Taking my photography to the "next level"

Discussion in 'Business of Photography' started by Ricochetrider, Nov 29, 2020.

  1. This year, as I haven't been working, to speak of (Im in entertainment IE shows and events), and apparently won't be working any time soon. So with a LOT more time on my hands in 2020, I've been focusing on my photography a lot more than I had been. I'm 64 in 2020 anyway and had been thinking of being semi-retired shortly after turning 65 in Sept 2021. With all this time on my hands to think about stuff, I've found myself wondering how to move my photography game forward. Since I'm already "out of work" with no signs of returning (to my career gig) anyway, why NOT start moving forward with the "next big thing" now?

    Near as I can tell, steps I could take to move things ahead would be to

    a: get some prints made and ready them for public display (big prints? small, medium size? What level of quality? What type of print, traditional, alternative process, or basic ink jet?)
    b: try to get some work into a gallery (local or distant? do I tailor my work to "fit" into a gallery's "profile", submit whatever I feel is my best regardless of content, or try to find a gallery who regularly presents work similar to my own)
    c: figure out how to sell myself, say for commissioned shoots (for one thing), or how to target a specific clientele, build a client base, etc (advertise in specific publications, websites or magazines? how do I target or even ID potential customers)
    d: perhaps establish a website or build my "sales" capabilities in Zenfolio, my "host" site, which does facilitate printing & sales)

    Beyond all or any of this, I could also take some classes at my local community college which has an excellent photography program. I would like to learn Photoshop & Lightroom, for one example, and ultimately it'd be lovely to have the time to complete their 2 year Certificate program.

    I never intended, originally, to be a "professional" photographer. As I've gotten deeper & deeper into this however, I see so many people who appear to be shooting professionally, or at least appear to be selling some of their work, so I've found myself thinking that perhaps I could also meet some success if I get serious about it and follow any specific protocols or whatever. From my own experience, I know that nothing happens if one puts a half-hearted effort into a thing. Maybe I'm giving myself too much credit but I thought I'd fly this past the P.net collective just for some input. I'm not so much a businessman, although nothing happens if you don't at least try. I also feel like there could well be some very specific stuff that I have no idea about- like how to get one's work into a gallery, to name but one example.

    Thanks in advance for indulging me.
  2. When I started in photography as a career in the late 80's you had to be very good and have polished business acumen. Now some 32 years later I am still at it and all along I have really pushed to make better and better work year on year. Thankfully that has happened and it looks like it will continue, the ideas are flowing as is the success...

    But...if I were starting today with the portfolio I had in my late teens / early 20's in today's climate? Well I would be starving, end of story. These days, every living and breathing thing seems to want to become or at least fancies them self a photographer, because the internet fan clubs and social media have told them they are. So what I am getting at is that you have to first do a market study in your desired genre and geographic location and see what the top of the game looks like in terms of talent. Then you have to be so realistic in gauging where your work is at among this top of the top that you end up brutally honest at how good *your* work is. This evaluation often takes getting outside opinion or even a professional portfolio review.

    Once you decide you want to sell your work, you simply have to go beyond the opinions of those who give you likes on social media, praise on enthusiast forums and friends and family. And yes, once you have something to sell, you have to have a keen business sense, an entrepreneurial spirit of sorts. Not only do you have to show talent behind the camera, you have to show it in how you market, that followthrough of creativity is really important. And that is across the board, regardless if marketing to individuals, galleries, etc.

    And finally, you mention that you see other people who at least appear to be selling work...well selling is a relative thing. Nearly anyone can convince someone at some point to pay $50 for an 11X14 of some bucolic landscape, but can they actually earn even a part time living off of it? Can they create a budget and have a profit margin become a regular thing? Or are they like the millions of enthusiasts who have built websites with the phrase "Fine Art" attached to it, showing what looks like a visual bucket list of National Parks and aspire to not much more than being able to pay for a lens or two per year...

    Lots to consider....lots of people want to win American Idol too. You don't know if you don't try, but be honest with your self at every step if you really have what it takes or not.
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2020
    NHSN, jc1305us, Ricochetrider and 2 others like this.
  3. Sounds like the easy way to passive income? - Or is their business model to charge people hoping to sell an extra $10/month called pro account or online shop rent?

    Galleries: I'd try to have about 133% their display space of candidates to pitch myself with and ask how to get in. Seeing themshowing similar work is good. - You can ask if that worked well for them and if they want your stuff too.
    That sounds as if
    would already be sufficiently successful and sustainable?
    I've been a shutterbug for a long time. As a kid I dreamed of a press job. I was side jobbing as an employed products shooter for a few years and had a buddy shooting fine art pin ups as an obsessive hobby, who had an exhibition or two, I think primary "for glory"...
    My dayjob coworkers married not shot by me.

    Have you pondered getting into the stock photo market? I'm working in the printing industry and shovel a lot of stuff smelling "stock photos" through my press.

    IDK what kind of customers you could attract. Shooting landscapes & catering households making a calendar each year could mean a wee bit of income?
  4. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    I believe that, as the very first step, you need to know exactly what business you want to be in. That's not my gem: I learned it when I was about 35 during a three day lock-out business seminar.

    At the moment you have business ideas, some of which you have listed, albeit not yet describing any particular business in the necessary detail to allow:
    1. the business to be successful
    2. you to attain what you want

    You are probably looking at this from the outside-in: most people do. I did when I was 18, started Photography Diploma... want to be in Photography Business, get portfolio, do as many jobs on assignment as possible, build first studio... so it went on, looking from the outside-in as a spectator, mimicking what other "Photography Businesses” did and not planning it as “The Business” which I wanted to own.

    Obviously that was partly driven by the need to survive and to make a living, certainly at 18 that was a big part of it for me. I read in your Opening Post that you are not destitute needing to grasp any job to get a dollar, albeit one of the goals is to make some money.

    Embrace the 50 years of adult experience you have: there’s a lot there if you did deep.

    In defining and then re-fining the definition of the Business you want to own – firstly ask questions of yourself concerning the OUTCOMES that you want, and then the parameters within which you will agree to conform to achieve those outcomes. There should be lots of re-fining the definition of the business

    That’s a lot of stuff condensed above – perhaps a simple example (based on my experiences when I was about 35 and began defining my businesses), will help you get started:

    Questions to self:
    what type (genre) of Photography do I most like? – Portraiture
    why? – one reason I like capturing that moment when they connect to the camera
    any other reasons? – yep I like being the actor I like the vibe
    so is that why you do so many weddings? – yep the buzz is great: and I am really good at it
    how do you measure good at it? – sales are great and excitement on Clients’ faces is great
    are there some weddings which are not great? – yep
    why? – when the clients are not ‘into it’
    what does that mean? – they don’t get it.
    they don’t get what? - they don’t get the ‘photography’, they don’t get involved
    I explored this last thought for about three weeks and as a result, one part of the definition of my (new) business venture began to emerge:
    they don’t get what? - these clients are similar with the food and the venue and the music: firstly they are not “as one” – it is usually one partner really driving the show OR one Mum driving the show, secondly there is little general passion about anything.

    A very preliminary sentence of my definition began to sprout:
    My (new) Business will select only Clients who have general passion and especially passion for the Services and Widgets my Business will sell to them.

    How are you going to do this? – ah – good question: lots of ways, firstly we must have a Planning Meeting as part of the Service and I reckon this has to precede any sales talk.

    And that was one first major change we made in the late 1980s to our Studio procedure: we restructured all marketing and advertising for our Wedding Photography by not discussing money in any shape or form until after we had an initial planning meeting with the prospective Bride and Groom, and, only if requested by the B&G other interested parties.

    I have had this discussion often, we had two purposes to the Planning Meeting: one was an outline planning of the photography of the wedding and the other was interviewing Prospective Clients: as too were they, given the opportunity to interview a Prospective Vendor.

    Yep, I did fewer weddings each year and each one was fantastic and once the cycle started, we needed less and less advertising.

    That’s not to imply this will be one of your answers – I am simply outlining the procedure that I used to arrive to my answers.

    Note that this is only part of defining the business - the whole definition will describe exactly what the business does and exactly how it does it: and this will include the required outcomes for the Clients and also for the Business Owner.

    NHSN, Ricochetrider and Jochen like this.
  5. print.
    nobody is ever remembered for their hard drive
    Ricochetrider likes this.
  6. Thanks guys, really appreciate the input. Lots to consider here.
  7. Something I learned in a different but related business, graphic arts, over the years is the importance of engaged communication. Even when very busy, I went out of my way to engage each client personally, respond to their questions and comments with some amount of thought and depth, and show them I genuinely cared both about the work I was doing and them as clients. I got a lot of good will from that in return and it made my working life more pleasant than had I just gone through the motions without personal investment.
  8. I have been thinking of getting some prints made actually, that's sort of what started this. Not able to do my own printing currently tho, and printing, or having prints made is all over the place, in terms of expense. I'd like to have actual silver gelatin prints made for B&W work, and have yet to arrive at the best possibility for color prints.

    Typically, I tend towards higher end rather than low end, I like to shoot for the best possible quality, but am certainly open to suggestions or discussion on the subject of printing my photographs. One of my internet "friends" (whom I've never met) has invited me up to BC where he would teach me darkroom and printing technique- but I can't cross the border now, far as I know.
  9. Printing at home with current ink-jet printers (I have a Canon pro-1000) is not rocket science, and gives good results for both black&white and colour.
    The lightroom print module works well.
    Ricochetrider likes this.
  10. I agree "The lightroom print module works well and its effective too"
    dcstep likes this.
  11. Making it to the "Big Time" is tough, and staying in the major leagues is tough even for the well-established. It's not altogether different from the club baseball player making it first to the minor leagues and then to the major leagues.

    The most successful people in this process that I know (and I am NOT one of them), are people who sell prints, framed and otherwise, at widely attended craft shows
    A large and well attended show - The Cedarhurst Craft Fair (Cedarhurst Art & Craft Fair) at Mt Vernon, IL.

    I see many of these same photographers year after year (not this year, as it happened), and they seem to be making enough to make it possible to travel and so on.

    I do not see many of the attempts at on-line sales to persist very long, with some notable and established exceptions. I have lots of URLs for ones I've liked and so many of them are dead links now. I think that the huge number of people trying to sell this way gives the individual vendor a kind of "herd immunity" to customers ("predators").:oops:

    Good luck to you.
    Ricochetrider likes this.
  12. Good point. One solution to this is not swinging for the big leagues but finding a niche to excel in and working hard to become known in a smaller but accessible and devoted market. Once I learned this in my own small business, I was both happier and more successful. The concentration helped develop my skills in a targeted way and I developed a clientele many of whom had similar needs and outlooks to each other for whom I became a reliable and known quantity. I did broaden when the occasion arose but never had to rely on too broad-based an appeal.
  13. That's a very reasonable generalization on a broader level. I guess that was my point, but I was thinking too much of the specific vendors I've known.
  14. Thanks. Just to be clear, I think saying one solution and I learned this suggests it's not meant as a generalization. Because it's not meant to be.
  15. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    Finding a niche for my business are areas I also have pursued.

    One niche 'idea' for my Photography Business had particularly notable failure.

    I think it is worthwhile sharing now for what I learned from the experience.

    That 'niche' (described now very simply) - to make and provide One-off, Hand-crafted Black and White or Toned Traditionally Printed Family Portraits.

    The idea ran very well in certain market circles, however, what I re-learned was, something I had already learned at college: I cannot sustain forced periods in a darkroom, it really doesn't float my boat and I didn't want outsource the printing to any of the three boutique labs I interviewed. This was around 2008. There are are probably old threads here at PN where I mentioned the idea.

    Anyway, my point for this conversation is, a niche is a great idea - just make certain that you can sustain and enjoy that niche.


    - samstevens

    Sage comment, agree 100%.

  16. I love the fact that you're in your 60s and not looking for an exit ramp. I'm in my mid-40s now, and feel like I want to die with a camera in my hand. You're an inspiration.
  17. Try Etsy. The competition is fierce, but you set your prices and what you earn, you keep, minus a small listing fee and sales fee. It can help you keep the creative juices flowing (not to mention $) while you're out hustling on another gig.

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