How to Compete as a Photographer

Six words that change the game. If you’re trying to make a buck with portrait photography, it’s tough out there. There is competition—a lot of it. Every one of your clients or prospects has an uncle, a friend, or a friend of a friend who is a photographer, probably new to the industry, willing to work for free or less than free.

how to compete

How to Compete as a Photographer?

How do you compete?

Do you lower your prices? Give more away than you already give away? Add another 8×10 to your cheapest package? Triple your fees? Do you make your work different? Black and white? Make it look like a painting? HDR? Spend even more time retouching? How about specializing in a demographic? Only photograph newborn babies with those cute crocheted hats? Families at the beach? Kids on sofas in a lilac field with blown out highlights? Maybe.

You might try all of those. Maybe you already have. Maybe your photography dream is starting to fade. You’ve tried it all and the numbers are not adding up. The competition is killing you. Maybe the way to compete is not to compete. Maybe the way to live your photography dream is to build a better you, a deeper you, a more authentic you.

You are the most important part of your business. Not your work, amazing as it is. Not your fees, cheap or expensive as they are. Not your supply of crocheted hats, even with all those cute colors.

People are attracted to passion. People are attracted to authentic voices. People are attracted to meaning. It’s what is missing in our lives. We might have thousands of Facebook friends, but does what they’re having for lunch add meaning to our lives? Because of your authentic photography voice, your clients will feel more authentic. They will have meaning. They will experience passion.

Your clients will pay good money to have this experience. Not only that, they will thank you. You are the only you who can create that experience. Your competition cannot be you. They cannot do what you do. They cannot do your what from your why.

So, where do you start? How do you compete by not competing? How do you create a deeper you? How do you become an authentic voice that attracts your right clients? I wish it was easy. I wish I had a three step, any idiot can do this, $49 ebook that solved all your challenges. I don’t. Neither does anyone else. What I do have are six words that will point you in the direction of your true north. Here are the first 3:

Life is short.

You’re going to be dead soon. Probably not today, hopefully not tomorrow, and most likely you have lots of years left. But we don’t know. We just don’t know.

If you’re young, maybe fresh out of photography school, if you never fixed a cassette with a pencil, this is hard for you to grasp. I know. If you’re older, like me, if you remember your first 8 track (Toys In The Attic), if you know all four members of Led Zeppelin, this is a bit easier. You get it. You, like me, are on the back nine. We can’t see the last hole but we know it’s there.

As soon as you truly experience life is short, you have the gas for your journey. Your voice gets real. Your work gets better. You become a magnet. Here are the next 3:

What’s Your Legacy?

If the Life Is Short is the gas, What’s Your Legacy is the goal. It’s where you want to end up. How will people remember you? What will they say at your funeral?

All of us want to be more than an economic entity. What do you want? What was your work? How did you serve? What did you create? What memories did you leave? What did you do for fun? How much did you love? How much did you fear? What is the complete picture of your legacy?

I have some more bad news. This doesn’t happen overnight. Nothing worthwhile does. Like a grandmother that lives out of town, maybe across the states, you’ll need to visit and then revisit. Once is not enough. It takes time. It takes effort. It’s hard to make the trip. Gas is expensive. It’s easier to stay home and be comfortable. Sit on the couch and check out what your friends had for lunch.

Do what everybody else does. Compete. It’s the American way.

Don’t do it. Make the trip. Your grandmother is worth it. So are you. So are we. We need your best work. We need the best you. The real you. The one with the legacy.

How can you not compete?

About the Author:
Michael Adams (michaeladams dot net) has been a portrait photographer for 25 years. With the growing need for DSLR education and photography business education, he started mamarazziworkshops dot com and beaphotographer dot biz recently.

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26 Comments

  1. Claude says:

    I love your article!
    This is the simple truth!!!
    Thanks and have a great day…
    Claude

  2. Michael I found this article interesting and motivating. My favorite paragraph>….

    People are attracted to passion. People are attracted to authentic voices. People are attracted to meaning. It’s what is missing in our lives. We might have thousands of Facebook friends but does what they are having for lunch add meaning to our lives? Because of your authentic photography voice, your clients will feel more authentic. They will have meaning. They will experience passion.

    You are so right!! It’s the person behind the camera. Who wants to look into the lens of a photographer they are not comfortable with? I will keep my focus on being myself and helping my client become comfortable and natural for their photography session. Thanks for such a great article!!

    • Michael Adms says:

      Rebecca, Thanks and keep creating from your center! Cheers to you.

  3. Bill Kendall says:

    Good stuff. Real and authentic.

    As a 58 year old former wedding photographer, I was was gratified to get a response from my oldest daughter over an image I recently sent her of her daughter. Captured her with my Olympus DSLR, spent four minutes of simple – yet creative – editing in Picasa nad she thanked me BigTime!

    “Wow Dad – Nice to see a real image taken with a real camera – not just something snapped with my smartphone and posted on Facebook! What a difference.”

    Somehow this experience resonated with Mr. Adams’ article.

    • Michael Adms says:

      Bill, You’re right. Sometimes, the best jobs don’t pay money:}

  4. Warwick Burgess says:

    One continues to compete because of the overwhelming need to create something unique that can be shared with the world. Money is generally secondary; the need to share creativity is paramount.

    • Michael Adms says:

      Warwick, Yep. If that little voice says create, you better listen!

  5. Joan Phinn says:

    Your article is so very true. I know all the names of the band members of Led Zeppelin and at one time owned eight tracks. I sometimes can’t believe that many years have gone by. I have loved being behind the camera capturing moments since I was a kid. I have often thought of pursuing photography as a career but didn’t take the next step for the reasons you listed above. Their are so many great photographers out there. How could I compete with that? Well, now that I can see that ‘last hole’ I have decided that life is too short and I shouldn’t wait any longer to do something that makes me happy. And I do think I have something to offer that can inspire others that no one else can.

    Thank you for your inspiring words. And what is best is I read them at the perfect time.
    Joan

  6. Sheila says:

    Thank you Michael…,
    This article made me ‘Look Deeper’…….., both into myself and my creativity as a photographer.
    And yeah, I’m one of the generation, who played casette tape and fixed it with pencil everytime they tangled. Ha ha ha… You made me realise how ‘ancient’ we are….. Ha ha ha

  7. Barb says:

    Wise words.

    This is a topic I’ve been serious thought to over the last few weeks. I want to develop ways to have my skills equal to what my eye and heart feels. I’m still falling short but not as far short as I was, lol. Its kinda like play cribbage – if I’m not making progress I can always move the back marker forward a little. I don’t (necessarily) want to be the best photog in town, just the best one I can be. And it is happening.

    Thanks for the reminder.

    • Michael Adms says:

      Barb, Thanks for the comment and congrats on your work and your direction. Keep going!

  8. Sheryl Schuff says:

    Michael,

    I enjoyed your article. What you say is so true.

    Fortunately for me, my 15 year old granddaughter gets it and reminds me frequently that “Life is short.”

    The more I move through my 60’s, the more I get it, too. That’s why I pulled up stakes last year, sold my home of 33 years, and moved 600+ miles to be closer to her and my daughter. My son moved almost 3000 miles last summer to join us.

    We know it’s only temporary that all four of us will be this close, but that’s OK. Everything is temporary, right? We just never know how long anything will last.

    Thanks for spreading the message!

    Sheryl

    • Michael Adms says:

      Thanks for the comments and the kind words. Enjoy your time with your family and sounds like you have a precocious 15 year old granddaughter}

  9. Sue says:

    Great article……good to read the truth for change……..
    Take photos for the joy and passion of it…..

    • Michael Adms says:

      Sue, I agree but nothing wrong with making money from your photography. In fact, it’s great to make money at what you love. Just work from a Life is short and what is your legacy framework, not how can I make a quick buck with photography.

  10. Annabel says:

    Michael, thanks for this.
    It’s something I’ve been saying to myself for a while and it’s good to hear it from others. I’m working on changing my business so that I only do what I love… and if it sells along the way, all well and good. But the focus is on me now, not every client who knocks at the door… and it’s good.

    • Michael Adms says:

      Annabel, Good for you. We all need to pay the bills but put listening to your little voice first, chasing money second and you’ll go in the right direction of your legacy. Keep up the good work.

  11. Arnold says:

    Thanks.

  12. Sonja says:

    Thanks so much for the words, you know that is the problem with lots of people is they want the money and forget about the passion and fun of taking pictures. I have started taking pictures of Motorcross and everyone is saying I should charge. After deep thought and reading your article I realize right now I just want the shot, I don’t want to worry about getting the shot to get the money. It also makes me realize too that I am there for my passion not everyone elses and sometimes as much as you want to please everyone, you have to stop, think and realize it is about you and your passion not theirs. It is a bonus for them if we do get the perfect shot. THANKS FOR THAT!!! YOu regrounded my feet and reminded me of why I am doing this thanks soooo much it will make a difference next weekend when I am trying for the perfect shot.

    • Michael Adms says:

      Sonja,
      Thanks for your kind words.

      Hopefully, my post did not come across as “money is the problem.” It’s not. Money without purpose and a long range vision is a problem. You end up chasing your tail, not living your best life.

      On the other hand, charging for your passion is not easy. It takes courage. You need to put yourself out there. Your self esteem is on the line. It’s hard to know what to charge.

      Also, your passion is important but so is service to others. It’s part of a well lived life. Cliche as it sounds, your motorcross photos are part of your contribution to make a better world. Your helping others enjoy and appreciate their passion.

      So, maybe the third point of that passion/service triangle is money. Maybe making money from your passion is part of your future.

      After all, the combination of passion, service and money is a good gig.

      Have fun, continue to improve your craft, and be open.

      I wish you the best.

      Michael Adams

  13. Seth says:

    I really enjoyed this article, it has me interested in seeing more of Michael’s work. Unfortunately, the websites listed at the end of the article do not seem to work for me. I get 404 errors and DNS searches when I try to visit them. Anyone else have issues with these? Any solutions out there?

  14. Sumairah Qayyum says:

    I had almost given up photographybrid because I thought I couldn’t compete till I read this article! Extremely motivating! My DSLR is coming out again and never going back in my closet. Thank you very much!

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