10 Lessons From 100 of the Worlds Best Photographers.
Two years ago, we launched an initiative at Soul id to source and feature 100 of the best action & adventure sports photographers in the world. The project was titled “The Soul id 100 Program” and for each week over the next 100 weeks, we would recruit, interview, and represent the talent of one incredible photographer. We recently completed the project, admitting our 100th photographer to the list. All of our interviews with these legends were powerful, and throughout those 100 weeks there were amazing stories, tipping points of success, and advice shared that would help any photographer or entrepreneur on the journey to success.
Like the popular saying “all good things come in time” photography works the same way. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Name recognition takes a considerable amount of time when it comes to making a brand for yourself. Every great photographer has to hustle to get to the top, sometimes pouring blood, sweat and tears into their projects for years before getting serious results. You have to have thick skin, and do a significant amount of free / discounted work to pull up the ranks. The average deal takes 8 follow ups via email… most won’t make it past 2. Be obnoxious, get your work seen, and don’t stop progressing until you reach the tipping point of success.
Network Like… Always!
Taking good photos isn’t enough. There are a number of other factors at play. Who is in the shot? Who is promoting the shot? Who is getting you into exclusive locations? Who is giving you expert advice? You can go at the photography business alone, but the stronger your network, the faster you will succeed. Shooting with an athlete that has a significant audience will increase your reach. You can find top pros at any major film release, competition, or local riding area. Sometimes the best angle is to shoot a photo of a major athlete you haven’t met and then email them with the work with a call to action to work together sometime soon. Getting a media pass and shooting at large competitions is also a sure fire way of moving quickly. Seeking out event coordinators and staff is critical for this endeavor. A number of email campaigns can get this done for you. Take time to meet new people, make great connections, and accelerate your climb to the top.
Social Media Boost
This can be time consuming, but the sooner you can build out a social audience, the faster you can see conversions. Two things to consider when posting and developing your audience:
Who is my target market for fans?
Who is my target market for business?
Don’t throw your content to the web without having a strategy. Focus on what both your audiences are looking for, and dominate that business. Make sure everything links back to your site / portfolio and be sure to post at least five days a week to show your audience you’re active. If you’re in the field, buffer is a fantastic solution for scheduling posts. A mistake many photographers make is they set up a business page on Facebook. The only way you will gain reach with a business page is by boosting every post with ad dollars. Utilize the reach of your personal brand and personal account to save money. Love your audience!
Win the Morning, Win the Day
In the world of photography professionals, 9–5 is really 5–9. Almost every single photographer we interviewed was up at 5:00 am for their shoots to catch the magic hour. Start early, get the good light, business throughout the day, and editing / portfolio updates in the evening. This was a consistent workflow for the majority of the photographers we worked with. Good coffee helps!
Endurance / Safety
“To shoot adventure sports, it helps to be well versed in a variety of situations and to be comfortable with heights, exposure, and potentially dangerous situations. You must have trust and confidence with the people that you’re working with, but understand that no photo is worth endangering you or your partner.” — Christian Pondella
To get the greatest shots in the world, sometimes you have to take the greatest risks. To shoot the most amazing elements, you have endure the blistering heat, or suffer cold that you can feel in your bones. Every Soul id 100 photographer has stories about the consequences of their job. Realize that many moments in this profession aren’t as glamorous as they’re made out to be. Prepare yourself for the long days, the freezing nights, and the suffering that comes with getting an amazing shot. Most importantly be safe and look before you leap!
Unique Value — Be Different.
The market is diluted with photos. As prices of cameras decrease, the more accessible the equipment becomes. This leads to a flood of content. To be successful, your shots need to truly be unique and capture a completely different perspective.
“There is always something new to get your teeth in.” — Matt Wragg
“I am constantly searching for a shot that lends more perspective.” — Krystle Wright
If you can take a completely different approach in the way you shoot, that produces a unique result that people haven’t seen very often and value, you can accelerate the growth of your personal brand. If your audience can associate an image style with your name, it will help with brand recognition.
Focus, Focus, Focus
There are a lot of distractions and a mass array of interesting items to shoot. It’s important to master your craft and focus on doing one style of shooting for one discipline. No one became successful by shooting ten different sports. Master your craft, and conquer a discipline. Once you’ve mastered a style that builds your brand, you can scale into other styles of shooting. Start small to get big!
Business. Benjamin Franklins Are Important!
“If you’re not making money, you’re not a professional photographer.” — Mike Emery
If you’re dedicating your life to a profession, eventually you need to support yourself doing so. Don’t be the 30 year old living in your parents garage because you didn’t want to tackle the business end of this venture. It’s important set aside at least 4 hours a day for business development. This consists of marketing your work, doing sales, networking with potential clients, working with licensors and much more.
“I think what some people don’t realize are that large corporations that have nothing to do with action sports are key buyers of our work. The small action sports companies don’t do to much for you unless you’re on staff. This business is bigger than most people think!” — To Mane
To Mane couldn’t have said it better. The business of action sports is growing. The lifestyle branding has become appealing to large corporate clients. The small action sports companies that you think would buy a large amount of media assets don’t have nearly the budget of large corporations. Airlines, banks, car companies, and even soap companies are purchasing this content and willing to pay top dollar. Learn how to sell and navigate the business environment by starting small and working your way up. The faster you can learn the business skills, the faster you can fund your lifestyle.
Value of Work
This is a difficult topic to discuss / convey. You as the photographer have the ability to determine your value, and the value of each one of your shots. You also need to be conscious of the market value of specific shots for the industry. It’s important to survey the market to get a feel for how you can sell, while upholding the worth of your personal brand. One method of doing this, is to select a handful of shots that represent your best work and price them at the top of the market for serious buyers. Then price a number of shots with the market average and another set of shots at the low end of the market. DON’T cannibalize the media industry with low baller shots that don’t even give you enough money to even buy a sandwich. It will do you no good for your brand, and you will be frowned upon by the photography community. Focus on quality, not quantity, and price your work with the number that it deserves.
“Photography gives me a purpose to travel, to meet, to explore and its lead me to the far wild corners of this earth already.” — Krystle Wright
“Every moment my desire is to take that picture and try to capture the most of the sensations I have, at least to come back to it in a couple of years and still feel that moment.” — Barbara Britvin
“Follow your dreams, and be true to yourself. Don’t imitate others, and always look for fresh ideas.” — Grant Gunderson
There is a lot of love for this business. There is a lot of passion for this work and lifestyle. Be passionate about your work. Give your photography the love and dedication it deserves, and good things will follow. All 100 of these photographers were unbelievably passionate about their work. It’s the fuel that gets them through the hard times, the cold, the 5:00 am starts, and drives them to produce a single image, that can capture emotions and energy that a viewer can digest. Be passionate about your work. Give your photography the love and dedication it deserves, and good things will follow.
These 10 lessons were consistent among the majority of these photographers. If you know someone, that has a dream of becoming a professional photographer, be sure to pass these lessons along. These photographers have a lot of wisdom to share, and even more amazing shots to inspire. We have it all documented on the Soul id 100.
A personal thanks to all the photographers that took part in this program, and continue to inspire the world through stunning photography.