Year in Review

The end of another year has come upon us. We will soon start another chapter of not only our lives but our businesses as well. But before we start a new chapter we should look back over the previous year and examine what went right and what went wrong, then we can make goals to continue what is right and improve on what didn’t go so well.

For me this past year my photography has had to take a back seat to getting my website up and working and looking for full time work as a software developer. One piece of advice I would give is to take a good hard look at your business. Are you operating your business because you want to make a living at photography or are you doing it as a hobby for something to do? Do you have business goals? Do you have photography goals? What is fine art to you? What sets you apart from the rest of the photographers in your area?

These are only some of the questions you should be asking yourself. As we look forward to this New Year I encourage you to really look at your business and do an in depth evaluation. As yourself why you are in business? What do you hope to achieve with this business? Why should people come to me rather than my competition?

There are a great many things that need to be considered for a business; see my previous posts about starting your business, Am I ready to start my business part 1 and 2 as well as How important is a website. In the coming year I hope we can all take a good look at both our photography and our businesses and have a prosperous New Year.

Rant

Pricing:

There is one topic that every photographer has an opinion on; pricing. Every photographer wants to know just how much they should charge; however, before you ask what you should charge you need to ask yourself if you’re good enough to charge in the first place and the answers to both of these questions cannot be found on Facebook. To find out if you are good enough to charge you need to get an honest opinion from other artists and artists are not going to give you an honest opinion on Facebook. A good artist has an image to protect and they are not going to risk that image by commenting on a post or photograph that your friends might see and might have a negative result. There are a lot of photographers that need a dose of reality, there is an article (http://www.photographytalk.com/photography-articles/3429-5-uncomfortable-facts-for-new-photography-businesses) that every photographer should read and take to heart because it gives us advice on some of the hard questions we photographer really need to answer.

Now on to the topic of price; what should you charge? Well the first thing that you need to figure out is your cost of doing business, there are so many photographers that don’t know their cost of doing business and you can tell the those who don’t understand this concept by looking at their prices. There are photographers that are charging $30 to take a family photo; these are photographers that are killing the industry because now everyone thinks we should all charge this little and they are shocked when they find out what a real professional photographer does charge.

As an example let’s say you have a new client and you are going to do a one hour photo shoot for that client, just how much actual work is involved in that one hour shoot? Let’s figure you have one hour of time in the pre-shoot consultation, then on the day of the shoot you have at least two hours, one hour of shooting time and another hour of setting up, taking down, loading and unloading, then you will have at least an hour of post processing time. Not including travel time, you have 4 hours of work for that one hour photo shoot. Now let’s figure basic expenses for this photo shoot. Examples of expenses are the CD of images you are giving the client, there is the power you are using for your computer, there is the fuel you use to get to and from the location, and these are just some of the expenses you would have on that day. If you are only charging $30 for the shoot, then you subtract $1 for the CD, subtract $4 for the fuel to get to and from the location, subtract $2 for electricity, that looks like $30 – $1 – $4 – $2 = $23. Now you have $23, this is just a simple example, there are other expenses that need to be factored in; but for the examples sake we will say that you have $15 in expenses which means if you are charging only $30 for the shoot and you have $15 in expenses you are left with $15 which is then divided by the 4 hours of work and you are paying yourself $3.75 per hour. If you give the client all the photos you are not even covering your expenses. There are a lot of things that much be considered when figuring out just how much you should charge for your work. One thing we need to remember is that we are running a business and there are a lot of things to consider when running a business.

The photographer better know the difference between fine art and a snapshot:

The question of if you are good enough to charge brings up another question; do you know the difference between fine art and a snapshot? Once I asked myself how I can teach the general public the difference between fine art and a snapshot; I have sense learned that I don’t need to teach the general public the difference, I just need to know the difference. If you are claiming to be a photographer and are looking to charge people for your work then you had better know the difference between a snapshot and fire art. There are a lot of photographers that put in a lot of work for snapshots. Once again you are not going to find out what makes a fine art photograph on Facebook, I have seen a lot of photographers post their snapshots on Facebook; these are the people who are just taking pictures not real photographers. How can you tell a real photographer verses someone just taking pictures, one way is to look for their website. If a person is claiming to be a photographer and all they have a Facebook business page and not a real website then this is one indicator that they are not a serious photographer. Another indicator of a serious photographer is their comments. If you see someone who always seems to have something to say than I wouldn’t consider them a serious photographer because they are taking so much time to reading every comment and post rather than spending that time improving themselves and their craft. There is an old saying, “The devil is in the details” well this is one way you can tell fine art from a snapshot, look at the details of the photograph and remember a $30 photograph is not fine art it is a snapshot.

Copyright:

            One thing I have heard from some people is that they think the photographer should give up the copyright to the photos of them. Well I am here to tell you that a professional photographer will never give up the copyright to any image. If a photographer gives up the copyright to an image that is an image the photographer doesn’t care about because it is now an image they can no longer use for any purpose. If you give up the copyright to a photo you cannot post that photo anywhere, not on your website, not on your blob, and certainly not on any self-promoting materials. The article I talked about earlier says; “You should own copyright to all your photos, unless stated otherwise in the contract. That means that you should be making money from them in the future, not just for the day you took them. You are a creative professional, and the results of your work are intended for longer use by other companies.” Now the key points here are that who owns the copyright will be stated in the contract, if you are hired by a company the copyright will be spelled out in the contract. Giving up the copyright to your images is business suicide. Simply out a professional photographer will never give up the copyright to their images.

Final Ranting’s:

I have had someone ask me what I would charge to do a portrait session; when I told them they were shocked and informed me that their friend only charged half and gave them all the photos they took as well as the copyrights to the images. Yes everyone knows a friend or a friend of friend who will do the photography job a lot cheaper than a professional photographer will. What I would to those clients is go for it. Go to your cousin that is only going to charge you $40 to do your portraits, the old saying is that “you get what you pay for.” A $30 portrait is not fine art; it will not be done by a professional photographer. This may sound hard and calloused but in the end it is the truth. If you want professional services your are going to pay professional prices and if the photographer wants to charge professional prices then they had better be able to back up those prices with education and with some talent.

Remember; when you hire a professional photographer you are not just getting someone with an expensive camera. You are getting someone who has taken the time to educate themselves in about their craft and who knows how to make you look awesome. A professional photographer will give you custom crafted images that you’ll be proud to display; they will produce fine art and not snapshots. A professional photographer will act like a professional, for more on professional behavior see my blog post on professionalism.

How important is a website?

In today’s digital world technology is an integral part of our daily lives. People can access the internet from almost anywhere, so how important is it to have a high quality website? For most businesses, especially a photographer, their website is their store front, it is their catalog, and the website is your display racks. So how important is it to have a high quality website; very important.

Let me give you some background on me, I am a photographer and a web developer. I am the person who writes all the code that makes the website look and work the way it does. Simply put is if you want a high quality photograph you need a professional photographer and if you want a high quality website you need a professional web developer; and yes they both are going to cost. I hear all of you out there; but there are a lot of tools where I can build a free website. Yes there are places where you can build a free site but these web sites are simple and don’t have a lot of features that a web developer can build.

For an example let me give you a rundown of my new web site, www.doublerrphotography.com.  On the first page is a slide show that gets a new set of random images each time the page is updated. Throughout the site the images are randomized, you don’t want potential customers getting bored looking at the same images all the time. This site is a complete custom build; it is built with HTML, CSS, ASP.Net, JavaScript, C#, and XML. Today’s websites require different programming languages working together. Just like a photographer need to work with a model and other people to get the shot they are looking for, a web developer needs to work with several programming languages.

I won’t go into a lot of details on the coding and the file structure behind the scenes, let’s just say that there is a lot of design work that needs to take place. Currently there are around 175 man hours that have gone into building my website.  What do you get when you work with a professional web developer; you get someone who knows the mechanics of a website, you get someone who can fix things when they are broken, and you get someone who can build the features that you can’t get from a free website such integrating your site to work with other sites.

For me a professional website looks clean, is easy to navigate, and is easy to read. I have seen some photography websites that are so hard to read because the text is a light color on top of a light color. I understand that not everyone can hire a professional to build them a custom website, one thing I suggest is to look at the websites of other professional photographer and find the features you like and them try and copy them on your website. A professional website takes a lot of work, but this site represents you, your photography, and your business so is to worth putting in the time and effort into making it the best website you can? Yes it is worth every hour you spend on making your website the best. One thing to remember is that just like your photography your website need to always be evolving, if your website is not growing and changing the viewer will be bored and move on, give the viewer a reason to stay and look. I have a master plan for my website which means my site will always be a work in progress.

Am I ready to start my business Part 2

Now that you have a fancy new camera and people are starting to comment on the photos you are taking, does this mean you are ready to start a photography business. Before you start your business there are some things that you need to make sure you understand.

One of the first things you need to understand are the basics of photography, such as lighting, composition, and posing. Lighting; do you know different lighting styles? Do you know how to use light to achieve the look you are going for? Do you know the difference between hard and soft light and how to use each one? Composition; do you know about foreground, middle ground, background and the importance of each one? Do you know how to place the subject of your photograph to emphasize it? Do you understand perspective and how it can affect your photograph? Do you understand color vs. black and white? Do you know what makes a photograph fine art? These are some of the basic of photography every photographer should know.

Most photographers offer portraits as part of their services. With portraits do you know about posing? Do you know the difference between feminine and masculine posing? Do you have a reason you are using the pose you are? Do you know how to light the pose you are using to get the affect you want?

While you are answering all the questions about the basics of photography you also need to keep in mind the next set of questions all about the business basics. Some business questions you should answer are; why are you starting a photography business in the first place? What are your business goals? What are you artistic goals? Do you have a business plan and someone who can help you developer one? How are you going to market your business? What are you going to charge people for your services; what are your prices going to be? What kinds of services are you going to offer; weddings, engagements, portraits, etc.? What is your deadline for delivering finished photos? Do you have a professional portfolio with finished work to show clients? These are just a few of the business questions you should have answers to when you are thinking of starting a photography business, and one of the most important answers you should have is who you can go to for advice; both business advice and artist advice.

Now that you are fully overloaded with some of the questions you should be answering there are somethings you should be answering for yourself as an artist. Do you have a defined style have a style you are working toward? Are you able to critique your own work as well as the work of others (see The how and why of critiquing and Critiquing 102, previous posts)? Critiquing is a skill that most artist don’t understand; it is more than just saying you like or dislike something, it is being able to able to give suggestions on how to fix what you feel is wrong and the ability to not take things personally when the other artist doesn’t take your advice.

I think that there are a lot of people who have started their photography business without being able to answer even some of the questions I have posed here. One thing I have found in trying to build my own photography business and from what I have read online is that one thing most people don’t realize is that as a business owner you are going to be spending most of your time on the business side of things rather than the artist or photography side. There is a lot to consider when you are thinking of starting your own photography business.

Know your gear

We live in a digital age and that means that our photography equipment has more and more features, buttons, and menus that are being added then what most people know what to do with.  I think it is safe to say that the photography industry is creating the “Swiss Army Knife” of photography equipment. So what does this mean? It means that as our photography gear gets more and more complicated more and more photographers are thinking that they have to have the latest gear to keep up. This also means that we are also building photographers that are becoming more and more dependent on their gear and not taking the time to learn the fundamentals.

As an example of people not knowing their equipment, I have a friend who is an exceptional wildlife and landscape photographer and for a while he did photo workshops where he would take people out to places like Death Valley and teach them about photographing landscapes. One of the biggest complaints for him while doing this was all the people that came to the work shop not knowing how to work their own gear.  So he would have to spend a great deal of the workshop time teaching these people what they should have already known before they ever signed up for the workshop. I have also met people in my own area that have been doing photography for several years and when I look at their work and hear them talk about photography it is clear that they are suffering from a server bout of G.A.S.(Gear Acquisition Syndrome).

I am sure that everyone reading this either knows someone or is that someone that feels they need the latest and greatest piece of gear and yet their work is not where it should be. If you don’t know how to effectively use the gear you already have then buying more gear is not going to make you a better photographer. My wildlife and landscape photographer friend buys a second copy of the manual for his camera and wears it out by rereading it whenever he has time.

The main point to this is to know how to change your settings, know how to work your gear. When I was starting out in photography I would look at all the gear everyone else had and I would wish I had the money to get gear like theirs. Then I saw a lighting class on CreativeLive by Scott Robert Lim (Crazy Stupid Light) and I realized that what I needed to take my photography to the next level was that I needed to learn how to use the gear I already have.  And once I got into the proper mind set my photography has improved by leaps and bounds without buying any more gear.

Let’s now take a look at some of the important features of your camera. It is important to remember while learning about your gear that it is not important to know how the camera does what it does, what is important is to know how changing a setting is going to affect your final photograph.

The first thing we are going to look at is the Aperture. The aperture of the camera is the opening in the front of your lens. The aperture is the hole in the front of the lens that lets the light through into the sensor, the bigger the opening the more light that is let in. Aperture is expressed in “f” numbers (also known as “focal ratio”, since the f-number is the ratio of the diameter of the lens aperture to the length of the lens). Examples of f-numbers are: f/1.4, f/2.0, f/2.8, f/4.0, f/5.6, f/8.0. (Read more: http://photographylife.com/iso-shutter-speed-and-aperture-for-beginners#ixzz3BeQnO4LU). The bigger the f-number the smaller the opening or the less light that is let into the sensor. The aperture also controls the depth of field.

Depth of field is the portion of the scene that appears to be sharp. If the aperture is very small, the depth of field is large, while if the aperture is large, the depth of field is small. For example the depth of field at F16 is very large meaning more of the photo is going to be in sharp focus, while the depth of field at F4 is going to be small and less of the photo will be in sharp focus. The important thing to remember about the aperture is the bigger the number the smaller the opening and the F-number can be a depth of field guide, the smaller the number the less depth of field and the bigger the number the more depth of field. Having the right aperture is important, so what is the right aperture you ask? Well this is a question only you can answer because it all depends on the conditions you are working with and what you are trying to capture or your vision for the finished photograph.

When you are incorporating flash the aperture and the ISO controls the amount of flash. The shutter speed controls the amount of ambient light. When you change the aperture or ISO the amount of flash that shows up in the picture will change, if you want more or less ambient light you must change your shutter speed.

Which brings us to the next item we are going to look at is the shutter speed. While the aperture is the opening in the lens that lets the light into the sensor the shutter is the door that opens and closes to allow the light in and the shutter speed is the length of time that the door, or shutter, is open. The faster the shutter speed the less time the shutter is open to allow light into the camera and into the sensor.

Shutter speed controls the ambient light, when there is a lot of light you need a faster shutter speed to get the right exposure and in low light situations you need a slower shutter speed because the cameras sensor needs to be exposed to the light for a longer time.

Another thing the shutter speed is used for is when photographing action is to freeze the action or allow some motion blur. If the shutter speed is to slow everything will be blurry. Having the right shutter speed is important, so what is the right shutter speed you ask? Well this is a question only you can answer because it all depends on the conditions you are working with and what you are trying to capture or your vision for the finished photograph.

This brings us to the third setting we are going to look at, all other settings in your camera are important but aperture, shutter speed, and ISO are the ones you need to understand because these are the settings that directly affect the finished photograph. ISO stands for “International Organization for Standardization” and the ISO is number that stands for the film speed and it is used to indicate the relative amount of light necessary to get a proper exposure. In digital photography the ISO indicates how sensitive the image sensor is the amount of available light, the higher the ISO the more sensitive the sensor is to the light. The less available light there is the more sensitive the image sensor needs to be to even see that light. This is why low light situations need to be photographed at a much higher ISO then midday or sunset pictures. It is also important to remember that ISO and aperture are the two settings that control the amount of flash that you see in your photo, if you need more flash increase the ISO or open the aperture more. For example going from ISO 100 to ISO 200 will increase the amount of flash by one stop of light. If you want to get more technical and learn more about how exactly the camera does what it does then by all means go right ahead but the important thing to remember is how changing the ISO, aperture, and the shutter speed is going to affect your finished photograph. So what is the best ISO to use? Once again it all depends on the conditions you are working with and what you are trying to capture or your vision for the finished photograph.

This brings us to the one question that I know every photographer wants to know; where to start? Once again this is a question that only you can answer because it all depends on the conditions you are working with and what you are trying to capture or your vision for the finished photograph. Yes I can hear all the people out there saying that is a simple explanation and that they have heard it all before and they want something more. Well the point is that it is simple to understand and it is only when we try to over complicate things that we tend to lose sight of the real goal, which is to make awesome photographs that are perfectly exposed.

There are a great many photographers out there who don’t really know what aperture, shutter speed, and ISO really are used for and how they affect the finished photograph. I know that there are many others things that can and do affect a photograph; like lighting and posing, however if you don’t understand the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO than the it doesn’t matter what lighting or posing knowledge you have, you are simply shooting blind. If you don’t know how to work your camera and understand aperture, shutter speed, and ISO than maybe you need to slow down and learn these first.

Am I ready to start my business

In this world of digital photography everyone is packing a camera where ever they go; either on their cell phone, a compact point and shoot, or a DSLR. One side effect, good or bad, of everyone having a camera is that there are a lot of people who feel that they are ready to start their own photography business.

The more I read on social media the more I am convinced that there are a lot of photographers out there that went into business before they were ready. Because so many people have started their business before they are ready, it means that they are always going to be playing catchup and they are not going to know what to do when the client asks for something.

I think that the first thing photographers need to really understand; before they ever consider starting a photography business, is their gear. What gear do you have? Do you know how to use the gear you have for maximum effect? Do you need more gear? If you feel you do need more gear then what gear do you need and why do you think you need it? When it comes to technology side of photography I agree with Scott Robert Lim, once you have a good understand of the technical then you can let your creativity really go. The simple fact is, if you don’t know how to use the gear you have to achieve the look you want more gear is not going to change that, learn to work with what you have and then when you do get more gear it will only be easier to achieve great photos.

The next item on the list of things you should understand before starting a photography business is to “Understand why you think your customer should by your art.” Every business should know why customers should come to them and not their competition. Most of the general public doesn’t know the difference between a fine art photograph and a snapshot, but I believe a photographer running a business should know and be able to explain the difference to another person. Knowing the difference between a snapshot and fine art is only part of being able to explain why customers should come to you for photography services.

These are only a few things that you should be aware of before you start your photography business. One thing you do need to remember is that you are going to spend most of your time on the business side of things and not on the photography side. The business side is where all the decisions are that no one wants to make; these decisions directly affect your clients and what you are going to tell them when they ask for something. As an example; I read a post about a photographer who was hired to do a wedding and while on the job the client was asking about getting other portraits done at the same time and the photographer didn’t know how to answer this client. When I read the post the answer was clear, you tell the client that yes you can do the other portraits but they will be an additional cost for the extra work. Telling the client that there will be an additional cost for something is not going to make them happy and if you have not already made up your mind on how you will handle this type of situation then you will be doing a lot of extra work and not getting paid for it.

The most basic goal of your business should be trade goods and services for money. We all want to get paid to do something we enjoy doing; one main problem is that there are a lot of harder business decisions that come with running a business that most people either don’t realize of don’t want to address because they don’t want to make their clients unhappy. One thing I have learned in trying to build my photography business is that the client is not always right and you have to be willing to walk away from the deal, this is where the paper work such as contacts and model releases come in. Remember you photography equipment costs money, you have invested a lot of time and money into your photography education, it takes money for you to travel to the locations of your shoots, if the price of your services do not reflect this then you are losing money and letting your clients walk over you.

This is the first of a multi-part post on some of the things you should be aware of when you are considering starting a business as an artist.

Business 101

So you bought a new camera and have started taking pictures, in other words you have gotten into this thing called photography. You start taking photos and after a while people start to notice your budding photographic skills and they mention to you that you should be doing photography full time and start your own business.

This brings up the first, of several, questions you need to ask yourself. The first question is where is the praise coming from?  And the second is should I really do this full time? The answers to both of these questions require some deep thought and some serious critiquing of both your work and yourself.

Let’s look at the first question; where is the praise coming from? It’s good that your friends and family like your photography and that they are also encouraging your art development; but we must take their praise for what it is, their opinion. Almost everyone has an opinion when it comes to art. When the praise for your photography is coming from photographers with 50 years of experience then you really have something. Before even thinking of starting a photography business you should get a real assessment of your photography from a professional photographer; someone who knows what fine art and good photography should look like.

On to the second question; should I really do this full time? The answer to this question is simple, should you do photography full time? No. The reason I say no is because in today’s market everyone with a cell phone thinks of themselves as a photographer. Digital photography has made it possible for anyone to get a good camera and start taking pictures. Because technology has made it possible for anyone to get a good exposure there needs to be something that sets you apart to make fine art photographs? This is where the assessment of the professional photographer comes in.

Now the problem with those two questions above is that most people think about those questions and ignore the business questions which are of equal importance. Now let’s be clear the business man and the photographer are two separate people, both roles can be played by the same person but they must be separate. I have seen it several times, photographers will post situations on Facebook; situations like they were contracted for a job and during the job the client requested additional services and the photographer didn’t know how to respond. The response to the previous situation is simple; this is where the photographer steps back and the businessman steps forward and tells the client that yes the photographer can provide the additional service; however, those additional services will come at an additional cost. Is this response going to make the client happy, probably not. You must remember that you are running a business and that your goal is to make money.

Now let’s say that you have decided to start your photography business; there is another set of questions and concerns that must be addressed. The first concern is a website; a good web site is a must; however, a good web site is not going to be cheap. To set yourself apart from the masses you need your own website, don’t rely on Facebook; you should never have to login to see an artist’s portfolio. Charles J Lewis said “If you can’t tell a prospect what it is that’s unique and special about you then there’s only one thing that’s going to determine where she goes for her photography – price.” (Lewis, Charles J., What Makes You Unique?, Professional Photographer January 2004, pages 18 & 19). Once again we must set ourselves apart from the masses that are relying on Facebook for their photography website, a good website is one way to do that.

Charles J Lewis further said “We’re talking about producing good work, and then helping people make the decision to hire you over all the other photographers in your market area, even though you aren’t the least expensive photographer in town.” (Lewis, Charles J., What Makes You Unique?, Professional Photographer January 2004, pages 18 & 19). Look at this statement, first we need to produce good work and then we can help people make the decision to hire you. This goes back to getting an honest opinion of your work from someone that knows what good photography looks like.

So you have made it this far; you have some talent, you have started your business, and you have something to set you apart from the masses; on to the next step. What is the next step you ask; why it is branding. “It’s vital to your success that you know exactly why someone should select you over all the other photographers in your area. And then it’s vital that you talk about these unique factors to all your prospects – in all your marketing, your phone conversations, and in person.” (Lewis, Charles J., What Makes You Unique?, Professional Photographer January 2004, pages 18 & 19). All of your communication needs to send the same messages. This does not mean that you read from a script, it does mean that you have a consistent message.

So to recap, remember “Here are the most important questions of your photography life…. What’s unique about you? Why should someone hire you, over all the other photographers in your area?” (Lewis, Charles J., What Makes You Unique?, Professional Photographer January 2004, pages 18 & 19).

Standards and Vision 102

This month I feel that there is something that needs to be repeated and that is the fact that we as professional photographers need to have a set of standards and a vision for not only our photography but for our photography business as well.

Recently I have come across a video (http://www.prageruniversity.com/History/Why-is-Modern-Art-so-Bad.html#.VeJ2ZaBViko) where a professional artist; Robert Florczak, with over forty years of experience and in that video he explains why he feels modern art is so bad; one reason he gives for why modern art is bad is that we no longer have any standards, on the part of both the artist and the public, for what is good and what is bad. It is pointed out in the video that a lot of people feel that art is a matter of expression, and I do agree with that but there still needs to be standards in place so that today’s artist have some guidelines.

Today it seems that more and more artists are just going for ambiguity and for the shock value of grotesque and vulgar and they claim that the piece was intended to send a message. What kind of message is it sending?  Is it telling a story or just trying to get people to notice their work?  For the most part I feel that a lot of, so called, modern art really misses the mark because the message the artist is trying to send is not clear. An anonymous author said “I always thought good photos were like good jokes. If you have to explain it, it just isn’t that good.” If you have to explain to the viewer what the piece is about then you have failed as an artist.

As a professional artist we must be able to set higher standards, we must have a better definition of what art is, we must have a vision and hold true to our standards and vision. Our fore fathers that came before us had a vision of art and the beauty it can produce. Without a set of standards and vision like they had I feel that the modern artist will never reach their full potential.

Standards and Vision

If you really want to improve your photography skills and get to that next level two of the essentials are your standards and your vision. A standard is “a level of quality, achievement, etc., that is considered acceptable or desirable”, (Standard. (n.d.). Merriam-Webster.com. Retrieved December 19, 2013, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/standard). It is our standards that help us maintain consistent quality and one of the marks of any professional is consistent quality. Each person has to set their own standards or draw their own line in the sand as it were. Your standards, like your goals, need to be based in reality; they need to be something that you can accomplish. If your standards are too high we may give up even before we reach them, if your standards are too low then you will never improve. When a photographer doesn’t have a set of standards it will show in their work.  Once again; you must be the one to set your own standards. It is our standards that mark us as a professional; it is our standards that show our professionalism. It is your standards and your vision that is going to set you apart from the rest.

The next essential is having a vision. What is a vision? That is a question that only you can answer. Simply put your vision is how you see the world; it is shaped by your past, your present, and your future. Your vision is colored by your interests, where you live, and the people around you. As a photographer it should be your goal to capture that vision with your camera; your vision, or lack thereof, will show through in your photographs. Without a vision we cannot reach that next level, you must have a vision of where you want to go with your business, your photography, and a vision for each photo you take. Your vision will change with each stage of your life, refining your vision will always be an ongoing process. A friend of mine, Levi Sim, said one day that even if you put two photographers in the same spot you will get two different photos because each person sees the world in a different way. We see the world according to our vision.

The goal of every photographer, at least it should be, is to create art. Scott Robert Lim defines art as “Your vision executed perfectly.”  Without a vision we cannot create art, without a photographic vision we will be stuck getting those photos that everyone can get. Now how do we use our standards and our vision to take our photography to that next level? The answer is simple practice.

Now let’s be clear, this does not mean just going out and taking pictures it means that we practice with a purpose. I know we have all heard the saying, practice makes perfect. Well I am here to tell you that this saying is wrong. If you practice something wrong you are going to preform it wrong, the saying needs to be changed to perfect practice makes perfect performance. When you practice with a purpose your will always improve, if you just go out and take pictures you will fill up your hard drive with snapshots.

If you really want to improve your photography you need to have a set of standards that are based in reality, you need to find and cultivate your vision, and you must practice with a purpose. Because I have set standards for my photography and I have found my vision; for both my photography and my business, I have seen the quality of my photography increase at a higher rate than it would have otherwise. If we are not learning and improving we are stagnate or getting worse both of which are bad. Remember, the biggest room in the world is the room for improvement.

Be open to all possibilities

This month I want to remind all you photographers out there that we need to be open to all possible opportunities. When I first got into photography I really didn’t understand or think I would get into portraits or black and white and yet because I was open to the possibilities I have come to enjoy both portraits as well as doing black and white images. I have also made a deal recently to do some product photography. Simply put, I am doing things with photography that I would never have considered when I first started but because I have come to understand the power of a good photograph I now understand that everyone deserves a photographer with this knowledge. What you learn in one area of photography can help you in every other area of photography. Don’t limit yourself by saying I am only a wedding photographer or a portrait photographer or a sports photographer. It is good to shoot new things; who knows you might like it.