Life & The Business of Photography


As we go through life and business we all stumble and fall. For every win there are probably a few challenges we have had to manage. Hopefully we learn.

Here are a few things which life and business has taught me. I hope you find these of help on your journey…


~ Be honest with your clients. Don’t be afraid of them. Tell them what you think and what they need to know and do. The right clients will respect you for it.

~ Produce quality…. because there are always clients who will pay more for quality.

~ Respect yourself. If you don’t others won’t.

~ Be kind to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up when things go wrong, because they will.

~ Don’t be too obsessed with gear and equipment. They are important,  but they won’t make you a great photographer.

~ Don’t spend too much time in front of your computer, get out and make photographs.

~ Hire people better than yourself.

~ Don’t expect big wins every day. Little wins are OK… and they will add up.

~ Clients will disappoint you. They are human, with failings. Don’t let those disappointments distract or deter you.

~ Save for rainy days. It will rain often.

~ Build a good quality mail list… send people examples of your work.

~ Best way to overcome fear? Just start doing.

~ Start a blog and tell people something about yourself. Help them understand who you are as a person.

~ Commit random acts of kindness and don’t ask for anything in return. It will make the world a better place and you will have something extra to be proud of each day.

~ Answer your phone quickly. It might be a new client.

~ Build a tough skin but still remain a caring and thoughtful person.

~ Relax. You will enjoy your work and life more and so will your clients.

~ Limit your time spent ‘reading-to-learn’ and start doing. You will learn more by doing.

~ Don’t copy others, find your own voice, path and tone.

~ Don’t work to impress others, work for your own love, passion and self pride.

~ Stop looking for inspiration before you start, you will find it when you start doing.

~ Don’t put things off until tomorrow. Tomorrow you might be dead.

~ Learn to pick up the phone. Not to sell to people but to start up conversations with new people. Photography is a people business; it helps to learn how to build relationships starting on the phone. Mail-outs and emails will only go so far. Personal relationships will build a stronger, deeper business.

~ Be proud of what you can achieve today. Tomorrow you can try again.

~ Just be yourself. You are unique. Be proud of that.

~ Keep your sense of humour when times are tough.

~ Best time to market & promote your business is when business is good. Don’t wait for the bad times.

~ Write a business plan.  Show it to a very successful business person and ask them for advice. Re-write it and show it to another very successful business person. Up-date it every two years.

~ Don’t be arrogant. Remember photography is a ‘people business’ and if people don’t like you they won’t hire you.

~ Be either highly specialised or very wide ranging in the work you do.

~ Edit your work so you only show your best…. get help from people who know how to do that. Work very hard to build up a portfolio… then work even harder to re build it to make it better.

~ Network, network, network… facebook, blogs, twitter, web sites, write, contribute, do free work for charities around your speciality. Put yourself out there.

~ Make yourself your first client and experiment and take creative risks… no one is going to see your failures, so go for it.

~ Look at other people’s work, find photographers whom you like and admire and use them to set a benchmark for your own work…. when you catch up, then find new photographers.

~ Share.

~ Be proud of your work, but allow yourself to be dissatisfied… it will push you forward.

~ Always reach for the stars…. as they say you may not reach them but at least you’ll be in the heavens.

~ Promote, promote, promote. People won’t get to know you,  unless they can get to know you.

~ Don’t seek approval or praise from others, it will lead to a frustrating life.

~ Never think your better or smarter than others. You’re not. Everyone can teach you something.

~ Open your eyes & mind to the world around you. Always look, feel, watch, What do you see?

~ Do the right thing.

~ Keep your portfolios up-to-date and ready. One day you’ll need to show them when you least expect it.

~ Don’t burn yourself out. One day you will be older and you will need your strength.

~ Choose your clients. Don’t let them choose you.

~ Be curious. Be forever searching out interesting facts, thoughts, ideas and other stuff.

~ Hide your stress on-set. It will relax everyone else.

~ Building a photography business is very hard work. The creative fun stuff will only be a small part of where you will spend most of your time. Be honest with yourself, do you really want to do it.

~ Be an interesting person. People will talk about you for the right reasons.

~ Understand that your camera does not take pictures. You do…. Never give your camera the responsibility for making pictures, that’s your job. Take the responsibility.

~ Enjoy life & what you are doing…. it will show in your work and relationships with clients & subjects.

~ You don’t need the most expensive camera, you need great ideas.

~ Seek out and discover what you are good at, it will make your journey more successful.

~ Work hard but also work smart.

~Don’t think you are special. We all are!

~ Schedule some ‘Me Time’: Take time out for yourself.

~ 80% of what you do is a complete waste of your time. Get to know what the 20% is.

~ Charge for your time. You are a business.

~ Give to charity and don’t tell anyone. You will feel good, the world will be a better place and that will have been enough.

~ Give yourself a day off when you need to. It’s ok.

~ Be tidy and well organised. It will make you look professional.

~ Expect the journey to be lonely and difficult at times…. so build a support network.

~ Never ever think you know it all. You don’t.

~ Don’t be a perfectionist, it will kill you.

~ If you think you are a great photographer others will probably think your arrogant and laugh at you behind your back.

~ Remember that moving forward is often just one step at a time and often you need to step back in order to move forward.

~ Keep well away from  the low fee end of the market… those clients won’t respect you,  your work or your time.

~ Give clients a bit more than they are paying for, the right clients will appreciate it and come back.

~ If you wait until everything is just right, It never will be.

~ Respect your clients but show them that you expect equal respect, but do so in a professional and friendly way.

~ Don’t be a creative Prima Donna or difficult to work with. It will limit your opportunities.

~ Ask yourself, “Why should people hire me”?  Make a list. Show it to some friends, other photographers and potential clients. Ask them what they think.

~ Get your camera in front of interesting subject matter, you won’t build a portfolio or reputation sitting at home. Stop watching TV.

~ Find things to smile about.

~ Manage your clients expectations. Communicate with them about what is and is not possible.

~ Don’t keep people waiting. The best people in your working life will be busy people.

~ Go to the gym, look after yourself. When your body dies, so do you.

~ Get up at 4am and see what the world looks like when most people are asleep. It’s a wonderful time to shoot.

~ In finding new locations or subjects occasionally be unplanned, the unexpected can lead to new discoveries…. go looking for them in places you have never been before.

~ Ask yourself, what do I like to shoot?, try that first.

~ Keep changing your perspective. You’ll keep seeing things differently… in more ways than one.

~ Learn to start up conversations. People will be your best customers and subjects.

~ Be a nice person and treat everyone with respect.

~ Don’t try and impress people. If they’re not impressed without trying, they’ll only think less of you when you do.

~ Leave clients with them having enjoyed the experience of working with you. They will want to come back. Build clients for life, not just for one job.

~ Just do it.  Don’t die with all your ideas still inside you.

~ Don’t SELL. People don’t like to be sold to. Just have a relaxed conversation around what they might need in a photographer and see if that fits with what you do. If there’s a genuine fit, ask them “would you be open learning more about how you might be able to help them”. If there’s not a fit don’t waste your time.

~ Take advice from people who HAVE succeeded. Don’t expect people , even those close to you, to help or encourage you. People can be strange. This is your journey, only you can drive it.

~ Be kind to your staff, no matter how Junior they are. One day they will make the difference between you winning a new client or keeping an old client.

~ People will lie to you. Not to hurt you, but to protect you.  For example, they will tell you your work is great even when it is not. Seek out and find honest people who can help you and be open to their honesty, it will help you.

~ Don’t surround yourself with ‘yes’ people. Don’t live your personal and business life in need of praise and positive feedback. If you do you may build your life and business out of weak foundations. Build real. Build strong.

~ Help others and share with people, it will make you happy.

Cheers… Steve

PS…. and remember life is short… don’t waste it

PSS… remember that people are motivated by their self interest, not yours. When you talk to people, talk about them and not about yourself. 


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Here are some other posts I have written which may be of interest to you here:

Why I shoot film:

Interview with photographer Huntington Witherill:



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One thought

  1. What an empowering list! Thank you so much.

    On Monday at Jesh de Rox’s Sydney workshop he pointed out that ‘when ravens call, ravens answer’ – in other words, if you ‘be yourself’ with integrity you will attract other people who are on the same wavelength. You are an awesome raven!

  2. The mother lode of photography wisdom! A list to be read, pondered, referenced and reread many times. Live these ideas and share them with your fellow photographers. Our industry will be better for it. Cheers Steve.

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