10 WAYS TO NOT BECOME A SUCCESSFUL PHOTOGRAPHER

Last week, Atlanta-based music photographer and noted blogger Zack Arias posted a partly sobering and partially hilarious blog post that has received a great deal of attention (all of Zack’s posts should receive a great deal of attention). Zack described a moment of apprehension and anxiety similar to those that we all deal with as small business people, that moment when a day job sounds like a good idea and the stresses of running our own businesses can really creep up on us. Thankfully, Zack also made it very clear that he had no intention of leaving photography and that this was merely a momentary reaction to stress. We all have that little voice somewhere in the back of our head  that wants to undermine our desires and prevent us from taking chances. That unevolved chunk of animal brain cells that craves survival and an absence of risks is always telling us to play it safe. We need to make a conscious effort to stifle this ingrained self-sabotage impulse and push ourselves to be more than a mere creature concerned with nothing besides its immediate survival. The second and more entertaining part of Zack’s post was a rather comical but poignant rant about the abject pointlessness of generic “Top Ten Ways to Become a Pro Photographer” lists. Zack’s primary complaint, and agreeably so, is that these lists tend to offer advice that is so below the “should not need to be said” as to be insulting and useless. Tips like “breath”, “get a portfolio” and “think about getting some business cards” don’t really provide any benefit and are, as Zack says, an exercise in making more noise than signal.

It is true that some things do go without saying. Sadly, it is also true that some thing should go without saying. These lists of very obvious and very trite suggestions on how to better your career leave a lot to be desired in terms of usable content, but what about a list of common behaviors that can hurt you? It goes without saying that these ideas are just as basic and simple as their counterparts that angered Zack Arias so much last week, and they too should go without saying, but sadly these patterns of behavior are still exhibited by so many that they call for their own top ten list.

Edit: You can read the 2nd part of this series here

10. Fear Technology, Dread Change

“Once a new technology rolls over you, if you’re not part of the steamroller, you’re part of the road.” -Stewart Brand

The ongoing evolution of technology is a constant. In fact, the rate at which technology advances is ever quickening in pace. Ray Kurzweil’s predicated technological singularity becomes more and more of a certainty with every year that goes by and every oncoming advancement of technology. Despite the saturation of technology that betters both our personal and creative lives, there are still those resistant to any type of change, warily viewing new ideas and technologies as possible threats, or outright defaming them as a cancerous blight on the industry and their old guard view of what they perceive the industry “should” be. When digital photography started to gain widespread popularity there was a division between the camps that embraced it and those who decried it as the downfall of the photographic industry, a debate that almost seems absurd now, as even those who still choose to shoot film do so as an aesthetic choice, and with an intelligent understanding of digital technology. Later, the rise of digital distribution and social media made waves with photographers to whom these concepts were foreign and frightening, while for others it was a beneficial new catalyst to creating interaction. There is no room for the reactionary Luddite in this technological world. New ideas and technologies, even if ultimately rejected, should still be examined and their beneficial content acknowledged or reworked into a form that better serves your needs. But an outright fear of change is becoming such a handicap as to be a major detriment to the industry that these purists claim to defend.  Ultimately, technology is a tool, and we should be leveraging and implementing these tools to the best of our abilities. Not everyone needs to be an early adopter, but we need to let go of these fears and embrace the fact that new technology is beneficial.

9. Don’t Edit Your Work

“There is but one art, to omit.” ~Robert Louis Stevenson

Too often I have seen artists whose portfolios sadly contain page after page of filler or suffer from Flickr syndrome, that is, ten pages showing every single frame from a single production. The art of editing is one that has somewhat suffered from the digital revolution. The changes brought about by the digital era have led to a changing view of quantity vs content. Because we are generally no longer working with physical or cost constraints there is a tendency to over publish. 12-36 frames on a roll of film has leapt up to 32 GB memory cards that can hold hundreds of images, the physical restrictions, and page counts of a traditional book have been replaced by websites with nearly unlimited abilities to store and display images. These technological capabilities, when taken on their own merit, are nothing short of awesome and revolutionary when held against the limitations of the past. But it all comes back to the old adage “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” Yes, the ability to show every frame from your latest shoot is a technological marvel, but it is the ability to hone in on that one perfect frame that perfectly expresses the story you are trying to tell or the concept you are trying to illustrate that can set you apart from all the noise out there. Showing too much work dilutes your message, especially when that work does not support your vision or stand up to the rest of your book.  The need to overpopulate your portfolio shows a lack of confidence in your own work. In the world of literature there are  three-line haiku’s that have just as much profound insight and validity as a novel or epic poem, a book is not better just because it has more pages. Always strive to show amazing work, not impress people with your page count.

8. Only Make Images for Other People

“We forfeit three-fourths of ourselves to be like other people.” -Arthur Schopenhauer

How can you enjoy your successes if you don’t enjoy what you do? Success can be measured in more than just dollar signs, so never let go of the passions that drove you to become a photographer (or any other discipline of creative, for that matter) in the first place. Make sure that you always bring something of yourself to your work. Care about what you create, feed your passion into it, show your drive to excel, prove your unique vision, and make yourself an integral part of what you make. If your main niche of photography lacks a lot of creative involvement then go out and shoot personal work for yourself. Photography is a difficult career path to choose. The ones that excel are the ones with the love and desire to do this so badly that even when it seems impossible they keep moving forward and loving the act of creating images. They keep growing and learning and getting better at what they do because they care so much. If you lose your love of what you do, what you are left with is just a job you hate, and I can think of better paying jobs to hate than photography. If you don’t like the types of assignments you are getting from clients then go and shoot a new body of work for yourself, work that showcases your interests and talents, work that you can show to prospective clients to start getting the type of assignments you want to be doing.

7. Put More Importance On Your Gear Than Your Work

“A determined soul will do more with a rusty monkey wrench than a loafer will accomplish with all the tools in a machine shop. ” -Robert Hughes

If I have to read one more forum exchange on why Canon is better than Nikon or see another discussion about a great emotionally charged image where the first question is “what camera was this shot with? What f/stop was this shot at?” I will be forced to scream until my vocal cords go on strike. We cannot afford to be mere technicians. The knowledge and ability to become a great technical photographer is easily accessible to anyone willing to put in the effort to learn it. When you reduce a creative endeavor to a purely technical exercise you remove all the magic and emotion from it. Technique is important but often needs to be secondary to the intangibles of photography. Those personal creative choices that we make within each image are what makes our work stand out, these unique visions and opinions are what sets us apart from other photographers. Our creative abilities and outlooks are the true value we bring to our clients, more than being able to produce a technically perfect, but lifeless, image.

6. Play the Victim

“Self-pity is easily the most destructive of the non-pharmaceutical narcotics; it is addictive, gives momentary pleasure and separates the victim from reality.” -John W. Gardner

Nothing can rob you of momentum worse than wallowing in self-pity. I have seen photographers despairing about the state of their business and making poorly thought-out decisions based on depression with a sort of masochistic enthusiasm reminiscent of a junkie craving their next fix. I speak with people from all creative fields who seal their fate before they even try to realize it. The logic of this baffles me sometimes. I have seen photographers who won’t market their work because they are sure buyers won’t like it. I have seen people afraid to make cold calls because they are banking on rejection. I have seen creatives slash their rates to poverty levels before a potential client had even responded to the initial quote out of fear of rejection. These same creatives are the first ones to start complaining about the industry, clients, or the work of others. The fact is, being negative is easy, and addictive. Sour grapes is a bitter taste, but one that some people seem to love. Do not rob yourself of opportunities through inaction. People may very well say no to you, but if you don’t ask I can guarantee they will never say yes.

5. Don’t Share, Don’t Learn

“Talent is always conscious of its own abundance, and does not object to sharing.” -Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Chase Jarvis recently related a story during his recent Photo Expo keynote address that during his early career he developed a policy of transparency in which he began to share his creative and technical methods with others. Several of the more established photographers in his Seattle market took a great deal of offense to him sharing this type of info with amateurs, beginners, and outsiders.  Some were so bothered by this act of openness and sharing that they went so far as to physically threaten Chase. We are a community of creatives. By sharing and learning from each other we enrich the industry as a whole, increase the level of discourse about photography and business, and all benefit as a result. We are not magicians revealing a trick to outsiders. We are professionals and artists who are bettering the industry and quality of work overall by sharing information and by pushing and encouraging each other to be the absolute best that we can be. If you have such an issue with possible competition or your work relies on a single technique or trick, then you need to desperately re-examine your business plan and creative philosophy. Competition can be one of the most positive factors in pushing you to improve as an artist and person. It is a healthy influence that can stop you from stagnating or becoming lazy.

4. Undervalue Yourself

“What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” -Oscar Wilde

Once again, the ugly beast of self-doubt makes itself known. It seems to me that one of the major issues plaguing this industry is the chronic behavior of photographers undervaluing their own work. Too many times I have had conversations with other photographers in which they described taking a job at a rate in which they actually lost money on under the justifications of “I need to work” and “You wouldn’t understand, I have to put food on the table”. This type of behavior is so detrimental and toxic, not just to the industry, but on a personal level. How can you expect your clients to place value on your work when you cannot even bring yourself to do so? Demonstrate the value that your creativity brings to others beyond bottom-line price. Your insight, vision, energy, quality of work, and ability to deliver consistently great images are all values that make you more than just a number on an invoice.

3. Neglect the Business Side

“To open a shop is easy, to keep it open is an art” – Chinese Proverb

Take a business course, join the ASMP or similar organization, or find a business mentor. I cannot stress enough that we are involved in a creative business. We must be equal parts artist and entrepreneur in this era. The only way to make sure that we can maintain the ability to keep creating work at a professional level and support ourselves is to be as well versed in the tactics of business as we are behind a camera. Learning how to deal with the basics of negotiation, insurance,  managing expenses and taxes, billing, contracts, and protecting your intellectual property can be daunting, but is absolutely vital to your success as a creative professional. This is one area where having a skilled support team in the form of a knowledgeable lawyer and accountant on your side can help, but there are several aspects of business that you must learn to handle on your own as a small business person. For every photography blog you read you should be reading a business one as well.

2. Stop Growing

“Change and growth take place when a person has risked himself and dares to become involved with experimenting with his own life.” -Herbert A. Otto

Creativity relies on growth. If we stagnate our work will stop evolving and we will begin to lose our passion for what we do. Can you imagine anything more boring than going though life on autopilot? Don’t allow the safety of the status quo to lull you sleep. Make it a rule to learn something new every week and push yourself to take on personal assignments that make you uncomfortable, push youself outside of the box of your day-to-day routine. Travel, eat food that grossed you out as a kid. watch films with subtitles, and always be creating something new. When we stop growing we lose so much of ourselves to apathy and become rigid, resist change, fear the future, and we become bitter about our pasts. Change rejuvenates us and provides new opportunities. It keeps us sharp, and it keeps us from being average.

1. Be An Asshole

“A person who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person” -Dave Barry

Seriously, don’t be an asshole, even if your work is top-notch. People want to work with people that they like working with. If you make life miserable for everyone around you, no one will want to be around you. This is a lesson that transcends photography. This is a life lesson. Help others, share information, make the world better, and create. Don’t be a pushover, but don’t be a rotten prick either.

You can read the 2nd part of this series here.

5 Analog Items That Can Make Your Life More Creative

Creatives often have a tendency to become a little obsessive when it comes to collecting gear, gadgets, and toys. The latest camera, computer software, lighting rigs, and smartphones are groundbreaking pieces of technology that can increase your productivity, but sometime we forget that there are very effective tools outside of the digital realm.

1. A Notebook

Pen and paper is still the perfect tool for information recording. I have spoken on this blog several times about how important these two tools are to both the efficiency and creativity of your work. There are two different types I use regularly. The first is a small pocket-sized notebook with a grid that I carry with me on shoots. This comes in handy for jotting quick notes, numbers, names and addresses. The grid style also makes it very easy to draw out storyboard and lighting diagrams on the fly. I prefer books that are simple, plain, and durable. That way I don’t feel bad when I rip the pages out to give to an assistant or post on my cork board. I prefer the grid style notebooks from Field Notes. You would be surprised how absolutely helpful carrying these small notebooks has been for me.

The other type I carry is a larger bound notebook that I use for recording production ideas and concepts. This is my brainstorming book. I prefer to write my ideas down with pen and paper as they come to me for two reasons. First, if I always have the book with me, and make a point to write the ideas down as they come to me, I ensure that I never have one of those great ideas that slips away for lack of recording. The second reason I prefer to write them out in an analog format is that the act of writing out by hand makes you think about it in a different way than typing it. You will work through the idea more as you record it, and you involve your tactile senses in the idea as you record it into a physical object, rather than digital media. You don’t need anything crazy or ostentatious. I like a simple Moleskine notebook that travels easily.

Alternative for Digital Purists

When it comes to my all-in-one solution for most anything related to creativity, Evernote is my go-to piece of software. Recording ideas is a breeze, and they can be kept in any format you need due to Evernote’s free-form nature. The main feature I love about Evernote is its portability. You can log in from a desktop, from your phone, from anywhere. As long as you have a web connection you can use your digital notebooks. All of my active project briefs and shoot outlines start in Evernote as a free-form collection of notes and inspirations before they get translated into a polished format.

2. A Cork Board

The problem with digital notebooks is that they can be filed away; out of sight, out of mind. We only actively look at them when we need to actively write or recall something. But what about passive review, those little moments when we glance at something without concentrating on it, when we absent-mindedly gaze at something and observe it in a more passive and neutral way? These moments can often spark ideas and trains of thought that we would not normally reach through more aggressive methods of thought. Images, articles, doodles, magazine clippings, and advertisement cutouts are all great pieces of visual information to surround yourself with. I often like to cover my boards in test shots, casting images, and printouts of rough images that need to be edited for a few days to process passively. It will give you a very different insight and understanding of how we relate to visual information over longer periods of time.

Alternative for Digital Purists

Again, Evernote makes an appearance on the list. As previously stated, this is a great tool for all sorts of creative uses. Cataloguing reference images and putting together a reference board digitally is an easily achievable task with Evernote. And while it may lack the befits of passive observation that a bulletin board brings, it is a very convenient and efficient tool for organizing visual data that has multiple access points.

3. Post-It Notes

Sometimes digital technology lets us be a little too specific for our own good, which may result in micromanaging our time and tasks to an unhealthy degree. It is harmful and ultimately a productivity killer, yet many creatives have become addicted to their to-do lists. Any deviation from their specifically laid out order of tasks can send them into a response pattern that ultimately leads to them getting little accomplished. On the other end of the spectrum, do you have that one item in your to-do list that is weeks or months past the due date you set, that you keep deferring and putting off to a point where you have become psychologically blind to it when that little reminder pops up on your screen?

A Post-It note may be your ideal solution. Every evening before bed, or in the morning when you first get up, write out a list of tasks that you need to complete that day. Start with your one major project or task written on one half of the note, and a listing of smaller tasks on the other. If you carry out all the tasks on the note, start a new one and start working on future or back burner tasks. If you fail to complete a task, you have to write that task out on the next day’s Post-It. If you have to keep monotonously writing the same task out over and over each day, you will have a much stronger impetus to get it completed in the end. The great thing about the Post-It method is that it makes you prioritize your tasks in a more compartmentalized, and yet broader way. If it won’t fit on the note, take care of your more pressing tasks first. You will find yourself setting your tasks in broader goal oriented terms and not micromanaging your day to the minute. The 99% has a really in-depth article that explores this topic further.

Alternative for Digital Purists

When it comes to digital to-do lists, I am a fan of simplicity. As long as I can break my broader tasks down by project or area of responsibility I find that I can be goal oriented without micromanaging myself, and that my day is tailored and mutable enough to meet those random immediate demands that come up. I used to use Things for my task management, but I have also had success in the past with Remember The Milk.

4. Magazines and Books

Sometimes you can just get fed up with looking at your own work and with reading your own blogs. It is so important to experience everything else that is out there in the creative world. Sit down and read a magazine or book from time to time, whether it has to do with your industry or not. Go to an art gallery or watch a movie. So often we forget that sources of media both inside and out of our own work can inform our creativity. This sort of research can lead to new ideas, the ability to stay current in your field, relaxation, and start discussions with your peers that lead to creative revelation. Set aside some time every week to peruse the magazines you want to see your work in, and set another block aside to go view some creative work outside of your own medium.

Alternative for Digital Purists

There are plenty of sites out there to see high-end and award-winning creative work. In the advertising world I like to make daily visits to a few blogs including I Believe in Advertising and Ads of the World. Many magazines have digital editions now, and there are many industry blogs that report on fantastic projects. And for those interested in the web itself, Google Labs recently released a presentation on the Creative Internet detailing 106 groundbreaking projects.

5. A Couch

How often do you just do nothing? You will be amazed how much it can help your creativity and productivity. A few times a week set aside an hour to just lay on the couch or sit outside and let your mind wander. The trick here is to remove those casual distractions that can stop us from free-form thought; turn your phone off, no television, no napping, just let your mind go where it wants to.  The idea is to generate ideas, work on creative solutions to problems — it does not matter. Just don’t go in with a plan, let your mind go to the topics it wants to go to and record everything you come up with.

Alternative for Digital Purists

None. There is really no digital equal to just getting out of your workspace and letting your brain do its own thing. It is a refreshing way to spark idea generation because so often attempting to force inspiration is a sure-fire way not to find it.

Remember a few things:

There is no best tool, there is just what’s best for you

It is the ideas that are important, not the equipment

Don’t let the artifact get in the way of the process.


5 Fears that Kill Creativity

The photography industry has been rampant with discussions about what the most volatile threat to the industry is. For a long time the Orphan Works Act has been the monster under photographers’ beds. The rapid ongoing transition of traditional print media licensing to a digital model is also a major topic of debate. More recent worrying topics include crowd-sourcing, the instability of the stock photography market, increased pressure for spec work, and the ongoing debates over  licensing structures like Creative Commons.

If any of the above topics are the only major day-to-day concerns that you deal with as a creative….

…consider yourself lucky.

That is not to discount any external threat a creative person may feel. We live in a time of rapid evolution. Technology and its use in social and business interactions change at an ever increasing pace. But there are scores of artists out there who have to deal with internal fears and conflicts that pose a very real and immediate obstacle to their success. In this era where we as creative workers and freelance must accept the fact that we are a synthesis of artist, business person, and technician, it is important to understand that internal conflicts and resistance are just as harmful to one’s business and happiness as external forces. For a long time I struggled to deal with these issues (next up, dealing with my crippling fear of dolls) and I know several young photographers and creatives for whom these problems are their most pressing issues, far beyond any current changes to business models or evolving culture. For these creatives, getting to the point where the changing practices of digital media are their immediate and prime concern would be a milestone of achievement, signifying that they have learned to cope with or succeed over their internal conflicts that held them back earlier in their careers. These creative phobias are difficult to combat, but not impossible, and like so many issues of this nature, being able to identify the problem is the first major step in solving it.

Fear of Change

So many people suffer from a fear of change. The status quo is far too comfortable, and oftentimes the perceived comfort can lead creatives to develop a sense of complacency and apathy towards their own work. They will find themselves creating the same type of work over and over, and not challenging themselves to create something beyond the scope of their skills, where they would hopefully grow through the process. For people suffering from a fear of change, keeping things as they are is their religion. They are the ones who rally against any external forces, be they positive or negative, that represent change. They are the unwavering traditionalists who speak out against anything new, even going so far as to reject changes in the industry, or even in themselves. This stagnation is one of the most harmful effects that these creative phobias can bring about. Change should not be feared. It is a driving force of growth and evolution. That is not to say that all changes are for the better, but that most changes are better than stagnation.

Fear of Hard Work

For many, the sheer magnitude of a goal can send them fleeing in the other direction. I have often heard artists justify their failure to pursue a project they envisioned because “It would be too difficult/expensive/time-consuming/beyond their skill.” These reasons should all serve as an impetus to make one run headlong into a task, to challenge oneself and grow. For many, the solution is as simple as thinking small and not thinking big. Taking a detailed inventory of the smaller tasks that make up your seemingly impossible tasks, and then breaking those down into their constituent tasks will leave you with a list of goals that looks much more realistic. Keep breaking these difficult tasks down until you have a list of  simple action items and you are good to go. Just like all matter is made up of smaller particles, small tasks can build up to allow you to achieve anything. The work might still be hard, but putting your tasks into proper perspective may help combat this particular creative phobia.

Fear of Not Being Accepted

The personal work we create is an enormous creative outlet, but it has also become an important marketing tool to prove to our clients that we have a unique vision and outlook on photography, and the world in general. Far too many artists, especially early in their creative careers, create for the approval of others. Seeking to have one’s family and friends understand and accept what it is that one does is a daunting task as it is, but when your meld this with your personal vision and artistic endeavor, it can become an even more difficult feat. Create for yourself, constantly and without fear of other’s acceptance. If others enjoy and accept your vision, then that is a wonderful thing, but if they do not, you will only do yourself a disservice by fretting about their approval. The surest way to improve is to do. By creating work for yourself, work that you believe in, without fear of others opinions, and to the high standards that you should set for yourself, you will find yourself improving at a rapid rate, your personal work becoming more vital and resonant, and your professional output at a higher level of execution.

Fear of your own Self -Worth

I think that every professional photographer and creative suffers from this at one point or another. It is the fear that prevents a photographer from billing their clients for what their work is worth. that allows creatives to think that accepting unfair contract terms in order to get the job is the right way to do business. It makes creatives scared to negotiate, scared to stand by their business policies, and scared to protect their intellectual property. Fear of your own self-worth is that little voice in the back of your head that  says “You are not good enough,” “you are a fraud and people are going to find out,” “you are a one-hit wonder”. If you cannot bring yourself to value yourself and your work, then how can you ever expect your clients to? If you cannot stick to the policies and guidelines you set for your own business, how can you ever expect it to succeed?

Fear of Success

For many, the fear of success can be the most crippling of the creative phobias. Tied closely to fear of change and to fear of one’s own self-worth, fear of success manifests itself in a consistent pattern of self-sabotage. This self-sabotage usually takes one of two forms; overtly harmful behavior and wallowing in negativity are an active form of self-sabotage, but the second and more subtle form is just as bad. This second form of sabotage is a creeping apathy that permeates the life of the afflicted; failure is scary, success is scary, so why try. People affected by fear of success are often in possession of the skill and talent to succeed, but lack the will and discipline to make it happen. They are the ones that often talk constantly about their dreams and goals, but always seem to be walking in circles or occupying themselves with busy work. But why are people scared of success? Most often, it is because success leads to a change from the status quo of mediocrity that some people build around themselves. Success is scary. Along with it comes high expectations, life change, responsibility, self-examination and discovery, and the possibility that if one fails they will be falling from a greater height and liable to blame. Rather than take a risk or seize success, many prefer the soft and safe bubble they build around themselves. It is true that if you don’t take a risk you can’t really fail, but this is the frame of mind of someone afflicted with a fear of success.  It is more important to think of it in this mindset  ”if you don’t risk, you can never succeed.”

Learning not to fall into these patterns and how to overcome these phobias is an ongoing journey for many of us. Changes in one’s life and art may bring new manifestations of creative fear and new obstacles for you to navigate around. Always remember that there are tons of things out there that can inspire you through a tough slump and help you work through these issues. Reading the blogs and other writings of artists I respect and learning about their own struggles and how they overcame them often helps me. There are also many of books out there that can help you learn techniques to deal with these types of problems. One of my favorites is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. But above all else, I have always found that the best way to beat back these fears is to do something creative. Go create something for yourself, something you love that makes you realize your worth, something you hate that helps you to learn and grow. It doesn’t matter — just go and start creating.  Oftentimes the momentum you gain from the simple act of creation will help you push through many of the obstacles you face.

When DIY Fails – Building a Professional Support System

Recently, while scanning Facebook, I have been witness to a photographer posting regularly about their efforts to design their own website. While this can often be seen as a noble endeavor, it was the expectation of the artist in question that his clients would appreciate the efforts put into designing the site by the photographer more than the necessary criteria that the site was usable, aesthetically pleasing, and effective as a marketing tool and web experience. The photographer further went on to call other photographers who use sites created by professional designers, blog-based site systems, or even content management options likeAPhotoFolio or liveBooks “lame” because they had not taken the effort to design their sites themselves. Now, let us clear the air briefly. I have no problem with any photographer who wants to design their own site, especially if they have web experience, impeccable design taste, and the technical savvy to make sure the site is fully functional and fast in a quickly evolving arena. I have been utterly blown away by the sites of some photographers who are also capable web designers, but sadly I have seen so many poor sites over the years that are self-designed by photographers and approach a GeoCities level of anti-sophistication. These sites latch on to poor usability or design trends and they become so overly concerned with the artifice of site design and implementing neat site tricks that they ignore the cardinal idea that they must be more concerned about bringing their photographic work to the forefront. Instead they let it play second fiddle to the design aspects of the site. Clients are visiting our sites to see our work, and our design aesthetic and web presentation must support that work and not overshadow it.

Now, the above photographer may very well go on to create a stunning site, but it is in the attitude they hold about other photographers who have brought in outside help on their sites that there is a lesson to be learned. From our own perspective as photographers, does it upset you when you see a client attempt to create images on their own that we as professionals may find less than engaging or technically lacking? It’s because we have worked hard to become insightful and professional in our chosen field to develop skills and a sense of aesthetic that allows us to deliver top-notch work to our clients on a consistent basis. We are, for lack of a better term, the experts in this particular area. Now, step outside of that frame of mind and apply it in reverse to your business. We are not (with some exceptions, I’m sure) web designers, graphic designers, accountants, lawyers, hair stylists, writers, makeup artists, or any number of myriad specialists out there that we work with on a regular basis. We may have some skills in some of these areas (and as photographers we are often in situations where we need to develop ancillary skill sets to increase our value) but we will rarely be as focused on the skillful practice of any of these subjects as someone who has dedicated themselves to them as we have to photography.

Ultimately my point is that I care about my photography, both as a business and as an art; therefore, I want to present my work in the best possible manner and have the best sources of information and advice available to me. For me this has meant transitioning away from putting the burden of doing everything on myself. A few years ago I started to search out professionals and great services as I needed them so that I was able to make sure I had reliable and experienced sources I could tap for their own creative vision and business ability.

One of the first steps towards this way of thinking happened when I was looking to create a new look for my visual identity. For years I had done design work on my own, convinced that my own skills in the area were satisfactory, but ultimately these attempts left me feeling empty, unsatisfied, and restless. I was unable to resist the temptation to constantly tweak and rebrand this design work over and over, all the while feeling slightly uneasy with any design that I would settle on temporarily. Eventually the revelation struck that I needed to get past my trepidation of paying someone else to do something for me and get professional help.

After a short period spent looking over designers’ websites, sending out exploratory e-mails and the occasional meeting, I settled on a designer whose work I felt really comfortable with. The process was fantastic. I had found a designer capable of creating work that I had a great deal of faith in and understood the way that I wanted my images and myself to be presented. Oddly enough, it ended up saving me money in the long run, money that I would have spent fruitlessly on my own failed design attempts. I felt very  passionately about the identity work that she created, and I no longer felt that unease that tempted me to make sweeping changes every few months. Nubby Twiglet had created a look for my brand that I was really able to get behind. You can see it on my site, or her more in-depth analysis here.

Working with Nubby inspired me to seek out more professionals to help me with the weak spots in my skill set. I had always been a strong writer, but lacked a lot of the polish needed to really feel confident when writing marketing and commercial pieces. So I sought out Lynda Forman who takes care of my professional writing needs now. The process was similar when I was looking for a creative consultant to help get my marketing in better shape. Research and referrals eventually led me to Amanda Sosa Stone, who has been a huge force in helping me to refine the way I show and present my work, and led me to APhotoFolio.com, where my website now resides.  Thanks to the professional wisdom and skill of these and others, there has been a noticeable change in my work and business. I find I have more time to focus on the creative side of photography, as well as I work on more personal projects and put more energy into marketing and not spending valuable time on fruitless attempts to do certain things on my own that I can trust to another professional, who specializes in that area, to take care of.

Take the time to search out a professional support network of your own — and not just on the creative side of your business. Two of the best people you can add to your team are a skilled lawyer and great accountant. Even if you find that you cannot put a whole network together all at once, it’s a great idea to start now and do it over time. Get out into your local creative community and start making friends and networking with professionals in other fields. Don’t be afraid to ask questions either. Sometimes a single poignant piece of advice can be extremely effective in helping you break through a rough spot on a project or putting the finishing touches on a marketing piece. Support networks exist in many forms, so don’t let budget stand in your way too much. You will find these people’s skills are some of the best investments you ever make. Despite what some people might think, having a skilled professional help and advise you is not “lame” but rather a smart business and life decision.