8 Things A Photographer Will Never Learn In School

Okay, I’ll admit it. I didn’t go to school for photography. Instead I got my B.S. and M.S. in business. But even with a master’s degree in business, there are many things I never learned in school about actually running a small business. And after talking with friends that did get their degrees in photography, I know they have similar complaints.

Instead, we had to learn the business side of things the hard way. Everything was accomplished through trial and error. The only way to succeed is to fail along the way and learn from your mistakes. Whether you already have a degree, or are in the process of obtaining one in photography, business, or another discipline, here are 8 things you will never learn in school – but will help you become a great photographer.

8. Building a system.

When you first start out in business, you shoot because you love it. Then you gain a few clients, and you get a little busier. You start a marketing campaign, and the business keeps coming. Then suddenly you are so overwhelmed you don’t know what to do. Building a system from the beginning will help you control your production as you begin to grow. Create a filing system. Create order to your day and to your processes. Create checklists to help you move a client from booking to completion. Create once- use again and again.

7. Getting past the fear.
I’m new. I don’t have a portfolio. I’m just starting up my business. I’m not as good as “insert photographer”. There are a million excuses we use when we’re new at something. Anything to justify why we’re not the best, or why we aren’t charging what we should. Some people never overcome this fear, and wind up working for someone else because they simply can’t justify making a living with photography. It’s okay to make money. It’s okay to be successful.

6. Sales and profits.
How do you become great at sales? Nobody is born with great sales skills – you have to learn it. You have to accept the no’s along the way, and don’t take it personally. Mark Victor Hansen (Chicken Soup For The Soul author) always says, “I love hearing no. That means I’m one step closer to a yes.” Study and commit to becoming better at sales. That’s the only way you’re ever going to have any profits.

5. Giving the wow.
When you start out, you tend to “copy” and do what everyone else is doing. It’s the easiest way, and it gives you the chance to learn. Yet if a customer can’t see the difference between you and the next person, you lose your impact. Spend the time upfront developing your wow – something that sets you a part from everyone else.

4. Create a business not a job.
It’s easy to try and bring in just enough income to cover your bills. The trouble with that road is you’ll always be scrambling trying to earn enough for the next bill. And when times are tough, you’ll quickly have to resort back to a corporate job to make ends meet. That’s way to stressful. In order to be successful, you have to create a business, not a job. A business has goals. It allows you to take a salary and have a reserve to fall back on. It makes you think in an entirely different way.

3. It’s not the camera, the lenses, or the piece of paper a photo it’s printed on. It’s the photographer.
I’ve told the story several times here on my blog about Picasso. One day Picasso was having lunch with a friend. A woman came over and asked if he would create something on her napkin; she would happily pay whatever he thought it was worth. Picasso quickly created a work of art and handed it to the woman, and asked for several thousand dollars in return. After the initial shock, she asked how it could possibly be so much for a napkin. Picasso told her it wasn’t the napkin she was paying for. It was the decades of learning his trait, perfecting it, and marketing his name until he became a great artist. She happily paid the price, and left with her napkin.

Photography isn’t about snapping a quick photo – unless you want it to be. Photography is about reaching down into your soul, and creating a work of art. How do you want to present your art to your audience? When you perfect your art, you’ll find success as a photographer.

2. How to price your work.
One of the most difficult tasks for any photographer is pricing your photography. You can’t pick a number out of the hat and expect to make money. You can’t charge a little less than everyone else because you’re new. You have to price for success. You have to charge enough to guarantee you’ll earn enough to keep you in business. You have to build up the confidence in your photography, in yourself, and in the work you provide. Then charge what your worth. And raise it all the time – even in the current economy. There are always people willing to pay what you’ll charge – if you have what it takes to demand that fee.

1. Life balance skills.
Do your clients call you at 10 on a Saturday night? How about 5 on a Monday morning? Do you answer your phone no matter where you are, and what you are doing? Do you drop everything to meet a client on their timeframe?

The only reason your clients call at those times and demand to meet you on their timeframe is because you let them. A simple “no” works wonders. Set up your own office hours, and answer only between that timeframe. Turn your cell phone off when you’re out to dinner with family and friends. Work to find a meeting time that works for the both of you. Your clients will quickly discover your policies, and will abide by them.

4 thoughts on “8 Things A Photographer Will Never Learn In School”

  1. Hi,
    This one of the best posts in past few weeks, I came across. Cheers for sharing this. I study for my degree now, so this is complete true, I can approve that 🙂 Thanks again for sharing.

  2. After 21 years in the trenches as a Pro, it’s somewhat difficult to find information that you haven’t already seen SOMEWHERE.
    Your blog posts are loaded with common sense information and it’s one of the few things on Facebook I look forward to seeing every single day.
    There’s wisdom in these words.
    Warmest Regards,
    John Sharpe/ Sharpeshots


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