2019 end of year review
As I reach the end of 2019, I've looked back at my first full year of putting myself out there as a professional photographer. I've reviewed all the areas I have touched and ventured into, looking at what worked and what didn't.
I guess out of everything I have learnt a lot, but before I dive into sharing my end of year reflections, lets define what it is to be a 'professional' photographer.
Wikipedia defines a professional as:
"A professional is a member of a profession or any person who earns their living from a specified professional activity."
I may not be earning my full living from it (yet), but I am selling my services and photographs for money, and it is the only activity I am involved in that generates money, so in my mind that makes me a 'professional'. I've sold prints of my work, had photos appear in the national press three times this year, and had clients for my pet photography business. I've also volunteered my photography services to charities and in doing so made some valuable contacts.
So I ended 2018 looking forward to this new life, doing something I finally loved and had a passion for. I had the gear, the passion and the drive. I was ready to go in 2019.
It was a bit like when you are unhappily in a room that caters for one thing only, and you look into an adjoining room and see people in there having fun and you yearn to join them, but you are stuck in your room with dull people doing dull things. So based on that analogy at the start of this year I leapt into the other room, fully kitted up, yelling "Here I am, I'm ready!"... ... only for some people to look at me in surprise, others with disdain, not wholly that impressed with my decision.
That was when the learning started. This professional photography thing was not all I expected it to be. Having passion and the right gear isn't all of the battle.
The biggest lesson I had to learn was that all of a sudden I was just 'me'. I had to be my own marketing department, my own accounting department, and above all be at least a competent photographer.
Also just being 'me' meant nobody owed me anything. I had to prove myself, and in a saturated market of other photographers I had to stand out. And if I was honest I'm still trying to do that, but that's part of the learning process too.
Let's look at the negatives this year.
I guess my biggest struggle has been with some people; other photographers, some wildlife groups, and some organisations.
I've had some photographers decide to take a bite out of me (figuratively I hasten to add) and delight in criticising me. Thankfully the 'block' feature on social media platforms can be a real boon in cases like this. Lesson to learn: NEVER get involved in a spat on Twitter or Facebook. Block the idiots and move on. Unless someone wants to say something critical to my face, I'm not going to pander to their 'keyboard warrior' ways and do it on a public platform.
I've also had a wildlife group report me to the police because they felt I'd done something I shouldn't (not going into detail here, but I was vindicated and even the police said the group in question were being over protective and didn't see that I'd done anything wrong. Actually the opening gambit from the police officer that contacted me was "I'd like to talk to you about 'x'. By the way, it's a cracking photo! ").
As in all walks of life, you meet assholes and people who want to see you fail, and I have met my full share of them this year. From other professionals to potential clients, there is always someone who will mess you around and/or put you down, normally I find because they potentially see you as a threat, or they don't understand your ethos and business motivation.
But for every person who has put me down, it has made me more resilient and determined to make this venture work. When someone says "No!" to me, I tend to go all out to prove them wrong and get my way, so in fact the negativity has been a huge motivator. (Yeah, suck on that haters!)
And then there's been people I thought had my back that haven't. That's fine, as everyone is busy with their own lives, so it is unfair to expect unrelenting support from everyone, but sometimes it can come as a shock when in the past these people have offered their support and friendship, only to drop you dead now.
But then on the flip side help and support can come from unexpected quarters and I have met some genuinely helpful people this year; people who know the pain of starting up a new business from scratch and are happy to help those who are new to it all. Up and down the country I've been genuinely touched by the generosity of some people who have been an email or text message away when I needed advice. Bless you all.
I've made contacts and friends with some great people in this field, and their support has more than made up for being dropped by others. Again, this is another learning experience which I'm grateful for.
So what have I done this year that I want to pursue more of next year?
Here's some of them:
1) Craft fairs
I've found it a real buzz selling my prints at craft fairs. Speaking to complete strangers and telling them the story behind each photo gives me a real lift. Coupled with complete strangers buying my work, it's great motivation. Meeting other photographers and people with a passion for wildlife at these events, as well as meeting and chatting with other stallholders (which is a wonderful community) has been a great experience.
I'll definitely be doing more of these in 2020.
2) Launching my YouTube channel
It's still early days on this, and it is time consuming, but I kind of enjoy putting vlogs together, so I will be carrying on with this into 2020 too.
I have a number of vlog ideas so there's no shortage of forthcoming material.
3) Fine tuning my social media output
Discovering what works well on what channel has been very enlightening, if not a little hard work. Social media use while vital, is difficult; it goes beyond 'just posting' something.
Learning how to manage this so you don't become a slave to it is key. Working out what works well on what platform, and when to post (something I've not quote nailed yet) are key aspects when it comes to social media interaction.
If you didn't know, I can be found on:
4) Effective business planning
I'd made the mistake of trying to have one business plan for each element of my business offering. In truth I needed three; one for each area (selling prints, pet photography and photography training), and after spending much time reading a number of business and marketing books, I feel happy to think of and switch between different business models for the areas and services I offer.
One quote from one of these books stood out for me:
"People who aren't as gifted or generous as you are running circles round you, because they are showing up as professionals. And yet, too many people with something to offer are holding themselves back"
... and I think of this often when I'm unsure of putting myself forward for something.
5) Branching out
Also, given I photographed my first wedding this year, it got me thinking about other areas of photography that I'd like to explore. Areas such as corporate photography and some marketing within entertainment industries could be viable options.
So while wildlife and working with animals for photography is my passion, I don't think it will hurt to look at other areas of photography. It can be unhealthy to limit your skills to one specific area sometimes. Well, that's my opinion anyway.
So what for 2020? More of mostly the same, but enhanced, louder and with more lights. And the foray into some unfamiliar photographic areas, not limiting myself to one genre.
Also I plan to be myself more, and not stand on ceremony/be 'typically British'. Trying to be someone you are not doesn't work, and I have found that letting more of my true self show, I get more response and traction in what I am trying to achieve.
I hope you'll follow my adventures. There will be more YouTube vlogs detailing some of these adventures, so if you haven't already, please make sure you subscribe to my channel so you don't miss out. :)
Thanks for reading.