10 Tips for Sustaining a Long Career as a Professional Photographer

Grow or die – My good friend and coach Ian Summers coined that phrase. He also taught me that growth requires a temporary surrender of security.

Be yourself – There’s a great quote – “be yourself because everyone else is taken” Many folks say that you need to have your own vision but I really don’t like this phrase because it is overused and is not really specific or clear – to the point that most of us get frustrated if we don’t feel we have “a vision”. Your gut will let you know when you’re “on purpose”.

Don’t operate in a vacuum – Photographers are independent creaturesYJ2X9041 for the most part. Take joy in collaborating and/or networking. Expand your networks to include all types of folks – not just your fellow photographers. This is how and where ideas are born.

Don’t focus on the gear – I get weary of people asking me about my gear or the age old question “Does that camera take good pictures?” – to which I reply “It depends on the operator.”

Embrace failure – Or at least don’t let your fear of failure stop you. Try instead asking yourself “what’s the worst thing that could happen?” Let’s face it, we don’t do brain surgery, so for the most part, our fears don’t involve fatalities.

Do the work – I believe it was Malcolm Gladwell who said that it took 10,000 hours to get good at something. If you want to sustain a long career in any career, be prepared to do the work to get good at it.

Get rid of the resistance – It’s really easy to give yourself lots of seemingly logical reasons why NOT to do something. Try replacing your reasons NOT to do something, with why you SHOULD. Get rid of the people in your life that are giving you resistance – they’re poison. Read more about resistance in Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art.

Don’t set out to prove yourself – Instead strive to improve. This attitude is ultimately more beneficial and leads to better self esteem. It’s also not dependent on someone else’s validation or approval.

Enjoy the good times – but be prepared for the bad times. Nothing stays the same – ever. Don’t let those glory days mislead you or your ego. There are always competitors waiting in the wings.

Keep your passion and enthusiasm – If you don’t, you’ll never survive this business. And if you have to ask “should I be a professional photographer or practice law?” I would have to answer – “practice law”. If you have to ask that question, it’s an indication that the passion isn’t there.

If you are thinking of expanding your skills with video,  check out my book “The Craft and Commerce of Video and Motion”


The Advantages of a Disadvantage

My gang of friends.  I'm on the top step.
One of my early childhood tribes, Rochester, NY  (I’m on top step)

I re-connected with an old friend last week.  We hadn’t seen each other in 43 years!  Other than my family members, I have known this friend longer than anyone else in my life, except for one other.  But we hadn’t been in contact with each other, until a few months ago.  We’ve had  a wonderful exchange of emails and a bit of serendipity that led to an in person reunion. It’s been a cathartic experience for both of us.

We were teenagers, who used to “hang out” together. We went to different schools and we lived in different neighborhoods but for a couple of quick years, he, I and a few other friends, hung out together, on the warm spring and summer evenings of our youth. Until I moved…..again.  It was probably the tenth time that I had moved and changed schools, and I was only 16 years old and mid-way through my junior year of high school.   I suppose you could say that I had lived the life of a rolling stone. But it was what I knew.  In one of our dialogs, I reminded him about that move, and he looked at it, as tragic.

In a way, I suppose growing up in a transient lifestyle was a bit tragic.  Just when I would make friends, and feel like I was part of my “new school”, we would move again, to a new community. My dad was climbing the “corporate ladder” and with each promotion came a series of moves. I was the perpetual “new kid” and I guess I was always in search of a “new tribe”.  I grew up, a product of change.

I recently finished reading Malcom Gladwell’s new book, “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants”.  He talks about people who have turned the disadvantages  that they’ve had in their lives, into advantages.  Each chapter unfolds into a story about a highly successful person who had to overcome obstacles or disadvantages in their lives – everything from losing a parent to being dyslexic.  One example Gladwell cites is about a high profile Hollywood producer who had worked his way from his impoverished beginnings to fame and fortune.  His children had everything, but he was worried about their future.  He knew that if they didn’t have to “work” for something, they wouldn’t know the feeling of accomplishment and success.  They would not have the “advantage” that he had growing up, the advantage of being poor.

I realized after reading Gladwell’s book that what I might have looked at as a disadvantage, my nomadic life, was probably the biggest advantage I had.  It has made me take chances in my life and not be afraid to initiate an interaction.  If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have made friends.  It made me love school because I knew that was where I would connect to people in my new community. I learned to adapt to change.  If I didn’t I would have been miserable all the time or afraid – or both. Instead, I have lived my life, continually exploring my curiosities, whether it is visiting a foreign country, embarking on a new creative project or expanding my craft.

Would I have wished my nomadic life on my daughter?  Probably not, it wasn’t easy. But it certainly had its rewards.

Gladwell, Godin, Cuban and “Free”

Recently there has been a lot of buzz about Chris Anderson’s new book “Free”. Malcolm Gladwell’s review of “Free” makes the point that even free comes at a cost. http://tiny.cc/L8zF2

Most photographers can certainly attest to that. And marketing guru Seth Godin makes the point that the paradigm is changing and that all the whining in the world won’t bring back “the old days”. http://sethgodin.typepad.com/ Mark Cuban chimes in as well to provide more perspective and perhaps the most balanced of the lot. http://is.gd/1lsVB. While no one has a crystal ball and can predict the future, this new paradigm of “free” has already changed the lives of photographers and all content creators.

It has been stated numerous times by others that “content” must be unique and such that it is not found anywhere else. The drop in what stock images are being licensed for can attest to that. In addition because of technology a photographer can no longer just be a technician.

But aside from those observations I think that photographers need to position themselves as being more than just the content producer. Unless of course what you do is so unique or great that a buyer can go nowhere else. Certainly one way is to partner with others or position yourself further up the ladder or both. What I have learned so far about social media marketing is that really anyone can position themselves to whomever and however they want – with little or no cost. It’s free right? Well to a certain extent. But it is or can be a demand on one’s time and could be a waste of time if not done strategically.

Technology is and always has been a double edge sword – just like a bad economy. If one chooses to look in the rear view mirror and lament the past – they’ll drive by all the opportunities.

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