After yesterday's twittersphere blowup I decided today would be a good day to reflect on and share why I started PhotoMint. I never really intended to share this with you, because I prefer to be a positive person and not get caught up in negativity. But I feel compelled to share.
I've been a wedding photographer for 10 years. I don’t know everything about wedding photography and I probably never will-but I do know a lot of things that can be helpful to people just starting out. My passion is business and marketing. I have always loved that side of the business, more than the photography.
I found that this passion and excitement for business and marketing within the world of photography was quite uncommon. Most photographers are artists first and foremost, and they spend years struggling with the business side of things. Slowly, over time, I realized I could help people with that side of their business. In fact, it hurts not to. It hurts me to see young, passionate people blindly pursuing a hobby as a business with no business skills whatsoever.
I was actually resistant to the idea of teaching and educating about photography business for a long time.
I have concerns about the viability of our industry and the direction it is going in. I also happen to be in the minority opinion that passion alone does not pay the bills.
But I was also more and more concerned about the type of advice and leadership I saw out there from so called “educators” who were on stage talking about “how awesome it is to make $10,000 per wedding and you could do it too if you just believe in yourself!!!!”
I saw more and more incidents of hyped up workshops taught by photographers in business a year or so, ready to share all their “Insider tips for making it big” with the world for $1,500 a pop. What were they going to teach???? Did they really feel qualified to lead others at this point in their career? I'm not sure what their motivation was, but it seems that the photography industry itself has taken a nasty turn towards Kardashian-like celebrity, and that in some ways our industry supports the idea that being a famous photographer is the goal itself.
When you first start out in wedding photography, you may have a lot of mis-conceptions about the earning power of a wedding photographer. With so many people on stage at WPPI in their Louboutins and Versace jeans sharing with hundreds or thousands about their success in just a few years (or one year!) and having a party/workshop in their penthouse suite it is easy to get false impressions. And when those people on stage are telling you that “You are Amazing!!!” it is easy to believe that all you have to do is slap together a website, start charging $10,000 per wedding and you will soon be on your way to wealth and riches, following your passion and living a glamorous lifestyle.
I have seen it so many times. In fact, I fell for it myself. I remember being in a workshop at WPPI being taught by the rockstar photographer of the moment that everyone said was so inspiring. He shared about his amazing success and how he was able to keep raising his prices to $10,000 per wedding and was now charging even more than that. He highlighted the glamour and made it look easy. I never thought to ask how many weddings he actually, regularly shoots at that rate. I was too impressed. I assumed he meant he got that for every wedding and probably shot 30-40 weddings at that rate. I should have asked.
I remember sitting there actually thinking-“OK, so $10,000 times 30 weddings- this sounds like an awesome career, I'm in!!!”
Of course, as I got older and wiser in this industry, I began to realize there was a lot of B.S. being shared. False information, inflated facts and figures. Nowadays, I recognize them all the time. When you have 10 years perspective as a high end photographer, you know what's real and what's fake.
I remember years back reading this magazine article in Rangefinder or Professional Photographer featuring a destination photographer I know. In the interview, he said his destination fees began at $20,000 per wedding. I was infuriated to see that in print when I knew it was an outright lie. Those that knew him knew he was approaching local industry pros getting married in exotic locations and offering to shoot their weddings free. Just to build his portfolio. Which is fine-if he loves to travel the world and live frugally, then more power to him. But to flat out lie and claim that every wedding he was charging $20,000 was gross negligence. It absolutely disgusted me. I wondered how many people reading that article would be inspired to quit their day jobs and “follow their dreams” right into bankruptcy. It's like lemmings going over a cliff; they don’t know what's coming, they just blindly follow.
It's really sad and deeply disturbing to see how prevalent this trend is in our industry. Even vendors such as print labs and album makers happily jump on board to sponsor a newbie photographer's workshop on their “amazing success.” Newbie photographers thought that someone was vetted because an industry leader backed them. Makes sense, right? I can imagine the heartbreak and disgust of wasting your entire years' worth of educational budget on a total crock of sh*t from someone who's only real goal is to “get famous” and get on the speaking circuit as soon as possible.
Advice such as “you can make it happen!!!!” and just “go for your dreams” without a solid understanding of what you are doing is irresponsible. But the truth is, that's what gets people clapping. That's what people want to hear. Do you see the accounting classes at PPA filled with thousands of eager young photographers? No, they'd rather get inspired by how “Amazing!!!!” they can be, and how next year, they too could be rolling up to WPPI in a limo, staying in a suite and “rocking it” on stage with their new found success. So in that respect, it's kind of a catch twenty-two.
What people don’t seem to understand is that what you earn as a photographer is not what your studio earns or grosses. If your studio earns $100,000 you are lucky if 35% of that goes into your pocket. This is the truth. It's not glamorous, and it doesn’t afford you Versace jeans, limos to the hotel and a penthouse suite. But you can put it on your credit card, along with all the other expenses of running a business.
It's not very sexy to say you earn $35,000, so instead, people twist the truth and say they earned 6 figures-in their first year, wow! It's so amazing! And here's my course/workshop/guide to how you can do it too! They hype it up. Because honestly, would you be as interested in the $900 workshop taught by the guy/gal who wants to share their secrets for earning $35,000 a year and works 60-80 hours a week to do it? Not so much.
After hearing these workshop disasters more and more, I realized that I could do something. I could make a stand for real business education. It was time to put up or shut up. So I started PhotoMint. At first I was skeptical that anyone wanted real business advice. Business advice is not very sexy and it certainly isn't glamorous. I'm personally not a fan of the “follow your passion and it will happen because YOU are amazing!!” type of cheerleading. I think that's false and misleading. “Yes, follow your passion, but let's figure out how you can feed your family while doing so” is more my motto. Would anyone care to read what I had to say if it wasn’t hyped up and full of false hope, excitement and cheerleading?
I thought long and hard about the type of advice I would be sharing on PhotoMint. By putting myself out there as a leader and an educator, I feel a tremendous responsibility to give honest and real advice about the highs and lows of being a professional photographer. This industry is not for everyone. I believe that if someone is properly educated they can make a decision for themselves if it is right for them.
To me, that means having an understanding of the financial possibilities and realities as well as the deeper purpose and fulfillment that comes from doing something you love.
I don’t believe in the “all you need is love” mentality. I believe that being a professional photographer is typically hard work and long hours for minimal pay. So yeah, you better love it. But learn how to run a solid business, learn marketing skills, learn how to sell and earn a profit. That way you can do what you love AND earn a living, even if it is a modest one.
I have been incredibly surprised by the tremendously positive response from PhotoMint-started just over six months ago. I am delighted and encouraged that people are interested to receive hype-free advice and education about how to build a solid business based on smart business and marketing.
One thing I promise you is that I will never exaggerate or inflate numbers. I believe in honesty, openness and sharing, and I'm proud of what I have accomplished without inflating the truth. I believe that people need to hear the good and the bad about working in a field so they can decide for themselves if it is right.
So what are the future plans for PhotoMint? To continue providing quality education and rock-solid advice for photographers about running a business. Much of that advice will be shared freely on the blog; some of it will be available for a fee such as ebooks and webinars that go deeper into a subject.
I started PhotoMint because I felt a responsibility and a calling to provide solid, hype-free education for photographers who want to pursue their passion AND earn a living at the same time.
The goal of PhotoMint is to educate photographers about how to run their businesses. That is the reason I started PhotoMint, and that is what I will continue to do. Here are the promises I make to you, today:
1. I promise to never lie to you.
2. I promise not to lead you astray with hyped up claims and exaggerations of success.
3. I promise to provide honest feedback and gentle guidance, even if it isn’t what you want to hear.
4. I promise to act responsibility as a leader and to take your trust seriously.
So, if your goal is to become one of these so called rockstar photographers or to get rich quick, then PhotoMint is not for you. But if your goal is to turn your passion for photography into a viable long term business, or to improve your existing business, then you're in the right place. I can't promise you success, but chances are, if you consistently work at improving your business, applying my advice when appropriate to your business, you will see consistent improvement, and in a matter of months and years (sorry, not hours or days), you will wake up one day to a business you can be proud of, that feeds your family consistently and maybe even gives you a vacation or two.
Are you with me?