Thursday, October 21, 2010

What Makes You a Special Photographer?

Multi-racial composite photo of a ethnically and gender diverse person.
To succeed in making a good living as a photographer requires being special as a photogapher...and perhaps as a person as well.
A Tough Competitive World of Photography
It used to be that if you could actually make a decent living as a professional photographer you were kind of special. It was a tough competitive world, a world of film testing, strobe meters, gel filters. You’d shoot Polaroid’s till you got it right, and then shoot of a ton of film hoping that you would come close that Polaroid that the client signed off on.

Making Good Money In Stock Photography
If you were a stock shooter you had to get into the club, find an agency that would represent you, and get enough images accepted that you could actually make good money knowing that the “average” stock photo brought in one dollar per year. You prayed that your work would get selected for the big, lavish catalogs that agencies produced. Get your images in the catalog and you had a much better chance at making significant sales.

Photographers Who Come to the Forefront
Of course, there were those photographers who then came to the forefront by embracing the changing technology…and some stock photographers who feasted on the early days of Royalty Free. Now we have photographers who are combining their talents with social networking like Chase Jarvis and Jack Hollingsworth. Others have leveraged their transition to video like Vincent Lafloret.

Photographers Who Make Themselves Special
Colin Anderson is a great example of a photographer who has made himself special creating a body of highly stylized, conceptual and unique work. He has set himself apart. If you want a Colin Anderson style image you go to Colin Anderson.  Yuri Arcurs has made himself special by creating a machine that spits out a seemingly endless stream of beautifully executed on-target images. Tom Grill has made himself special with his in-depth understanding of the industry and well-organized thorough approach to filling the holes in agency collections (as well as creating his own agencies…).

Combining Talents and Expanding Skills
Photographers like Dan Heller and Rolf Hicker have made themselves special through combining their talents with a mastery of the Internet, while Jonathan Ross is building on his early RF success with a thorough understanding of stock from RM to Micro to motion.  Some photographers are using their skills to expand into workshops while I have seen others expand into consultancy on SEO and digital workflow.

A Plan, Strategies, and a Broad Revenue Base
Tom Grill once told me that “Whatever your plan is…stick to it”. I think that was good advice. My plan to “be special” has both a short-term strategy and a longer-term strategy. In the short term I am producing, or at least attempting to produce, exceptional concept stock photos that fill a definite need in the market place. My longer-term strategy is to gain exposure for that work through a website that generates significant traffic and broadens my revenue base into online advertising.  I think it is vital not just to think in terms of the next year to two…but to also think in terms of ten years from now. Besides, I figure it might take ten years to get my traffic up where I want it!

Billions of Photos and the Need to be Special
In the coming years, with the proliferation of photographers and literally billions of photos to choose from, there will be so many options for those who need photography that the slices of the pie will be cut increasingly small. To get a significant slice of the photography pie, to be able to make a good living, you will need to be special. How are you going to be special?


Diane said...

A great post as usual, John! Your finger is definitely on the pulse of the industry. You are most certainly special! :-)

Rohn Engh said...

...a good run-down of "The Way We Were.." and the "Way We Are Going TO BE..." Thanks. You are definitely a 'brand' in the industry, (specialist) and a good teacher as well. We all appreciate your blog! -- Rohn Engh

Shalom said...

This is a great, important subject. Thanks for opening this discussion, John. Platitudinous as it may sound, I believe that each of us is already innately special. The challenge, as I see it, is for each of us to discover that within our beings which is unique, which no one else has... and to keep digging deeply within our creative souls until we find at least a trace of this (and then, that we keep digging, for the rest of our working lives). Ultimately, I feel that this has everything to do with one's own particular, unique vision. No one else sees the world, or experiences it, or interprets it the way you do, I do, or anyone else does. How we give expression to our creative vision is a key point in the discussion of creating value, and a return on one's own creative investment. Will our creations be saccarine secretions of imitative sameness, or will we take the risk to give expression to our unique creative vision (in ways that the market can appreciate)?

Perhaps, with all the financial challenges that we're collectively facing, the world is squeezing all of us creatives so that we have no recourse but to express what makes each of us truly special.

fotoeins said...

Thanks for your article, as it contains great reminders and provides encouragement to persevere.

John Lund said...


Thanks Rohn, I'll keep plugging away!