There isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not trying to better myself as a photographer. Hours of time a day, weeks of time a month and years upon years of time, money, and energy are spent managing my business, educating myself on photography, and establishing myself in this industry. Many of you reading are probably doing the same, but you don’t deserve success.
In 2016, things move quickly – almost too quickly. Data, news, and social media are quite literally instant, and that be can be harmful. Breaking news, for example, is often speculative, rather than factually accurate. So what does this have to do with success as a photographer? In our industry, clients want their pictures yesterday. Files are digital and therefore can be uploaded to the web and delivered quickly. Here’s why that can be a problem:
When you work in an industry of instant gratification, the pressure of ‘NOW’ is often a damaging one. Rather than take the appropriate time needed to properly edit, keyword, optimize, archive and upload your photos, you’re racing to appease a client who you shouldn’t be working for to begin with. Your photography is your product, and that product has value. As a professional you shouldn’t be offering just any product, you should be offering your very best product. It’s a fruitless goal to achieve when you value quantity over quality.
To be clear: I’m not suggesting that you should be dragging your feet. Quite the opposite. Professionals in any industry know how to be efficient at their jobs to produce quality results – that’s why they’re called professionals. But when your values are focused more on the expeditious distribution of photography rather than the quality of the photography you are producing, they are undoubtedly going to lack professionalism. Success is not earned when you are force fed a client’s unreasonable timetable, and you fail when you accept a project under those terms.
You think you might deserve success from all of the hard work that you do, and as a self-employed photographer you do a lot – every day. Even so, you don’t deserve success. Simply that you do voluminous work, or that the work you do is hard for you, doesn’t translate into success. Maybe building your WordPress template for your website took you several hours to research and implement – that doesn’t mean that you deserve to be recognized for it, or that you deserve success.
Recognize that you do quality work often and be content with that knowledge. I can promise from experience that it is a better philosophy to adopt than believing that you somehow deserve to be successful.
Contrary to popular belief, nobody owes you anything. Long hours and complex projects are your own undertaking, and you probably pursue them because you believe that the benefits outweigh the costs. But, that’s not always the case – and as a business person that’s a good lesson to learn. When you work for yourself you do a lot of activities outside of your expertise, from taxes to web hosting, and learning these skills requires time. Just because it took you several hours or days to complete any given project doesn’t mean that the fruits of your labors are going to be exceptional. Results of a first time project are usually admirable at best and unacceptable at worst, and any equation affirming success as a deserved outcome is woefully mistaken.
Egos and Attitude
Photographers are artists, and artists can be stupid as sh*t. Painted with a broad brush, they are some of most self-centered and self-absorbed people to ever work with in business. Many of them have absolutely no business sense or customer service knowledge, but they’re great at beating their chest when one of the thousands of pictures they’ve taken is in someway recognized on a social media platform. That’s great. How again does that contribute to your business model? Oh yes: “exposure” – whatever the —- that means. Tell me how all of that exposure is going to help pay your mortgage in the comments section below.
Stepping down off my soap box.. Just because you have talent doesn’t mean you deserve success. You have to be nice to people. You have to be kind to them. Client retention or new client acquisition requires people interested in working with you, and you’re selling yourself as much as your photography when you do a job. Dress for the occasion, and don’t just be on time. Be early. Say thank you and be attentive, do your best and always be professional – even when you don’t get your way.
Ultimately the status of success is subjective to you. Many people choose to measure their success by the amount of money they have, and it’s easy to understand why. Money is fungible. Facebook ‘likes’ and Twitter followers not so much. Perhaps those things are good at measuring your self-worth on social media platforms, and for those purposes – yes; the more likes and followers you have, the better you might feel. It could suggest that what you say has value, at least to the audience following you. But if you can’t transform that audience into a consistently reliable client base, then what does it matter. After all, a business exists to be profitable – and profit is measured by money.
So for as hard as you work in this highly competitive market to manage your social media accounts and blog, shoot, caption, edit, manage your business, your websites, and the products you offer – while simultaneously tailoring your customer service skills while one of your hundreds of thousands of images eventually appearing at some premier-level status on any given social media or photo-sharing platform.. What is it worth in the end? Success isn’t ‘deserved’ because you do these things. Success might be a result of accomplishing these tasks well, but you certainly don’t deserve it. Food for thought.
Thanks for reading. If you have questions or comments about the content of this article just leave them for me in the comments section below. As always, feel free to contact me on Twitter @stephenmasker or on Instagram at MaskerPhoto.