Discussions: On going pro

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Something different for the first post with Robin: a transcribed discussion between us about the realities of ‘going pro’ in the current market environment. I think it’s pretty clear that the last ten years have been rather turbulent times for the industry, both for service providers/ creatives and the hardware manufacturers; consolidation has been the underlying theme but also a drop in barriers to entry and a real extension of possibilities at the high end – but only in very rarefied air. It’s become harder than ever, I think, and I’d definitely have liked to have the benefit of experience of somebody who managed to make the shift stick in recent times and who understood the climate; Robin and I have decided to publish this conversation in the hopes that others in the audience might find it useful too. Think of it as sitting in on a conversation rather than a traditional article in the in the usual style of the site.

Advance warning: this may be a lengthy post. MT&RW

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Some (possibly unexpected) advice for aspiring pros

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Sink or swim: except in the real world, there’s almost never a life preserver.

There are any number of articles on this topic already existing: how to ‘make it’, how to be successful, how to market, how to run a business. There are courses, books and videos. And there are people, who make a business out of teaching others how to run a business. And then there are people who actually make a living doing what you want do: being paid to create and deliver images. For some odd reason, I’ve been getting a lot of emails in the last few weeks from people wondering how to make photography work as a career: corporate switchers, graduates, pre-graduates, people who were doing something else creative but want a change of medium. I have no qualifications to answer these questions or offer absolute advice other than a) I make more than 80% of my income from selling images, mostly commissioned, and b) I’ve been doing this for a few years now. Market conditions in your country are probably going to be quite different to mine, and even if they aren’t, things have no doubt changed from five years ago. So, with that disclosure out of the way, here we go.

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Have some stones

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Rocks, hard places, stones…mix and match your own metaphor.

Today, a few tangential thoughts on photography and the overall state of marketing strategy these days. Yes, I’ve done a lot of this kind of work extensively in my previous life as a consultant, but guess what: most of it is really common sense. And sometimes it can be very difficult to see the wood from the trees if you’ve been lost in the forest for too long. I’ll start with two thoughts:
Have some stones and
Social media metrics are not an indicator of fiscal success.
This principles apply equally to both sides of the negotiating table.

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Professionalism in photography

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Photographers at work; from the NYC 2013 workshop.

One commonly asked (and commonly mis-answered) question on the internet these days is around the definition of what constitutes a ‘professional photographer’. The usual definition is that it is somebody who is shooting for pay, and deriving the majority of his of the income entirely from photography for photography related activities. I suppose in the strictest sense of the definition, that is true. However, it says nothing about professional conduct or skill. What I’m going to attempt to do in this article is express my own views on what I believe constitutes professional behavior in photography. It is important to note however that this is a very much personal, though shared by many of my colleagues in all areas of the industry – both primary providers of photographic imaging, as well as supporting services and videography/ cinematography.

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Dear Client: a little advice from your photographer

Some weeks back, I had a little Monty Python moment – specifically bringing to mind the sketch mentioning “shrubbery”. A potential client called:

“Hello, is this Ming Thein, the photographer?”
“Yes, what can I do for you?”
“How much do you charge for…a photography?”
“Sorry, but you’ll have to be a bit more specific before I can quote you – different types of photography require different amounts of work, so the cost will vary. What type of images do you need exactly?”
“A…
commercial photography.”
This last line was said in a semi-whispered voice, as though commercial photography is a dirty word. Needless to say, I did not get any more details than that; on pressing them they said they would email me.

Clients like this worry me, not because they don’t know what they want, but because their expectations are probably so different from reality that you will never be able to satisfy them. Past experience makes my alarm bells trigger. It’s not because I’m not confident of doing the job; the problem is that in not having dealt with professional photographers before and being influenced solely by popular preconceptions, such clients typically expect the impossible for next to nothing, and that photoshop fixes all flaws. Typically, what happens is neither photographer nor client gets what they want out of the engagement and both parties go away harbouring a little unhealthy resentment.

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