Insights on Building a Photography Business
Whether you're a photo enthusiast or a working professional, it's important to have a "compass point." So says David Hobby, publisher of the popular Strobist.com blog and a former staff photographer for the Baltimore Sun.
A compass point is a set of guidelines aimed at helping you arrive at the intersection of your personal interests and your business goals. In this course, David talks about his experiences running a photography business that's rooted in photojournalism and the community where he lives. The course combines honest advice and practical techniques from a photographer with firsthand experience setting up a successful business.
As an extra bonus, each movie in the course is lit in a different way, and David shares his lighting techniques for each one.
Determining your career compass point
- So 1999, I had just become a staff photographer at the Baltimore Sun. I thought that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I had aspired to work at a metro daily, but a good metro daily, for a long time, and I was just getting used to the new environment. And to that end, I was having lots of conversations with my new colleagues and co-workers. And one conversation I had with a shooter named Amy Deputy who has since gone on to become a very highly sought-after wedding photographer, she brought up a sentence that was something to the effect of, "And that's when I realized "I didn't have to have the Baltimore Sun "as my compass point anymore." I never even considered the concept of a compass point, much less had one.
I mean, I think I had a moral compass point but I certainly didn't have a career compass point which may have explained why I went through the first 10 years of my career fairly aimlessly and having lots of fun. Amy had a compass point, and that compass point was not the Baltimore Sun. And I found that very interesting but I really didn't know how to process it any further than that, so I just stuck it away in my mind. Fast forward eight years later. It's 2007. I've left the Baltimore Sun and I'm now publishing Strobist which is producing its own income at this point, but isn't really a career per se because I don't want to be a full-time blogger.
I want to be a photographer who also blogs. And that brought with it the problem of what do I shoot? Which meant that I could choose really anything that I wanted to do as long as it include lighting and be able to work from there on the site. Did I want to be an advertising photographer? No, and the money's good but the stress level's high. And you've got creative people and everyone wants to have their thumbprint on something. And there's just so much money involved, that the pressure can just get insane. So I know I didn't want to do that. Did I want to shoot fashion? No, I'm a shorts and t-shirt kind of guy and you're never gonna see me in the fashion industry.
Did I want to shoot corporate? Eh, I could wear a tie for the right amount of money, I suppose. But I didn't know if I was interested in shooting for people where the subjects were also the clients. That's completely a different thing from what I was used to as an editorial photographer. If you make someone look like they actually look, you could have problems with that. I did enjoy being an editorial photographer very much, but the problem was that the pond was draining very quickly in editorial and certainly with newspapers. And that's still going on today.
So I had to decide what to do. And the pressure was completely on me because I really could do anything. And after all those years of complaining that, "Whoa, if I just ran things around here, "things would be different," now things were different, and I was running things. So I went back to that moment with Amy Deputy and she mentioned having a compass point. So after maybe a year of wandering around just trying to figure out what I didn't want to do, didn't want to do advertising, didn't want to do editorial, didn't want to do corporate, didn't want to do art. I'm just not really an artist, per se.
I started thinking about what it was that I wanted to accomplish with my pictures. And that, for the first time in my life, gave me a compass point. I wanted to illuminate the community that I live and work in. That's what I first started out doing in Howard County, Maryland right out of college for Patuxent Publishing. And those were the happiest and most productive photographic years of my life. I truly enjoyed it. I've been a community photographer, community journalism photographer, I guess, since I was a teenager, continuously. So I was comfortable with that.
I knew I could do it. Now the question became, "What do you do with those pictures?" So I decided that my compass point would not just be community photography and community journalism, but I wanted to produce a body of work that would grow over 20 years and 100 years from now would be a fantastic resource for someone wanting to know what Howard County was like between 2010 and 2030. And a neat thing happened with that because once you get your compass point, you really start to understand every downstream decision that happens as a result of that.
It's sort of like traveling. If you don't know where it is you want to go, then you're gonna have a very hard time getting there. And it really doesn't help to know where it is you don't want to go because that just starts to narrow the field down from a million to a million minus four or five. That's no help either. Having a compass point is probably the strongest factor in being a success as a photographer. At least, that's the way I see it now because it's certainly helped me. And my compass point drives every decision down the line and it makes a lot of those decisions easier.
It gives you the why when people ask, "Well, why, why are you taking these pictures?" You've got a compass point. You've got a speech ready to go if that's what you want to do. So, if I can recommend anything right off the bat, and that's what I'm doing in this very first segment on the ecosystem of being a photographer, it would be to do some soul searching, find a compass point, examine why that compass point is important to you, and that will start to reveal who you are as a photographer and what you want to accomplish as a photographer. And once you can understand that, everything else starts to fall into place. It's a lot easier: the locations, the subjects, the lightings, the why, the when, the what you're gonna do with the pictures, everything.
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