Hey Photographer! Who are You and What do You Believe?

If you are thinking of taking your photography a step further and making it a business, it’s more than just waking up one morning and telling yourself: OK, this is it. I’m going to make money from my photography.

Before you delve into making a strong business plan, you first have to ask yourself some tough questions.

How will you balance your creative work with the tasks that go into running a business? What is your marketing strategy? How will you differentiate your work from the other creative photographers? How will you stay current and fresh? These questions and more demand answers if you are going to be ready for the nuts and bolts of creating a photography business. Answering these questions is even more important if you want to sustain your business using your creativity.

Creating a manifesto is one way of strengthening your vision for your photography business.

Creating a manifesto for yourself could spell the difference between finding out later that your business plan is killing your art, or discovering that your business is an exciting extension of your creativity.

The following manifesto is a combination of statements from some of the most artistic businesses that have shared their creativity with the world. Preparing a talk for some business types who are curious about how to create without limits, I searched for ways to express my own beliefs and attitudes about my work as a travel and editorial photographer. Here’s what I learned.

A Manifesto for the Business of Creativity

Appreciate work as idea and idea as work.

Frank Lloyd Wright listed this tenet as number six in his atelier, and I place it first in this manifesto because I am not just a photographer; I am also a teacher, a writer, a TEDx curator, and a student of creativity. Combining these roles I play in my daily life, I discovered that there is one central focal point around which my various life activities pivot—ideas. Ideas excite me and fuel my work. If ideas become my work and I see work as engaging in ideas, I always enjoy what I’m doing.Processing copyright Aloha Lavina.

The greatest marketers do two things: they treat customers with respect and they measure.

This is number 2 in Seth Godin’s manifesto. I list this in my own manifesto because I believe that respect governs all transactions—whether it is a transaction of meaning, or a transaction between a creative and her client. Any relationship governed by respect will always remain a good relationship.

Measuring means always evaluating how things went; this goes hand in hand with respect because if you respect your work and the client, you will value the client’s feedback and use it to improve.

Learn. Knowledge makes everything simpler.

This statement from John Maeda’s manifesto is third on the list because it follows logically after the marketing statement. If you value your work and make the effort to measure it after you complete it, you will find that you are always willing to learn something new to add value to the next job.

Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful.

This next one is also from designer John Maeda’s manifesto. I add it here because I believe that if you really understand what it is you do, you can simplify it. Have you ever watched a master at work? The master makes the work seem effortless. This effortlessness is from a lifelong engagement in creativity.

Mastery happens when you have taught yourself all the skills that help you overcome and triumph over challenges in your work. The honed skills you possess make it easy for you to simplify what you have to do; your fingers find the controls and change settings just as fast as your brain clicks the solution into place to get a shot.

At mastery, you can concentrate fully on making meaning—creating images that speak about your vision, without technical issues getting in the way.copyright Aloha Lavina.

Have a goal for your whole life, a goal for one section of your life, a goal for a shorter period and a goal for the year; a goal for every month, a goal for every week, a goal for every day, a goal for every hour and for every minute, and sacrifice the lesser goal to the greater.

This long statement is from the writer Leo Tolstoy. He makes two points here. The first is that goals make success within reach. Specific goals that have a timeline and a plan are more likely to be achievable. The second point is that sometimes, the creative has to make a sacrifice. For example, you might have a chance to photograph an anorexic, and know that your images will get a lot of attention. But you might also recognize that the attention would catapult the sick person’s persona (through your images) into something akin to self hate. Would you sacrifice the subject to your sense of humanity? Perhaps you will.

We believe in saying no to thousands of projects so that we can focus on the few that are meaningful to us.

This is fifth in Apple’s manifesto. I include it here because quite a few people I know are suffering from too much work that is meaningless to them. Meaningless work, work that you do only for money and do not get excited about, actually kills your creativity. To sustain your inspiration, you have to do work that means something to you. This is what vision gives you: it gives you a creative edge. This creative edge can be a commodity for which others hire you.copyright Aloha Lavina

We don’t settle for anything other than excellence.

Also from Apple’s manifesto, this reminds that no one, least of all yourself, should strive for mediocrity. Everyone begins at the beginning, but there is no reason why one cannot get better. Your benchmark for excellence might change a year from now when you’re closer to 10,000 hours of making images. But right now, you need to give it all you know. Always giving a hundred percent in everything you do ensures you measure your work from within and motivate yourself into getting better.

Time makes inspiration grow.

This is something I have learned again and again. For a skill to get better, you need to invest time. There are simply no shortcuts to mastery. Investing time for your creative pursuits is the best investment you could ever make if you want to start and maintain a creative business.

Design your own job.

I learned this from Cody McKibben, who is a location independent professional. Cody usually does his work from locations that we would consider exotic—a beach in Thailand, a balcony overlooking rice paddies in Bali. He leverages all that he knows, and he creates his work based on the combination of all things that is Cody.

Why should you be just a photographer? Why can’t you be a maker of images but also an inspiration like David duChemin? Or a photographer and a cultural ethnograper? Or a photographer and a storyteller? The idea of mashable things is here, so why not create a mashup of things that you can combine to make a brand that is unique and creative?

Sell an experience.

If you create a brand that is unique to who you are and what you can do, you are giving your clients a richer experience. Rather than just selling clicks for cash, you can sell the entire experience of working with you, and create situations where those who linger in your creativity might become enchanted, to borrow a term from Guy Kawasaki. Nothing else is as memorable as an experience that the mind associates with joy. That memory of joy and engagement is delicious, and the person who experiences it (hopefully your client) will come back for more.

Creating a manifesto is a process full of epiphany and inspiration. In the process, you might just find your brand—a business that is meaningful, valuable, vibrant.

What’s your manifesto? What do you believe?

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About Aloha

I am a photographer and writer currently based in Bangkok, Thailand. My work has appeared in CNNGo, Canon's PhotoYou magazine, Seventeen magazine, The Korea Times, Thailand Tatler, and a few photography books including recently Blogging for Creatives, a book published in the UK. I believe there is nothing you cannot imagine that you cannot do.

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