I was asked yesterday what I considered to be one of the most important things someone who wanted to be a working photographer could do. I think this is a great question as there are so many things you can do that will help build your career so the answer does rather depend on what type of photography you want to do and the type of photographer you want to become. It also depends on if you want to be a photographer for the sheer fun of being a photographer or if you want to turn your passion for photography into an actual income generating business. I’ll focus on the latter in this small article. There is probably not one thing you can ever do as everything in life is about combinations of things but I’ll at least try to answer the question.
Ask almost anyone who tells you they want to be a photographer and you can probably wager a decent amount of money on hearing the replies when quizzed of ‘fashion’…’music’…’photojournalist’…’travel’…the list probably goes on but those are the ones I hear rather a lot. I do not often hear I want to be a world renowned wedding photographer for instance, maybe if I’m talking to myself in the mirror in that positive frame of voice.
So as I am in the latter category of wedding photography and I’d imagine anyone reading this is probably looking at career options in the wedding industry rather than shooting the latest Vogue editorial or applying for a Magnum membership I better concentrate on what I know about.
So the one thing I would say would help you most would be…drum roll….belief. Now I’m not talking about blind belief that you have no control over but quite simply belief in your own abilities. I’m also hoping you do not equate this belief in your own abilities to an increased size of ego that you are the best or better than everyone else. I mean the kind of belief that you know what you want, you know what you are capable of and you go out and prove that everyday.
The next stage in your journey would be business acumen. The world is awash with wonderful artists that no one knows about and will probably never ever hear about. Think of it this way, you can be the artist that shoots for yourself and creates amazing imagery but unless you have some skill and knowledge in how to run a business then those images will still be on your hard drive in a years time and by doing so they are likely to be an anchor on your own belief and will start to make you doubt just what it is you are doing. I cannot stress enough how important studying business is. At College you probably sit in those lessons thinking, you know what, I’d much rather be out shooting, in the darkroom (College’s still have those right), and wonder why on earth you are learning about people in organisation, human resources etc etc. I know that’s exactly how I felt at one point but I still spent the time putting my effort into those classes and looking back now it is easy to see where that knowledge has helped build a sustainable business for myself.
Lets say you decide to dip your toe into this part time, very sensible. Your family and friends like your images on your Facebook page and suggest that you will make a great photographer and you should really do it. How wonderful it is to have that support behind you and their belief in you fuels your own belief that yes indeed I can do this. Now fast forward to where does the work come from, how do you deal with clients, how do I let people know I exist, accounting, VAT, perhaps even employing others, the list really is endless. If you are contemplating setting yourself up as a photography business then I seriously recommend you review your business skills first. The mere fact you are contemplating becoming a full/part time photographer suggests you have some talent behind the lens already so I am not touching on the photography skills you will need to have to be successful in this article. A great marketer with good photography skills will in all likelihood walk all over a great photographer with mediocre marketing skills.
So you are photographer now, now get ready to take less photos. You’ll spend more time in front of a computer than behind a lens, you’ll spend more time doing accounts than selecting apertures and more time on the phone and in meetings than in setting up lighting. You’ll also spend an absolute fortune on kit but you knew that anyway. So the way I see it is that you must first and foremost have belief in yourself that being a photographer is what you are ’meant’ to be. That way you’ll grow to love all the other non picture taking elements that eat your time and money, just because deep down you know doing that is what allows you to take photos in the first place.
And yes it really is wonderful to be a photographer and I cannot ever imagine doing anything else. So if you have the belief in yourself then your first step is already your most positive one and with hard work the rest will follow.