Friday, April 22, 2011


This past weekend in Las Vegas I fielded many questions about the business aspects behind photography. So much so that I didn't have nearly enough time to discuss all the elements of fashion editorial shoots. With that said however, I'd rather address the issues of the masses rather than force-feed topics that may not get as much interest. So I happily obliged in talking shop.

The nature of the business-related questions that I answered in Las Vegas stemmed from an overall curiosity of doing photography for a living. I found several photographers asking, "Are you making enough to survive comfortably?" and "Is photography a potentially viable business?" and "Is this a sustainable means of earning a living?"

My answer (in the workshop) was firstly, yes. But that you'd have to be able to endure the ugliness of entrepreneurship to survive and those tests determines one's success. Upon more thought, I've boiled it down to simpler terms:

How resilient are you?

Some people choose the word "perseverance" but I prefer "resilience". Perseverance sounds more optimistic and using that word alone could lead one to believe that can actually determine the outcome of your endeavor. While on the good days that's partially true, I choose the word "resilience" because it's practically a measure of "constitution". Hit points even :)

There are only a few certainties about any trying endeavor, one of which is that you're going to get beat up, beat down, chewed out, chewed up, spit out, spit on... repeatedly. This is a certainty. The question is, can you get back up? Will you get back up? And how many times can you get back up?


Which begs the second question. Are you in love with the results or are you in love with the process. If you're simply in love with the results, here's another certainty:

will fail.

Workaholics don't work because they love the final outcome. They work because they have a perverted obsession with the actual work itself. That's what truly defines workaholics and that's what truly allows them to
sustain that level of output. Those who only love the results will inevitably succumb to the challenges of the process and give up. Because the results themselves are too few and far in between to keep you going. Fortunately for those that are resilient and process-oriented, those who are all about the results will inevitably fall to the wayside.

On "Inside the Actors Studio" (on Bravo) most actors reply that it's purely perseverance and/or resilience that have allowed them to achieve the level of success they have today. Getting knocked down is a rite of passage. A trial by fire even. It's also why they make it so damn hard to become a medical professional (MCATs, medical school, residency, fellowship, etc.). You're supposed to question yourself. You're supposed to be tested. And you're supposed to really really
really want it. But if you can't get past the work itself, you are doomed and destined to fail.

People talk. Too much for their own good. Usually about stuff that they wish, hope and dream will happen. And usually on FB or Twitter. Precisely why I try and stay away from those mediums as much as I can. Talk is not a good measure of resilience. If anything I'd guess there exists an inverse relationship between talk and resilience but I'm not going to do a study or look for studies on this subject. Fortunately though, real business is still done by real action on a real person-to-person level. Partnerships are forged through fire. Relationships are built on experience and trust. FB and Twitter can introduce you to people you've never met, but they can't do the actual work for you. That's on you. Hopefully when the shit hits the fan, you find out you can float like a butterfly and still sting like a bee. Otherwise, be prepared to smell like shit. And if you do end up smelling like shit, hopefully you wash it off and get back in front of that fan until you can sing and dance while dodging flying shit. After all, "[we are] the all singing all dancing crap of the world" :)

Resilience and perseverance are "equalizers". If everyone who was talented became successful, life wouldn't be unpredictable. Those born with talents gifted by God(s) would end up ruling the world. Thankfully, it pays more to be resilient than it does to be talented... which is great for those who aren't that talented but are extremely resilient. As an example, talent-wise I don't think I'm the best photographer in the world. But I'm
still here. I loved the work when I wasn't getting paid. Imagine how much more I love it now that I am getting paid. You can't make me go away :)

In closing, if you're pondering this profession as a living, I strongly advise a gut check. Not just a family-physician gut check. I'm talking x-rays, MRIs, probes, nuclear scans and all. Hopefully your tests come back positive for the little-known substance called "resilience"... and in great quantities. Being an entrepreneur is not for everyone. The irony is that your success as a photographer (or any field for that matter) has very little to do with the photography itself. The shooting and editing are the easy parts. It's what you
don't know (about the work) that will kill you... or at the very least, try to kill you. Resilience is the antidote :)


  1. Howdy Charles,

    I'd have to agree with you about what you wrote; however, I would have to add an addendum in suggesting that this is true in whatever business you set up to one degree or another. If you set up your own business, you will inevitably rub shoulders or bump chests with some pretty unsavory people. This is true if you run a grocery store, a tax office, restaurant or a photo studio.

    With that said, I imagine that, in running a photography business, you'd be more susceptible to opportunities where you'd get crapped on than those other businesses I just listed above. I come from a long line of entrepreneurs, and I'd say that photography is a difficult business because you're selling a service, which necessarily means that you are also selling intangibles. It's not like you're selling car parts, or Gummy Bears, or anything concrete where a client can hold, touch and test a product.

    You're selling images, literally and figuratively. One the one hand, you are literally producing images in the form of photographs and digital images. On the other hand, your are also selling romanticized images of yourself, the photographic profession, and of what your client thinks of him/herself (in other words, promotional marketing and salesmanship.).

    What makes a photographic business even more difficult is the fact that the photographer is not the only person in the picture. You have the makeup artist, stylist, et al. All of whom have an economic stake in the success of the shoot.

    So, in addition to the resilience you spoke of in your post, what is also mandatory for a successful business is clear discernment of who you would work well with in a limited partnership and the seriousness of your client.

    Okay, that's my two cent palaver for the day. :)

    Have a good one, Charles!

  2. Wow Charles,
    This is why I follow this blog religiously because you open up and show a side of yourself that I can relate to. I do not know you but I do know from your posts that we share some of the same struggles and frustrations and hearing you speak on them gives me hope that the smell of shit that is on me can be washed off.

    Thank you for sharing another kick ass blog entry.


  3. Charles:

    What you wrote is about LIFE. Man, I wish I had learned that at your young age :) Would have helped me greatly.


  4. I agree with Nappsack,
    As a starting out photographer, reading about the business aspect of this profession, and what it takes in real terms rather than sugar-coated, disney "believe in your dreams" type language... well, it's rare and it's a real treat.

    Thanks Charles x

  5. [Quote] real business is still done by real action on a real person-to-person level [/Quote]

    How true !!! I see so many talented photographers give up their pursuit of a full time career/business because they don't focus enough on the above.

    Another great, "keeping it real" post. Thanks :)