We made it!
Now that we’ve all had a chance to recover from our celebration of the year’s demise, shake off the glitter, and drag ourselves into 2017, I thought it might be fun to share the things that hit home for me in 2016. These life lessons were given to me framed in a photography context, but they can really be applied to many creative professions! Maybe some of them will help me stay focused in the coming months – maybe they will help you. They were slipped into my news feeds, dropped in messages, or thrust into my face by some very wise people, and they bear repeating.
1. Be Yourself.
The advice we’ve been hearing since we entered preschool is not as easy to apply some 20-30 years later. So here’s the thing – most of us strive in our everyday lives to be genuine. I look at myself and think, you know, I feel pretty true to myself, despite a few goals I could stand to achieve or things I could improve on. But when it comes to how I present myself as a professional and as a business owner, it’s like I’m standing at one of those junction signs with 30 arrows in different directions. There are so many schools of thought on this. There’s the classic approach and its variations – as photographers, we wear black, cut our hair neatly, stay quiet and polite, and work unseen.
However, the message I have been seeing everywhere, which is more daring, is to shirk all of that boring stuff if it doesn’t feel like you. This is the new way of running a business. Hey, your clients (and friends, and peers – which could all be clients as well) don’t want some marble statue. They want you because of your vision, and that comes from who you are. If you want to wear jeans, wear them. If you want purple hair, dye your hair purple. If you’re a silly person, or a loud character – be that person, whether it’s in emails, during consultations, or at a photo session! And build the foundation of your business that way.
I’m not saying to ignore good business decisions because you don’t feel like making them, but if everyone in your area is shooting weddings and you would rather photograph, say, dance troupes and theater companies – don’t feel pressure to conform. You’re the boss. Think outside the box and make it work for you.
2. Learn to Say No.
This one is really tough. I struggle with it in my personal and my business life, and I think I’m far from alone! Although it is one of my favorite life lessons: Give yourself permission to say no. it will give you so many more openings to say yes to the things you want most!
Sometimes what we want most is to grab a blanket and a kitty and sit on the couch eating takeout, but instead we feel obligated to show up to every event to which we get an invitation. Nope. You’re allowed to sit on the couch and eat takeout! You don’t even have to have a reason!
On the flipside, here’s a crazy concept: Not every client is Your Client. I’m not just talking about the ones that get away or decide they aren’t into you. That’s pretty standard advice, sure. But what about the ones that do want to hire you, if you’re not seeing a way to make it work? This could be caused by a multitude of things. Maybe you’re just super slammed that month and start breaking out in hives when you think about taking one more booking. It could be that you got an inquiry for a super-staged portrait session with tons of props, and you hate everything to do with props. Maybe the person has been trying to force your rates down way lower than you’re comfortable with.
Yeah, guess what? You can say no to them. There are so many ways to do this and they vary depending on the situation and your personality. You can keep a list of photographers to whom you refer clients when they’re not a good fit…or you can simply tell them that you don’t think you’re a good fit. However you choose to do it, don’t beat yourself up thinking that you have to take every single inquiry that comes your way. You’ll have much more fulfilling relationships with your clients this way.
3. Take Time for You
Saving the best of the life lessons for last! I do tend to harp on this a lot, and it’s probably because I make myself feel guilty over it. Photography is a creative venture – whether it’s your hobby, your passion, or your career. When it’s your career, it’s usually your passion – but as they say, the quickest way to hate your favorite thing is to turn it into a job.
The best way to avoid this is to go back to your roots. Why did we even start doing this? Think back to your favorite work over the last 2 years. What were your favorite images? Why?
It doesn’t matter if they’re images that would win a prize or have families lining up around the block to book you. if it gives you the warm fuzzies, do more of it. You may not always be getting paid for it. Some of my favorite images (like the one above) were not paid work. It’s very important to take some no-pressure time to just create for the sake of creating. In fact, I’d say it’s a very vital step in finding your style, honing it, and keeping it at the forefront of what you do. Your creative eye is what separates you from everyone else.
I know that some of us have not done this in such a long time that we may have forgotten how! So soak up inspiration. If you see a color or an article of clothing or a piece of land that makes you feel nice stuff, channel it. Channel your favorite artists. Use your struggles and your triumphs as fuel. I hate to admit it, but I use Pinterest as a huge source of inspiration for all sorts of things. But there are many other places that it can be found!
These things are tricky to internalize. I don’t put them to use as often as perhaps I should. But the time is here for resolutions, so making these things a focal point may as well be one of them!
If you have any other life lessons to add to this list that you’ve learned in your journey as a photographer, feel free to drop them in the comments for everyone to benefit from!