As photographers, we often are bogged down in what gear to buy, what lens to choose, what has better specs, and so on. To everyone's satisfaction or disappointment, these things will only make a marginal difference in most cases. As a photographer, you need to have more skills than gear. I am here to tell you the five most important ones.
Skills you need to have as a photographer might seem like the old list of being able to expose, compose, and remove people from a landscape photo in Photoshop. While there is no denying that these are all valid things you need to do as a photographer, they are very basic, and in order to really gain a competitive advantage and set yourself apart, you need to have more transferrable skills that are not industry-specific. This list is of skills you need to hone repeatedly in order to master photography.
Learning and Unlearning Fast
I don’t believe in art education. I do, however, think that everyone who can get a bachelor's and master's, should get one, not because the knowledge is particularly useful, especially for creatives, but because being in higher education is a crucial time in your life where you learn how to learn. The ability to take something, wrap your head around it, and then use it is something that people undervalue a lot. Take something as simple as a new camera: the faster you can learn it, the more advantage will you have. The “old guard” that shot film well into the digital age because they didn’t want to learn the new technology has gone out of business. The same applies to unlearning. Just because you did something one way for 40 years doesn’t mean it will stay like that. One of the beautiful things about having an art career is that there are new things coming out every day. Being able to keep an open mind and unlearn old ways of doing things will certainly help you be a much better photographer.
In an industry where keeping with trends is a method of staying afloat, productivity is key. You need, really need, to hit deadlines on time. No one will wait for you to make it perfect. Done is better than perfect in this case.
Being able to sit down and get through a selection quickly or draft a contract quickly to send out is important. On shoot day, you also have to work efficiently as well as to a high standard, as most people don’t want to be sitting around all day waiting for you to set up a softbox. This comes with practice and a lot of it. Do test shoots, try to limit the number of pictures you take, and create an environment optimized for efficiency. It will most certainly go a long way in helping land more jobs.
Tools that have helped me in the past with efficiency are timelines, schedules, to-do lists, and goal-setting documents. Long story short, each commercial I do has a timeline, each day has a schedule and a to-do list, and each month, as well as year, has a somewhat vague list of goals. This helps me see the “what” in order to do the “how” well.
There is no way you can be a successful business owner if you can’t market your product to customers. Ever wondered why the guy next door takes worse photos but is booked for everything? Well, they are probably very good at marketing. Don’t think it’s all flyers and billboards, much of marketing comes from being a people’s person or having someone who is doing it on your behalf. Photography jobs for private clients will rarely come from a Facebook ad or a sponsored Instagram post. That is because most people already know a photographer who does work for them. The only way to land more jobs is to make sure your name is trusted and known. By far, the best way to get to that point is to have friends recommend you over and over again. For commercial jobs, it is much more straightforward, but the emphasis is also on lasting relationships with clients. However, it is much easier to land commercial clients (provided you’re good), as you need to email a lot of people over and over again.
Business and Accounting
Keeping it to business talk, you need to possess the ability to run a business. This starts from the knowledge of how to register it, how to issue invoices, how to file taxes, and do other paperwork.
As for accounting, hire a good accountant, and let them do the actual accounting of the business. At the same time, be aware of everything. You need to analyze your spending and see what’s gone where. Call it personal accounting. For example, you need to know how much your assets will depreciate in the future in order to make a more educated purchase. Want that new lens? Figure out how much it will cost you and what the return on investment will be. Clients are not happy with your work? See if you need new gear or better education.
Style is something that can be counted as a skill for me, as it involves a long process of learning, developing, and ultimately being formed and perfected to automation. I believe that no one is born with a good or bad style; their style and aesthetic are coined by countless experiences every day. Perhaps one of the best ways to learn style is by exposing yourself to as much art as possible. Not just photography, but sculpture, painting, theater, and more. If you're a fashion photographer, like me, you should immerse yourself in the genre: fashion. Instead of looking at fashion photography, look at fashion design. That way you will be both looking at fashion images, since every single book has pictures in it, while actually studying your genre.
These skills are some of the most important ones that have helped me progress faster in my career as a photographer. From something basic like sending off an invoice to something more complex as analyzing shows and aesthetics of various towns around the world, these skills are irreplaceable.