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5 Things We Wish Every Photographer Knew Before Starting Their Business


I love this creative business we are in. Ike and I have had the pleasure of being photographers for the last eleven years and although there have been plenty of sweet moments, what most people don’t know are the very long nights that led into even longer mornings; the huge mistakes; the failures; and the tears… so many tears as we have fought for our little piece of the American dream.

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Photography wasn’t something either of us saw ourselves doing, but it is a passion that has consumed us and that fits to our life like a glove.  With such a strong emphasis on visual marketing and social media marketing, the role of a photographer as a content creator has become even more important and necessary.   Pictures and videos are “the thing” that people need; businesses need to get their ideas and concepts in front of people in an interesting and engaging way to go to the next level.  The only problem… although people go to school and get educated on how to be a photographer, there is no real barrier to enter into the field – so anyone can claim to be a photographer, start a business and go.  The challenge with this process is that there is no set of rules or expectations that all photographers know, are educated on, and are aware of as they go into this world and start running their business. 

As a result, you have a community of people who do the same things, provide the same services, but operate in different ways, often hurting, offending and frustrating the community that they really should be adding value to. After having my own run-in with a few situations, I’ve learned that what our profession is really missing is an etiquette-guide, of sorts, that every photographer should know when they come into the industry. But, as I got to thinking more about this idea, I realized it’s not just the new photographers who really could use some etiquette in how to operate as a business person, it is also veteran photographers, and interns who are learning from other photographers and the clients we serve. We can all use a little more education and understanding in how we are operating, how we are viewed and how we can do a better job of carrying out the very special work we get to do. 

5 Things We Wished Every Photographer Knew

1. Know Your Why Whenever we set out to do anything, it starts out full of fun and passion and excitement and then reality sets in. It gets harder and it requires work, and then we are faced with the reality of whether or not something is “worth it”. Photography is one of those things. It seems so fun and glamorous, AT FIRST. You get to photograph pretty people, in beautiful clothing; you get to connect with your art and express yourself through a medium that produces a product that mostly everyone in today’s world wants, but then the reality hits you! You realize that very little of the actual work of photography is the actual photography. 

Suddenly, in order to run a business and make money, 80% of shooting becomes more like 20% and emails, consultations, editing and office work become your everyday. You feel robbed, jaded, frustrated and you question if it’s for you. The problem is that, when you started, you didn’t establish your “WHY.” 

In any creative business, you have to know why you are doing what you are doing. What your goal is and what you hope to accomplish. This will get you through the tough things. This will encourage you through the moments that make you want to quit. It is the difference between businesses that don’t make it past year three and those with the longevity of decades with a passionate desire to fight for your “WHY” when you can’t see it with your physical eyes and the tenacity to stick through until it manifests.

One way to do this is to establish a mission/vision statement for your business. To do this: write down three things you want to accomplish with your business and ways you plan to do each thing.

And then, every choice you make, every project you take on can be “checked & balanced” by the standards for your business you set in place.

2. It’s Not About The Numbers, but if it is, it better be the RIGHT numbers. Everyone loves to be loved and I am no different. Every creative artist wants to know that people resonate with their work and that they connect with the imagery that they are producing, but sadly, over time, I think the emphasis has been too heavily placed on that and not enough on the stuff that actually counts.

Social media has set this standard that things like “thumbs up,” “hearts,” and “followers” equal a successfully run business, but the truth is THOSE NUMBERS only represent numbers. What those numbers do not tell you is whether or not someone is sleeping on the floor of an empty apartment, or whether they are really good at planning styled shoots, whether they are a millionaire, and whether or not they are so booked up they can’t even manage a proper social media following. Those numbers do not mean clients. Those numbers mean you got just the right amount of attention to get those who have stopped by to decide to stay for a little while and get to know what makes you, YOU.
The numbers lie. Well, those numbers lie. I think there is far too much emphasis placed on “followings” and “likes,” and not enough emphasis placed on dollars and cents. Social media followings are wonderful things, but social media numbers don’t necessarily translate to successful businesses. The numbers that need to be your focus are the ones that fill up the bank account and allow you to have the life you always dreamed of. That will make those tough moments worth it and will provide the type of sustainability that will keep you in business for the long haul.

“It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.”- HERMAN MELVILLE

3. The Market Needs Something Different Being a photographer takes work. It takes the kind of work that is work. It drains you from your head to your toes, but when you can look at what you created and know that it came from you, your heart and your head, it’s one of the best feelings in the world.

No one wants to be a carbon copy of someone else, especially when it comes to art. SO fight for your art. Fight for your vision. Fight for your work and be willing to do the HARD WORK of being original – creating fresh concepts and introducing new ideas. Also, understanding that it is SO important when reproducing concepts or ideas, to check in with the source of inspiration and get their blessing!

This isn’t just about that art of photography, this could even go as far as locations and clients and ____________ (fill in the blank). 

Now, some folks may disagree with me, and at times, I disagree with myself – because from the other side we can fall back on the “there’s nothing new under the sun” and “no one owns the right to a concept,” and you are right. All of these things are true, BUT in the spirit of community, wouldn’t it almost be effortless to just check in and to give thought to some of these things? The community does better when there is a respect for what has been created, and there are simple things that can be done to honor the community of artists that you work with and around. So maybe next time, just consider that. Is this idea an original idea? Is the way I am approaching it completely different? And if not, do I need to check in with anyone to keep the peace? Those few simple steps have the ability to make a difference and continue to build community rather than tearing it apart.

4. Honor Those Who Came Before You To my last point, there truly is nothing new under the sun. Almost everything has been done before – whether you have engaged with the idea or not, a quick Google or Pinterest search will show you that most ideas, concepts have been attempted at one point or another and because of this, it means there are so many other people who have gone before you.

Don’t forsake the wisdom of those who have done it and have done it well.

Respect those photographers who started before you and are STILL sustaining today, whether you respect and value their work has nothing to do with their ability to successfully run a business and the truth of the matter is, to survive this particular field, you have to know how to do business.

Show respect and honor for the things you can learn from those who have done well and humble yourself enough to learn and take in the things they might be willing to teach you.  The number of businesses that make it past year three are few, so having the wisdom of those who have had success is a price we can’t really pay and should take advantage of.

5. You Don’t Know The Costs If I can think of any advice I would or could give any photographer – it would be that you don’t know the costs of someone’s business to their life. You don’t know the sacrifices someone has made to get where they are – so before you make judgment calls about whether they deserve it, whether they work hard enough, whether they are good enough, think about the untold stories. You don’t know the road they have had to walk to get where they are – so never make assumptions about their failures or their successes (whether they are talented enough, gifted enough, whether or not they deserve to stand in the rooms they stand in or take pictures of the people they take pictures of or stand on the platforms that they do).

You do not know the struggle, the fight, the wins or the losses of anyone. All you know is what they choose to share with you. So in that, it is so important to walk your road and your best not to compare yourself to those around you who are doing the same thing.

You can’t compare challenges, failures, successes, and their choices to yours. You can only make the decision to run your race, and to run it well.

So many people lose their homes, their marriages, their families, and their finances chasing after the things that are important to them. For many people, their creative passion is their escape, their joy, their peace and their lifesaver. You don’t know the cost these people pay to get to do what they love, so it’s so imperative to have grace, consideration and understanding for the stories behind the story.

Final Thoughts

I don’t pretend to have all of the answers. I don’t even pretend to believe that by reading and understanding this blog post that all of the challenges that we face in the industry will be magically solved – but one thing that isn’t often talked about is what it really takes to find success.

Running a business is hard. It requires a commitment and tenacity for the things that you are going after that we often aren’t told about. It is my hope that by reading this blog, I have shed some light on some things that you haven’t thought about or brought to the table some ideas in a new way!

Each of us has a story, a little bit of wisdom, and a heart. So, when you find yourself in the company of a fellow photographer, never pass up an opportunity to dig a little deeper, connect with the beautiful soul in front of you and make a connection. There are always opportunities to grow and we can all benefit and learn from those around us.

Until next time,

Ike and Tash