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That is the question. If you’re reading this blog, you’re already engaged in a part of the process that every photographer must go through continuously in their career, and that is education. Whether you’re an avid amateur or a budding professional, or even a photographer with a solid business, the need to learn is paramount, especially in these days of computers where upgrades on everything is a way of life. Even if you have graduated from a photography school, the process of learning should never stop. New tools, new techniques, new cameras with increasingly astonishing capabilities, everything in the life of a photographer demands constant attention to new developments in the same way other professionals, such as doctors and lawyers, have to go about their business.

Research and Development

What separates photographers from many other professions is that part of our business which constantly asks us not only to keep up with changing times, but also with changing styles and marketplaces. Each of these important segments of the photographer’s business keeps you busy, but what happens when a certain style drops out of fashion? And what happens to the photographer whose marketplace becomes altered beyond recognition? Think of it: Kodak was the world leader in photography. Once the marketplace changed to digital, they suffered huge losses in market share simply because they could not or would not adapt to changing times. 

Each of us must be prepared to look ahead to a constantly changing future. Part of that vision requires the photographer to be educating herself to exploration: that means research and development. Some part of the photographer’s life must be set aside for the work of exploring other facets of business, creative or business. If you are a portrait photographer, do you make time to discover if there are opportunities in your marketplace for food photography, or fashion, or even editorial work? Building a portfolio of other work outside your specialty can keep your business recession-proof. 

Are you lacking in accounting skills? Going to your local college for some basic accounting courses may be a big boost to keeping your expenses low and your profits high. Even learning how to create a business plan might be useful for your future. How about considering a course in financial planning? It may seem odd, but your business will not succeed or fail as the result of your artistic talent. You will need to be good at running your business more than anything else. People skills improvement may compel you to take a course in public speaking.

adults in school

Knowing Your Marketplace

Nothing will ensure success as much as knowing your marketplace. This is an element that should never be ignored, for your marketplace is a constantly moving animal that must be fed carefully. Read everything about your business you can get your hands on, and not photography magazines. Read the local chamber of commerce websites, find out what the local political groups are up to, like city councils and local community boards. Local community newspapers are great sources of information for where your marketplace is headed. Keep abreast of real estate sales and builds. Nothing will tell you where your economy is going better than the indices of home building and home sales. Branch out on your networking. Keep your finger on the pulse of your business. If you photograph children and families, keep in touch with the local PTA and education groups in your town. Has a new business moved into town that you could tap as a source of potential income? The more you know, the more power you will have to respond to changes in your marketplace. Keep your contact list active. Even when you aren’t getting work from a particular source, keep them informed of what’s happening in their field. If you come across an article in a journal about one of your neighbors’ business sector, send it to him with no strings attached. Keep the flow of goodwill going out to your marketplace. Keep your finger on the pulse of your market.

It may be a lot of extra work, but the process of constantly educating yourself is going to be your best ally whether it’s going back to school, developing a secondary or tertiary portfolio, or home schooling yourself in the intricacies of your local community. Don’t be the photographer who sticks to one subject, thereby sticking your head in the proverbial sand. Keep apprised of what is going on around you and don’t wait until business slows down to do any of this. By then it’ll be too late. Keep your pump primed, your funnel full; by doing so, by continuously educating yourself, you’ll keep your business thriving and your bank account healthy. 


James Schuck

James Schuck is a writer and photographer working in Southern California. He is a graduate of the School of Visual Arts in New York City and has photographed everything from Architecture to Auto Parts to Cookies to Portraits and Weddings.

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