Saturday, November 03, 2007


It occurs to me that success in photography may have lot more to do with things other than artistic talent and therefore at least potentially is available to a lot more people than we might think. Here's some ideas to help any reasonably competent photographer gain more success.

1) Work hard. That may seem self evident, but the reality is that few successful photographers found that success instantly, most had to schlep their portfolios around a lot of galleries and clients before getting even a glimmer of success. Hard work is getting up early enough for the best light, slogging through the rain and snow to get the best weather for photographs, standing in the middle of the icy water for the best viewpoint, going the extra mile to get just the right image - whether that's in distance walked or details pursued to get the right studio shot.

2) Sell yourself. You can't get published unless you submit, you can't get clients unless you sell yourself. For many of us, the idea of becoming more salesman than photographer is complete anathema but talk to a lot of successful photographers and it's their gift of gab, their ability to present themselves that creates sales, whether it's standing around at a gallery opening or persuading a customer that they want bigger and better. For some of us, this is so unappealing that we may well decide that if this is what it takes to be successful, it's time to redefine what we mean by and want for success. New York studio photographers spend 90% of their time fixing problems and talking to customers, only 10% actually doing photography. Even Ansel had to approach and appease clients, work at Best's studio and clean the darkroom, order supplies, drive to the post office and all the mundane things which those of us who don't work full time as photographers have to do. Kinda makes you think. Be careful of what you whish for, you might just get it.

3) Pick a project. It's no coincidence that the images I have had published have been part of major sometimes very long term projects. Independent Machinery is six trips so far and I hope to head out this afternoon again. My badlands series in this issue of Lenswork Extended goes back 23 years. Odds are that any project that you have the energy to really commit to is going to be something that means something to you and is likely to produce more meaningful images, even if you can't see it. This is true whether you are talking Yosemite or a local 5 acre park, your city hall or Gugenheim Bilbao.

4) Success is relative. While you could aim for instant glory and eternal fame, if no one has ever heard of you, you need to start with modest ambitions. If no one has ever seen your work, clearly that is the first step - rather than submitting to contests in the hope of being the one winner, start showing your work around, get some feedback and act on it.Develop a really strong portfolio andd learn from early mistakes. If you have never been published, getting a series of rejections isn't going to be helpful, so start with a one or a few images for a readers section of your favorite magazine.

5) Give people what they want. This doesn't mean you need to make postcard pictures but you do need to consideer your "market", whether that's curators, gallery owners, publishers, connoisseurs, or the general t-shirt, baseball cap wearing public. If you don't like what you need to do to satisfy your public, then perhaps you may have to look for a different audience. Giving them what they want might dictate print size or shipping methods or doing matting for people if that's what your clients need. Issues like subject matter are sacrosanct. It may be that pictures of cute animals will sell better, but you have to decide if you are an artist or a hack.

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