Thoughts on Continued Success in the Photography Business

We used to say I could walk all night, and we could and we did
Down that gravel road, to that tiny town, and the door always opened
Now we say I could walk all night. It’s not true
We can’t walk all night, no, because we don’t want to
We want a bed and a blanket, some light breakfast, sometime tomorrow
We want a bed and a blanket, some light breakfast, sometime tomorrow
And I sing it now, hey hey, hey hey, who woulda thunk it
Hey hey, hey hey, who woulda thunk it

Greg Brown from his Song “Who Woulda Thunk It”

This morning, as I reflected some recent forum discussions about the challenges facing wedding and portrait photographers, one idea kept coming to mind. That’s this notion that because established photographers are in trouble, the entire profession is therefore doomed. Maybe it’s not that the profession is doomed that’s the problem. Maybe it’s just a simple matter of new photographers being in a better position to respond to the realities of a changing market?

I recently saw a sales video of a presenter telling the story of a young man eager to succeed in the world so he sought out the guidance of a successful guru. The guru took the man to the beach and had him walk out into the water. When the man got to the point that he could barely hold his head above the waves, the guru suddenly grabbed the man and forced his head under water and held it there.

Surprised and not ready for this dunking, the man fought to get back to the surface. The guru however wouldn’t let him. The man struggled with all of his strength and will until finally he was able to break free and gulp air from above. Afterward, the guru told him that he must work with every bit of his strength, just as he did when he was struggling for air underwater, if he was to succeed in business.

When I was getting started in the photography business, I would actually “walk all night” as Greg Brown would say. I’d not only bust my ass for every buck, I’d make huge sacrifices along the way. I remember traveling to San Diego to a trade show. I had enough money to pay for either gas or food, but not both. So I didn’t eat for a day and a half. So what? That was just part of what was necessary to force my head above the water.

Am I willing to make the same sacrifices now? No. I’ve gotten used to a certain level of comfort and work. I want that “bed and a blanket, some light breakfast, sometime tomorrow.” Nor am I alone. It’s hard for people who have become successful based upon doing things a certain way to give that up. The problem is that the established pro is competing against new photographers who are fighting with all their might to succeed in the profession (even if in so doing, the profession itself becomes that much harder to succeed in).


Established pros do have many things going for them however. We have a list of established clients, advanced photographic skills, greater business knowledge and, if we’ve been playing their cards right, money in the bank. Doing the same thing as we’ve always been done absolutely will not work. Instead, we need to use our strengths and our resources to figure out new ways of meeting the needs of our existing markets and/or adapt our skills to succeed in other markets.

Established pros also need to bring to the fight what the French call “la rage de vivre.” That singularity of purpose and will that we all have but only kicks in when we realize that we are fighting for our lives.


About johnmireles

Photographer, writer, thinker, climber, outrigger canoeist, bad guitar player and even worse singer.
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