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|| News Item: Posted 2008-10-03

How to Fail as a Photographer
Allen Murabayashi tells you how to make money.

By Allen Murabayashi

Photo by Allen Murabayashi

Photo by Allen Murabayashi

"My conception of wedding photography 6 years apart. I hope I haven't been consistent."
Self-help gurus want to sell you on success. I prefer to do the opposite. I'd rather tell you how to fail because failure is more insightful. Whatís more, youíre probably already on your path to failure. Youíre already doing the things that increase your chance of failure. And by the end of this article, I hope youíre so livid at me that you change your trajectory. So without further ado, here'ís how to fail as a photographer.

1. Shoot consistently
The hallmark of a professional is their ability to perform a task consistently. You shoot consistently. So consistently that your skills as a photographer have not progressed in years. You accept mediocrity not because youíre a loser, but because you donít make time to improve. You were the kid who thought that "practicing piano" consisted of playing that same song as fast as you could. You were the kid who thought that a scrimmage made you a better player. And youíre the photographer that believes that shooting the baseball game the same way week after week will turn you into Brad Mangin.

You see Donald Miralle trying new techniques and perspectives all the time. But youíre still content to pull out the same old zoom from the same old position because youíre "too busy."

Getting better isnít about putting more actuations on your camera. Itís about deciding that you want to improve an aspect of your game, methodically breaking down the steps to get better, and practicing.

2. Create a Blog
Itís the information age! Age of the Internet! Get online! Print is dead! Build a blog!

You spend hours and hours building a blog believing that itís a must in todayís world. Gotta be SEO, dude. But it ainít gonna work. Why? Because nobody wants to read your blog, and no one is.

A blog is not an online journal. No one cares if you hit a creative rut, and decided to shoot a picture of a flag through a raindrop. I donít care if seeing Bertís work inspired you to rent a 4x5. No one gives a rat's ass about your crappy Polaroid. That crappy Polaroid is called practice and you shouldnít show anyone.

There are two reasons for a blog: 1) You have something so incredibly interesting and viral that people canít stay away, and 2) SEO.

You do not fall into category 1, and you never will.

If you really cared about SEO, then you wouldn't be posting about what a bad day you had. If you're a wedding photographer, you'd be creating posts about your services, location, rates, testimonials Ė all specifically designed to get your name to the top of Google when someone types "New York Wedding Photographer."

If your blog comes up first when you type in your own name, you have failed. If someone already knows your name, they already know how to find you, therefore, your SEO isnít generating any new marketing.

Donít give me any crap about how itís cathartic to write. Write in a journal. Donít put it online. Take some pictures instead of updating your Twitter status every 5 minutes. No one cares, and itís not making you money.

Photo by Allen Murabayashi

Photo by Allen Murabayashi

One image was shot for $400, the other for $1500. Can you tell the difference? The answer is: it doesn't matter. If I can charge $1500 for one, I should charge more for the other.
3. Work Really Hard For Your $300 Day Rate
The time & effort it takes an individual to build a $100k business and a $1 million business is the same. If youíre a sole proprietor and youíre working your ass off to make $100k, I guarantee you that some jerk just made $1 million with the same effort. Heís just smarter than you. So the fact is, either you really love photography, or youíre an idiot.

That isnít to say that youíre capable of creating a $1 million business because youíre not. This isnít an indictment of you, itís just a fact that there are a finite number of opportunities in the world to create a business of this size. But the point is that you need to think about how youíre spending your time and whether the incremental efforts are worth it.

Why work so hard for $300 when there are $500 jobs? Why work so hard for $500 jobs when there are $1000 jobs? The newspaper might have a small, fixed budget for photography, but the newlyweds have a much bigger budget because people only get married once (or twice or three times, but not every month).

4. Diversify
Everyone tells you to diversify. They tell you that diversifying your photography is just like diversifying your stock portfolio. But the difference is that youíre not individually managing 100 stocks. You have a broker, or youíre in a fund. With only so many hours in a day, diversifying is an easy path to failure because becoming good at anything takes time. And you canít reasonably become a good wedding photographer, photojournalist, stock shooter, portraitist, etc. If you were really that good, you wouldnít be working so hard.

So diversify, but pick and choose wisely. You canít shoot, and blog, and be the local chair of your NPPA chapter.

5. Believe that Good Photos Matter
There are ethical, moral and artistic reasons for good photos. I love good photos. You love good photos.

But businesses love good enough photos. The whole free debate that weíve witnessed over the past few months is simply about photos being good enough and free. The average person does not have the visual IQ that you have. They donít give a shit about the fact that your photo is slightly better. And no matter how many of us say we wonít work for free, someone else is always willing to.

This does not mean that you shouldnít strive to take good photos. It just means that while you are going about your day, realize that for most of us who donít shoot major commercial jobs for a living, good enough is indeed good enough. Donít be so naÔve to think that youíre going to convince that SID to hire you for $500 when some weekend warrior is willing to do it for free for a credential. Youíre only setting yourself up for disappointment.

Focus your efforts on the people that will appreciate and pay for a good photo. Donít trade access for payment. Fighting the free debate is an exercise in futility.

Photo by Allen Murabayashi

Photo by Allen Murabayashi

"I shot this image for free because I had access. Is it good enough to run in SI? Probably not. Good enough for your local newspaper? Probably."
6. Read as Many Business Books as Possible
The academics of a good business are incredibly simple.

1. Create a unique value proposition
2. Ensure that you have a large enough addressable market
3. Make more money than you spend

Everything else is preventing you from doing a meaningful analysis of your own situation. For example, you want to shoot weddings in Honolulu as a primary source of revenue. I can almost certainly guarantee that you will fail because you most likely cannot get around #1 and #2.

So then you say, "Iíll create multimedia instead of stills. Thatís my unique proposition!"

But your excitement about #1 makes you lose critical analysis of how many people are actually interested in multimedia wedding presentations in Hawaii. Answer? Not enough. Nationwide? Not enough.

There are ways to be successful. You just need to strive for objectivity in your business analysis. Reading more books is insightful, and you can never have too much knowledge, but donít lose sight of the three basic tenets.

7. Buck the Trend
The industry will continue to change at a much faster rate than we could imagine or would like it too. The solution is not to start shooting video, building multimedia, or blogging. The solution is to be realistic and be smarter. If you love photography, then do the things that will allow you to chase the jobs that pay well (read: commercial). If you donít love photography, then find another career. Finally, if youíre idea of productive use of time is to write a 1000 word response to my essay, you've learned nothing. Go sell a picture.

(Allen Murabayashi is a photographer, founding employee of, and CEO of PhotoShelter, Inc. He enjoys gummi bears and fountain Coke with lots of ice. Read more of his nonsense at

Related Links:
Allen's member page

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