• Changing Channels Blank Screen TV Night Dog by Jay Goodrich

    Jay Goodrich takes a self portrait while scrolling through the channels after a long day at work with the surrounding house in a mess.

9 Things to Think About Before You Become a Professional Photographer

I want to throw the romance of photography and being a photographer in the garbage can for a few minutes. This post is to give you some idea of what you may be stepping into should you decide that you absolutely need to become a professional photographer. I am not speaking of getting published once in a while, winning a photo contest here and there, or traveling the world taking the pictures you want to take. That is not the job of a professional. That is the romance that we all believe a photographic lifestyle is or should be. This is very IMPORTANT…becoming a professional has very little to do with taking photographs. The actual picture taking part, becomes the luxury item when you become a professional photographer. So with this thought in mind, here are 9 things to think about before you follow your romantic, stomach-butterfly, feeling that makes you all warm and fuzzy inside.

1. Be prepared to never sleep. Never slack. Never take a nap (almost never). Never not know your surroundings, competition, competition’s successes and failures, and the quality of your own work. All from a photographic perspective. Especially from a photographic perspective. Make sure your work is the best it can be, then go out and make it better. Study who is successful and try to not only create what they are creating, but go beyond them. Live creativity, breathe creativity, even drink it on Friday afternoons at the bar. When in doubt, stop your whining, get off the fucking couch and accomplish something, anything. Even if it’s throwing a rock through the neighbors window who you hate (although don’t photograph it), then do it again, again, and again.

2. DO NOT quit your day job. For any reason what so ever until you are completely and utterly sure that your current lifestyle will NOT be in jeopardy. This isn’t to say that you couldn’t bank thousands upon thousands of dollars and then quit, that’s fine. I want you to really know where you stand and be VERY honest about this to yourself. If you have a budget, make it the most accurate budget on the planet right down to the necessary Euros it will take to use that emergency pay bathroom in Chamonix.

Now only, and I mean ONLY, if you have sold everything you own, bought a ‘70s Ford Econoline Van with 250,000 miles on it, dumped your favorite girl, kept your favorite dog, and can fit everything that remains, including your camera gear, into said van and have decided that living in a van down by a river somewhere is the cat’s meow, do you deviate from sentence one or two. Sentence three is an exception as well.

I know you are going to ask, “How will I know?” Trust me, you will know. You won’t have to worry about where your next bag of dog food is going to come from and you will know how much money you will need 3-6 months in the future and you will know how to leverage what you have to get what you need.

3. Have two plans, not in your head, in writing, one for your business and one for your marketing of said business. Now there are tons of templates online that can set you up to create these things, but honestly, I didn’t know shit about either, so I sat down and wrote them out just like I would a feature article or award winning novel. One paragraph at a time by one paragraph at a time. Are they perfect? Nope. I change them daily, weekly, and monthly at times. I add numbers, paragraphs, lists, and remove almost as much. These two plans in the business world are called a Business Plan and Marketing Plan. No they won’t create world piece, but they will give you something to work upon and with when you are sitting there spending too much time on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Vimeo, YouTube, do I really need to continue?

4. Know how much a carton of milk costs. Seriously? Yes. Go to the grocery store and price out everything you eat. Then you know what it costs to fuel you. Now do it for your ‘70s van, recreational activities, camera equipment, computer equipment, office supplies, printing services, do you see where this going, etc. Now all of a sudden you know what it costs to live. This is before your START your photography business. This information gets written into your business plan. You will now know how much you need in your savings account before your quit your day job. Plan on covering this for a year (most say 3 months is adequate, a year is better) without a single dime coming into your photography business. This is even if you have been nominated for the Pulitzer. Why? Cause beauty gets old baby, and next year someone else is going to be nominated and they are in fact going to be better than you. It is impossible to always be the lead dog, at some point you will trip and break your leg. To some extent.

5. Now, don’t think for a minute that Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Vimeo, YouTube, etc. will make you an overnight success. They may, but you still need to run your business with that old adage, “You have to spend money to make money.” If you don’t have anything to spend, free will get you little to no where. Why? Because everyone wants free! That is why we have gone through points 1-4 above. If you take the Pulitzer, you may be able to leverage this free thing, but again how many of you out there are being nominated? I am not saying to ditch social media. You in fact need it more than ever now. However, target specific social media providers that you feel will offer the best benefit for your business and then use them wholeheartedly. Remember point 1 above. This train of thought is going to get you thinking about that marketing plan.

All of the marketing that has been successful for me to this point has been the campaigns in which I have worked as creatively to generate as I have my actual photography. If you want return from social media you will need to pay for social media. It can be quite effective if you choose wisely. This leads me to a little term dubbed Return On Investment or ROI. What the? I am going to make it as simple as possible.

You have $50 to spend on your business, you need or want $1000 in return for spending that $50. Do you put that $50 all into one advertising location or do you spread it out to different avenues? Or is actually putting it in one place going to make you the most? These are the types of things to consider while WRITING down your PLAN to tell the world or MARKET about your company. The best ROI for this situation would be to spend $0 of the $50 to make the $1000, (why people believe social media is the bomb) but you truly need to know where your photo business model and type fits in to what market. This is a very trial and error thing, so screwing up can be disastrous if you only have that fifty and make poor choices. Again, be honest with yourself. Think, research, rehash and then do it again. And remember we aren’t just marketing in social media. This a base in which to start from. Remember to always ask, what are you doing, who needs what you are doing, how are you going to interact with who needs you, and then how are you going to keep who needs you from using your best friend. The one who just started dating the girl you dumped in point number 2 without even asking you.

6. Buy a calculator. Learn how to add and subtract everything you do. Balance your account every week. Religiously. Although, please don’t drink KoolAid. If you planned correctly, and aren’t making ridiculous decisions, this should go smoothly. I do it on Monday, so I know where I need to be next week, and so on. I know what’s coming because I planned and know where I am going, again because I planned.

7. Remember this is business. You need to think creatively for it to succeed. Never underestimate anything. You need to consider everything, but don’t just take a job because you need a job. There are amazing clients out there who need YOU. Don’t think for a minute you should settle for a mediocre one to add some cash into that deflating account. That is a recipe for disaster for YOU. If you think that shooting weddings is a great way to fuel your business, but you hate doing it, you will undercut not only the fee you charge, but quality you produce. This in turn dumbs down that aspect of a photography business model and hurts those who are serious about it. If you are going to shoot weddings for money, shoot weddings for money. Be a PROFESSIONAL about it. Re-read number 1 above and continue on. (I only use weddings here because over my career I have seen so many start-ups head this direction. In no way, do I under value any wedding photographer who does what he or she does creatively and following ideal number 1 above. They produce work as dramatic as any other image maker striving to succeed.)

8. Follow those plans you create. And make adjustments, make notes as to what you have done and what you think you might try. There is no stamped out model for success, you succeed when you go out on a limb and dare to defy. Safely. Don’t be frivolous and don’t be exorbitant. Think about what you are doing and again be honest with the way you are going about it. Will a brand new Canon 1DX make you a better photographer? It may, but can you justify the $7000 price tag? And will it generate $7000 from owning it? Remember ROI. This thought process can be added to any item or concept in your business and if you begin thinking about them just a little, I promise you will become more successful than you have ever imagined.

9. Finally, don’t be afraid to learn. Embrace going beyond your limits. There are more bits of info out there than ever before to help you succeed. Utilize as much of it as possible. Copy and paste parts of it into your plans – you’re not selling your plan to others. If a thought works for you steal it for yourself. Just make sure you credit it if you go public with it. Remember the copyright! Knowledge is power and if you aren’t growing as a business owner you aren’t growing as an artist either.

This list is just my kick starter. A primer. You need thousands of pieces for a puzzle that is continually growing. Have I followed the above points and many more to the letter? No. I have realized one thing in my successes though, one thing that is always consistent. The best laid plans always seem to be the ones that have worked the best.

What have you learned from photography? From running your business (photography based) or not that has helped you succeed? Give us some comments. I know there are readers out there who could benefit. Now I have to go back to work because I haven’t followed any of the above steps at all this week.

Structure – The Value of a Project

Graffiti Venice Beach, California by Jay Goodrich

Many photographers head out regularly to photograph. They keep an open mind and create images based on their surroundings. The subject matter could be all over the map, depending on the photographer and how they work and think. This way of creating is great if you have no real priorities as a photographer, and/or no real direction. The images can be technically perfect and still not very useful. I know many may be disagreeing based on the stand point that it is really hard to head out and shoot with a preconceived idea. The light, the weather, even the subject may not cooperate, leaving you returning with few, if any, images. But, what if you created a concept or a basis for your jaunts out in the field? Instead of going to Moab and photographing Delicate Arch, which has been photographed a billion times prior, you headed out with a concept of photographing lines? Or textures? Or the variety of plant life, or the different rock shapes found in the desert? What if you took it further?

What if you came up with the idea of photographing the impact that 4 wheel drive vehicles have on a desert eco-system in regards to erosion control? Now you have a story, you have direction, you have a sustainable concept, and what I call a project. Instead of shooting something that takes a day and delivers only a handful of images, you have something that will create a portfolio of images. It is a project because you will need some time to capture the whole idea. In the process you will likely come up with other projects that off shoot from the original. This story can then progress into a magazine article, book, movie, or whatever else you can dream up. Think about the above concept. It could lead you into creating everything from dramatic landscapes to intimate macros, wildlife images, portraits of people (on both sides of the fence), mountain bikers, skiers, hikers, and etc. The list can go on and on and on.

The project can quickly become a means to you becoming a successful and well known photographer. The hard cold reality of a project is that it doesn’t have to happen in Moab or any other well known place, it can be something that you strongly believe in, that is happening in your own backyard. You could head out every evening after dinner and work on it. It is a simple lesson in building a cohesive body of work. Something, that in the end you can be proud of and announce to the world. Your energy over the project will show through to those you are wanting to listen and in turn you could actually change a little piece of the world. That is truly the value of a project.

Remember though, don’t let the cat out of the bag before it is time. Not even to those you trust the most. Well maybe those people, but no one else. The project announcement needs to be a bombshell, leak it only when you are almost at the completion of it.

And, by the way, the Moab story idea is not a leak, it’s just an example that I came up with while writing this post. Steal it if you like, but I will need to write the intro to the book if you do.

  • Sunset Reflection by Jay Goodrich

    The bright orange hugh of sunset is reflected in a few pools of standing water at low tide Martha's Beach, Washington.

Structure – Practice, Practice, Practice

Do you ever shoot in your backyard? Along the road by your house? In the park that is very close to your house? I hope so. I do. OFTEN. You cannot become a skilled photographer by just packing up your gear and heading to some remote, stunningly beautiful, international location and expect to come home with award winning images. There is no way it can happen. Great photographers all have one thing in common. They shoot–a lot. Maybe not everyday, but every week, even if they are not working for someone. Why? Because practice makes perfect. It takes time to learn how to use your camera. It takes time to learn how to see things that many may overlook. It could be Kansas, New York City, or Yosemite there is something that every photographer of every discipline can photograph. It is all about finding out where your preferred subject matter is–usually in a theatre near you.

Many workshop students tell me that it is easy for me. I live where the beauty lies. Yes that is true, but I am always looking for photographs. I don’t care if I am downtown L.A., I will find something that catches my eye. This comes from the fact that I shoot as much as I can. I shoot with friends, alone, with family, even with just the dog. And I shoot a wide variety of subject matter. I have reached a point in my career where every thing has a rectangular frame around it, everything, even my naked wife. Sorry honey, it’s not porn.

Whenever I am home, I head out for walks with camera in hand to shoot pretty much everything and anything that catches my eye. I take those shots home, edit them, and then learn from them. Then my knowledge base continues to build daily and I take that with me whenever I travel or shoot for commercial clients. One thing that I learned early was that all of the ideals of photography are interchangeable. By this I mean that any composition principle, any lighting technique, any subject matter can be taken from one photography discipline to another. I often use techniques that I learned while shooting landscapes to capture architecture images and in turn have done the same while shooting adventure. This is how you broaden your focus of subjects to photograph. And a diversified photographer can follow the economy’s twists and turns to keep paying the bills. The catch is that you have to be good and have a strong understanding of why one shot works and another doesn’t. It all comes with the ability to practice locally to see success globally.

The more you shoot the more you will see this interconnectivity. So next time you get home before dark and have a minute to sit on the couch, don’t. Grab your camera and take a walk around your neighborhood. Who knows you may discover the beauty of the sunset reflecting in some puddles in a pile of rocks.

Structure – The Task Master

The Key to Task Mastering © Jay Goodrich

The past two weeks of my life have been so ridiculously hectic that I wasn’t sure if I could make it through the time span in one piece. I worked until 1am almost every night and even managed to pull an all-nighter. I haven’t done that since college. I am not complaining, busy means that I have work and work is a good thing. When stretched so thin, it is extremely important to have an idea on how to accomplish the tasks at hand. I have yet to find a single successful person out there, photographer or not, who has not been a huge list maker. The list is the pipeline to becoming a Task Master.

Creating a list is a lot like a workflow solution in today’s world of digital photography. It is a very personal element. My list tends to be about three pages, although recently, it is hovering in the neighborhood of five. I organize my list by priority. If it needs to be done now, it is on the top of the list. From there I break the list down to things I still need to do, but I also include things that I want to do. I leave very little to chance. Marketing ideas, equipment and supplies needed, blog posts, article ideas, images to create, software to learn, even image folders that might still need keywording and titling, get added to the list. I also add some of the most absurd ideas, anything that comes to me in the shower or just before I fall asleep. These ideas may never end up going anywhere, but they are still in my list.

My list is type written as an Apple Pages document. I typically reprint and adjust the list once a month–that is usually the time it takes me to scribble, add notes, and sketches to the point in which you can barely see the white background of the paper it is printed on. I have an alias to the original document sitting on my desktop just below my hard drive icons for easy access, and the file is also uploaded to my iDisk so that I can access it anywhere with my laptop and a Wi-Fi connection.

The concept is simple–finish something, cross it off. Then add, edit, adjust, reprint, and start all over again.

Sometimes I will add a bright colored hand-written sticky to the list. This is the extreme emergency list. If the items on the sticky list are not taken care of immediately, I will spontaneously combust. Well not really, but it will probably cost me more money. I can tell you from experience that crossing items off the list is one of the most satisfying things I do. It is the time that I feel like I am actually accomplishing something. My list is the only reason I can function when times get so frenzied that I need to work late nights to accomplish everything that is jumping out at me. The list–a workflow that is necessary for any photographer today and a key building block to my structure. Now that I have finished this post, I can cross it off of the list and move on to my next thing.

  • Big Leaf Maple Portrait by Jay Goodrich

    Jade Goodrich hides behind a giant big leaf maple during peak fall colors in Washington.

Structure – You Can’t Build Without It

I have been thinking about my photography lately. My style, my vision, my technique. How I create. What I create. What I want to create next. Photography is truly a never ending learning experience. If you want to be successful and I mean really successful, not like me–I am still too young, you need to have staying power. And to achieve that staying power you need to really know photography inside and out. This post is the beginning of a new category on this blog entitled “Structure”. Why is it called Structure? Because I am going to write about those little building blocks that I have discovered along the way to help hold the house of photography up for me. Hopefully, in the long run, helping you to do the same.

Structure is posts, beams, walls, concrete, steel, wood. Today’s structure is the portrait. I am not talking about being the next Richard Avedon. I am talking about creating a portrait of anyone that has something more to it than a simple snapshot. This is something that every photographer regardless of descipline should be able to do. Someone in the park hands you their point and shoot and asks if you can take a picture of them? Can you? It is important. If you say I shoot birds not people, I am not looking to do that, you have failed. Why? Because you are not thinking outside of your box, and if you are not thinking outside of your box, you are not growing, and growth is important to creativity. I know some of you are thinking that I am completely off of my rocker right now but think about it. No matter what you photograph, does it not contain a strong subject? Does it not contain powerful light? Does it not contain a meticulously organinzed subject? Now if you took these three ingredients and applied them to any photograph, regardless of subject, would you not be able to create a strong image? I believe that you would.

The portrait is really hard. It is not a gimme. You have your subject given to you, now you have take that subject and give it to your viewer in a way that they say, “Hold on here, I need to figure this out.” It needs to highlight your subject’s soul. Make your viewer connect with the person in your portrait. “Win the crowd and you win your freedom.” or something like that.

Now back to that park scenario. Inevitably it is going to come at you in the middle of the day, high noon. Time for a gunslinger fight not a photo, right? The people asking you are not photographers, you however are. What can you do? Take those people into the shade for heaven’s sake. What no shade? How about some fill flash? Maybe a little wide angle to capture the surroundings. Wide angle lenses also expand your exposure latitude. Come on you are not saying that the point and shoot has no wide angle? Step back a little. Are there buildings near by with a shady side? And don’t just blast a mugshot. Give them something that they can react to and ask how did you do that? Talk to them for a few minutes. Get their details. Ask them questions. This is a gunfight that is won by being the last to shoot.

And then if they like the image, give them your card. You just promoted the fact that you are a photographer and you are decent, if nothing else. Who knows, maybe one of them will come to you for some instruction some day.