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|| SportsShooter.com: 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. What’s more, you’re probably already on your path to failure. You’re already doing the things that increase your chance of failure. And by the end of this article, I hope you’re so livid at me that you change your trajectory. So without further ado, here'’s 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 you’re a loser, but because you don’t 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 you’re 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 you’re still content to pull out the same old zoom from the same old position because you’re "too busy."

Getting better isn’t about putting more actuations on your camera. It’s 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
It’s 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 it’s a must in today’s world. Gotta be SEO, dude. But it ain’t 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 don’t care if seeing Bert’s 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 shouldn’t show anyone.

There are two reasons for a blog: 1) You have something so incredibly interesting and viral that people can’t 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 – 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 isn’t generating any new marketing.

Don’t give me any crap about how it’s cathartic to write. Write in a journal. Don’t put it online. Take some pictures instead of updating your Twitter status every 5 minutes. No one cares, and it’s 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 you’re a sole proprietor and you’re working your ass off to make $100k, I guarantee you that some jerk just made $1 million with the same effort. He’s just smarter than you. So the fact is, either you really love photography, or you’re an idiot.

That isn’t to say that you’re capable of creating a $1 million business because you’re not. This isn’t an indictment of you, it’s 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 you’re 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 you’re not individually managing 100 stocks. You have a broker, or you’re 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 can’t reasonably become a good wedding photographer, photojournalist, stock shooter, portraitist, etc. If you were really that good, you wouldn’t be working so hard.

So diversify, but pick and choose wisely. You can’t 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 we’ve 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 don’t give a shit about the fact that your photo is slightly better. And no matter how many of us say we won’t work for free, someone else is always willing to.

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

Focus your efforts on the people that will appreciate and pay for a good photo. Don’t 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, "I’ll create multimedia instead of stills. That’s 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 don’t 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 don’t love photography, then find another career. Finally, if you’re 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 hotjobs.com, and CEO of PhotoShelter, Inc. He enjoys gummi bears and fountain Coke with lots of ice. Read more of his nonsense at http://blog.photoshelter.com/corp.)

Related Links:
Allen's member page

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