By Gregory Daniel
If you find yourself frustrated, confused, exhausted or befuddled with your clients more often than not, you are not alone. At some point in time, our industry appears to have taken on a business model that is designed to end with the photographer and client looking at each other not knowing where to go from here. This gap between the client and photographer seems to have grown over the years. The onset of digital feels like the easy out for both parties to finish the process and part ways with neither one fulfilling their dreams.
Maybe our profession’s business processes have drifted to the point of self-destruction or our education process is too technically driven. In either case, the result is lots of fantastic image makers are entering the profession and are dismayed at the level of difficulty required to create a sustainable business. My belief is that the dirty little secret lies imbedded in our industry’s entry design.
Most photographers begin photographing for the love of the art. Hopefully, they acquire education to enhance their skills and to build their toolbox. Those two things; the love and the education, lead them to their clients, therefore allowing them to sustain a business.
Love – If you are like most, the attraction to photography was powerfully strong and offered an outward expression of inward creativity. I experienced this as a twelve-year-old in my first middle school photography class. The assignment was to use up a roll of film so we could learn how to process and print. While taking photos in a rundown area of town, I ran across an old gentleman sitting on the porch of his one room home that was in desperate need of repair. He allowed me to capture his image and I immediately raced back to the darkroom where my teacher guided me through the process.
My favorite part of the process was seeing the image magically appear in the developer tray. I will never forget the words my teacher uttered, forever etched in my soul: “You have a gift.” I was instantly in love with this medium.
Education – Shortly after falling in love, the game plan becomes finding how to repeat the way in which the images turn out. This stage might be referred to as “building your toolbox.” Any fine craftsmen would agree that learning the tools of their trade is an extremely important step. There are so many resources for obtaining that knowledge. My track started in middle school and continued on through a college degree. This was certainly fundamental although much of my success came after discovering Professional Photographers of America and the affiliate school programs where I could study under a successful master.
Clients – This area is basically an unintended consequence of the first two steps, love and education. I need people to photograph in order to support my passion. Somewhere along the way, there was money being exchanged but without an understanding of value. I think this is where most of us end up creating work on speculation, hoping clients will love what we do.
Break the Cycle – What if there was a way to stop the madness of using your love of art and education to create something you hope your clients will love? I suggest you erase the board! Hold tight to your love of photography and the tools you’ve cultivated and throw the rest out. Find your special place to dream. Picture a business you would love showing up to every day. Design a business where you are creating a product that will solve a problem for the type of client you identify with… a product that, when the client’s need arises, they will think of you. Begin with the end in mind by visualizing their shopping cart filled with your product… a product that your clients can easily identify as yours and clearly describe to others.
When you flip the script and start with the client and their desires in mind, you will reach the point when clients start commissioning you to solve their needs. As photographers, we can do work from one of two vantage points: speculation or commission. Here are some quick definitions.
Speculation: Assumption of unusual business risk in hopes of obtaining commensurate gain.
Commission: A formal request to produce something (especially an artistic work) in exchange for payment.
Which one sounds better to you? Admittedly, speculation is sometimes part of the deal, especially in the beginning as you build your brand and reputation. But it should never be part of your long-term strategy. Call on your love for photography and your education and start thinking in reverse. What is my client base looking for? How can I create a unique artistic experience that will lead them to commission work from me?
Greg and Lesa Daniel are internationally recognized for their artistry. Though he is one of the most awarded photographers in the United States, Greg has the utmost privilege of living out his passion every day alongside Lesa in operating their portrait photography galleries in both Indialantic and Titusville, Florida. Greg was one of the youngest members to be inducted into the prestigious Cameracraftsmen of America in 1991, proud founding member of the International Society of Portrait Artists (ISPA). To learn more about them,
go to GregoryDanielPortraits.com.