Philosophy in Relating to Professional Peers

Discussion in 'Business of Photography' started by denarosko, Jun 15, 2007.

  1. I have been building my portrait and commercial portfolio since 2004. I am
    working presently on a time line to build my wedding portfolio. I'd consider my
    experience novice to intermediate, depending on what genre of photography I'm
    working on.

    When I send out marketing releases, or when I'm in conversation with friends,
    some of whom endeavor to be photographers (or already are successful ones), I
    find a pattern in our conversation, which goes as follows:

    (For humors sake I've simplified comments, so don't let the below irritate you
    too much)

    Them: "How's your photography?"

    Me: "This is going on, blah blah blah."

    Them: "That's exciting. I'm envious [insert variations here]"

    As I peruse the postings here at P-net, I'm finding a theme.

    Newbie P'grapher: "I'm new"

    And one or two P'netters: "We don't like newbies. They bring down the field of
    photography. They make clients not like photographers. They do clients a bad
    service [insert variations here]."


    As I interacted with friends who wanted to be photographers, the common response
    from them was envy or insecurity in their position. As I interacted with more
    experienced--and hugely successful--photographers, the common response from me
    was envy or insecurity on my position. Then there's the occasional time when I
    read about someone who "doesn't really want to be a pro photographer"--and their
    portfolio outshines mine!



    Many fields are competitive, and photography is no exception, especially
    considering how saturated the field is. With cameras so easy to use and easy to
    buy (at least the consumer models) and in just about every household, we who
    aspire to be pros have to compete with the popular persona (at least on P-net),
    Uncle Harry, who may just get a better shot than we.

    Read my article on my site called Photo History Basics for more info:

    This sense of unbalanced experience and around-every-corner-seen-and-unseen
    competition lends a sense of insecurity (maybe irritation, maybe resentment) as
    to how large a chunk of the cake we will possess. If Uncle Harry succeeds, then
    a natural response is he is not better than me, but he succeeds, where am I
    going wrong?

    If not Uncle Harry, then the amazing Pro Photographer who makes uber dollars,
    has a studio, has an expansive client area, and travels the world. Their
    success can lead to as I already mentioned a sense of envy, where the natural
    response can be, I wish I was that good.

    I've simplified pro relationships with each other quite a bit, but I'm trying to
    highlight the insecurity that we can have, and how that insecurity, left
    unchecked, can inhibit or harm our relationships with other pros, and even our
    own successes, because we will be too focused on ourselves and what we want, but
    don't think we're getting, at least in comparison to others.

    I think it's important to have solid relationships with our professional peers.
    Thankfully, I'm learning a way out of this mindset, and if any of you have any
    thoughts on the topic, feel free to post them.


    I had a conversation with my husband, and he enlightened me.

    "When others in your field do better, then you do better."

    The idea is that when others in photography succeed, then the bar is set that
    much higher, which is a good thing for clients, who will receive quality
    products and services from us. Clients will then be willing to pay more for
    said quality, which will increase the rate of payment for the novice and
    intermediate photographers also.

    "So you don't have to be jealous of others' successes," he said. (This will
    also lend to more friendly posts!)

    Then my Grandma said something that caught my attention. She worked in dry
    cleaning industry for years before doing administrative work for a health
    insurance company before she retired.

    "Someone asked me once if I trained the girls everything that I knew. I told
    him, 'Yes, I do,' and he said, 'Aren't you worried that they'll do better than
    you and take your job away?' and I said, 'More power to them!'"

    My thought is I can only be responsible for myself and how I choose to seek out
    success in my chosen field. Part of that success I believe is hugely related to
    my own sense of purpose (for me, purpose comes from more than just myself, but a
    belief that I am created for a specific purpose with cool stuff to do within
    that purpose, "all good things come from above"--content for another thread
    perhaps) and willingness to learn and grow as it is my ability to relate well
    with my peers--with whom I might even become good friends.

    Thank you to those of you at P-net who have emailed and posted comments to share
    your tips so that I can, as you, succeed.
  2. "The idea is that when others in photography succeed, then the bar is set that much
    higher, which is a good thing for clients, who will receive quality products and services
    from us. Clients will then be willing to pay more for said quality, which will increase the
    rate of payment for the novice and intermediate photographers also."

    This only works if photographers keep price pressure moving upward. However, the reality
    is that photographers' fees have been backsliding badly for years and years adjusted for
    inflation. I have worked hard with a number of my peers to try to try to keep prices up in
    the markets we serve by educating newbies, but the temptation for "up-and-coming"
    photographers to undercut prices has been a huge problem. Most of them value a little bit
    of exposure too highly relative to their simple financial needs as a small business owner.
    That is, when a client says, "We can't pay you what you deserve, but I'm sure this will be
    good exposure for you" (by the way, I have heard some clients LITERALLY say this
    verbatim), too many photographers naively agree to the client's offer without further
    negotiation rather than imposing their own terms and fees.

    You are right that some photographers would benefit from a more positive attitude toward
    their business, potential competitors, etc., but the cynicism didn't come about without a

    One big problem is that there is always someone coming up who thinks they have to pay
    their dues for a while. They assume they'll have to lose money for a while (maybe years),
    but then they proceed to operate without a real business plan, without really
    understanding their costs of doing business or budget, without knowing the value of ttheir
    work or how to negotiate. They accept "exposure" (which may simply be a 6-point photo
    credit that no one who matters will care about) in lieu of the cash they need to pay
    themselves and invest in their business.

    I have always said that a newbie presenting themselves as a professional photographer
    should act as if they are well established, pricing their work accordingly, negotiating terms
    accordingly, protecting their copyrights and other interests accordingly... Otherwise, they
    will be taken advantage of by their clients (who know the game very well), and will
    probably be out of business very quickly.

    If only more photographers behaved with more solidarity as some of us have tried to do
    over the years. Then the positive atmosphere you seek would almost certainly prevail.
  3. Nice. I understand where you are coming from. The thing that always kills me is that no one started at the top. And it's rare that anybody did it all by themselves.

    I'm a graphic designer by trade. Very competitive field. I do photography as a hobby, which I just picked up again after all these years, but I also teach an audio/visual class each week. I have found that teaching forces me to learn more. That's why I love teaching. That's why I love to share. I believe in empowering people, especially young ones. I teach video editing, sound engineering, live camera operation, and a bunch of other stuff.

    I like your grandmother's philosophy. The more you share, the more you get. Works every time. And that is what sites like P'net are supposed to be about.
  4. Justin: I appreciate your comments as I had not considered the correlation between pricing and peer relationships. Your position makes sense to me because it sounds as you're speaking on assigned value. You are right about photographers, especially newbies, shortchanging themselves by charging too little. Usually I hear the opposite, that newbies should not dare to charge too much or even at all because their work may not be good enough to warrant a price tag.

    For my part, I charge cost, give a "Portfolio discount," or give as a gift, photography for areas that I feel I need to improve my work or establish a portfolio. I have a set number in my mind for gigs to do before I feel comfortable charging full price.

    Still I have the uneasy feeling when charging my full price as in, ooh, I'm doing this person a disfavor because _what if_ I make a mistake on this session and the images stink? I imagine that performance anxiety will decrease with experience, though I wonder there may always be those jitters.

    I appreciate your comments Justin because it reminds me that the work I do, as yours, is valuable and I am providing a valuable service.

    Rich: Thank you for your feedback. I'm glad you identify with my grandma's quote especially; it's so good to know there are professionals as yourself who enjoy mentoring relationships and giving people the tools they need to succeed in this world. So much of today's popular culture--namely diy (do it yourself) and consumerism--in some ways yields an attitude of entitlement, which probably doesn't need to be encouraged because I wonder that it's human nature.

    There is a bit of self-preservation in all of us I think, and that is okay for survival and making good decisions, but it's nice to connect with others outside of that mode--and succeed in doing it. The field of photography after all is a field of communications. We're communicating via an art form of recording light, and we're communicating with our clients. It's a social field. I feel when I focus on the communications, i.e. connecting and building community using a medium, that I'm that much more successful than if I were to only provide a box full of images and nothing more (that is not to say I don't aim for quality, because it's important to deliver, too, and not just "be nice"). Thanks for sharing.

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