LET’S ELABORATE ON THIS IN MORE DETAIL
|ACTIVITY||IMPACT OF ACTIVITY ON: EXPOSURE||IMPACT OF ACTIVITY ON: AUTHENTICITY (IN CORE ACTIVITY AND SIDE-ACTIVITIES)||IMPACT OF ACTIVITY ON: AUTHORITY||IMPACT OF ACTIVITY ON: FINANCIAL BENEFITS||REMARKS|
|Free (own) work pre 2008 – ongoing||++||+++||+++||+||Work I shoot for myself as an artist, not commissioned – free work|
|Blog posts/tutorials – 2009 ongoing||++||+++||+++||+/-||Blogs/articles/tutorials as published on my website since 2009|
|Publications 2009 – ongoing||+++||++||+++||+||Publications and interviews in leading (printed) photography magazines in the USA and Europe, also many online publications since 2009|
|2010 Automotive campaign||+++||+||++||++||A global campaign for a major German brand.|
|Awards 2010- 2014||++ (depending on the reputation of the competition)||+||+++||+ / –||Won 5 years in a row either 1st place or 2nd place in the most important photography competitions (International Photography Awards (IPA) and Sony World photography Awards)|
|NIK Software – Silver Efex Pro2 ambassador and affiliate 2010-2013||+++||+||+++||++||Featured prominently in online ads and magazines|
|Workshops 2011-ongoing||+||++||+++||+++||I’m referring to real-life workshops and to online workshops and mentorships|
|Commissioned work – 2011 – ongoing||++||+||++||+++||Largely for German companies in the automotive industry – after 2012 only incidental and smaller commissioned assignments|
|Affiliate or ambassadorships for Topaz Labs, B&H photography, Lumejet L Type prints – 2012 – ongoing||+++||+||+++||++||Being an affiliate with known brands in the photography world, is definitely a plus in terms of exposure and, depending on your own active engagement, can result in moderate sometimes higher financial benefits.|
|Videos, book, panel sales – 2013 – ongoing||++||++||+++||+++||Videos and book are all tutorials and purely educational|
|Exhibition / gallery representation 2013 – ongoing||++||+||+++||++||Various exhibitions and gallery representations in Europe and the USA|
|Formatt-Hitech Signature edition artist 2013 – ongoing||+++||+||+||+++||A line of ND-filters with my name was introduced in 2013|
|Phase One – 2017 – ongoing||+++||+||+++||+||Even though Phase One doesn’t formally have ambassadors, I became one of the ‘faces’ and collaborating artists for Phase One’s achromatic camera.|
What can be concluded from the table is the following:
1. Real photography assignments, that result in the type of work that is typical for a ‘professional photographer’ are very scarce, but very lucrative. But a few commissioned assignments in 8 years is not enough to make a steady living. Not by far. Of course I could opt to go shoot weddings, but I didn’t quit my job to do things I prefer not to do. Besides, I have nothing with wedding photography.
2. The type of activities that have made me the most and consistent money over time are the sales of videos, books, panels, conducting workshops and being a Formatt-Hitech signature edition artist. But those are not activities that are inherent to being a professional photographer and not exclusively related to being a professional photographer: painters, carpenters, financial consultants, writers, IT professionals, etc. can also make money out of the sales of videos, books, workshops and being a signature edition ‘expert’, in their own expertise, in this digital age.
3. Selling prints is an activity that most fine-art photographers rely on, but unless you are a big, almost household name such as Michael Kenna or Ansel Adams, it is almost impossible to make a living out of that only. It helps but it is an illusion to think it would be enough to live from. If you do succeed in that, then you’re among the lucky few, but don’t bet on it.
4. As was already apparent; educational activities are the most important and most consistent source of income. But educational activities are more lucrative and more prone to a successful result, the more your brand, authenticity and authority are recognised. So you have to keep doing those activities that are not directly a source of income but increase and give exposure to your authentic character, your authority and hence, your brand. As you can see from the table, publications, ambassadorships and collaborations with major brands will give you the most exposure. But before a brand is willing to collaborate with you or a magazine is willing to publish your work, you need to have a solid authority and artistic authenticity. And the only way to build on those is to create authentic free work for yourself and write, blog, vlog or talk about it in a critical but constructive way. Just avoid rehashing information. Only the big websites can get away with rehashing information, in any other case it is just wasted time and people will simply forget you if you can’t offer something different than the big websites already do.
SO, AM I REALLY A PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHER?
Hence the question: am I really a professional photographer if I don’t make a living out of direct photography related activities that involve shooting photos for money? I’m very much inclined to say that the traditional professional photographer have become extinct. Of course, they’re still there, the people who shoot photos and make money just by clicking on the shutter. But they’re a minority. The answer to the question is not very interesting, it doesn’t really matter, what is more important is to be aware that you shouldn’t limit yourself to archaic principles. Adapt.
So find a skill set, make it your own, love it and be passionate about it, and then just be authentic in what you create (avoid rehashing!) and be the authority in it. The Internet and social media are unlike anything we’ve known before to give exposure in an unrestricted way to your authenticity and authority. Everything will follow then
These days, someone who calls himself a professional photographer, painter, or writer can also be someone like me: someone making money out of activities that don’t involve clicking the shutter for money, typing a sentence or stroking the paintbrush, but out of indirect activities. What we all have in common is that we make money out of the reputation, the authority and again, consistent authenticity we have accumulated over the years. Those things don’t come out of nothing but are rooted in the type of work you create and their impact on the audience. They’re impactful as they do these things because they’re passionate about it and they’re very good at it. And what the successful ones have in common is that the authenticity is structural and deeply rooted. Or in other words: they’ve consistently created work that is regarded authentic. There’s no replacement for that. There’s no better asset than to be brave enough to be yourself.
This is a different situation than, give or take, 20 years ago. The professional photographer then could only be a professional by entirely making a living out of direct photographic activities. With the Internet and social media an entirely new way of making a living revolving around a core activity, has emerged, without needing to make money out of that core activity but out of related activities. The thing you need to work on is to be an authority in something you’re good at and to always stay authentic. Always. And I believe it doesn’t matter what it is you’re good at. As long as you’re good at it and passionate and critical about it.
So if you’ve built yourself a brand around a specific skill set you have, and if you do it right, then you have enabled yourself to do more than your core activity to make a living. A brand can be summarised as the sum of authenticity, authority, quality of your product and the way you convey and communicate those attributes to a larger audience through exposure. So find a skill set, make it your own, love it and be passionate about it, and then just be authentic in what you create (avoid rehashing!) and be the authority in it. The Internet and social media are unlike anything we’ve known before to give exposure in an unrestricted way to your authenticity and authority. Everything will follow then.
ONE MORE THING
Making a living as a professional photographer in the digital age requires a different mindset and approach. If you try to adopt the usual activities of a professional photographer from the pre-Internet era, in the current day and age, chances are you’re not going to be able to make a proper living, or no living at all. You’re limiting yourself too much, unnecessarily. Times have changed and if I’m honest then I don’t think these are bad times to live in as a self-employed and independent ‘professional photographer’, as long as you’re willing to adapt yourself to rapidly changing situations. And these are volatile times.