10 MORE WAYS NOT TO BECOME A SUCCESSFUL PHOTOGRAPHER

In 2010 I wrote, in one long caffeine-fueled night, an article that would become the most widely shared piece that I’ve ever published on my blog called 10 Ways Not To Become A Successful Photographer. It was part missive, part rant, and part confession about what I saw a lot of people doing wrong in the photography industry at the time – the mistakes and toxic misconceptions that I saw myself and photographers around me, both emerging and experienced, making every day that were poisoning our minds and our work. I’ve read and re-read it so many times over the years, because in many ways it became a litany to stave off my own negativity when things got tough or I felt myself slipping back into those shitty patterns that were holding me and my friends back when I wrote it.

It’s five years later now, and I sometimes find myself wondering if that piece I wrote all those years ago is still relevant, I’ve changed a lot, and this industry constantly evolves. I find myself thinking more about issues that never occurred to me when I wrote the original piece, and in some cases, issues that grew out of those original ten points. The last few weeks on the road I’ve been making tons of notes about the things I see happening in this business – both with myself and others who’ve spoken with me about that original article when the felt they had gotten a bit off course.

No one can tell you how to be successful in this business, that’s up to you, but here are ten more thoughts on how to NOT fuck up your chances of making it in this industry.

11. Don’t Understand Your Relationship With Stress

We all have our own ways of reacting to and dealing with stress. Personally, there are times when I can thrive on it for short bursts, I can handle unexpected turns on a production and adapt with a smile on my face, I like when the pace of business gets brisk and I feel like I’m spinning a lot of plates. I do okay with that kind of stress. It’s kind of exhilarating. On the other hand, I can get tripped up and really freaked out by little things. I’ve lost sleep because I’ve been anxious about the wording in a client e-mail, I made myself sick with worry in the days leading up to a few big jobs – that kind of constant background worry is the kind of stress that can get me really wound up,

We’re all emotionally invested in what we’re doing (at least you better be if you want to create good work) and that naturally leads to us getting stressed about it, but beyond that we have a whole host of practical stresses that we deal with every day as small business owners and creative entrepreneurs: money, staff, professional relationships, client retention, and vendors that can all affect our stress levels. Combine and compress all that creative and professional anxiety and it can really start to have an effect on your health, mindset, relationships, and career to the point that it starts to tear you up a little (or a lot) inside. Identifying what stresses you out, why, and how badly can give you some major insights on things you might need to work on personally, professionally, and creatively. It can also remind you of the importance of building a support team who can help you better deal with those tasks and situations that creep up on you. More importantly, you also need to have a means of dealing with your stress when it does show its face that hopefully isn’t of the “I eat a whole order of cheddar bay biscuits and chase it with a bottle of gin” school of stress management. Some common options are exercise, meditation, obsessive collecting, cooking, and music, but whatever works for you is cool – just go easy on those cheddar biscuits.

12. Get Caught Up in Defining and Quantifying Everything

It used to be that I couldn’t get online without seeing some pointless argument about Canon vs. Nikon or Mac vs PC – but in the last few years I think we’ve actually become more micro-obsessive as an industry when it comes to categorizing, segmenting, and ranking everything. The discussion isn’t about what brand of light is better, but what KIND of light is better, and even more disturbing, what kind of photographer is better. I see statements like these pop up all the time:

“I’m a natural light photographer, it’s a more honest way of taking pictures”

“I only shoot film, shooting digital isn’t photography”

“If you don’t know how to use speed-lights you aren’t a professional”

“If you only make 49% of your income from photography, you aren’t really a photographer”

“If you use composites in your work, you aren’t really a photographer, you’re just a retoucher, REAL photographers do everything in camera”

Unless you’re describing a genre that you work in – like fashion, food, or journalism, I can’t remember a time when the word “photography” needed so much modification. There are a million stories of how each of us came to photography, and a million different interpretations of the medium – to try to distill it all down into a linear ranking or a tidy little package seems not just absurd, but a rejection of all the ephemeral and intangible things about someone’s history, taste, and experience that make their individual images so compelling. Finding a unique way to frame your experience is a great way of setting yourself apart, and it’s best done with your work itself, but I feel like at some point there was an inversion, a moment when we started to use these defining terms in a really negative way – and rather than focusing on pulling ourselves up, the focus has shifted to pushing others down by encapsulating them in classification and categorically invalidating them.

13. Don’t Take Ownership of Your Mistakes

Ever met someone who just can’t take criticism?

I don’t mean in a “OMG they read the comment section and are handling it really poorly!” way, I mean the sort of criticism that matters – constructive criticism from clients, respected colleagues, and even themselves. You have to be willing to accept that you are going to fail in this business, likely many times over, and that it’s the ones who use these failures as learning experiences that are going to survive and hopefully thrive. The last thing you want to do is stick your fingers in your ears, shut your eyes, and start screaming “YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND MY ART!”

It gets shared a lot, but there’s a part in Zack Arias’ Transform Video that’s always stuck with me where Zack reminds his audience that “Avedon sucked, Karsh sucked, Adams sucked…  …Every photographer in all of history was a horrible photographer for some period of time. They learned, they grew, they had dark days, they persevered. That is the way of the artist.” I think it’s one of the most important lessons that any photographer can learn in this business that is so saturated with ego and defensiveness. It’s okay to screw up if it makes you better in the end (just try not to do it when clients are watching, and if you do, own it).

Every single one of us is going to make mistakes at some point in our career – some will fall flat on their faces and suffer comical embarrassment, others will slide headlong into the cavernous maw of catastrophic error, but all of us can recover from these situations if we can honestly identify and accept what we did wrong and work to correct it. It’s the ones who dig a hole and start to pull the dirt down on top of themselves, looking to shelter themselves from having to face their mistakes that have to worry most – because after a while that safe hole you’re hiding in starts to look an awful lot like a grave.

14. Spend More Time Talking About Your Work Than Making It

I don’t like to break things down into archetypes, but sometimes it seems like there’s a revolving cast of common characters in every creative community, fellow photographers who seem to almost accidentally fall into these roles.

There’s the photographer with a million good ideas and two million excuses as to why they can’t ever pull them off: “Plane tickets are too expensive,” “I don’t have a studio,” “My camera isn’t good enough,” “I need better lights.” This guy can talk himself out of anything before he even gets close to starting,

There’s the photographer who is so enamored by past successes and gripped by the fear of ever having to outgrow them that all they ever talk about is that one amazing shot they grabbed in 1992. Photographers like this also tend be the kind of people who complain about the industry a lot. They’ll be the first to give crazy-eyed reactionary rants about how things have changed but do very little to grow and adapt.

There’s the one who is actually pretty talented, but so consumed by self-sabotage or impostor syndrome that sometimes they seem frozen in place, unable to actually create anything without tearing it to shreds moments later. These are the ones who spend a lot of time beating themselves up verbally and can’t take compliments very well. They tend to make just as many excuses as the first guy, but focus on more internalized factors than the external scapegoats. You’ll hear a lot of “I suck,” “I don’t deserve this,” “Why don’t you realize that my work is awful” from them.

Worst of all, we’ve likely all been (or will be) these people at some point in our careers, where we seem to be spending more time talking about our work than actually making it – and that’s actually pretty natural for people in creative careers This isn’t a job where you punch out at 5:00 PM and go home to play video games without a care in the world. We tend to internalize a lot of what we do, because what we do is so tied to our own emotions, thoughts, and experience – so we often take this job home with us. It’s not surprising that sometime doubt, hubris, fear, helplessness, defensiveness, and a whole host of other dark feelings can creep in, and a byproduct of that is shifting our focus from creating to talking about creating – becoming a photo wantrepreneur.

I want to take a second here to be clear that I am not at all discouraging people from talking about their work or photography as a medium. I think a discourse about the changing nature of photography and how it relates to communications, society, commerce, and art are more important than they ever have been, and In many cases, talking through some these issues frankly, with an honest colleague, friend, or mentor can be both therapeutic, cathartic, and exactly what you need to right your course. It’s when talk becomes a surrogate for your work, a smokescreen, that you have a problem. Talking about creating images is often lot easier than creating images, and we as humans tend to take the path of least resistance.

15. Not Knowing When to Say No

There are so many draws on your time, finances, and sanity out there, and you’re going to get pulled in a lot of different directions in this world. Sometimes the exuberance of starting to gain recognition for your work can lead you to say yes to everything: Annoying Uncle Frank promised a friend you would hook him up with some new portraits? Done. Restaurant you get lunch at needs some food shots on the cheap? Why not. Regular client offers you an assignment you know you can’t make money on? Ok, but just this one time…

Saying yes is a great way to gain experience, but as your skills and ambition grow you’re going to start to develop both focus and the experience to recognize red flags. The reasons might be time, interest, or money, but understanding the power of those two letters can do wonders for how you think about yourself as both an artist and a business person. Don’t be a dick about it, but find a way to say no that is firm, but polite, and leaves the door open for future communication.

The cool thing about learning to say no with style and grace is how much more it lets you say yes to the things you really want to do – the ones that really can be life changing. Do you really want to shoot those three freebie jobs for friends that your heart really isn’t in? or do you want to spend a week going on that fantasy road trip to photograph America’s last drive-in theatres? Do you want to spend a month photographing that fastener catalog you know you won’t really turn a profit on? or do you want to spend a few weeks shooting personal projects that will get you noticed by your dream clients? Saying no is scary at first, but over time it gets easer, especially as you better develop your sense of when you need to say it.

16. Trying Too Hard To Be Someone Else

Back when I played music there was always this one guy around obsessed with being just like whatever flavor of the month rock star he was obsessed with at the moment. He bought the same guitars, played the same way, adopted the same style, and really went out of his way to avoid ever having to do anything that didn’t directly emulate what he saw as a surefire formula for success. His idols and obsessions would change over time, and he would reinvent himself totally every couple of years despite actually being a pretty talented guy. He plays in a cover band now.

Do you want to be in a cover band?

There’s a fine line between influence and obsession, between creating an homage to someone’s work and outright re-creating their work –  but the message here isn’t about copying, or influence, or biting someone else’s style or ideas. I could write a whole other post about all of those things that would be just as long as this one. What I want to warn you about is losing yourself inside of someone else’s creative vision – becoming so wholly consumed and fixated on other’s work that you lose everything about YOUR work that’s interesting. I love Rodney Smith’s work, but the world already has a Rodney Smtih, and I’m a lot more interested in telling my story than trying to relive someone else’s. If you force yourself into a mold that was meant for someone else you’re going to really break off a lot of the edges and corners of you that don’t fit, and those little jagged pieces are what makes you great and unique. Keep forcing it and you might break apart completely.

17. Be Careless With Your Choice of Mentors and Critiques

Find an amazing community to be a part of, and learn from people whose work excites you, but be wary of the homogeny and sameness that can result in taking the advice of people who want you to be more like them and less like you too seriously. You’ll see this in a lot of online groups where unsolicited critiques run rampant. There will be a push for the images presented to fall in line with that group’s status quo, an urge to keep everyone on the baseline. Often, it seems like it isn’t even conscious, but if you watch someone comment on someone else’s work long enough, after a while you realize that a lot of the suggestions and comments they make are ones that will bring the work more in line with their own worldview of photography. Do you really want to aspire to be more like someone who’s work you don’t really like that much?

Critique can be an unbelievably important tool, especially for a developing artist, but the crowd of people out there willing to share their opinion on what you’re doing gets bigger every day, and a lot of them don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. When you’re looking for a critique or mentor to help you refine your vision you need to be conscious of avoiding the masses that lean towards the average and unexceptional.  Instead, be discerning and search for those singular and unique voices – the ones with a real opinion and point of view. Be vocal about what you want to improve and specific about what you want them to comment on so that you can grow with purpose and urgency. Consider the lessons you learn from them and take what helps you, but never be afraid to try to prove your mentors and critics wrong – not through words and argument, but by action and result – as you see your own vision through.

18. Get Too Comfortable

Complacency and stagnation can be incredibly hard things to recognize when you’re deeply mired in them. We gradually slip more and more into our routines and comfort zones until they smother us. One of the most common examples of this that I see is when a photographer starts to get a good amount of work in – they’ve worked hard to develop their marketing and contacts, their work is at the top of its game, and they have a look that’s in demand. Over the course of a couple of months or years they think they’re doing great but maybe they let their marketing slip or stopped pushing their skills – figuring that they’ve made it. All of a sudden there is a pivot in the industry, staff changes at client offices, perhaps a new agency takes over an account, or their look now seems dated and out of step with the market. All those months they went without marketing or developing new skills will come back to haunt them as their work dries up and they have to scramble to bring in some income just to keep the doors open. Getting too comfortable can leave you in a very uncomfortable position.

19. Don’t Manage Client Expectations

Once you get the basics of this photography thing down and start bringing in work, you suddenly realize you have a whole host of new problems in regards to communication and the ability to actually deal with clients – the kind of problems can lead you to complain in internet forums where a bunch of other people who have similar problems will pat you on the back and say “You know what? You’re right, your clients suck, and so do mine. It’s not your fault.”

But you know what? It’s kind of your fault.

Sure, there are bad clients out there, the legitimately dishonest or unethical type that give you 99% of your headaches for 1% of your income, the ones that you’ll probably fire after a couple of harrowing months. But most of the clients you’re going to end up having problems with aren’t out to get you, they are decent and honest people who just don’t know the ins and outs of your business as well as you do. Clients like this have a different vocabulary and a different background than you – some might be making their first foray into working with a professional, others might be used to different policies and working arrangements because they collaborated with a different creative for a long time, and some might be new to a position in an agency and still learning the ropes.

You need to work from the mindset that all of your potential clients have varied backgrounds and experiences, have radically different wants and needs, and are all going to ask different questions – and it’s up to you to know when they aren’t asking the right ones. Your client didn’t bring up a stylist? Ask if they need one anyway. Client doesn’t know what their responsibilities are? Give them a timeline. Client didn’t mention exclusivity? You better ask. Client doesn’t understand he difference between editorial and commercial licensing? Define it in the contract. Not using a contract? FUCKING START! Every time a freelancer works without a contract an angel kicks a puppy.

Make communication the most important thing in your business besides the quality of your work. Be patient with your clients and take the time to ensure sure that everyone involved is in synch. Ask as many questions as they do to make sure they understand your position before a problem arises. Otherwise, despite all the client blaming you do online, you’re the one who’s going to look like an asshole.

20. Go it Alone

You need a support team in your life, because there is only so much you can carry on your shoulders without getting crushed – this goes for both your professional and personal life.

On the personal side, you hopefully have several layers of support – friends and family who stand by you are a great and valuable resource, but don’t underestimate how much your local community of colleagues and photographers, the ones who understand the stresses of being a freelance creative, can help as well. Chances are they have been through the same issues you’re going through now. They’ve dealt with doubt, shaky finances, bad shoots, rough relationships, and a whole host of other problems that might be affecting you, and you can rest assured that there are scores of photographers who are going to come after you that are going to have these problems as well – do what you can to pay it forward in your community.

On the professional side, there is often a sense that the photographer is a lone-wolf, and at the beginning of our careers we do have to wear a lot of hats under both the artist and entrepreneur banner. We find ourselves doing design work, writing copy, taking care of scheduling, taxes, payroll, etc, all on our own. It’s a lot to handle, especially if you aren’t as expert in those fields are you are at photography, but sooner or later you have a revelation that there are people out there who put just as much time and passion into developing these skills as you do yours. Over the last couple years I’ve started working with a designer, a writer, a marketing consultant, a retoucher, and an amazing assistant. I’ve also developed really good relationships with my accountant, insurance broker, and banker on the business side of things. It’s made my life simpler, made me more focused on the quality of my images and servicing clients, and improved the quality of my brand and marketing across the board. Being able to find a group of people, whose skills I trust and respect, has been so important to growing my business in the last few years.

What mistakes are you making? What do you see holding you and others back from really being successful? What are you doing about it?

Lessons For 2012

Vintage Konica Camera

Vintage Konica Camera

For my last blog post of the year here are some small lessons I learned in 2011 that I hope help you in 2012.

A to-do list is a tool, not an accomplishment

You might clear those tasks out, but that list will fill right back up again. Don’t become addicted to efficiency, leave some room in your life for the random and to let your passions direct you.

If they can’t see you, you don’t exist

You need to get out there and start making calls, doing lunch, and getting your work seen. You can wait forever for your website or portfolio to be perfect, but there are people who want to hire you right now who can’t find you. A portfolio is a living thing, it needs to grow with you and be honed by feedback and experimentation – Perfection is a journey, not a destination.

This is a social business

Your work may get you in the door these days, but your personality is just as important in how you are perceived. Don’t exist outside your brand; make yourself a part of it. When you do you will take more responsibility and pride in your work.

Be wary of who you get feedback from

Listen to your clients’ needs and thoughts, and be selective about your mentors. Taking homogenous online and group critiques too seriously results in being a better them, not a better you. Your goal is to be the anomaly, not the average.

ACT! – No one else will do it for you

You can spend all the time in the world talking about your great idea or planning your dream project, but unless you take action and make it happen it’s all just theory. Or as Joey Shithead puts it…. TALK-ACTION = ZERO

Care

If you are truly passionate about photography as a business then don’t treat it like a mindless job – Genuinely care about your work, your business practices, your clients, your community, your subjects, your stories, and your team. It will pay you back in the long run.

Have the courage to fail

If you are not making mistakes you are not trying hard enough.

Never Stop Learning

Never be too prideful to learn something new – consume knowledge and media like it’s the air you breathe. I have seen veterans of this industry learn new skills from first-year students because they were open and excited about growing. Make study, experimentation, and shared mentorship a part of your regular routine to better understand how the world around you works. You never know where your next inspirational goldmine may come from.

The path that worked for others may not be the one that works for you. 

If success in any creative industry were as easy as following a roadmap laid out by bloggers, educators, and experts, then everyone would be living their passion. Never be afraid to deviate from the prescribed path if you feel that it is the right choice for you. Take responsibility for your choices and never be afraid of making some noise.

Say Yes

Don’t let fear and apprehension stop you from doing something you really want to do. Start saying yes more, especially to your own ideas, even if you think they are crazy – those will be very often be your best ideas. Saying yes is the first step to really making things happen.

Say No 

Conversely, don’t let a misplaced sense or duty, obligation, or desperation prevent you from saying no. Stick to your own path and learn to walk away from a bad deal.

Stop hanging around people who have given up

I see it all the time on blogs, on forums, at industry events, and any other place that photographers and creatives might gather en masse – an overwhelming sense of negativity that pervades this industry like a virus. What the finger of accusation is pointing at seems to change weekly, and complaints about clients, rates, technology, MWACs, pro-sumers, students, the internet, micro-stock, and the economy all start to sound the same after a while – a jumble of depressing but comforting noise that can suck you in and have you spouting the same rhetoric back at others. But, if you listen to that noise long enough, one crystal clear idea starts to creep through – that this is ultimately about blame. The underlying mantra behind so many of these complaints can often be reduced and simplified to one statement; “This is not my fault, this is caused by something beyond my control, so I do not have to act to fix it.” This kind of thinking may bring some small amount of cathartic relief, especially when joining in with the masses collectively laying blame on something else, but it will do absolutely nothing to remedy the situation.

I am so over it, and I don’t want to be part of that culture of excuses.

That is why I am so grateful to have made a conscious decision over the last year to surround myself with people so against this type of hive negativity that the idea of giving up and giving in is completely alien to them – either because of their unrelenting positivity, or their indefatigable passion pushing them to take actions that they believe in to find answers to their problems.

I have seen a thirty-plus year veteran of this industry have one of his most successful years ever by adopting new technology and marketing strategies in a time when many of his contemporaries languish in dwindling careers lamenting “the good old days”.

I have been amazed by the positivity of a friend as I watched her struggle and grow as she worked through her first year in business when so many people were telling her to give up – now she is profitable, growing, and excited for the future.

I am constantly inspired by the unrelenting creativity and passion of my studio partner, Scott Gable. And I have seen so many people start to leave their negative attitudes behind on a professional forum I moderate thanks to the support of a group of  unbelievably determined people.

These are the people I surround myself with because they want to be better, and that pushes me to want to be better myself. If you take anything away from this blog post, this is the one lesson I hope you take to heart.

Negativity as a Virus and Four Ideas on How to Treat It

It has become a sad trend. Negativity is sweeping through the photography community at a growing and alarming rate, both online in forums and blogs, and on an interpersonal level at industry events and gatherings. More and more photographers are starting to drown in an ocean of self-loathing, scapegoating, fear, blame, and complacent laziness. It’s a self-propagating problem. Negativity spreads like a disease; to other photographers, to our clients, to our fans, and to the viewing public.

When I started out in this business I would occasionally run into people in the industry who would take one look at me, a student coming out of school and into the business, and would take me aside and attempt to discourage me from pursuing photography as a career. It was not a rare thing to hear “Don’t get into photography, it’s a dying business.”  I could never discern their individual motives. Were they taking turbulence in the industry hard, fearing the end of their career and livelihood and projecting it  on to others? Did they view new emerging photographers as a threat to their market? Had they stopped evolving as artists and creatives, blaming the changing wants and aesthetic needs of the industry for their own unwillingness to break set habits and move into new creative territories? Whatever the reason, some people are just not aware of how this can affect other people. I am sad to say that it affected me. After a few year of hearing this, I really started to doubt having any future in this business at all. I was convinced that the photography industry was on its last legs and that any attempt to move forward in it was hopeless. In fact, I even left the photography industry for some time to work for a manufacturing firm. It took years for me to realize just how strong my want to be a photographer  really was. Thankfully, I was able to make the move back into photography as a career. And while it is a tough and extremely competitive business, I find myself much happier, more excited about work, and generally more positive than I have been in years.

Rather than telling someone this, we should encourage emerging photographers more, both to excel in their work as well as to learn proper business acumen so that they can enter the world more prepared to work in this industry. Competition is a glorious thing, and while I can understand the motivations that create the fear of already small markets becoming more saturated that some photographers seem to exhibit, I do not agree with it. It’s a much more positive action to foster creativity in others, to push them to grow as artists. Their growing skill and success should push you to improve your own work and business skills to stay competitive. We can never become complacent or lazy. If we stagnate as artists (and indeed in this day and age we are artists and not merely technicians) then can we really blame an industry’s fickle tastes and rapidly evolving aesthetics for moving past us quickly?

Another common complaint I hear that saddens me is the claim that “The industry does not respect photographers anymore”. If you want people to respect what you do, give them something to respect you for. Complaining to others about the changes in the industry is pointless. Complaining accomplishes nothing at all. It’s a waste of energy that could be better spent creating new work to make clients respect you for the value you bring to their projects. Time better spent marketing to clients on a personal level, impressing them with the enthusiasm and energy that you can bring to their accounts, selling not just your work, but yourself to them. This seems to be an idea that has escaped a lot of photographers. Yes, the business has changed, and we must change with it. Not in terms of compromising our business ethics. One should always stick to their guns in terms of the policies that they have set forth to run their business, but rather we should find new ways to adapt these business practices to meet the needs of changing business climate. We must examine and experiment with new business and pricing models to work with clients and not for them or in some extremely negative scenarios, against them. We should be creating new bodies of intelligent work that reminds our clients of our talents, skills, and abilities, demonstrating value beyond mere technical skill or pricing. You cannot demand respect. It must be earned, and the best way to do this is by demonstrating consistent and ambitious value to the people you want to respect you.

It seems that so many resort to negativity because it is the path of least resistance. It is so much easier to spend our time focusing on the negative aspects of our life and business than it is to proactively do something positive to improve our work. It’s always easier to blame someone else for change than ourselves for our own difficulties in adapting. Sadly, I have even been witness to photographers, both experienced and inexperienced, complaining to potential clients on their blogs and even in person about the changes in the industry and about the difficulty of making a living in an extremely competitive climate. In many ways this is more harmful to our business than any industry-wide changes could ever be, It makes us appear as falsely entitled, spoiled, and bummed out children. Why would any client, anywhere, want to deal with someone who does nothing but bring a sense of doom to what they do? Negativity breeds more negativity, and it’s becoming a vicious cycle that is sucking more and more photographers in. Nothing bums me out more than seeing a group of photographers gathered at an industry event, spending their time complaining to each other, all the while oblivious to the fact that they were surrounded by potential clients whom they could be setting up meetings with.

Thankfully, there are some things that I have found that help me avoid falling into this trap, and even help others to combat it on occasion.

Encourage Others to Excel

Learning by teaching can be a fantastic tool. It can help us come to realizations about ourselves and our own work that we may not have arrived at independently. If you see someone exhibiting such negative behavior, do your best to help them overcome it. Be available to offer suggestions and answer questions. You might be surprised at how listening to someone else’s problems can help you find ways to solve your own. Listening is a lost skill, just be careful not to become a constant sounding board for the terminally negative. You’ll find yourself getting dragged down faster than you know.  Encouraging others to excel also fosters a wonderful sense of competition. The better the people around us, the harder we have to push ourselves to improve and succeed. It’s easy to walk to the top of a hill, but its much more rewarding and beneficial to summit a mountain.

Surround Yourself with Intelligent and Positive Influences

Not just in your personal life, but in your business life as well. A great attitude can go a long way and can improve the mood and outlook of others as well. One of the most helpful things I had ever done for my business was to put together an extremely skilled and supporting group of peers, crew, and mentors. People who gave intelligent and positive advice that pushed me to excel and make intelligent decisions. For instance, a few months ago I decided that I wanted to start working with an experienced and knowledgeable consultant that could offer an objective opinion of my body of work and help me develop a more cohesive marketing program. I eventually decided to work with Amanda Sosa Stone, not only because of her excellent track record and insight, but because her enthusiasm for what she does and for what I am doing is utterly infectious. In my early conversations with her I would find myself giddy with excitement to implement her ideas and advice, even more so when they began to have positive tangible effects.

Another great example is Nubby Twiglet, the designer who developed my visual identity. I have become a daily reader of Nubby’s blog since I started working with her. Her writings have become extremely influential to me and the way I think about my business, my work, and how I am a major part of my brand. Blog posts like this and this have stayed with me long after I originally read them and I have found myself revisiting them periodically. I had the pleasure of interviewing Nubby on this blog a few months back with the goal of helping photographers who were looking to work with a graphic designer for the first time and it was an insightful and stirring source of information.

Never Stop Learning

Stagnation is a terrible thing. We have to strive to never stop learning and gaining new knowledge to avoid it. This is a wide-reaching topic that can cover many areas of your life. In the arena of business, read blogs from forward thinkers in the subjects of marketing and sales. In photography, experiment more and push yourself beyond your comfort zone. Shoot more personal work without thought to end use, but rather because you enjoy the act and craft of it Take pictures and build projects around things that matter to you, that you connect with on a deep and personal level. Read more, you would be surprised at how much a good book can get your mind working. Watch films that inspire you and seek influence from your other creative outlets and passions to feed back into your photography. Read self-help books like Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art which can help you combat your own internal resistance and creative fears. Never be afraid to ask questions of others and to learn from people both more and less experienced from you.

Get Good — Really Good

There is no quicker road to negativity than mediocrity and the downward pull of inertia dragging your attitude down. An object at rest wants to stay at rest. Beat this by pushing yourself to grow. Just finished a project you are exceptionally proud of? That’s great, now get out there and try to create something even better. You will find yourself more excited to create new work when you challenge yourself. You will learn from the mistakes you made in the past and actively improve on them, rather than repeating them over and over. One of my favorite quotes on this subject, ever, comes from Steve Martin.

Be undeniably good. When people ask me how do you make it in show business or whatever, what I always tell them and nobody ever takes note of it ‘cuz it’s not the answer they wanted to hear — what they want to hear is here’s how you get an agent, here’s how you write a script, here’s how you do this — but I always say, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” If somebody’s thinking, “How can I be really good?”, people are going to come to you. It’s much easier doing it that way than going to cocktail parties.

Take this to heart. Get better and better until you cannot be ignored anymore. Strive to be so undeniably good at what you do that people will have no choice other than to pay attention, Add value to this by being the type of person that others want to work with, one who makes the people around them more excited to create something wonderful. Bring enthusiasm to everything you do and strive to deliver more than what is asked of you. Don’t be afraid to put your work our there for others to see, whatever your own doubts or negative feelings might be. No one can notice you if you hide in the shadows. Do not ever be afraid to (as photography consultant Leslie Burns puts it in her book) “Tell The World you Don’t Suck