Browsing through the photos on 500px is always a humbling experience for me. If you ever want to get a quick punch-to-the-gut ego check, all you need to do is spend a few minutes perusing that vast site. Im constantly amazed at the sheer volume of photo talent from all over the world, including many enthusiasts who craft better photos than some of the professionals I have seen mine included. Increasingly affordable high quality DSLRs have opened up the photography market to include anyone with a camera and ready talent.
On the flip side of the coin, Ive also seen plenty of professional photos that are fairly straightforward, and yet get more promotion than some of the aforementioned photography thats blown me away. In these cases, I am fully aware that these particular professional photographers have mastered a different skill the ability to market themselves and get their work widespread exposure.
This begs a crucial question: Which is more important having the artistic ability take a high quality photo, or possessing the skills to get your work seen by the right people?
I think there is a solid case for both. Lets explore.
The Case for Arts
Being an art school graduate, I have long been accustomed to being surrounded by skilled photographers, artists, and creative minds in general. I recognize the fact that talent, fueled by passion for the craft, provides the impetus to practice and hone ones art. For photographers, being able to capture a fleeting moment or see the artistic potential as the world unfolds around them provides the inspiration and motivation to keep going. Its what makes you stick with it when youre trying to learn how to use your camera, and or when youre enduring the long hours of processing the latest shoot. Its what makes the mediocre become good, and the good eventually become great.
Possessing the ability to create an image that stands out among the myriad of photos being published today is an invaluable skill. The average consumer is accustomed to looking at a high volume of images, so you won’t be able to fool them for long if you can’t create a quality photo.
Therefore, I consider the ability to make a good photo a requirement. However, Id venture to say its only a good starting point if you want to make a business out of it.
The Case for Smarts
Ive noticed something interesting over the years: success does not always directly correlate with talent. Ive encountered some of the most beautiful work stashed away in basements, and arguably mediocre work boldly displayed on gigantic billboards in metropolitan areas.
While chatting with the extremely accomplished professional photographers on my podcast, Ive been struck by the number of them who will readily admit theyre not the most talented photographers out there (although I beg to differ). One of the main differences between them and the undiscovered amateur is that they know how to identify their target audience. They then take steps to get their work in front of this audience, all the while establishing professional relationships that will help advance their careers.
This is key. Simply stated, no matter how good your work is, if you don’t have the know-how to put it out there, no one is going to see it.
No matter how good your work is, if you don’t have the know-how to put it out there, no one is going to see it.
In Conclusion: Which Is More Important?
You want my short answer? Both. Talent and marketing skills are equally important parts of a successful photography business. You have to be both skilled at your craft, and also know how to get your work in front of the right people. I firmly believe that knowing how to get your work seen and building professional relationships is a large part of what separates the hobbyists from the pros.
While possessing skill and passion for the craft is what put you on this path in the first place, knowing how to run a business, find your target audience, and build lasting business relationships will lead to great professional success. But business savvy will only get you so far if you don’t know what youre doing behind a camera. There are specific exceptions, such as if youre capturing a historic moment or have a achieved shock factor, but those cases will most likely only get you short-lived attention, as opposed to building a solid photography business that outputs excellent quality work.
There is plenty of room for both hobbyists and professional photographers alike. The internet allows both to achieve their goals and occasionally cross paths. It also allows both types to gain tremendous exposure for their work both the good shots and the bad. Its an opportunity for us to learn from and inspire each other as new techniques and ideas are shared more readily. It all comes down to what your goals are, and what youre happiest with, so decide which one better suits you, and go for it.
For the professional photographer to remain competitive, its imperative that we continuously work on both marketing our skills and improving the quality of our work.