This is a public service article for bloggers who have been in the imaging business less than five years, think they know everything about photography, and are in (publicly aired) despair about how hard it is to make a living "just" taking photographs.

Photo of Ameerah Tatum, actor. At the old studio on San Marcos St. 

Dear __________,

You seem to do a great job attracting other photographers to your blog but I'm here to tell you that they (the vast majority of your readers) won't hire you to do great assignments and make great photographs. They love to read your stuff because many of them wish they had the balls to leave the apparent safety of a corporate job to try their luck in this tough game. They are having a vicarious but safe experience watching you agonize through the process.  If you really want to do this for a living, and want all the trappings of (at least) a middle class life, then you'll have to change gears and start marketing to people who can actually hire you and pay you what you need to earn.

You love to write about gear so you must think it's the vital part of making a living at photography. No, you would be dead wrong. 95% of clients just don't care at all about what kind or brand of gear you shoot with. In fact, I have a handful of clients who enjoy teasing me about my fascination with new gear. They think it's cute. They also think that this buying habit is what keeps me from getting rich..

But if they don't care about gear then the clients must care about how well you can make and print technically perfect images, right? No. Wrong again. Clients care about how well you can incorporate their message into a photograph and then bundle it together with a charming visual sensibility that makes the image attractive and comfortable to ingest for a demographic that is disposed to buying the client's products or services. Some demographics love to have their heartstrings pulled (that requires superb people casting and direction). Some love to play the testosterone game (pick up truck buyers, lawn mower enthusiasts, beer drinkers), and some demographics like the genuine feeling of a snapshot aesthetic (millennials?); the anti-thesis of "sharp to the bone", and harder to do well than it sounds.

All clients like to work with people they enjoy being around. If they wanted to work with sullen, compulsive engineers they'd give their own compulsive engineers cameras. But they do like people who are warm, effusive, open, sociable and ..... happy. They like to work with happy people; surprise! If you approach commercial photography as though there is a set series of formulae to follow, and a metric to measure its successful completion, you've already failed. Big time. Winning means that, not only did your new client like and enjoy the photograph you created, they also liked you and enjoyed hanging out with you and working with you because you brought both your unique vision, and your sense of humor and humanity along for the ride.

How do you market to these clients since they are not photographers, do not read photographer's blogs and don't pay to attend workshops on how to find intersecting patterns in urban architecture, and then capture them with high sharpness? Cute pictures of your significant other?  Or headshot workshops, for that matter... ? Well, you speak to them directly in their language. The language of advertising and marketing, not the language of lenses and cameras. You send images to them that they would be likely to appreciate because they are the kinds of images that they would like to assign and then use in their projects.

Most of the images that successful corporate and advertising photographers create are photographs of people. People doing things, people making things and people enjoying a lifestyle. The images that seem to be most sought after, and most successful, show people directly engaged with the camera. It gives the appearance of having the model, or talent, or portrait subject directly engaging the viewer. Many years ago David Ogilvey (book: Ogilvy on Advertising) did the research that still underpins a lot of advertising creation. He found that when test groups were shown images the highest response rate; by far, was for pictures of people directly addressing the camera. Not of products, buildings, food or urban street scenes.  People looking at, and seeming to engage the viewer directly. (not to say that a good niche specialty like architecture isn't profitable too...).

The majority of people who do well in this business learn that working with ad agencies and corporations returns the most profit because those are the entities that have the most money and who need, most often, to invest in ongoing advertising that works.

I love to take portraits but would never open a portrait studio because individual, retail clients won't give me the level of fees that would make it worthwhile, nor will they repeat their visits as often as I would need them to in order to make enough money.

Most of us enjoy looking at black and white prints; some of us even like looking at color prints, but I would never depend on gallery sales to make a living for the same reason. If I had to make money from prints I would approach large corporate users of interior graphics and try to sell to them. But that would take lots of time and energy that I'd rather spend shooting.

If I hustled I guess I could market workshops and spend a lot of time traveling, and teaching other people to do what I would rather be doing than teaching. Every day, hour, week or month spent on teaching workshops, as a business, is that same amount of time lost to you for the creation of your own work. Time you will never get back; traded for one time (non-recurring) fees...

Finally, if I lived in a very bad market for the kind of work I wanted to do I would either move or go to the place that does have ample amounts of work in the style I want to do, find the clients there and convince them to use my services. We live in a global economy now. Head to NYC or London (but stay out of Austin, okay?).  I may need to travel back and forth to shoot, and visit clients, or I may be able to shoot from my location, but either way I'll be better paid for it than sitting in a crappy market complaining about the competition or the clients. And don't get me started about bribes and kick-backs....

If you want to do something at the peak of your ability (thereby gaining entry into the most affluent and profitable markets) you need to get clear on what it is you really want to do. Do you want to teach? By all means, open up your school and maximize the value to you and your flock. Do you want to try making money via selling art prints? Then dive in and make a bunch of work that sells to your (researched and targeted) audiences, and then spend some quality time building gallery relationships all over the world. But if you are truly up to the big boy business of making money shooting real images for real clients then you need to buckle down, market well, delivery great stuff, and make it all fun for the clients you would like to work with. It should be a joy for them  to call you and start out on a new project; not something approached with dread, fear, or the expectation of confrontations. I think you know as well as anyone else that your can't spread yourself too thin and be successful in everything you try. Stop taking your eyes off the actual prize.

Whatever logic you used in other industries might not convey well into a niche profession that's perceived to be an "art business." The sooner you get over the idea that you can measure everything, and then apply a formula to its creation and sale, the sooner you and your new clients will be happy, and the sooner you will be prosperous.

I can't think photography by itself will ever make us rich but saving money every year, and applying the magic of compound interest to everything we save, might just make us well off, over time.

I think it takes five to ten years to really become successful in the imaging businesses. Photography, video, etc. If you don't want to take the hard path of proving that you are competent, fun, and here to stay, then you might want to look for another way of making a living and keep photography around as an enjoyable hobby.

Here's a book that may be helpful:

Does anybody ever bother to re-review cameras that have been on the market for awhile but have been graced with new and much improved firmware? Here's one: Sony RX10.

There's this thing that happens in the camera market. A new camera hits the market and everyone rushes to review it. The camera may be good but it may have some rough edges that keep it from being great. Or perfect. Then, maybe six months or a year later that camera gets the firmware it deserved the first time around but, by then everyone has moved on to the latest miracle camera that's come sliding down the chute. The now improved, earlier camera gets no more love and dissolves into irrelevance in the marketplace. That recently happened to one of my all time favorite, non-DSLR cameras; the original Sony RX10. 

I'm revisiting that camera right now because used prices for them have dropped to "bargain" status and that camera model was visited by the firmware update fairy last year ---- with just the right amount of pixie dust and magic. If you have one be sure to update your firmware to 2.0. If you don't have one then maybe you should....

Where did we leave off with that camera? I had used it for an eight page, national shelter magazine assignment with good results and loved almost everything about the camera. It got sacrificed in one of those ill considered trade deals but it wasn't really missed as much as it should have been because, while it should have been the perfect hybrid camera (and all-in-one camera) it suffered from having a mediocre video codec, and enhanced video capabilities were one of the selling points of that camera. 
I was working with the Panasonic GH3 and GH4 at the time and just about any other camera would have been hard pressed to match their video performance. Even today some cameras might have less noisy video but few have video that can match the GH4's detail and color. So the camera found a new home probably around the time I was considering the purchase of the Nikon D810, etc. 

Last week I came across a used one for less than half the price of the same model new. It had no wear and was in "like new" condition. And I remembered that Sony had made significant improvements just where I thought the camera might need them to rise to it's ultimate potential. In the video. 

The new video firmware moved the RX10 from 28 mb/s ACVHD to 50 mb/s XAVC. This was the one parameter that every knowledgeable reviewer stuck on. Each reviewer basically said, "This camera would be the perfect hybrid video/still camera if only....XAVC." It's a much better codec. Same one used for 1080p in the Sony A72 series cameras. It handles motion better and it's a more robust codec for editing as well. It was enough to push me to go back to the change jar and the deposit bottle collection (and a little bit of plasma donation) to see if I could swing the purchase. I was successful with a last push for cushion change diving in the sofa and two arm chairs. 

Having bought the camera, and the several additional and requisite batteries, I decided that I may as well test the camera and see if the upgrade was the final piece of the "perfect bridge camera" jigsaw puzzle. One thing to understand though, is that we're talking here about version one, not the latest version two --- which is a sparkling and cool camera in its own right...

I had a strategy when I left the house today. I headed to the graffiti wall with the RX10 and a variable neutral density filter and I shot about 20 minutes of video (which is too boring to show) which proved to me that big improvements had been made and that the camera is very much ready for (well lit) prime time video production. Especially electronic news gathering varieties. Fun to set the manual exposure on the camera and then work the variable neutral density filter along with zebras in the EVF to hit perfect exposure. It worked well and, since I am at heart a very lazy person, I left the VND filter on for the rest of the time at the outdoor gallery; even when shooting still photographs. 

What is my assessment of the RX10 now? Well, with one of these and two of the Panasonic fz 1000 cameras (a very close cousin, hobbled only by the lack of a headphone jack) I'm pretty sure I could shoot a serviceable feature or at least a really fun TV sit com. I know, how about a sit com based on a hapless, 60 year old photographer who loves to press "toy-like" cameras into real world shooting assignments only to have unexpected, but very funny, things happen to him? I wouldn't watch it but I bet somebody would. 

Seriously, the camera does a great job with video. And I already liked the work I've done with a previous one in still photography. I'm glad to have another one back in the fold. I hope I won't be so cavalier about getting rid of it next time...It's a perfect complement to the rest of my stuff. Now I just need to remember all the menu stuff. 

I don't pay attention to all brands of cameras equally but I am sure this kind of improvement over the lifespan of a camera is not limited to Sony bridge cameras. I remember how excited I was when Kodak added Jpegs files to what had been introduced as the "raw file only" DCS 760. I'm also reminded of some recent, valuable upgrades that Olympus bestowed on the current EM5.2 and the venerable EM1. I welcome as many fixes as they'll give us. I don't expect them but I do appreciate them. It's made several of my cameras more fun than they were when they started...

Blog Note: Ben and I are booked on corporate imaging work (my actual job) the first three days of this week and then I head to Denver early Friday for a marketing forum that lasts until Sunday night. The tight schedule and the need to do post production around the edges of our paying jobs may mean that the blog is going dark until next Monday, January 25th. I need some downtime anyway after my last troll skirmish. Not sure where we're going with the blog. I still enjoy writing it but I'm a little concerned that its relevance has passed. That the format and the information have less value than when we started out this little venture. A good topic for discussion at the upcoming media marketing forum. I'll take notes. We'll reconvene. In the meantime, aren't the rest of you just so tickled that I wrote (and serially posted) some extra blogs for you? Stay tuned. 

Having a style you like doesn't mean you have to abandon experimentation. I like to try everything to see if I can come across ... a better style.

This is an example of making a portrait with a ring light. One of my clients insisted I buy a big, highlight flash for an advertising project (that never saw the light of day). One day Noellia came over to the studio in one of her cool outfits and I decided to drag out the ring light and give it a go. It was a fun effect. I then experimented with different post processing styles. I won't be changing my core style for this one but I learned a few new things. I think that's always the point. 

After all these years some people are still hazy about the blog...

Get the hazy reference? The person behind the camera is..... hazy. Cool huh?

We write what we want. We post when we want to. We use the "royal we" as many times as is pleasurable to me. You are free at any time to skip a post, read a post later, read all of a week's posts on one day, or to just look at the photographs displayed here and then go away.

Sometimes I will be working on a project and not be able to post for a few days. Other times, at the end of a project, I'll have more time and will make myself happy by posting more blog entries. Blogging is not my job. My job is taking photographs and making video content for clients.

Blogging is a fun outlet for me. You are not my client. You are not my boss. You are not my mother.  This is not Target or Nordstroms, I am the only "complaint department" and the complaint window has been closed for years.

I hate getting a comment telling me what to do with the blog. Especially one that says,

"Anonymous said...
One post a day, please. No one likes a serial poster."

So, if you happen to be the entitled reader who donated that thought yesterday, please stop reading my blog; it is obviously overwhelming you. If you are one of my regular readers or a commenter who includes his name along with a comment, Thank you!

Other than an occasional nudge to buy a book I've written, and a once in a while link in the copy to an Amazon product page, this blog asks nothing of its readers other than a modicum of reciprocal politeness and the willingness to share your experiences and knowledge.

I don't hawk weekly, monthly, quarterly workshops, no appeal to buy my (high nano-acuity) hyperprints, no sidebar filled with display ads, no crowdsourcing appeals, hell, I don't even have a t-shirt to sell you. (but I am working on a coffee cup (joke)).

Read at your own peril. But don't tell me how to enjoy my own blogging. Got it?

We are now ramping up the comment moderation. I've put Charlie Martini in charge. You can still disagree with me but you just can't be a dick.