I’ve been in this business close to two decades now. They say experience is a wonderful teacher, and I can tell you through my experience of working with other photographers that I’ve been able to identify three distinct photographer types. Perhaps you can relate with one of them. So here goes!
1. The starving artist
You’ve seen this photographer — he or she is everywhere. They have the hippest gear — usually a Fuji — with one or two primes and no flashes. Really cool camera straps and a distressed canvas (or leather) messenger bag complete the look. They prefer “natural light” photography and rarely carry a speedlight.
Dressed like a Haight/Ashbury 1960s hippie with a stripe or two of purple, blue or pink hair and a varying array of visible tats. Where this type of photographer excels is in the quality of his or her work. From what I’ve seen from this type, it’s usually outstanding! I find their images well thought out, beautifully composed, exposed and filtered to perfection. A legion of Instagram followers fawn over their every post.
Problem for the starving artist is, in spite of the exceptional quality of their work, there’s a reason why they are starving. That’s because they’re almost always completely and utterly clueless about how to run their business. As outstanding of a photographer as this type is, they don’t know how to let the world know they exist. They will insulate and justify their lack of financial success by saying they refuse to “sell out” and not be their authentic selves. All of which is fine of course, but if they’re unwilling to learn how to market their businesses … a starving artist they will always be.
2. The mediocre marketeer
This photographer generally has average, to below average quality of work (hence mediocre). To my eyes, their work has a litany of issues. I see too much flash, weak posing and fair to average composition. However, this photographer also manages to outshine others at marketing his or her business.
I’ve found they’re usually excellent networkers and shrewd business people. I often find their photographs adorning the covers of local magazines, and they manage to work their way into virtually every charitable event as the photographer. They don’t have many inhibitions as they are business people first and photographers second.
It never ceases to amaze me how successful these photographers can be. I often find myself scratching my head over the subpar quality of their work. Yet, somehow, they’re always ranked in the “best of” category in their local markets.
I’ve found they’re successful because they know in-person sales and are excellent at client relationships. From what I can see, the only area they really fall short in is, you guessed it, being a photographer. I’ll often explain to newcomers who aren’t confident their work is “good enough” to look at photographer X in their market. See how successful they are and try to understand why they are successful. Because it isn’t the quality of their work. It’s something else — they know how to market their businesses.
3. The rare breed
I see this kind of photographer the least. The “rare breed” is the one who takes amazing photographs and is able to wordsmith their posts brilliantly, is booked for months in advance and runs a highly successful photography business.
I admire these photographers the most, because from what I can tell, they make up a minority of those who exist in the industry. Being able to cut through the noise in the photography industry today is a daunting task. There are many factors that simply do not work in our favor. Be it advances in and the proliferation of cell phone camera technology to filters on phones that do a good job at emulating what advanced programs like Photoshop can accomplish in a few clicks.
Yet in the face of that kind of industry change, I see the rare breed managing to rise above it. Brilliant and creative imagery, gorgeous color, outstanding composition, etc. There’s nothing a phone can do to overcome a creative mind of the rare breed photographer. Their real party trick is their ability to broadcast and market to the world the outstanding nature of their photography.
The rare breed has attributes of both the starving artist and the mediocre marketeer. Not only are they outstanding photographers, they also know how to run and market their business. I’ve seen them turn their skills into other streams of revenue. They will offer online courses and in-person workshops. Some will go as far as offering to consult your photography business.
So, which kind of photographer are YOU? Sound off in the comments below!