Over the past few weeks, I have received messages from people in response to my post about my slight change in direction. It has been a whole bunch of encouragement (thank you!), questions about what EXACTLY my next few months will look like (¯\_(ツ)_/¯) and an inquiry on whether or not they can have all of my camera equipment for free since I will no longer be using it (huh?). But the question that I keep hearing again and again - and have been for as long as I have been doing this - has to do with the business of photography. How to get started? How to make money? How to develop your style, etc. I’ve been invited to more coffee chats than I can recall (and I will most certainly always say yes anytime I am invited), but I started to notice a lot of the same questions being asked and me repeating the same mantras over and over again. And while my experience comes almost exclusively from cycling, I would not be surprised if some of these experiences can be applied to other fields.
So, in no particular order...
Don’t give your shit away for free. If you are just starting out and looking to build your portfolio, it is easy to just offer up your services for free or for next to nothing. You might be afraid that if you ask to be paid then this “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” will go to someone else. Someone who is asking for less in return. And guess what? You’re right. There are plenty of clients out there who expect you to work for free (or, you know, for exposure). And if you ask for something in return, they will just give the job to the countless other photographers waiting in line and not asking to be paid. It is hard to have leverage when you’re working in a passion industry. And it doesn’t really change with experience. No matter how long you’ve been doing it for, you will still run into clients who expect everything for nothing. It's a small industry and you do not want to become that guy, who does shit for free. That hurts you, me and every other photographer out there. So name your price. Negotiate. And if they say no, walk away.
Don’t let your head get in front of your heart. If it is a project you want to pursue and cannot stop thinking about, make it work. Stop making excuses and stop procrastinating. Just get out there and get it done. Personal projects continue to shape you as an artist. Projects where you are not constricted by creative briefs and shot lists and allow you tell your own story. So figure out whatever you need. Visas, travel, etc. Just make it work.
Don’t sit around waiting to get responses for your pitches. Go out there and do something. Work on a new project. Go on a road trip. Read a book. Spend some time with your friends. Refreshing your inbox for a millionth time can wait a few more hours.
Don’t let you turning your passion into your business spoil your passion. That’s a tough one. I first ran into it, when I was working in aviation, pursuing a dream of becoming an airline pilot. No one starts flying and spending tons of time and money becoming a pilot by accident. It is almost certainly people following their passions, learning everything they possibly can about every single aspect of their hopeful future careers. But then you look at some of the people who have been doing it for 20–30 years and that passion is nowhere to be found. The thing that got you out of bed and made your friends tune you out after a while because you wouldn’t shut up about it often tends to disappear when passion turns into mundane day-to-day reality. It becomes just a shitty miserable job. And you spend all your time being bitter about your own experience and ruining the passion for those around you. Stop that shit. If you feel it happening, it might be time to try something else.
Don’t Be a Copycat. The age old adage hold up: "Good Artists Copy, Great Artists Steal". Everyone has their inspirations and inadvertently copy others' work when developing their own language. You have. I have. We all have. But don't copy other people's work frame-by-frame / word-by-word simply because you have seen them achieve success. And make sure you realize the difference between a niche and a fad.
Don't accept every project. Learn to say "No". When I was first starting out, my heart would skip a beat every single time I would receive an email that contained some sort of pitch. I spread myself too thin and worked on a lot of projects I was not excited about. But I couldn't say "no". Then after I got established, I started receiving pitches for work that were basically copies of my earlier work.
Don’t let social media get to you. No, everyone else is NOT having a better time and working on more exciting projects than you. No, just because that guy got a nicer camera than you does not mean that he is a “better” photographer. Just because she is able to ride a beautiful mountain while you are stuck working your day job does not mean she is living a better life than you. Social media is highly curated to show just the good shit and ignore the bad. Behind every "If you're not doing this cool thing, then you're living life wrong" post is a supportive spouse, girlfriend, friend or trust fund that make it possible. I know you know this, but it bears repeating.
Don't work in a creative vacuum. Reach out to other creatives for advice. Pricing, contracts, etc. There are loads of online resources for this kind of stuff, but there is a lot more personal knowledge out there, a lot of which will never be officially documented. You will find that most will be willing to help you avoid the same mistakes they may have made in the past and will not treat you as if you are undercutting them and taking their jobs. Unless you are. In which case: fuck you.
Don’t forget what’s important to you. That one is pretty straightforward.
There you go. That’s it. Hope you can take something out of this list. Or don’t.