Skin in the Game

Whenever photogs start conversations with me about their gear, their studios, their work, or any other such thing, I get a lot of questions.  Once we get the normal fun stuff out of the way (new gear, new shoot locations, new software, new this and new that), we eventually settle down into more serious topics that I don’t see discussed a lot in most outlets.  These conversations usually take one of two paths:

1.  Shoot time versus business time

2.  Shoot time versus continuing education

While each consideration is valid in its own right, my problem as I have these conversations more and more is that photographers are always look at them in an A or B scenario.  The truth of the matter is, nothing ever really occurs in a vacuum.  We can have conversations that start with the platitude of “All else being equal…” with the best of intentions.  But, if you think about it, do things ever happen like that?  Of course not!

So, why do we always look at A versus B scenarios?  A successful photographer is best served (at least I think), by considering all three of the above facets at the same time.  The same holds true in other sectors too.  You have to spend time in all three or else you will find one (if not more) of three things happening:

Stop Shooting

If you stop shooting, you get rusty.  You get out of practice.  You forget how to do some of the advanced things that got you to where you are in the first place.  Mastering your gear means staying on top of it, and like anything else in life, you either use or it lose it.  There’s no two ways about this.  I’ve heard people say that shooting is like riding a bike – once you learn, you never forget.  While there may be a modicum of truth to that, I can promise you that if you’ve not ridden a bike in ten years, your first few outings may be a little wobbly.  You may have the basics down pat as that part is rote, but the rest only comes back with continued use.  The same holds true across any discipline.  This is why the best athletes in the world are training year round (there never really is an off-season for NFL, MB, NBA, or NHL players.  They are the best of the best because they are always practicing.

Whether it’s football, baseball, basketball, hockey, or even cycling – the serious ones are always training:

USA Pro Bicycling

Stop marketing

If you don’t spend any amount of time marketing, promoting, and working on the business side of things, you may be one of the best shooters in the world, but no one is going to know you very well.  It’s one thing to tweet and Facebook or Google chat with your friends and colleagues, but it’s another thing entirely to cold call or submit proposals to businesses for photographic needs.  If you don’t submit your work or get any buzz out there about your work to other businesses on a regular basis, then you are likely leaving business opportunities behind.  Clients don’t just line up at your door waiting for you to answer, and while some may fall backwards into prime opportunities, most only get there with hard work and persistence.  If you stop being persistent in your business, then it won’t be much of a business.  So, keep at the business side too!

Stop Learning

Probably one of the most needed, least justified, and most difficult things to address is continuing education.  It’s ongoing, never ending, and sometimes the most difficult thing to address.  I’ve seen so many photographers who have reached a certain degree of skill and success who fall into this trap and think “Who is gonna teach me about software or composition?  I know what I’m doing!”  The ego is a fragile thing for photographers, and its important to be cognizant of this.  If you close your mind to learning new things, or consider learning resources as ones that are “beneath” you, there are likely opportunities being left behind.  The best example I can think of here is the film to digital transition.  Many film shooters failed to recognize the benefits of digital and these old school success stories became the ones trying to catch up once the worm had turned and everyone was going digital.  Early adopters were able to stay current and stay relevant.  Stragglers are now struggling to keep up.

If you don’t stay current, and don’t keep fine tuning your talents (because we are always learning no matter who we are), then I promise that you will begin to fade.  Not learning also means that you are not staying on top of new trends and needs of the market.  It’s important to do things like attend seminars, workshops, and to read!  (Yes, I said read!)  There are so many resources out there that it can be tough to whittle things down to the best resources to learn from, and while some are better than others, there’s good material out there everywhere.

*****

So, whether it’s shooting time to keep your skills up, business time to keep things afloat, or learning to stay on top of new and trending markets, it’s important to balance all three of these.  Do I have a magic number or proportion that will fit for everyone?  Of course not – this formula is not a static number, and will change depending on not only the person, but where you are.  If you’ve spent the last 4 years in a photo school, the practice and education are likely good for a while, but the business needs attention.  Likewise, someone who’s at the five year mark may need to consider getting in a few workshops or conferences to get up to speed on current trends and market shifts.

What formula do you need?  Only you can really know what the best thing to focus on next should be.  The important thing though is to make sure you keep your skin in the game – on all fronts!  Where you go from here is up to you, but hopefully today’s post has given you food for thought!

With that in mind, what are your thoughts?  Are there other factors here?  Sound off in the comments with your own ideas on how to keep current and stay afloat.  As is always the case, you gotta keep shooting, so don’t forget that part of it, and we’ll see you back here next time!

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