– Posted by Mark
This is Part Two to last Thursday’s post where I listed the reasons why You SHOULD Give Up on this hobby of yours called Photography – Click Here for that one.
While I think that I made a pretty good case last Thursday – the fact is that we obviously don’t believe any of it. We couldn’t have done what we’ve done so far in the short period of approximately two years. We know we still haven’t made it – whatever that means – and we’re still hungry – or more accurately, we’re still afraid of failing and not getting work. So let’s go. Let’s look at all of the reasons ‘Why You Should Give Up‘ and take them out, one by one.
1. There’s too much competition.
Yes. The photography market is ‘saturated’ as they say – and everyone and their mom is now a photographer. Heck – everyone and their moms’ mom is a photographer. Cameras are cheap. Even more important – ‘film’ is cheap. Like any industry where the entry-barriers are low, you get a lot more competitors. So what do you do? How do you handle that? Better yet – how do you overcome the fact there is just too much good competition out there? Here’s how we do it.
We look at other industries for inspiration. (100% Money Back Guarantee – even travel fees.)
Oh yeah – we also think it’s great that there’s so much competition – because honestly – a lot of the competitors are pretty much the same. They compete largely on photos alone, they use the same wordpress themes and websites, they follow the same photography gurus that are hot right now – and they all continue to learn from each other. At first it’s valuable to learn from more experienced industry photographers – but at some point you have to stop that. At least for a little while.
At some point you have to stop listening to all of the advice that makes its way through your industry – no matter what industry you’re in. By the time best practices become ‘best practices’ – they’re safe, they’re watered down, and everyone is doing them. Worse – no one gets excited about them – especially your potential clients.
You want less competition? Find an area where no one else is competing. We try not to compete in ‘photography’ – because there will always be someone ‘better’, someone cheaper, or just someone else – period. If you take a somewhat pessimistic view that photography is now a commodity – then once you reach a level of competency, you should realize that you must find other reasons why someone should hire you. The competition is only trying to sell their beautiful photographs. What else you going to offer? There are many industries out there that have far more competition than photography. You don’t see people not opening up restaurants, or clothing boutiques, or social-media consulting firms (ha!)
The best part? Because there is so much of the same competition out there – when you are unique and exciting – you stand out far above everyone else.
2. Your gear sucks.
Well, okay – your gear might suck – but that’s okay because you can still win. Believe it or not, people made amazing photographs before the Canon 7D/5D Markii or the Nikon D700 & D3x. For all of the nostalgic qualities and talk of ‘film’ cameras – the fact is that if you have a camera made in the last 5 years (or even 8 ) – you have nothing to worry about. Honestly.
I would show up (and still do sometimes) to events with my little old entry level Nikon D40. The biggest thing I will say about gear is that you have to know two things – what your gear can’t do – and then how to get around those limitations. Luckily for me – the Nikon D40 is a great camera. Sure I could only go up to 800ISO, sure I had to press an extra button to change f/stop, or go 2 levels deep into the menu to change ISO – those were just challenges I needed to overcome. Whether it’s a pitch black basement for a wedding, or constantly changing light between rooms – you should know your gear, and how to use it. Period.
That is how you overcome the limitations of your gear. That’s how you leave with better photos than the guys with expensive cameras that leave them on ‘Auto’.
When I was photographing events with my D40 and the kit lens – I could only take comfort in the fact that I knew my photos would be better than the ones by the guy standing next to me. Arrogant? Maybe a little – but why would I go into it thinking that my photos weren’t going to be better than anyone else’s? I didn’t spend all those hours shooting free events to waste my time and make sub-par photos. For us there is very little difference between a practice shoot and a real gig. Our time is too valuable to spend 3 hours shooting and end up with only a few usable shots if any. So whenever we showed up – we came to WIN. To do that, we had to know our gear, how it works, and how to get the best shot with it. Period.
No excuses. Not because we only had one light (actually we never only had one light – that was one of our small advantages) – or ebay triggers (another small advantage, we couldn’t afford the expensive triggers in the volume we needed, so we bought the cheaper options that just worked for us.)
The fact is – your gear doesn’t suck. You suck – at least if you don’t know how to get the best out of your gear, overcome its limitations, and do the proper pre-planning if that’s what it takes – and not just complaining about the conditions. So hey – why not spend more time figuring out how to push your camera, yourself while you’re shooting – and in the editing room. All three play a role in doing the best you can with what you’ve got. Knowing exactly how your photos are going to show up on your editing screen helps you while you’re actually shooting because you know what you can do later to fix things (compared to the camera display).
Even though we’ve upgraded camera bodies since we started – I’ll still shoot with the D40 sometimes. Mostly because of little things like the electronic shutter,which allows me to sync it with flashes up to 1/800th of a second (most camera bodies can’t sync past 1/250th without more expensive gear.) See? Knowing everything about your gear, and being able to use it with your eyes closed gives you an advantage over other photographers with more money, but less ability.
3. You have no idea how to market yourself or get clients.
Yeah. Neither did we when we started – but you can learn. One of the things we try to convey to our Interns during our business/marketing workshop – is the fact that they have to work just as hard at the marketing as they do the photography. Specifically – they have to study and learn marketing. You wouldn’t go into any other business without focusing on marketing (well you shouldn’t) – so why do so many photographers neglect their marketing?
Honestly – it’s not that they neglect their marketing – it’s that they don’t realize that their marketing is competing with everyone else’s in the same way that they’re photography is competing. You blog, you write a newsletter, you maintain your facebook photography page, you also twitter a lot. So. Does. Everyone. Else.
You run into the same ‘competition’ problems with marketing as you do with photography. You’re marketing the same way everyone else is marketing – so no one is paying attention. Remember what we said up above about looking at other industries? Why do so many photographers only look to other photographers for ideas on how to market themselves? ‘Oh – let me just do what you’re doing.’
Stop that already.
You know where we got the idea for our 100% money back guarantee? Infomercials – and practically every other industry EXCEPT photography. You know where we got the idea to use a pricing chart instead of just listing our starting price or typing everything out as bullet points? Software company offerings and their different rate plans and what’s included. Where did we get the idea to have our Interns blog? Food journaling that weightloss programs make you do – because they force you to really examine what you’re doing – something that most beginners don’t do with their photos.
If you follow me on facebook, or twitter, or even read this blog regularly – you might notice that we post A LOT of behind the scenes photos and we talk about process forever and ever. Part of the reasoning behind all of that is to simply show that we work, and that we know what we’re doing. Not tell people, show people that we work, and that we know what we’re doing. I can tell you that I’m competent all day long – but if you just see me working, you immediate understand. This is different from showing finished photos. We’re all very used to seeing only finished photos from photographers – how about being unique and actually showing how we made those shots – or failed trying.
I went a little off track on this one – but the simple answer is that you can learn marketing. You just have to spend as much time on it as you do photography. Everything you do should be marketing.
4. You have a day job that takes up all of your time.
This one’s easy. Make some sacrifices.
I can only speak for myself here and what I had to do when I started. I was working at a software company – and I started shooting as much as I possibly could. I cut out all of my other hobbies/interests and most of my television watching. Fortunately Leah was finishing up grad school at the time so a lot of her time was taken up which left me available to go off and shoot for 8 hours every Saturday (and Sundays sometimes). In fact – having a day job forced me to be more efficient with my time, but more importantly – more selective with what I chose to do with my time.
I could either hangout, sleep, watch tv – or I could go shoot that night, edit the photos when I got home and get them uploaded and blogged to beat everyone else from the event. I could take the weekend off or I could line up models and shoot eight, two hour sessions in various locations over Saturday and Sunday. I could either read about photography and marketing or I could read about something else – almost everything I’ve read in the last two years has been a book or magazine about photography or marketing.
Back when I was still at my day job – I had only two main goals:
1. Keep my day job.
2. Build the business up to the point where I couldn’t keep my day job.
That’s it – everything else fell to the wayside. Yes, your day job takes up all of your time – but so do many other things. Cut out what you can, and be ruthless about it.
But no matter what – be a grown up and keep your day job. It’s a restriction that will force you to make better decisions with your time.
5. Everything else you’ve tried has failed.
This is where things get personal.
Again – speaking only for myself here – I’m generally pretty good at everything I try. I say pretty good because if we got grades in life – I would get a B+ at most things (except dancing – man I suck at dancing.) SO – since things come relatively easy for me to a point, I’ve tried a lot things. But I wasn’t ever the best at any of them and none of them held my interest the way photography does.
When I seriously picked up my Nikon D40 in August of 2009 – I was worried that this was going to be yet another failed get-rich-quicker scheme. Except I really love photography – and even more important – I really love my wife. Failing wasn’t a real option. So to make sure that I didn’t fail financially – I made the decision that no matter what, I would keep my job. No quitting and chasing my dream! like I had done so many times before.
Now – knowing my own history, I had to sit down and consciously make the decision that I was not going to fail this time. I wasn’t going to quit. I wasn’t going to be distracted by the next shiny object. Once I knew that this was what I really wanted to be doing – I went all out. Even more important – I went all out in the area of education – and not just the usual area of buying more stuff. Aside from actually learning the craft – I realized that in order to do this I would need to really learn some marketing.
And then I realized that in order to not fail I had to play to win – and go for broke. There are a few key points where things could have gone really bad, and thinking back now – it’s kind of scary. The risks we took are not ones I can easily recommend for our Interns or anyone else. Sure they were calculated risks – and the majority of the cost was our own time and hard work – but things could have still gone horribly wrong – and they still can.
I guess the main difference between this and my other failed endeavors is that with this – I don’t even think about failing. There are many other reasons why this has worked – but one of the foundations is the fact that we’re mostly unrealistic and completely ridiculous.
There is such a thing as being too realistic. You’re going to have to stop that.
6. Because you can’t possibly work harder than us.
This one is true. You can’t possibly work harder than us.
But you don’t have to work harder than us – just differently – and come up with different ideas – and create a product that is uniquely, you. Whether your competition is us, or someone else – we cannot compete when a client really just wants you.
We can compete when they just want photographs, or they just want a specific price – but when they just want you – well, then we’ve got nothing that can beat that.
Your job is simply to make them want you. Period. Forget trying to sell your ‘better’ photographs, or better package deals – those are things that someone else can always do just a little bit better or cheaper.
You being you is an advantage that you have that no one else can overcome.
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