Monday, June 18, 2007
Getting Through The Down Time
The unique lifestyle that we have as professional photographers can be challenging when the work isn't flowing in
As creative freelancers, we're brilliant at procrastination. We have an entrepreneurial lifestyle that allows for a lot of slack. Getting up in the morning and getting done what needs to be done requires discipline, but for many of us, discipline is something we just don't have. It's simply not part of our DNA. So if you own any sort of self-help or motivational books on the topic, try to get your money back. To overcome my own lack of discipline, I made an effort to understand the major pitfalls of the lifestyle and then consider what I could do to manage the down time. Ultimately, I found it's not as hard as you might think; you just need to understand that in a world of clock-watchers, we're exceedingly different. And the worst thing you can do is compare yourself to them, or let that office-dweller majority make you feel odd about who you are.
Pitfall: Shooting Everything Except What You Need. Don't get me wrong, I'm an enormous advocate of constant shooting. But if you're a fashion photographer and you're spending your days photographing your significant other who's already in your portfolio a dozen times, you should take a moment and reevaluate your shooting schedule. Remember, the idea is to show your potential clients how talented and diverse you are, not give them the definitive biography of the person you're dating.
Pitfall: Soon I'll Be An Expert. The computer is the single most important tool next to the camera for digital photographers. It's also the absolute number-one time-waster. If you find mornings turning into afternoons as you tool around with the more arcane tools of Photoshop, or you spend hours tweaking spam filters, or gobs of time searching for, downloading and testing 25 different types of contact manager, you're not getting anything useful done.
Pitfall: Well, Now That It's Thursday. The amount of justification that goes on in our heads is amazing. Making cold calls to get more work sucks, so we typically put off a really ambitious Monday morning of calls until Tuesday...which oddly becomes Wednesday, which mysteriously turns into Thursday. Then you find yourself saying, well no one's going to be around on Friday after lunch, so if I leave a message on Thursday, it will be forgotten by Saturday, so why not just wait until Monday and start fresh.
Pitfall: The Mystery Meetings. Have a brutally honest look at the last 10 meetings you had that were “work”-related. How many actually resulted in any sort of forward progress for your career? Now here's the clincher. Out of the 10, how many did you know ahead of time weren't going to do anything for your career? Finally, think about the past two weeks. How many times did you say you were going to or coming from a meeting that really wasn't a meeting, but just a social event? It's easy to do as a freelancer because we have no set work schedule and in our minds we're always working. This psychological reinforcement results in a false reality, however.
As you make connections and start networking, stop and think about with whom you're connecting. Are the meetings you're taking going to ultimately do anything for you? Does the magazine or agency where you're dropping off your portfolio assign the type of work that you shoot? Are you sending promos out to the world in general or are you actually targeting who sees your stuff. Do the research! It's easy to do a bunch of useless things under the auspices of getting work done. Don't get caught in that trap. If you take my advice and really look at what you're doing, only 30% of your interactions will still be useless.
Pitfall: Your Portfolio Still Isn't Done. Neither is mine and I've been shooting for 21 years. Waiting until you think your portfolio is finished before showing it is the kiss of death. Accept the fact that you'll only be happy with your portfolio for a few brief moments in your career. It's an axiom of the business. If you have enough images in your book to get the approval of your close friends, then it's ready for prime time. There's a common misconception that when you show your book: it's the one and only chance you'll have to break into the biz. That's crap. What will get you noticed is repetition and connection, however, and connecting is the most challenging aspect about getting in the door. Consider this: The average time between your first call attempt and actually seeing an art buyer at an agency is three to five weeks. So if your book really isn't done, start calling now. By the time you get in the door, you'll have had plenty of time to fill out that portfolio—provided you avoid the pitfalls listed above.
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