Expand Your Business
So, keep expanding your skillset, I've said never stop learning, that's part of it. Even now, after 20 years, I'm constantly trying to find either new technology, or how can I become a better portrait photographer. I've been working on that for 10 years, and hopefully making good strides, you know, even in my adventure sports action stuff, I'm constantly pushing, trying to get my images to a better and higher level than they have been. And that's a huge part, because you're gonna grow as a photographer, it keeps it interesting for me. It helps me to not burn out as well, because if I'm constantly learning, then I'm not burning out, I'm getting more and more excited about what's next over that next horizon. Also, you know, the farther you get along in your skillset, the fewer people you're competing against, necessarily. Video, you know, it used to be, when I started out, there weren't many still photographers jumping into video world 'cause film and motion was really expensive, but now...
I think if you're starting out and you wanna be a pro photographer, you need to know video. You may not be an expert in video, but you need to know it, and at least know friends you can hire to come out with you because, for me, there hasn't been a single assignment this year where there hasn't been a video crew with me, and it seems like almost every client I work for wants a behind-the-scenes video of at least me shooting the stills. And sometimes that behind-the-scenes video is seen by more people than my still images. I even had a client tell me, point blank, just a few months ago, the video you're creating on this job is more important than the images you're creating, because 200,000 people will see that video, and that's worth more to us at a marketing level than the stills. And that was a fascinating conversation. You know, that opened a lot of eyes. So, I think, you know, video work is critical, and as still photographers, we have some of the knowledge we need to do video. We have a really good eye for composition and lining up the shot. It's much more complicated than that in terms of storytelling, the audio, and the editing of the video, can be a nightmare, and often is a nightmare, because it's just so work-intensive. I mean, take Photoshop and multiply it by 20, and that's what you have when you get to Premiere Pro. So, it's much more complicated in the overall picture, but you find good people to work with, you work with them on it, and then you can expand your business, that's another part of diversifying your business. In the end, this is another thing from aphotoeditor.com. I can't remember who the photographer was that was in this interview, but he said something about creating barriers to entry. And by, that sounds very ironclad here, but what I mean is, do something that's not easy to replicate. If you're doing something that's really easy to replicate, it's gonna be really hard to make a living off that. I talked, before when we started the class, I was talking to a few of you about the new iPhone and how it can now re-light the image and create a white or black background behind your subject. If you can do it with an iPhone, it's gonna be a really difficult, uphill battle to actually make a living. So that's, we've gotta push our photography to higher and higher levels. One of the beauties of Instagram is there's so much good photography out there, there's a lot of middle-ground and crap, too, but there's so much good photography and we're able to see it, that it's really pushing every pro to be better than they have been, and that's very exciting in the world of photography. So, with that, I think, let's go to some questions.
Yeah, absolutely. Sarah asked, are photography contests a good way to get noticed? Have you done photography contests?
Excellent question, yes.
What would you recommend?
Depends on which ones they are and what genre you're in. There's hundreds and hundreds of photography contests out there. One thing to note about photography contests is they're a huge income maker for a lot of people running the photography contest. So, pick and choose wisely which contest you enter, so you're not just blowing a whole lot of money. I'd say PhotoShelter, is a website, they put out these eBooks, and they actually did a great one that listed 50 or 60 photo contests and talked about what people won and how it affected their career and what it did for them, and they kind of helped weed out some of the competitions you may or may not wanna enter. For me, there's probably five or six that I enter, and it's like 35 to 50 dollars per image, and I spend maybe a couple thousand dollars every year because, you know, they've got a jury, and I look at the jury of people that are looking at the images, and if those people are amazing top art buyers or editors from magazines that I wanna work with, and I can put my image in front of them for $35, that's worth it, even if I don't win.
Because they might be, like, holy mackerel, that image, it didn't win, but I love that image, who is that photographer? So, that can come back to you, and if you win, then you have something to talk about and to market yourself with. So, I'd definitely enter them.
Definitely enter them, do it in an informed way.
Yeah, do it in an informed way.
Do you research.
Sounds like you do. You sort of answered this question. Mark asked, how do you find potential buyers? So, other than going through contests, how do you find buyers?
Yeah, I mean, in the old days, you would go to the magazines and you'd say, if I'm shooting rock climbing, I'm gonna submit to Climbing, and Rock and Ice. You know, it was easier. Now there's this cloud of people out there on the Internet that would possibly buy your images. I think being a pro is basically going, finding who or potential buyers, and then working with them, weeding out who's a potential buyer, who's willing to buy your work, who even has money to buy your work and doesn't wanna just take it for free, and who's easy to work with, I mean, so it takes years to find the people you wanna work with. It's a very amorphous answer, I understand. It's difficult these days, I mean the magazines are a great place to start, still. If you're looking to be a pro photographer, and you're not direct-to-client, like a wedding photographer, a portrait studio or something like that, that's a different type of marketing. Go to the magazines, because they have social media. Just start creating unbelievable images and putting it out there. And if your images are that good, they're gonna get seen and then somebody's gonna call you up, or you're gonna be working hard to find a list of clients. Another answer for that question is, later on, I didn't do this early in my career 'cause I couldn't afford it, there's a company called Agency Access, which is, if you're getting to a stage in your career where you have a decent budget for marketing, like three to five thousand dollars, then you can contact them, and it's a listserv agency that has every art buyer and photo editor in the world. You wanna work for, I won't say names of companies, but whatever company you wanna work for, it's got the contact info for that company, and instead of you having to work super-hard to track these people down, 'cause in the ad agency world, it's nearly impossible to figure out, well, who does Coca-Cola use for their ad agency, or this or that? It would take an extreme amount of research to figure this stuff out. So, ad agency access is a good resource. Costs a couple thousand dollars a year to be on there, though, so just be aware of that.
Any final thoughts for us, Michael, or encouragements for people that--
I think you gave us a really, really just crystal clear assessment of the industry, and it could be discouraging--
It could be discouraging, I made it that way intentionally.
You said, once you go with your eyes open.
But, you know, as I said, you know, if you have the images and the talent, and you're creating amazing work, there is room for you in this world, in the photo industry, and I had a, my mentor, Marc Romanelli, was a stock photographer, and I was lucky that I met him, because he was big-time, top-of-the-pyramids stock photographer who, we became good friends and are good friends to this day, took the time to take, you know, this guy who didn't know what the heck he wanted to do and was kind of scratching around, shooting all kinds of stuff, and gave me some direction. But one of the things he said is, look, there's room for all of us and I think in this day and age, we can't be scared of each other, competition breeds better work, and also, you just have to work harder to make it happen. But there's definitely room, if this is what you wanna do, it is a possibility. I mean, I said I've got a blessed life, sorry, I'm going on and on and on here,
(laughs) that's great.
But if I can do it, and trust me, I didn't have great skill, and I was horrible at business, I got really lucky early on, that helped out. If I can do it, then you could do it. It was just a matter of how much hard work you're willing to put into it, and how long, you know, if you really want this to happen, give it minimum five years. Even more, I mean, and just put your head down, work, work, work, and don't get discouraged. And you know, for me, there wasn't another option, which really helped with the discouragement, 'cause it's like, well, this is what I'm doing, there's no other way out of this, so I think it's your attitude and how you're persistent, passionate, hard work, it's gonna happen sooner or later.
It's just how much time it's gonna take.