In an ever-changing industry, photographer forums, Facebook groups, podcasts, and professional organizations like PPA, and WPPI bring professional photographers together for encouragement, support, and education. These arenas are great for learning and building relationships. However, there are some things to be wary of. It’s essential to pay attention to the information that you are taking in, in order to reap the benefits of a group. So, what can professional photographers learn from each other?
The Group Experience
“Learn continually. There’s always ‘one more thing’ to learn!” — Steve Jobs
When joining a professional photographers group, be open and be grateful. Help others when you can and be open to new ideas. Share thoughtful recommendations about your favorite resource for professional wedding albums, editing software, packaging, and even locations where you like to photograph clients. Being part of a group can also be a great resource for troubleshooting technical problems or finding assistants or second photographers for weddings and events.
Engaging with others in the industry can be like having an extended group of coworkers. When chatting about shared experiences, listen for things that others do differently, and consider if those ideas may be impactful to you. For instance, if you share the same editing and wedding album design style with another photographer, but they outsource and you are chained to your desk 24/7. Maybe it’s worth exploring ways to farm out some of the menial tasks in your business.
Manage Your Expectations
When attending photography workshops, or virtual classes there can be a lot of information to sort through. It can be overwhelming, confusing, and sometimes even defeating. Remember you don’t have to try, or buy, everything new that comes your way.
When taking part in educational platforms, commit to trying/applying one new thing in your business. For instance, add a new series of poses to your bridal party photos, or research where to get the best professional wedding albums. As you successfully implement a new practice, go back to your notes to try another fresh idea.
Make sure any additions make sense for your brand and your wallet. If you attend a lighting workshop that focuses on super stylized sports portraits, you don’t necessarily need to add that service to your brand, or that specific gear to your bag. Shopping at trade shows can be tempting. Without going off-brand or into debt, apply what you have learned to the equipment you already have with some modifications.
Just because you see someone offering something it doesn’t mean you have to match their offer. If you think 8×8 wedding albums are cute, but it pains you to see your images so small, stick with your 12×12 premium wedding albums, and save the 8x8s for parent albums.
Beware the Rabbit Hole
Social media and collaborative groups are places to make connections and foster support for the industry. They shouldn’t cause you to question your career choice, or get anxiety every time you get an inquiry. Listen, or read, carefully.
While there are a lot of benefits to engaging in the community, there are a few things to avoid. Be leery of conversations that are heavy with words like ALWAYS, NEVER, and EVERY. Some people can’t see the forest for the trees, and these “absolute” statements are really just dead ends to a conversation.
Negative know-it-alls can really bring a community down. Conversations and posts about lack, scarcity, problematic clients, and derogatory comments about labs or wedding album makers aren’t helpful and they will take everyone down.
Consider your words when responding to things. When deciding to comment on a post or article remember that the written word is not always read with the tone intended. Saying something sarcastic or snarky may come off as rude or insulting. Not everyone has the same sense of humor and unhelpful commenting is best left inside your own head.
What Can be Learned
With all the information flying around out there, it may help to sharpen your focus by setting some goals. What do you want to get out of your learning experience? Here are some ideas.
Finding Your Ideal Client
Listen to other photographers discussing their preferred styles and genres. If you are just starting out, or if you are looking to get more specific about the type of customer you want to work with, listen to the success and learning curves that others encounter.
You may find potential collaborators or mentors whom you might want to work with more closely. Chatting with others about where they find their customers for a specific type of photography might help you update your preferred client avatar.
You may uncover your true passion. Say you like fashion photography but you photograph newborns. Maybe migrate over to high school seniors or weddings to adapt that magazine style of image-making?
Learn About Industry Trends
Discussions about the latest trends in the photography industry are constant. Whether it’s technology or editing trends, staying up-to-date with the current demands and popular styles can help you adapt your own approach and make your work on trend.
However, you can pump the breaks on taking it all home with you. Apply what you like to your brand or business model. There’s no need to shove square pegs into round holes.
If certain color grading or blurry motion trends aren’t your style, skip it. If you are feeling creative you can pepper in some more “artsy” images throughout your work while keeping true to your signature style.
Pay attention to the challenges other photographers are facing in their businesses. Failure is an opportunity for growth, and if you can learn from someone else’s mistakes, that is a bonus.
Issues that could upend a project could arise from a clunky workflow, poor communication, unrealistic client expectations, or equipment failures. Identifying potential issues can help you avoid similar pitfalls.
Although it’s important for individuals to learn from their own mistakes, it’s interesting to consider solutions to issues that haven’t necessarily happened to you…yet.
Marketing and Branding Strategies
As much as may seem, social media is not the end of all of marketing. Email campaigns, brand collaborations, and professional networking are all great places to find leads.
Connecting with other vendors in the industry is a great way to get word-of-mouth referrals. Think about how you might up your networking game in this area.
Many photographers offer classes, templates, and subscriptions to utilize their successful marketing tools. Consider these offerings in a realistic light. Nothing is “plug and play” when it comes to marketing, and not all plans fit all brands.
Professional photographers can learn a lot from each other. Effective industry networking is not just talking about your own work; it’s equally important to listen to others. Identifying ways you can support and collaborate can be educational and inspiring. Building strong relationships within the photography community can lead to long-term benefits for everyone involved.
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