure this will take time but if you are in this industry for the long game then take the time to make a mark with your work.
Look, we all start somewhere and there is no shame in that. I remember when I first started building my portfolio I had a ton of pictures of my kids and those of my friends and family. I would practice every opportunity I would get with people I knew.
Slowly I started getting confident about my work and made it known that I was an aspiring family photographer. I didn’t focus on the sale but instead on building a network of clients. I networked with other photographers via in-person meetings as well as online forums and learned as much as I could about the business of photography.
So when you are just starting out, put yourself out there. Ask friends and family if you can practice your photography skills on them. Reach out to others and see if you can collaborate.
There is no lack of ways to build your portfolio – you just have to get comfortable with asking.
We live in a very different world now more than ever. Everything is online and everyone is online. Traditional forms of marketing like print ads, radio, and TV don’t do as well as online and social media marketing.
Since social media and online presence seems to be the new status quo, make sure you have an online presence. And remember social media is all about being social! So make sure you are being social online by sharing a little bit about you and not just your work. Work on building a relationship with clients and potential clients because people will only buy from brands (and people) that they know, like and trust.
Invest in social media marketing and advertising as well as traditional forms of marketing. A lot of my work still comes from word of mouth and referrals, so make sure you are taking advantage of those channels as well.
I hope these tips were helpful and shed light on some of the commonly expressed fears that others including myself regularly experience.
Please remember that you are not on an island without any help and nor are you the only one going through all these emotions and feeling of anxiety around your work. We all face these same issues time and time again.
The key is to objectively work through them and come out strong. If you are truly passionate about photography and want to make it a career, keep up the hard work and the fruits of your labor are bound to be as sweet as can be!