The Biggest Life Lesson for Becoming a Successful Photographer

There’s one big mistake some photographers keep making. It can do more harm to your pro or amateur career than a blurry photo.

I’m typing this in an apartment in Warsaw, Poland. A series of black and white prints of Paris hang on the wall. They are fabulous shots, executed to perfection, and as a collection they go well together. They are also beautifully printed on acrylic sheets.

At first I thought they were mass produced prints bought from IKEA or a similar store. I used Google Lens to identify the photographer. Although the magic of this tool correctly identified her as Paris, it found no match for those exact photos. So I can only conclude that they were photographed by the owner of the apartment or bought from a professional photographer.

Yesterday I was at IKEA and joked with my Polish friend – one of the best photographers I know – that I got an authentic Polish experience. IKEA sells fantastic framed photo prints at exceptionally low prices.

Later we walked through a shopping center in the center of Warsaw. I’m not a fan of malls. No matter where you are in the world they are all the same with similar shops mostly selling the same mass produced junk. They also seem like concrete vampires sucking my energy. Give me an outdoor market to photograph above a mall every day. Of course, there were generic lifestyle stores, some of which also sold mass-produced photographic prints.

As a professional photographer selling prints, it’s disturbing that the public can buy great photographs for far less than I can produce mine.

Still, there is one thing that works in my favor. Like two women wearing the same dress who come to a party, if someone buys a print from IKEA, they risk their friends having the same work hanging on their wall. Displaying a generic print made by the thousands means visitors have at least seen the photo before. You will probably also know the store it came from. Consequently, the print is unlikely to hold their attention for long.

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From this we photographers can learn an important point. Marketing experts ramble on about the unique selling proposition, the USP. Your pictures are unique. The next time your client is throwing a house party, their guests will see the art on their walls and be interested in it because it’s unlike anything else they’ve seen. The host will tell them about the photo and you too.

When someone buys your photo, they’re investing in you, not just your photography. This is important because your business should aim for around 80% of your customers to be repeat customers. There are good reasons for this for both the buyer and the photographer. First, the buyer should be motivated to come back for more; They will want work that matches what they already have. If you have a unique style, your other work will fit alongside your previous purchases. For you as a photographer, this means that he has to invest less time, money and energy in advertising.

Most importantly, you are the type of person the buyer wants to invest in.

As a photographer, that means giving the client something of themselves, not just the product or service. Your customers want to see you as a friend. Be an Eagle Scout.

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Scouting remains the world’s largest youth organization and much of its success is due to its ethos. More than half of the world’s most successful people are former Boy Scouts, compared to a quarter of the general population. Boy Scouts and Girl Guides around the world are committed to a very similar set of rules. That’s what makes her so successful. Their ethos is based on a common set of laws that Boy Scouts follow. They vary slightly from country to country, but all include trust, loyalty, kindness, consideration, helpfulness, courage, and kindness. These are the attributes that your clients, customers and followers want to invest in.

But it’s an area where some photographers fall and hit the rocks.

I met a photographer whose business is not doing well. There’s a reason for that. First, he seems angry. He also has a reputation for being a fanatic, regularly posting sarcastic comments on the internet and never celebrating the achievements of others. His bad attitude does far more damage to his reputation than any damage he does to others.

Have you heard of the six degrees of separation? It is the idea that every person on the planet is linked to every other person by a chain of acquaintances of five links or fewer. In the photo world it is a much smaller chain with only two links. How you use this is important.

A few days ago, a celebrity photographer decided to post an unfounded, negative comment on his personal Facebook wall. Someone took a screenshot of the post and shared it with their friend who is the author here. The screenshot then circulated throughout the entire team of authors. Most of the team here has close contacts with other writers, publishers, camera industry professionals, and website owners. The photographer severely damaged his reputation and business with a poorly thought out, malicious post.

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In a marketing class in the early 1990’s, long before anyone had heard the term “social media,” I was told that if a customer received good service, they would tell someone else. However, they would tell 10 if they had a bad customer experience. When people are unkind online, their attitude gets noticed more than what they say. The word spreads and it comes back to bite her.

A while back I thought about interviewing one of the readers here because I thought their work was worth promoting. Then I saw the nature of most of the comments he wrote on articles; they were invariably mean. He runs a photo shop. I wonder how many customers have fled or missed opportunities based on the response to his comments.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t complain when things are bad, but always favor kindness and shun malicious intentions. The latter will always come back to bite you. If you receive someone’s negativity then rest assured that it will do you little harm. A fellow writer told me that an agent once promised to ruin his career. The author’s career is booming and no one wants to work with the agent. This type of extreme behavior is rare, but there are things you can do when it happens.

In short, if you want someone to like your work or keep buying it, you have to like them. Being a good photographer is not enough; You must also be a good person.

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