Hey, Zack. I wanted to get your thoughts on a concept I heard from another photographer recently who said "take the jobs you have to, so you can do the jobs you want to". I know you've said many times to focus on what you're most interested in pursuing and become known for doing just that, but I find myself up against the reality that some jobs can bring in work more quickly than others. I'd really like to focus on commercial and editorial work, but weddings and families are paying now. Thanks!
I think this is a case of what you put forward into the world as to the type of work you do and then there’s the stuff you do that no one really sees.
Portraits are my thing. I just want portrait jobs. Editorial to commercial to corporate That’s my direction. That’s what I tell people I do. That’s what you can find of my work online. Well, and street photography but I’m not hired for that. I just show that as personal work.
Then there are the jobs I do that have nothing to do with portraiture. I’m a portrait photographer but I’ve been hired to shoot table top products. I’m a portrait photographer but I’ve been hired to shoot cars. I did a job a few years ago for Panasonic. I photographed some trucks they drive to big events to advertise their products. See any Panasonic trucks on my web site anywhere? Have you seen my table top product work? You haven’t.
I’ve bid on jobs and I’ve shot jobs that have nothing to do with anything on my site but they are good jobs and pay the bills. Solid bread and butter type work that comes through on a regular basis.
So, I think there is truth in that statement because I can take some jobs at times that are exactly the kind of jobs I want to do but might not have the budget I need to cover my expenses. I can’t take them all and there are times that rates are so low that I can’t take the jobs that I know I want to shoot. That always sucks but sometimes you have to stick to your guns for yourself and for your industry.
I know this all sounds a bit flighty and that I just take things on a whim. It feels like that at times but it’s more of being very selective in who I work for, what I accept for rates, and then what I ultimately show to the rest of the world about the work that I do.
If a company came to me today and asked if I could photograph 40 models of toilet seats on white and they have a budget to pay my rates you better believe I’d take it.
If a magazine came to me today to photograph Jack White and they only have $250 (all in) and I have to drive to Nashville to do the job you better believe I’d take that job provided I maintain ownership of the images and have creative control and/or input on the job. $250 work for hire? I’d most likely have to let that go as much as I’d want to photograph Jack White I couldn’t take it for such a low rate and give it away my rights to the images.
If a company came to me and wanted me to photograph 40 toilet seats for $250 (all in) I would not take that job.
So you look at each job. There are several values you can put on each one. There’s the monetary value, the creative value, and the opportunity value. Some may not have a large monetary value but it has a huge creative value. Or maybe it isn’t paying much but YOU can identify where it will be a valuable opportunity for you. I stress that YOU identify the value. There are times people will come to you with a job and have little budjet but try to sell you on it being some sort of great opportunity for you. They can’t place the value of the opportunity on the job. Only you can do that. I’ve had folks tell me, “OH, this is going to be a great opportunity for you because of XYZ.” Sometimes that XYZ has no value to me so the opportunity just isn’t there. I decide that. Not the client.
You learn how to balance all of this with experience. The monetary value is usually the priority because you can’t feed kids with artistic creativity or write a check against opportunities you have in the future.
So… get your commercial and editorial site out there into the world. Start promoting yourself as much as you can in that field. Keep shooting weddings and portraits to stay alive. If and when the editorial and commercial work starts replacing the wedding and portrait income then you can become more and more selective on those jobs to the point that you cut them out all together… if that’s what you want. You may love weddings and you can decide that you’ll still shoot X amount per year. Whatever you want… but the editorial and commercial work is what you put out into the world. (Provided, that’s what you’re wanting to do.)
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