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So I was sitting in the dining room in the lodge at Death Valley; across from me was a photographer I met while there. We were comparing notes about calendar sales. I was impressed with his and asked, “So how did you do it?" He replied, “It’s all in the marketing.” My head sunk into my hands as I looked down at my Cowboy Steak. Ughhh…there was that word again, “Marketing.” That's everybody’s mantra these days on how to succeed.
Okay, honestly, yes I do get that. Anyone that’s been in business, or knows anything about business, knows that marketing is an integral part of your business plan. We know that you can have the greatest product in the world, but if no one knows about it, it won’t sell.
And we have certainly seen that marketing can sell nearly anything. Think about those late night infomercials on TV. Where that thing that looks like two pieces of junk glued together, that normally sells for $19.95, but if you order right now you get 3 for that same price. We know they are pieces of junk, but surely this time they will be great…right? So it’s kind of a no-brainer that marketing does work.
But is that it? Is that all there is when it comes to the business of photography?
Now I shoot landscapes and concerts. But every one of my friends in this world is a photographer, and all of them are wedding or portrait shooters. I also participate in some forums for professional photographers, again most of them wedding and portrait shooters.
Every day you hear discussions about business, and how bad it is, and what they need to do to succeed and get the amount of business they need to survive. And every time those questions come up, the answer given is—yes—”Marketing.”
But today, as someone was giving the usual rant about how it’s business knowledge and marketing that make the difference, and forgive me Don for quoting you, but he said this: “The picture taking part is easy and getting easier every year.”
At first I knew what he was talking about; new digital cameras make taking pictures easier for everyone. But is that really true of a professional? Is being a professional photographer just about getting a good exposure and the image in focus? Or is it something much more?
Is being a professional photographer about getting great photographs, the ones that take talent far beyond just a knowledge of how your camera works and how to set the settings? The innate ability to see light and shadow, to visualize composition? Not just know it—but to truly see it?
I see professional photographers every day give up on getting better and perfecting their craft. They do this because, “Marketing is just better.”
And let’s take that premise back to the business of photography. If your customer knows, “Picture taking is easier and getting easier,” and you don’t provide them with something far beyond what they are capable of…why in the world would they ever pay you for that?
Now, they may pay you because they believe that the prints a professional will deliver to them will be far above what they can get in the neighborhood big box store or drugstore. But with professional labs opening up consumer sites on the internet, and some customers no longer even wanting prints, but rather just a digital file for sharing across their favorite social network, are those reasons even valid any longer?
Photographers that have studios do have an advantage, because studio work is something that consumers feel they cannot do. The equipment costs too much, and it looks quite complicated. But what about areas of the country like I live in, that have so many beautiful scenic areas to shoot portraits in? No one wants to be confined to what is possible in a studio for their portrait needs.
You MUST give the consumer what they cannot give themselves. You must give them amazing professional photographs.
It IS about the photograph. I will go to my deathbed believing (as the light meter falls from my hand) that I need to take every ounce of my vision and talent and put them into the photograph. To make people gasp, to make them cry, to make them laugh, to make them feel. To let them …See. I WILL make the great photograph. I WILL seek greatness over mediocrity. I WILL do everything I can to perfect that amazing photograph and then… I’ll market it.