It’s coming up on 10 years now of the year I decided to pick up a DSLR and take a photo class I saw in the newspaper. Which feels strange to say, but time seems to just fly by every year. Back then I had no idea where photography was going to take me. I had no idea that because of it I would move across the country at 21 with a makeup artist I met by chance on a shoot. I had no idea it would lead me to a job in New Zealand, which ended up in me moving to Australia. I had no idea what it took to run a business at all, or what I would need to learn if I wanted photography to be a career it would take more work than I ever imagined. Here’s some things I learned along the way that hopefully can help you too.
You might not realize it, but you’re an entrepreneur. Photography is an art form but making money is a business, and the sooner you wrap your head around that and try to run it as such the better. You don’t realize how much of your time is going to be spent with your head in your emails, or trying to work out invoicing, and if you’re really serious about trying to make your art your career, a small business course can be super helpful. I remember the point I realized that the most successful photographers around me all had a great head for running themselves as a business, and this was a large part of their success. You don’t need to go get a degree in business or anything. Try reading books, or listening to podcasts or checking out blogs on the subject to learn on your own.
Stay in your lane. It seems like sometimes the people around you seem to be booking all the gigs or campaigns you thought you wanted, and you’re taking it really personally and it’s crushing your soul and making you question everything. But here’s the thing, what is meant for you will not miss you. Maybe that gig wasn’t right for you anyways, for reasons you don’t know. Stay in your lane, and stop focusing on what other people have done, unless you’re congratulating them. Be happy in other people’s success, foster a sense of community over competition. Focus on what’s going on in your own backyard, and know that if you keep working at it, you’ll get your own success eventually. Believe that there is enough room for everyone to be successful, yours is coming eventually. Dwelling on things you missed out on serves absolutely no one and just makes you unhappy.
I remember sitting at a table in New York at a portfolio review, and being told my work was good but it looked like it was shot by two different people. At the time I think I felt really pulled in two directions of how I should shoot, what was more commercially viable and the things I really wanted to shoot. The more I tried to shoot what I thought people wanted, the less happy I was with my work. I got pretty burnt out on photography after awhile because I felt like I wasn’t happy with what I was producing, and I was just working to make everyone else happy. That’s not sustainable either, and reflecting back now I would tell myself to focus on producing work that I want to do. Stay true to yourself and your vision, and people will come to you for that. You can’t be all things to all people, and you shouldn’t try to be.
Hindsight is 20/20 always, and learning through doing is definitely the best teacher. If someone had told me these things at the beginning through perhaps I would have had a little more confidence in the decisions I made and the direction I went in. There’s no reason to stick to the image of the ‘starving artist’ when you have so many resources out there to learn to run a profitable business. It’s crucial to remember to stay focused on your own stuff, and not be focusing on what you don’t have. Staying true to your vision and values is key for your art and any aspect of your life, really. I hope you can take something from the lessons I’ve learned, and I would love to hear about your feedback or anything you’ve learned in your photography career now that you wish you knew starting out!