Advice for photographers on how to make a living and what really matters
Before Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, YouTube and other social media platforms came along, budding photographers had to dig deep to discover inspirational photographers. Fortunately, in 2016, the internet provides abundant opportunity to discover extraordinary photographers.
One such find is Portland-based David Talley, an award-winning and internationally-recognized photographer with original style that “exhibits the darkest moment before an explosion of light.”
In addition to his moving photography, David shares his expertise as an influential educator with popular workshops. But as much as his photography and teaching inspires other photographers, David’s mark on the world is also defined by his genuine passion for creative work and making powerful human connections. Through social media, David has made friends with thousands of people around the world. He is among the greatest examples we’ve known of the power of social media in building photography businesses and personal brands.
On these platforms, David has created a true community where he and other creatives interact about photography and life. He also shares insights about the craft as well as his personal and work adventures. Among those personal adventures is a five-year friendship with Australian photographer Kiara Rose. Their friendship blossomed into a touching love story that unfolded before the eyes of their social media followers. When David and Kiara announced they will soon wed, followers wrote they are excited for their continued love story.
But while all of this work benefits David’s business and brand, his personal desire to simply help other people shines through, too. In a recent vlog, he delivered a passionate plea to creative people and entrepreneurs to reject self-doubting in order to achieve more of what they want to do in life.
"I'm right there with you, building," he said. “I hate waiting for it to happen. You’re never going to feel like you got there so stop thinking that…Enjoy the journey because if you’re not loving what you’re doing right now, then you’re going to get to the end of your life and think, ‘What the hell did I do in my life? I didn’t have enough good experiences because I was stuck thinking I wasn’t good enough.’ Stop doubting yourself. I doubt myself too often but [lately] when I start self-doubting, I literally say, ‘No. Self-doubting is not happening’…I’ve gotten so much done in the last two weeks because of that.”
We asked David to share more thoughts for photographers.
You recently described your first gig: headshots. You wrote that they turned out horrible (in retrospect) but you got paid for it and you felt so accomplished, it inspired you to keep going. What advice do you give aspiring photographers about making those initial gigs more successful?
“Many photographers know that they WANT to be taking images for a living, but many of them (myself included when I began), don’t know how to act or impress their client. Here are five key points that will help you build your reputation and make your career-building gigs skyrocket in your local industry:
1) Remember that word-of-mouth is everything.
I get 90% of my contract work from a friend of a friend of a friend or someone I met on a layover in a random city. People are more likely to purchase a good or service if it’s been recommended by someone or if they see positive reviews and testimonials.
2) Find a way define yourself and get people talking about you.
You need to be active in building personal relationships, collaborations, clients and your online presence. Blog. Blog like crazy. Social media drives a MASSIVE amount of social proof for your potential audience. Like I said, 90% of my contract work is someone who has a mutual friend with me on Facebook, but isn’t personally my friend, and was recommended by a friend of mine. Whether or not I worked with my friend, they are trust worthy to the potential client - and therefore take their advice.
3) Try every style of photography for six months.
Figure out which style you enjoy the most, but more importantly - which one gets you the most jobs - and make that your flagship service. Don’t get rid of the other stuff. That’s one mistake I made a few years ago. Some services are marketable and many others are still marketable, but require extra effort and creativity in addition to what you already do.
4) Over-deliver. Always.
This is the industry’s broken record, but for the love of God, please do this because it makes you, and our industry, look WAY better. Does your package include 10 photos? Send 20 and a small print to their address. Client meeting? YOU buy the coffee. Be thoughtful. It is KEY.
5) Take your career step-by-step and build relationships that have both emotional and monetary value.
I tried to jump into being a fine-art photographer overnight and it backfired on me. In some ways, I still have to train myself to not think with stratification in that way. Find a system and stream of revenue that builds your name and your bank account. Start small. Estimate your hourly value by two things:
- Your experience, both in time and skill. Don’t lie, because you’ll make people mad.
- Charge a livable wage. Don’t do shoots for $20. Do more free shoots than you do shoots for $20. You’ll get more jobs and make more people happy, building your name and career. When it’s time, charge for the right jobs. Don’t quit your day job right away.”
Since you were a young lad when you jumped into photography as a business, you may have been limited in the equipment and gear you could afford. For others who may be in a similar position getting started, what gear is essential?
“Look, if you’re just getting started building a photography biz, you don’t need a lot. Here’s a list:
1) DSLR Body.
Get something with an APS-C sensor until you can prove you’re going to make a living doing photography. Then upgrade.
2) 50mm 1.8 lens.
You can get this and a body for $350 or less today. You don’t need the best gear to start, and I built my entire portfolio in my early days with exactly what you see above.
3) A camera bag.
I recommend a sturdy, dual-use bag like Vanguard’s Havana 48. It’s what I use for work and play - efficiency at its finest, because the bag breaks down in to a day-pack in about four seconds.
4) A good, small tripod.
Vanguard’s VEO is on my mind. I have four tripods and two of them are Vanguard’s VEO travel tripods. Small, lightweight, but sturdy as hell. That’s why I have two - they’re just too good.”
5) Utili-Key® 6-in-1 multi-tool by Swiss+Tech®.
“It’s a pocket knife that looks like a key and fits on your key ring. Just grab one; you’ll inevitably need it.”
6) Proper Photoshop workflow training.
“At my workshops, I see way too many photographers who have horrible Photoshop practices that slow them down and limit their capabilities. Want to be a pro photographer? You need to learn to think and edit like one. I have a course online called the Photoshop Workflow System, which teaches exactly that. Learn more and sign up at DavidTalleyWorkshops.com.”
What role do tripods and heads play in your photography today?
“The tripod is the essential key to good photography. I shoot with a tripod more often than I shoot without one. For travelers like myself, having something easy and quick to set up is the key to successful imagery and photos I am happy with. The VEO is my go-to, and I usually keep one in the car on-hand at all times. It’s also perfect for my trips back to Australia every few months, since it’s so small. On top of all of that, I never have to worry about it being damaged because it’s so sturdy. It just feels solid in the hand AND with the camera. I’ve used it as a steady-cam successfully on more than one occasion.”
Favorite Vanguard products?
David: “Too many!
1) VEO travel tripod (x2)
2) Abeo tripod
5) VEO 37 camera bag
So, what’s next for David?
"Next for me?” he said. “Whatever's next for me is what's next for both Kiara and I. Right now, we're tackling the amazing journey of engagement and marriage. Soon, we'll be wed, tackling photography and building our business while living out our calling in the U.S. and around the world. We want to show people who they truly are, by showing them as much light as we can. We intend to do this every day for the rest of our lives."