When I first got into photography, I was still in college, desperately trying to figure out what to do with my life. I wanted some sense of control over whatever it was I was going to do, but that was all I knew. When I first picked up a camera, it was for no other reason than to take pictures of my friends jumping off swings, and long boarding down the steep 16th fairway at night. It was something I enjoyed, but I never imagined that it could actually translate into a career. Thanks to the kind words of a drug store photo lab manager named Kolene Potter, I decided to become a professional photographer. All I knew is that she said I could be good at it, and that some people make a living taking pictures. That was all I needed to know, and I never looked back. The world of photography was completely unknown to me, and from my perspective, there were no limits. That was what made it so exciting. The opportunity to explore and experiment. The thrill of the chase, and trying to figure out just how to make money doing something I enjoyed.
This took place just as digital cameras were coming into existence, and also when I was still finishing up college, so I didn’t have the financial pressures that exist on me today. Looking back, it was the best possible scenario for me to begin a career in photography. But not only was the timing right, there were several people who came into my life and gave me amazing advice. They shared their time and knowledge with me, helped me with my portfolio, and maybe most importantly, taught me how to bid on jobs. Every one of those lessons and moments has stuck with me, and I will carry that knowledge with me forever. I never would have had the opportunities I have today if it were not for those generous people.
In 2013, I taught my first workshop. It was called the Un-Workshop. We were trying to break the mold and do something a little different. The first day was filled with marketing and business lessons, numbers, stories, and goals. It was everything I could think of that has been helpful to me in my career as a freelance artist. The second day was all about lighting and production, and if I had to guess, I would say a majority of the people who attended were lured by the lighting. It just sounds way sexier than learning about business.
I have continued to teach the Un-Workshop over the last couple of years, in Dubai and the Bahamas. It has been a good workshop, but after collecting feedback from over 60 people who have attended, I have come to realize something. People always comment that they have fun with the shooting and lighting. But what they really spend time talking about is the business and marketing content. To hear things like, I keep the workbook on my desk at all times and always refer back to it, and I just landed my biggest client, and I just won a bid on the biggest job of my career, and Business is better than ever... That feels really good. There are so many places to learn about lighting these days. And lighting is really important for a photographer, don’t get me wrong. But if I can offer information that can change the direction and stability of an artists career, that is what gets me really excited.
I was with a group of professional photographers recently, and I was really struck by the number of times I heard them say things like, “I’m not business-minded”, “I’m a starving artist,” “I just want to create, I don’t want to deal with self promotion…” I get all that. Those feelings are totally valid, but it doesn’t have to be like that. I know artists are not often considered savvy business-people. It might be a right brain, left brain sort of thing. But I also happen to know many amazing business people who are also wonderful artists. I think what seems to be more the case is that artists are never taught about how to run a business. How to pitch an idea to a potential client. How to understand the needs of a client or potential client, and what to actually charge for all of the many different services artists provide. Over time the artist’s creative drive is locked down in trying to understand the nitty gritty, and the excitement begins to fade.
This is why I love teaching, and why my team and I have created a new workshop called “Survival Guide”. I believe I have a responsibility to pass on what has been given to me over the years, as well as lessons I have learned from my own journey. I also believe that with a solid plan, and some basic guidance, any artist can learn to thrive and create work they are passionate about. It doesn’t have to be a big struggle between creating and business.
Find out much more and sign up at our new Survival Guide page. See you soon.
Oh, and this awesome illustration for our poster was created by Derek Sullivan. Thanks Derek!