How to succeed at your photography journey and what path to choose.

A silhouette of a man in an eye

Hello. I’ve been working as a photographer for years. Since it used to be one of my hobbies I was thinking a lot about photography as a form of art. I imagined my photography journey as a long way of art exploration. My ambitions in my photography career were to become a full-time artist-photographer. But when I came to the working process, I realised that there are a lot of things involved besides photography.

I realised that when you start working as a photographer you often spend more than 50% of the time doing anything but photography. Sometimes I got too much into marketing and business management and did not do a single creative photoshoot within months. Still, I’m not really interested in the business, I’m interested in photography. That’s what I would do if I don’t need money. That’s why I’m writing this blog.

How I started my photography journey and the difficulties I encountered

Film photograph of a street at golden hour
One on the first photographs that I did trying to capture something beautiful

Around 8 years ago I took my first camera in my hands and started taking pictures of everything. Several years ago I moved to the UK (I’ve spent there 3 years and now I live in Berlin) and I was doing photography for about 4 years by that time. I had to start everything from the blank list and decided that I will try to work only as a photographer and will try to focus solely on that since that’s my passion. I had some experience working as a freelancer before and I knew that I’m not going to build my business in one day.

So I started to search for a job in photography agencies and I’ve spent about 3 weeks sending applications to different ones. I probably almost never received any replies and when received - they were negative. Then I went searching for any part-time job so at least half of the time I could dedicate to photography. I worked in a pub 2-3 days a week and about 9-12 hours a day for 1.5 years. Later after messaging all of the companies I could find, I started working with a few, sometimes. So I advise you do not expect anyone to be interested in your services. Someone, maybe, a bit or if you are really lucky…

How I tried to get profit from selling prints

Surrealist picture of railway bridges going far away in a calm ocean

So once in a while, I sold prints, maybe 4-6 times a year. Because what I do is not what is sold on a regular basis. There are two types of prints: cheap ones(with pictures of the main square of your city or with a cup of coffee and a dumb quote) or more artistic but also much more expensive. I also sold some photos of manchester through a print company for instance. So if you try that, make sure you know which one you want to sell.

If you sell good art for cheap, that most probably won't work. For cheap you have to sell cups of coffee, quotes or photos of superheroes and cats. A famous concept but not your original art. As expensive ones, there can be complex concepts shown through photography medium. The only problem is that even if your work is good, it won't sell. Unless you’re famous and have some people who’re following you. It might be an option if you know a marketplace where thousands of people will see your works.

What makes me a bit disappointed in art is the lack of consensus. There are photographers whose work is quite mediocre. But they are good businessmen. They tell some epic quotes next to ordinary photographs and tell everyone how cool they are. And they are making a lot from selling weak photographs and are also becoming famous. And there are great photographers who have less exposure but make a lot better art. I love when art speaks for itself but sometimes I see that the public praises the quotes. I feel like I still have lots of things to learn but I am definitely not the best businessman.

How I tried to get orders for photoshoots

Woman walking in a city on a river bank

I’ve struggled a lot with that. I offered my services in the pubs where I worked. I told to everyone that I’m a photographer and I continued to send emails to different companies. In a year or so I started receiving more photoshoots from a chain of restaurants, a couple of local businesses and a couple of agencies. One of the agencies offered me about 40% of the orders that I had. Another about 20%. And the rest of the profit I got from my website and other agencies and businesses. And then I left my job in the pubs.

You have to get ready for hard times, at some point you will encounter them. I did it all during covid times, unfortunately. Sometimes I did better and sometimes I had to work night shifts in warehouses. Sometimes I had only 1-2 photoshoots a week.

I also tried ads but it didn’t work consistently(one month it works and another doesn't). Most of the clients I had from ads were people who were searching for cheap services but not high-quality ones. I was always into quality over quantity and I think ads won’t work if you want to become an artistic photographer with your own unique style. Overall I started to work as a full-time photographer after contacting many people and meeting more new friends so networking possibly helped me the most. Later I moved to Berlin so now the whole process starts from the beginning))

How to find the best ratio between managing business and doing photography

A lot of times I was even forgetting that I’m a photographer because most of my time I was spending going marketing. Depending on what you want to achieve you can find the best ratio for yourself. But I would say for me the best one will be about 75% of the photography and 25% of everything else. Remember that a very important part of your photography journey is passion. You should keep gaining passion to not give up.

Of course, you need to remember what you want to achieve in the result, or it should be actually a photography journey and the process should sustain you and give you joy. There are two ways to achieve something.

Business way of your photography career

5 Big burgers on a table with a brick wall with graffities on the back
The photoshoot I did for money

This is rather about making money than photography. This is rather about your photography career rather than about art. Most probably you can do 80% of types of photography. So you need to learn how to provide these services at a good standard of quality and that's where your photography journey ends. A lot of types of photography do not involve much creativity or knowledge outside of how to use your camera.

Since people tend to choose a photographer of a certain type of photography you can make some separate types of business cards or accounts on social media or web pages. These separate accounts will represent you as a photographer doing a certain thing like food photography for example and another one as a birthday or event photography… For this way of doing photography, you need to create a portfolio in all of the genres you want to shoot and create your brand. After you can start sending your portfolio to different businesses. Later, once you get a lot of orders, you can raise your prices and make good money. So you will have to spend 60-70% of the time developing business.

Artist way of your photography journey

Fine art black and white photograph of a man
Something what I like to do

You have to find what you like the most (not what is sold the most, do not get in that trap) if you want to do photography as an artist. Start your photography journey by networking and doing more artistic photography. You will find people who like what you do and over time you will improve more and more. Do a lot of photoshoots for free and then you will start getting paid jobs and you can open your studio and work with bigger clients and so on.

If you try that, you are going to have less profit and a harder way ahead. So try to first find any type of source of income to not depend much on the money. Then you can create art and organize art events or join them. You need to network a lot to find people to collaborate with and to find clients. That way over the years will bring you to know photography better and to create really great artworks. Your work will be valued more once you get there but you might struggle for a long time. So you will have to mostly focus on improvement at photography and only 20% of the time on the business

What successful artists-photographers do

If photography for you is a journey and you want to constantly improve, not just making good money but do some input. Then there is a great way to do it. I noticed that there’re some photographers who did photography not for profit for a long time, but their works were so good, that people started paying for their services. I realised that that is the path I want to follow. Because if you desperately depend on income from photography you end up not learning photography but making lots of cheap photoshoots just for money and you spend the rest of the time searching for more jobs.

I’ve seen a lot of times that over a couple of years photographers did the photoshoots that they liked for free and then found orders in that field because they got better at it. Think of famous people. How did they become famous? Because of the great works they did. So you might think: why would I go and spend my whole days and sometimes money doing photoshoots or other activities for free. But it’s a way to get better and what you do, no one will value your work until you have created it. First, you have to create impressive photos that everyone loves and then people will order from you. That's the way to go through your never-ending photography journey

I’m telling all of that because I know that sometimes new photographers are waiting to receive an order and from that, they try to create a portfolio. The way to become a great photographer is to constantly do photoshoots in your own style and while doing so you will share your work with the most people you can find and you will start to get orders.

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