What You Can Learn From The Amateur

For so long I have been listening to complaints that the greatest threat to the photographic world is the dreaded “amateur” who is stealing all the jobs from the helpless professional photographers out there. The way that some photographers speak about them would lead one to visualize these people as sinister and bloodthirsty ghouls. A secret cabal dedicated to destroying the incomes of professionals everywhere; when they aren’t sharpening their teeth to eat our young, that is. The truth is rather anticlimactic when compared to the reality. Amateurs are not out to get you, nor are they out to destroy the industry you work in.

If your main justification for complaining about amateurs is saying “I have to make living, and they take money away from me because they don’t charge enough”, then perhaps you need to reconsider your business plan or choice of career altogether. If price is the only factor you have in your arsenal to compete on, I think you are completely missing the point of being involved in a creative industry. Far more important is to try to educate these talented amateurs regarding the value of their work. Many of them are new to the field or simply do not know better and this can be corrected by seasoned photographers being open and sharing information and insight with them. Instead, many photographers react in an almost xenophobic manner to what they perceive as parasitic newcomers and competition, shunning them and trying to block them from the industry. These current amateurs may very well be future professionals and we should be nurturing their talents and helping them to adapt to the business side of photography as they progress. Far more sinister and damaging than amateurs are those photographers who SHOULD know better — those who should know the value of their work and to charge a fair price, but because of fear, wavering ideals, self-sabotage, or apathy towards changing their business habits allow themselves to make harmful compromises. They lower their prices below a level that can sustain their business to keep work coming in the door. They may be busy for a while, but they will be hemorrhaging money on every job until they drive themselves out of business. Worse yet, they will be setting an awful precedent in which clients see established professionals willing to make these awful compromises. I think that these fearful professionals are far more damaging to the photography industry than uneducated amateurs. Interestingly enough, it is the professionals who are compromising their business ideals that complain the most about the threat they perceive in amateurs.

What You Can Learn From An Amateur


Amateurs create for the love of it

Amateurs do not have the motivation of financial gain egging them on. They take pictures because they love photography and making images. I very much doubt they would be doing something they did not enjoy for no compensation. Photographers should always keep the passion and love of image-making that they had when they were an amateur in mind as they go forward with their careers. It can really energize your creativity.

Amateurs work without fear of failing

Because amateurs are not dependent on photography for financial support they do not have to play it safe. They do not view photography as a job or a business that can fail with one wrong move. They create freely and openly take creative risks. Take risks in your personal work and push yourself to improve and grow. Stagnation is the quickest route to creative atrophy.

Amateurs see limitless possibilities, not limiting excuses

Stop letting your fears of failure and rejection stand in the way of accomplishing your vision. Self-sabotage is your greatest enemy, not amateurs and other photographers. Amateurs will undertake a project simply because they think the idea is cool or fun. They are not paralyzed by the idea of risk or potential failure. Remember, it’s okay to fail; it helps you grow. And if your vision is successful, it may just change your life for the better. Stop making excuses to not do things and start acknowledging the reasons why you should.

How You Can Differentiate Yourself


Edit

Creation without curation may be the nature of the internet, but truly discerning clients will be far more impressed with a well-edited collection of stellar images than a body of generic work punctuated with some highs and lows.

Show value beyond price

Always be able to articulate your value, skills, and worth to potential clients in terms other than numbers in order to justify your price. Have your elevator pitch so prepared it always sounds natural when you meet new contacts. And most importantly stick to your guns. Don’t be afraid to walk away from a job or client if it isn’t the right one for you.

Consistency

Practice makes perfect. Deliver the best work you can day in and day out and do not accept compromises in quality. Adhering to these tenants will speak volumes about your worth to clients.

Market Yourself

Are things slow? Has competition increased? Then get out there and market the hell out of yourself. There really is no excuse for this one. Get your work in front of the clients you want to be working for. It takes persistence and the will to see it through, but it is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your business. Market yourself shrewdly to differentiate yourself from the competition who are likely still waiting for clients to come to them.

Get Better

Yes, the barriers of entry have been lowered by the widespread use affordable digital cameras and the leveling of the technical playing field. It is much easier for someone to become involved in photography than ever. But what is the easiest way to stand out from the pack? Simple… get better! Improve your quality of work and build your portfolio to the point where your creativity, vision, and execution become your main selling points. Avoid the average and mediocre. You will never stand out from the pack if your work is just like the pack’s.

What You Can Learn From The Amateur

7 thoughts on “What You Can Learn From The Amateur

  1. Since I have recently made the jump to photography as my full-time career I see most of the points that you have made here from both sides. As an amateur (shooting for fun) for 7+ years I agree with the amateur mindset outlined above. Interesting too, is that now that I have “gone all in” as a professional, I concurrently see the fears of the professional as well. You relayed several of the the points in this post to me when we met and they have certainly helped me to see these points more clearly as my so-called “title” has recently changed from amateur to pro. As I read this post I was cognizant that I was seeing these concerns from both points of view.

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  2. I dig the post and I do agree on most points.

    What I find troubling is, if you will, isn’t their enough teachings for these amateurs to look to? How many “how-to” guides are there, for every aspect of the business; webinars, blogs, colleges (BA and MFAs), internships?

    To me, the photographers “client”, is no longer the actual client(s), but rather the freak’n amateur and professional photographer(s). Seminar after seminar photographers are spreading the word to the entire world that you can do it to, with my 9 step program lol… and of course they can, anyone can if they put their heart into it. And they should, if that is their passion.

    All I’m saying is, at one point, the professionals need to focus on gaining new ground within their client(s) industry not their own. The photographers own industry will flourish and more ground will be gained if they focus on the clients first…

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    1. Brian, you may be right about the amount of education available to amateurs that makes the information available to them. But the old saying “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink” is appropriate here I think.

      I think more important than any professional teaching seminar or offering a course for money (and you are right, it has indeed become quite an industry itself, filled with both utter crap and a few shining examples whose insights are helpful to others) I am much more hopeful to see professionals leading by example. To see people successful in the business of delivering killer images to clients, cleverly marketing their work, practicing good business sense, adapting rapidly to change and technology, and evolving as creative forces; passing their experiences, insights, and business sense on to others to improve the industry as a whole and to create a more unified creative community. An amateur photographer may not find or accept all they need online, but that does not mean a professional cannot reach out to amateurs in their own community.

      There are also those people who just don’t learn and constantly practice bad business, and honestly, it happens on both the amateur and professional end of the spectrum. Thankfully the destructive forces usually tend to take care of themselves after awhile.

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  3. I am so glad someone other than me thinks the same way! It is so easy for people to blam something external rater than evaluate the problem and find a solution. I love New photographers they bring new ideas, new excitement and move our industry forward. We were all new photographers at one time! Learn from them and help them learn from you and everyone will succeed!

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    1. Exactly Brian, I am so thankful that in my market there is a fantastic creative community of both experienced and emerging photographers who trade information and ideas constantly. In the last few years the level of discourse has risen dramatically, to everyones benefit.

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