One Obvious Thing You’ll Need To Know About a Career in Photography and One a Little Less Obvious

Building a career as a professional artist is a long journey of ups and downs. Here’s a take-home lesson to help you on your way.

It was a week full of meetings. Just as my trade missions throughout the year tend to follow one another, so do my meetings. I spend most of my days trying to get meetings with very specific people who can offer me very specific jobs or, if I’m successful, taking those meetings and trying to get those people to hire me. to do the work I have spent my life preparing myself. The level of mass emails and cold calls I send each year is probably just low enough to qualify for my junior telemarketer card. But, in the end, like an average-looking guy trying to get a date, it’s a numbers game. You have to put a lot of lures to eventually catch the fish.

Last week I was lucky enough to reap the benefits of casting so many decoys that I found myself overloaded with portfolio meetings and shaking hands (virtually) with several art producers and art directors I’ve wanted since long have the chance to have ahead of. As always, I had carefully prepared my portfolio for the occasion. And, as I’ve told you many times before in my column, it wasn’t just filled with what I thought clients wanted to see, but images of the kind of work I wanted to create. Your passion for your work shines through in your presentation. And a client can tell if you’re including something just because it’s something you think they’ll pay for or if it’s something you’re so passionate about that you’re literally the only photographer who can bring it to life.

I’ve been a professional photographer for a few decades now, and my brand is pretty well established. What I photograph and how I photograph it is evident both to the clients I have had the chance to photograph for and to the marketing material I have been sending out for years. But that doesn’t mean that my art has stood still for 20 years. Instead, even now, my work is constantly evolving and I’m both learning new skills and, more importantly, continuing to learn what makes me creatively happy. Even inside a niche there are several side streets. And the joy of being an artist is the opportunity to explore them.

But, of course, part of running a successful business, photography or not, is establishing a consistent brand. So how and when do you introduce new elements to your portfolio presentation that speak to you but may confuse your target audience? This fundamental question led me to today’s article and a lesson I was reminded of over the weekend as I pitched my work to a series of high profile potential clients.

It can be terrifying, but the simple fact is that if you want to make your dream a reality, at some point, you have to take a leap of faith. Of course you can circle around for years, taking half measures, saying that one day your dreams will come true and an angel will magically see your work and come out of nowhere to put your pictures on the cover of Vogue. And, hey, I’m sure it’s happened before. But the more likely scenario is that you’ll realize one day that if you want this, if you really want this, you’ll just have to commit to doing what’s necessary to make it happen. You’re going to have to make the cold calls. You’re going to have to market yourself. You are going to have to develop your skills beyond innate talent into a highly developed and repeatable skill set that you can deliver to real paying customers under constant pressure. And while this might not be your first course of action, there may be a day when it’s time to quit your day job, burn the safety net, and focus on your own ability to live on fruit alone. of your own work.

The order and pace at which these things happen will vary for everyone. But, what doesn’t vary for everyone is the fact that at some point you will have to take a risk.

Of course, it’s probably something you were aware of, even if you didn’t quite feel ready to take the risk yourself yet. I’m far from the only person who would have told you that entrepreneurship requires the courage to be bold and take risks. There might be gold on the other side of this mountain, but the only way to find out is to commit to reaching the other side.

What is perhaps less obvious and what reminded me walking into my meetings last week is that once you take your big risk and have the chance to build the career you have always wanted, your work does not stop there. The technology just keeps on developing. More and more competitors are entering the market every day. It took you a lifetime of practice, sacrifice and hard work to develop the skills and the business to make a name for yourself. But success as an artist is a moving target. And just because you’ve established yourself doesn’t mean you’ll stay “established.” To borrow a few words from Janet Jackson, business may very well be a matter of “what have you done for me lately?”

So after you find the courage to take your leap of faith and pay it off exactly as you planned, you will then need to call on that courage again and again to keep taking leaps of faith in order to continue to develop your career. .

These new jumps may differ from the first ones. Your first step might have been to simply move to a new city and start a business. Or maybe your leap was to quit your day job and go full-time. Conversely, your new leap of faith could be something very different, like revamping your visual style or shifting your focus to a different market segment. Maybe, for example, you’ve established yourself as the number one black shoe photographer on the market, but you feel stifled because you’ve gone as far creatively as you think you can go. The market doesn’t know it, but you’ve been doing these amazing glamor portraits for years. And those portraits are what’s really in your heart now and what makes your creativity sing. But, you’re afraid to show the work because you don’t want to kill your business by photographing black shoes. It might now seem like a great thing to include a few glamorous shots in your portfolio. But, depending on where you are in your career, taking a chance and showing that hard work can be a radical act of courage. And continuing to show your passion, even if it doesn’t fit well into the box you’ve built for yourself, just might be the thing that will take your career to the next level.

This is obviously just an imaginary example, but I’m sure you get the idea. It takes a leap of faith to reach the top. But, it also takes small, continuous leaps of faith to stay on top. Customers are constantly on the lookout for new products. They are constantly on the lookout for the right photographer whose skills and passion for a particular subject will add something special to their work. The only way to consistently be that photographer is to continually develop your own interests and skills. And when you have something special to show, then you have to have the courage to believe in yourself and believe that clients will see as much beauty in your new work as they did in their old one.

Of course, just like your first leap of faith, these things require planning. You don’t just jump out of a plane and then figure out how to make a parachute on the way down. Planning and thoughtful execution remain the key to any successful deployment. But however you continue to grow your business and your creativity, know that one skill that will always be required is courage.

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