I AM a photographer
My name is Dade Freeman and I AM a photographer! The opinions expressed within this post are drawn from my personal experiences and in no way claim to be the right approach to the business of photography.
Around nine months ago, I moved to Brighton and decided to take the plunge as a solo freelance photographer. At the time, it was more exciting than scary - that excitement has since died down somewhat and reality has firmly taken hold. After some re-branding and organising of my website, sorting out business cards and working hard on networking, the jobs haven't come flooding in :/
I'm not complaining, simply stating this is a tough industry, what with new technology now readily accessible to the masses and 'every man and his dog' calling themselves a photographer, it has become the business to get into, even though it's an already saturated market. Certainly, if you have a good eye, artistic flair and natural ability then pursue it. If you don't, or if you just like taking snaps, then consider whether or not the leap is really for you. In these hard economic times, going it alone rather than having a fixed income is extremely challenging and has caused me to consider if this is the right route for me. However, when I left Spain I was determined to make it as a photographer and this has remained my drive, but the need for a regular income is becoming more pressing.
Even now the decision to continue has been made, I constantly question myself - is what I'm doing good enough? Why aren't people booking me? Do I have all that I need to succeed? Why is my work not getting noticed? Where should I advertise? Should I get formal qualifications? What should I invest my time and money in? All perfectly valid questions, but many of them do nothing more than hold you back.
Typically we photographers take on too much; we become web designers, SEO specialists, marketers, promoters, sales people, designers, writers, printers and last (but not least) photographers. This business is said to be around 80% marketing and 20% photography, which is very disappointing for someone who wants their art and vision to speak for itself. There are, however, solutions available if you can afford them, the main one being outsourcing to companies such as ShootDotEdit. Considering most of us already outsource printing, why not look at what else others can do to ease your load or where your time could be spent better than just sitting at the computer?
the bit IN-BETWEEN
So what other hints, tips and nuggets of wisdom can I share with you? Well, the most important is to keep motivated. One way to do this is to commit to a "365" or "52" project. These involve taking pictures every day or every week for an entire year. I completed my 52 project last year and found it very useful and challenging - the 365 however is VERY demanding. I have also set up, or am involved in, several other projects to push my creativity, such as Project Inception and Fotothon, and I've entered (and in some cases, won) various competitions - all great ways to remain engaged. Below is a selection of themes you can use to get your creative juices flowing.
Consider joining your local camera club, which can be more beneficial than paying to be affiliated to some faceless online organisation. If you don't have a local club, check out Meetup.com to see what's happening in your area. Another growing option is to attend ShutterRock & Smugmug meetings - these are free meet-ups with photographers all over the UK and range enormously in what they offer. Alternatively, you could become actively involved and start your own group.
Personally I have found it useful to seek out people whose ideals I aspire to and are in line with mine, and whose advice I trust. Some of these people are Jasmine Star, Zack Arias, Chase Jarvis, Crash Taylor, Seth Godin, David DuChemin and many more. All are great inspirations and lay their experiences bare for you to devour. Don't overlook influences from other sources outside the photography industry too.
Work on your branding - know who you are and what you want but be adaptable as this is an ever-changing profession. To keep your work consistent choose three evocative words which represent you and your brand and keep them in mind when working. Doing this will inform the images you take and your personal style - more on that later. One of the most important elements in this is the business name. Should I use 'Joe Bloggs' photography (of course, substitute Joe's name with yours) or use something more abstract like 'Venture' Photography? Please, I urge you, take your time with this as it is an important aspect and building block for your business.
So how do I attract people to me and my website? A good question and not one I have the million dollar answer to. I would advise you make sure your website and blog posts are kept current as these will attract followers and get people interested in you and your work. If you need inspiration there is a wealth of blogs, podcasts, magazines and webinars to follow/watch/purchase - search Google and iTunes for details. Try to choose ones that resonate with you and offer quality for money - Creative Live would be a great starting point. Understand and learn to use social media - if you do this well you will draw people to your work or, at the very least, let them know you exist. Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and Google+ are great social media tools which allow you to build networks. I would also encourage you to set up and maintain a Facebook business page, separate from your personal page. Along the same lines, have you added a business page to Google Places?
In order to progress you need to get your work 'out there' and there are various ways to do this; Facebook, Picasa, or my personal favourite - Flickr. It's a great way to show off your work, let people see your talent for themselves, a simple way to get feedback - in order to see if your work is moving in the right direction and whether it's attracting the kind of people you are looking for. Be aware though that asking friends and family may be counter-productive as they are bound to be supportive of your venture and offer non-critical feedback. Also they are not likely to have any technical knowledge for improvement to share with you. Something else you could consider is an exhibition - put together a body of work, hold an open evening and, again, target your market directly and solicit feedback on your work and style. But remember, above all of this, YOU have to be happy with what you are producing and be honest with yourself.
If you truly care about your craft, one vital area is self-investment - whether it be through equipment, books, training, videos or courses. Do some research, learn about photographic history and the individuals who made it what it is today, know your gear and have a clear vision of what you expect for your business. Another buzzword is your 'style'. Don't worry about this too much as your style will develop over time, possibly without you even noticing.
Make sure you attend workshops they are great ways to network and learn at the same time - just be sure of the pedigree of the provider so you don't waste your valuable time and money and, of course, don't forget to build on those connections you made. Some people will tell you that you should specialise in one type of photography - but if you don't know what you're good at, how can you? So to begin with, do everything and anything, you will soon start to learn what you like and why and what you are good at. If you are fortunate enough to have a studio space then look at how else you can make money from it for those quieter periods. In Brighton, Velvet Goldmine Studios are offering studio hire and 1-to-1 training courses at a fantastic rate - go to the website for more details. Heather Buckley is offering courses to help you to get the most from Photoshop and Garage Studios have a massive space they use for workshops etc - they are about to move to a brand new purpose-built facility - see their website for information on what they offer. Let's not forget Eclectia Gallery which not only leases studio space, offers gallery space to sell your work from but also hosts the Smugmug meet ups.
I receive (almost daily) calls from advertisers for magazines, online search companies and scammers offering all kinds of deals - claiming they chose me as "their one photographer in this area to work with", and so on. My advice on this issue is DON'T agree to anything over the phone, but take the details and check the company out online, and then make an informed decision as to whether it's right for your business. No third party can get you to number one on Google or Facebook etc. You can target your market just as well yourself if you do some research and become good at what you do. With magazines - well, it all depends on the readership, but it's a VERY expensive long-term route.
Don't get too caught up in the technical side as this will inhibit your creativity. Instead push yourself outside your comfort zone - don't constantly check your shots on the rear screen of the camera (chimping), instead force yourself to take a limited number of shots as you would on a film camera, change your angle if you always shoot from eye level or stick to only one lens for a week - and zoom with your feet.
Us creative types tend to have huge ups and downs and constantly doubt our abilities. Try to ride these emotional peaks and troughs out and don't succumb to knee-jerk responses (easier said than done, I know).
Above all folks, remain positive!