Technology has lowered the bar for photographers and their ability to take good photographs.
Photographers need to up their game. The ability to create an in-focus, properly exposed and reasonably composed image is only the beginning. Friends and family may like your images, but that is not a prerequisite to making a living as a photographer.
Strong marketing and business skills are at least 80 percent of the skill set needed to build a career.
Business and marketing skills aside, the future photographer must understand that having unique vision, advanced lighting and Photoshop skills are the only way to rise above average photography.
Creating a clean photograph on a white background with good lighting to minimize all the shadows qualifies a photographer to shoot for high-production clients and basic stock. While it’s not enough to feed a family, you can earn some money doing this work.
The only people who are making money in high-production or assembly line photography are the ones who are Walmart pricing the competition. They keep their expenses low, work in high volume, and offer a cheap rate. Most photographers don’t get into the business to become factory workers. I don’t recommend you do, either.
The market is flooded with stock imagery. While more imagery is still needed every day, the pay is very low for this work. At $1 or less per download, the photographer has to create images that a lot of people will buy. In most cases this results in average photography. Unique stock images do not sell in high volume; this makes it difficult for a photographer to earn a living. The winning stock photographers are working in high volume using a photo-factory methodology.
Average skills will not cut it in the retail arena either. Everyone has a relative with a digital camera who can take a good picture of a baby or a special event. People only will pay for the convenience or the style of photography that they cannot create themselves.
A photographer must develop a new style and break out of the commodity realm of good or average photography.
The following are a few ideas that might help take a photographer to the next level:
First, observe how important light and color are in your favorite photographs. Then practice composition using the foreground, subject and background with equal importance. When working with people, focus on capturing their emotions.
Beginning photographers often think good lighting technique is learning how to remove all shadows from a scene. The reality is it is more important to learn how to use shadows well. Beginners often purchase more than one light and consequently overlight their images. Remember, in the natural world we have only one sun. It works quite well as a light source; there is no need to override it.
Start with one light and build a portfolio of 10 beautiful images. Next, begin to use reflectors to bounce light and create five more great images. Do not accept average; ask your social media community to critique your work with brutal honesty. Your career depends on it. Don’t justify – just listen.
Learn how to modify a single light for different looks. Work with different qualities of light such as hard, soft and colored light. Once you have ruthlessly edited and created 20 outstanding photographs, take them to Photoshop.
Do not rely upon Photoshop to turn bad photographs into good photographs. It should be used to enhance great photographs or create imaginative and outstanding images from multiple quality photos.
After you have developed a style by tweaking your first 20 portfolio photographs (this should take a minimum of 6 months) add a second light. Then create an outstanding portfolio of another 20 images. Then add a third light.
Watch what other photographers are doing. Don’t copy. Use the elements that you find interesting and attractive and apply them to your style.
There is a sad fact that we must all face: Beautiful subjects usually result in beautiful images. A new fashion portfolio will not look like a top New York fashion photographers’ unless the photographer seeks out the most beautiful models. Home interior portfolios will not match those of the top magazines unless the photographer seeks to photograph in some of the most beautiful homes. Great landscape photography is hard to create without photographing in beautiful places.
Never stop learning, experimenting and improving your style.
Photography is not a point-and-shoot business anymore. Knowledge of equipment will help a photographer become a fine technician. This is fine if you are a hobbyist. Vision and execution will make a great photographer and a great career.