Monday, January 13, 2020

The (Difficult) Business of Photography

The Corporate Portrait is a staple of many photographer's businesses.

For any of my readers who may have thought of professional photography as an easy, fun way to make a living, let me enlighten you. Professional photography is one of the most difficult ways in the world to make a living. The only field I know of that is comparably difficult is the performing arts. And in the performing arts, where most languish with an occasional part-time gig and a few make a reasonable living, a very, very few make it big. And those few who make it big in the performing arts can make it very big indeed.

On the other hand, those few who make it big in photography don't make it all that big. The best most of us can hope for is to make a reasonable living. Skill with the tools of photography is essential, of course, but is by no means the most important. It's just an entry level thing. The most important factors are a personal vision and business skills. And the most important of those is business skills.

So you’re an amateur. You know you’re really good with a camera, and people love your photographs. They even tell you, “Why, you’re better than so-and-so professional photographer!”

There was a time when skill with the tools of photography was enough to launch a professional career. But no more. Digital makes it all too easy to make sharp, well-exposed photographs, so even a very high order of skill with the tools and techniques of photography won't make it. With a very, very strong personal vision, you might make it. But without business skills, and especially the ability to sell (there’s that ugly word you probably hoped to avoid) you won't last.

If this sounds discouraging, I'm sorry. But if anything I might say could discourage you from a career in photography, you weren’t going to make it anyway.

As many of the traditional sources of studio income began to dry up, I turned increasingly to architectural photography. (The Hunter Museum of American Art, Chattanooga, Tennessee)

But if you are serious about making it in this difficult but deeply satisfying profession, I recommend you start by buying the Commercial Photography Handbook by Kirk Tuck and begin learning the business of photography. Start following his blog Go back into his archives and research his articles on business. Print them out and put them in a binder. I print out his business posts and keep them in a binder even though I’ve been a full-time professional for more than 40 years. And I still learn from them.

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