I still straddle the world of being a photographer and not being one. I worked in the web field, selling websites and as a project manager, for years before I became a photographer. I still maintain those friendships. I still go to conferences full of creatives from all different walks of life. Bloggers, website developers, people that own companies small and large.
The fascinating thing that I have only ever seen in the photography industry is the vilification of the “Rockstars” of the industry. For those of you who are not photographers, if you worked in the web world these would be the people that are celebrated, that are up on stage giving keynotes at SXSWi, Blogworld, the ones on covers of magazines like Wired, Forbes and other Business publications. The wedding & portrait photography has their own Rockstars, ones you probably have never heard of by name.
This phenomena of tearing the Rockstars down, going after them, asking them to prove how much they make in a year, all of that? Only happens in the wedding & portrait photography industry. Bizarre.
Now I want you to try to imagine my reaction when The End of the Rockstar started popping up all over my Facebook feed this afternoon. I clicked the link with hesitation and dread. I expected a bonfire over a pile of Photo Rockstar bodies, with some wild dancing.
There was no wild dancing, but as I read every single paragraph I could only see the things I did not agree with.
The Rockstar isn’t dead.
Every industry has Rockstars. Every single one of them. They aren’t a bad thing. They are people that speak up, speak out. They are often ones who are willing to share what they know. Some of them charge for sharing that knowledge, because they value their time. They give away a lot because they aren’t going to work for free. (Hint: You shouldn’t work for free either.) Some of them overcharge for workshops, but that is because people pay for them. That is how business works. If no one paid, they wouldn’t be charging as much.
They are Rockstars because people LISTEN to them. Just like in the world of Rock — if you’re a Rockstar, it is because you’re selling albums and filling concert venues with raving fans. You’re getting air time. People are listening.
If no one was listening, if they had no fans — they would just be someone playing in a band in their top metal garage in Greensville.
We make people Rockstars.
There are no Rockstars without fans and followers, evangelists and true believers.
If you don’t like what a Rockstar stands for, don’t follow them. Don’t support them with your money. Don’t waste your energy on hating them. Find what works for you. Just like with music, turn the dial. There is something else to listen to out there.
Most photographers get in to this industry because they have a passion for photography. It is fun. They have a camera. People have started telling them maybe they should consider going pro, because man, their pictures are gooooood. Armed with their passion, they dive in – looking for how to do it. They find people giving tons of advice online.
The problem here is NOT the people giving the advice.
The first problem is that people try to run their businesses like a hobby, more focused on their passion for taking photographs than on their passion for running a business.
I’m going to give it to you straight: running a business is HARD. Running a photography business is roughly 80% business and 20% taking photos. There is no quick and easy answer. Just when you think that the income is simply too good to be true, that doing a photo shoot for an hour or two for $150 and giving people all the files seems like a great idea, you run your numbers and you discover that you’re making less than minimum wage once you finish editing everything – and that is before you even spend money on camera gear.
If you have no interest in running a business and you just want to take pretty photos? Take pretty photos! Do it for fun. Enjoy it. The same holds true with any other hobby you might have as well.
Start a business if you want to be a business owner. Build your business around your passion and what makes you unique.
So you want to be a business owner, and you want to take photographs. There is a veritable fire hydrant of information for you to drink from. Everywhere you look? There is something else. The latest way to edit, the latest social media trend, the latest idea, way to market, thing to do.
Spencer says in his post, “We chased our dreams. We followed the bill of goods we were sold. Find your passion. Find the thing you love. Make that your life’s work. And we found something we loved, but we have been let down. Because what no one told us was how to keep that passion alive.”
I don’t agree. The problem isn’t knowing how to keep the passion alive. The problem is separating “taking pictures” from “running a business”.
Here is the second, and far bigger problem: most people have no clue what they are passionate about. They can’t articulate it to anyone else either, so it makes it hard for them to communicate it to others in a way that makes them stand out.
There are three types of photographers: Generalists, who will photograph anything and everything. Specialists, who have chosen a niche that they want to focus on (weddings, boudoir, children, seniors, landscapes). Then there are people practicing SPECIALISM. They have discovered & defined who they are, and built their business by declaring & delivering that to their clients.
With Specialism, no one else can compete with you. You bring your very unique mix of passions and life experiences to the market, connecting with clients who you resonate with you.
We need all three types of photographers. One is not worse than the other, but I’ve found that those in the Specialism category are far happier overall.
What are you passionate about? Taking photographs? WHY are you passionate about that? What is it about the genre that you’re choosing? How does it fulfill your needs? Easy money? That isn’t going to do the trick. That won’t hold you over. It will quickly become all about the money. Soon you find yourself chasing the lowest price to the bottom of the barrel. Now what?
Answer the questions, and then question the answers.
What do YOU bring that is unique to you? It is YOU that makes your business stand out. The rest of it? That is just running a business. You can find a series of blog posts on how to sell your photographs. You can read up in a number of places on how to promote yourself on social media. You can take any number of workshops to improve your photographs.
This isn’t about the Rockstars. They aren’t dead. They may be changing, just as they always do. Trends change. Styles change. Things come in to and fall out of favor.
This is all about YOU.
You have to keep going. You have to keep moving. You have to keep building. If you aren’t constantly getting your message out there? You won’t have clients. Plain and simple. If your message is one that you’re not very passionate about? You’ll soon find yourself like I said when I met my business coach – talking about it like the Charlie Brown schoolteacher. Talking about it less and less.
Rediscover YOU. Build your business around that, and as long as you’re willing to run it like a business? It will flourish and grow over time. It may be quick for you, or it might take a year or two. It all depends on where you take it. Knowing what is authentic to you, you can finally stop spinning and following every single trend that comes along. You can select and choose which ones speak to you. You can focus just on what is just right for you.
Defining what you’re passionate about, what your Specialism is will give you content that stands out to your ideal client. It will give you things to hold a conversation around. It will allow you to build a community.
A community that you even find yourself the Rockstar of because people will know what you’re about and be inspired by you.
We don’t really want the Rockstars to be dead now, do we?
What about me in all of this? I’ve done it. I’m the type that loves to share what I know. I’ve done that for as long as I’ve been online, in one form or another. It was only once I became a photographer that I was told that I was trying to be a Rockstar, with a rather condescending attitude. That is why this post hit me so hard. You don’t become a Rockstar if you don’t have something to share that people want to hear. You can’t actually do it any other way.
No “fake it ’til you make it” because I’m already ME.
I’ve walked the talk here for well over 3 years now. As I mentioned in my post earlier this week, I was coached by Jeff Jochum of Team-X on building a business using the laws of Specialism. I dug in, together we figured out what I was most passionate about. We defined it, I declared it to the world, and I delivered on it to my clients.
Specialism took me beyond just “taking pretty pictures” to finding that the thing that truly lit me up was using my camera to help other women grow their confidence and rediscover their beauty. I built my business around the foundation of ME – that I’m a vivacious, curious & intimate experience driven person, and in a crowded Houston market with hundreds of other boudoir photographers, I stood out as being the only one ME. My passions stood alone, because I built my business around them, and once I knew what I stood for it was seamless to go talk to others about it. I have never lost my passion for photography, or my drive to run my business. Once I declared my Specialism, I was able to easily build my content, conversations & community around it.
My specialism was never about “just” taking photographs, it was about my special sauce that only I have the recipe to offer to people. Makes it so much easier to market when it is about you! Plus it keeps you going when the hustle of running a business has you down.
In 2013, I realized that the camera was just a tool allowing me to achieve my goals, and as the year progressed and I worked with women I found that the tool was starting to get in the way of what I wanted to accomplish on a larger scale. What had helped me at first was becoming a road block instead. This isn’t the case for everyone who goes in to creating a Specialism business, but it was the case for me and for Stephanie. That is what Vivid & Brave grew out of, our passion to take it even further without a camera in our hands.
We would love to talk more with you if you’re interested in hearing more. As you can tell, we’re pretty passionate about it!