Photographers: Internal Research

January 20th, 2010 by

Words of Advice for Photographers

Shannon Fagan is seemingly everywhere that  stock photography is discussed. (See John Lund’s interview). This isn’t because Shannon is a shameless self-promoter but because he works hard at his craft, gives back to the community of photographers and is an articulate and forward thinking guy. Like many in the business today Shannon is spending a lot of time thinking about the future of stock photography in general and, more specifically, his place in it.

Consequently Shannon is able to identify specific and positive steps that photographers can take to step up and refine their game  to survive the  rolling changes taking place in the photo business.   I met with Shannon  last week as he was returning to NYC from Tennessee with a quick side trip to Seattle where we chatted for a couple of hours.  A week later we concluded the conversation via phone as he was leaving the Atlanta airport. We spoke mostly about advice he has for emerging photographers that are considering stock photography.

His premise is that you’ll do better work (be more successful) if you craft your stock photo business around your lifestyle. To do that, you need to lead an examined life. Being what you think you should be/do, isn’t the same as finding yourself and your life’s work.  Nor is heading into the photographic business with unrealistic assumptions about instant success going to be a good starting point. Shannon’s insights are especially key for emerging photographers.

“It’s obvious’, Shannon says, “people do better work, if they are happy doing it’. Below are Shannon’s thoughts on the internal research required:

Personality. Are you introverted or extroverted? If you’re shy, then don’t get yourself into a career where you have to deal with lots of people as happens for a  lifestyle shooter.  If  you want to do shoots with multiple models…hire an extroverted assistant to put them at ease. Perhaps architectural or food photography might better suit your style.

Time: Prefer 9-5 or night owl? If you have family obligations or plan on having them, consider that you might want to build your personal stock brand around subjects that are best shown in daylight and close to home.  If you intend to shoot stock images that require a business or retail location, you may find that you are able to use these locations only at night. Will that fit with your lifestyle?

Financial: Budget Tolerance/Return on investment. Consider that you will need money to invest in self-financed shoots…also consider how long you can wait for a return on your investment. Don’t count on a six month return anymore.  To hasten the time between when you pay shoot expenses and when the shoots go into the black think about cost of production. Can you use free sources or is your time worth more than it will take to find those free props, wardrobes, sets etc? Can you afford to use your savings on stock productions?

Communication: Can you turn a ‘no’ into a ‘yes’? Personality has a lot to do with being a successful stock photographer. Not only do you have to round up talent but you have to be a boss…part of your job is training freelance or occasional  staff. Do you have the stomach for it?

Equipment: Gear hound or point & shoot? Not likely you’ll get too far with a simple point and shoot, even in microstock today. But more importantly do you love Photoshop? If you would rather be set on by fire ants than sit in front of a computer,  can you afford to hire your post work out to others? Remember to calculate the cost of your time if you do the work yourself.

Style: Fashionista or Jeans & T-Shirt? A tongue in cheek comment as Shannon indicates that his wardrobe has either been the result of a photo shoot or will someday be in one.

Vision Portfolio? Bright and cheery or Dark and Moody? Bright and cheery is the name of the game currently in stock photography. If your style is otherwise, can you hold on to your darker vision while showing a sunny side in a majority of your stock images? Be wary that formulaic shooting could deprive you of the creative jolt you get from being a photographer.

I’ll add to Shannon’s words a quote by Steve Jobs from a commencement address at Stanford a few years back: “Your time is limited. Don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”

Or Sting’s advice to young musicians, “…they say ‘how do I make it?’ And I say to them “it’s not important to make it, just keep playing music and its its own reward. And if you’re meant to be a big star or not-that’s just fate. But a love of music and a passion for music is always going to be a gift for you”.