planetoftheweb 1:31pm, 9 October 2007
I just wrote an article on my site of the 5 most important skills a photographer should have. I teach a Digital Photography class at Seminole Community College in Heathrow, FL and this was my first lesson. Thought I'd share it with you guys so you'd let me know what you think since I haven't programmed comments into my blog.
Steven Starr Photography [deleted] 8 years ago
Great article. I would also add that "business sense" or the ability to learn business has much to do with success and failure as a photographer as well. You can be the greatest shot in the world but if you give away your work or don't know how to operate as a business you see very little in return.

Can you be a great photographer without having business sense...sure. But will you be a successful one?

Thanks for contributing....look forward to seeing more.
Steve.Korn Posted 8 years ago. Edited by Steve.Korn (member) 8 years ago
Wizwow, , put up this list in a thread a while ago, which I can't seem to find. I thought you might find it to be interesting for your class.

His response was to someone trying to build a good portfolio and he suggested that the pictures were nice but if the guy wanted to become a PJ, he needed to know how to go out and get the picture he's looking for or has been assigned, as opposed to just taking nice pictures he happens upon. I think this is a great exercise for everyone and relates to your article because it requires all of the 5 elements you have listed.

Here's Wizwow's list:

So here you go: This is what I use to assign my students. Take it and shoot it if you want. Goal is to have a portfolio of 12 shots that kill. You got the skill, now push it a notch or two.

1. An image of one thing, that says only one thing about it.

2. A person who represents what you wanted to be when you were 6.

3. A kid who loves you... and I gotta see the love.

4. The thing that makes your mom your mom (or dad, or sister)? Shoot it.

5. You know your favorite song? The one you always turn the radio up on? Shoot a photograph to go on the cover of that album. I don't care if I get it... do you?

6. A bridge. From one place to another. One soul to another. One child to another. A bridge.

7. Your most hated food (for me - liver and onions) but make it look so good you are even tempted. You can have people in the shot, but not more than 12.

8. Show me a sports game in a landscape. No athletes, just the game. No sports field, just the game. No balls, no hockey sticks, no buckets of ice. Just the game as a landscape.

9. Happiness.

10. Any musical instrument, with people or not. Here's the deal though, we should feel something when seeing it, not just 'see' it.

11. Cute kitten... nawww... just kidding. Make it a place that seems abandoned, or lonely... if a place can be lonely make me feel it.

12. The one photograph you would want to sum up your photographic career today. You have been invited to show at the most prestigious show in NY and you can show only one picture. Show me that picture.
planetoftheweb 8 years ago

I wonder if you could direct me to some links with business tips for photographers. I would like to pass that along to my students. You're right, sometimes we think so much about how to capture the right image, that we forget about being a successful person. Thanks for the input.
planetoftheweb 8 years ago

Those suggestions are awesome. I've been assigning a lot of technical stuff this semester with two exceptions. A model shoot and a self-portrait. I like that your suggestions are more abstract and require a lot of thinking out of the photographer...some good ideas for next semester.
tammy_cravit 8 years ago
John Harrington's blog ( is a good one for business stuff.

I also feel compelled to mention my own (nascent) blog,, which deals with business, technical, creative and other aspects of being a pro photographer. (I'm a freelance photographer, photojournalist and writer.)
Pickles' Photos [deleted] 8 years ago
Read "On Being a Photographer". It is a short book, cheap and easy to read. It's a weird read, but there are two things that stand out. First, selecting a subject and second, the photo essay.
expeditionmax PRO 8 years ago
A lot of good stuff here. I would like to add one comment that I think is good. I remember hearing this somewhere.

Think of photography as a proton of an atom circling the nucleus. The photographer is the proton and the subject is the nucleus. The proton can randomly orbit the nucleus and is not restricted to just one angle.

Dunno how scientifically accurate that is, but it is a great idea for photographers to remember.
Ivan Makarov PRO 8 years ago
I personally don't think you need business sense to be a great photographer. In my mind, successful photographer is first and foremost an artist, and not all artists need to make a fortune selling their art. In fact, artist's prime goal is to create art, not to earn $$. Business sense is needed if you're a commercial or professional photographer and this is your career. Many of us have other fields as careers that we might also be passionate about and where we can earn more $$ with more ease and certainty, but I don't think that this will preclude artists from being successful.
eduardo_frances 8 years ago
It is a great article, but business is the only part missing :), the knowledge on how to market all those skills you mentioned is what makes successful pro photographer :D
John Edward 8 years ago
it's a good start! i would add inspirational tidbits and funny examples here there to keep it interesting...

also, depending on your class/ audience i think it's important to ask: "are you telling me something i dont know?"
John Edward 8 years ago
stvkrn, that list is amazing! diff for newbies tho i suppose...
Steven Starr Photography [deleted] Posted 8 years ago. Edited by Steven Starr Photography (member) 8 years ago

tcravit beat me to the answer...John Harringtons book is a definate place to learn about the business. You can find it here on amazon click here. He is a seasoned pro and well known so he does a few things that might appear arrogant to some and stubborn to others (like not sharing reciepts) but the book over all is a great help in setting up your business model and goes into case studies for pricing/setup/time and such for different types of clients (corp, commercial, etc).
Steven Starr Photography [deleted] 8 years ago

I guess we will agree to disagree my friend. I have met "many" great artists...and few successful ones. You have to be able to manage your time and money and understand how to work with clients in order to succeed.

You can be an average photographer and be very successful with a little business sense. You can also be a phenominal photographer...and nobody no who you are. Examples of both can be found everywhere on the net.
gregbrophy 8 years ago
One thing often overlooked is a general knowledge about history, science, art, literature and poltics. They can really influence your work. Especially fi you want to be a photo journalist or documentaary photographer.

I know so many people that think once they are no longer in school they don' t need to learn anything else. I am still trying to catch up on my reading of the worlds great literature. I also love history and read many books about it. Artists should be curious about the world around them and want to learn more.

I would also suggest they look at some famous illustrators like Howard Pyle and NC Wyeth. The are great story tellers and a lot can be learned from their compositions. NC Wyeth and quite a few other artists used things like sillouttes, seeing the subject through something else and the wagon wheel (refering to a round object in the bottom corner that leads the eye into the picture. See I know sometimes as photographers we get caught up in seeing every detail in the shadows, but sometimes it is good to leave it to the imagination like this image: and one of my favorite compositions by Howard Pyle here:
gregbrophy 8 years ago
oh and yes I liked your essay.
mizz maze PRO 8 years ago
I love that list from WizWow. I'm printing it right now. Thanks for posting it, Stvkrn.

@planetoftheweb - I especially love the part about Artistry. You explain the principles really nicely. If the class is advanced enough, a section on business of photography would go well. I'm sure you could get some folks to send you promos. I always liked seeing self-promotion items when i was in school, and they got the wheels turning.

That is a very good post. I may be so bold as to add:

Learning: Learn something other than photography. Play and instrument. Write poetry. Paint cars. Whatever it is, make it something that you are passionate about. Maybe it is working with kids or homeless... make it a passion that transgresses photography and makes you interact. Photography is somewhat voyeuristic by nature... find something that you can dig into and 'get your hands dirty'. It will make you a better shooter.

Planning: As important as it is to plan, learn to un-plan. Learn to roll with the punches, make last minute changes, give in to serendipity... Sometimes (sometimes? are you nuts? most times! - ed) things don't go as planned. I have seen too many people start to flail because the situation didn't fit the plan. Plan for every contingency and let the image come from that place that wasn't planned if necessary.

Control: Learn it. Do it. Know when to throw it out and let pure instinct take over. Control the shoot till you know you got it... then give up control and see what happens. Throw out the 'rules' and take pictures that look wrong. When everyone else thinks your not going to shoot anymore... shoot some more. Of course, those with the most control can let it go with more freedom... cause they know how to let go.

Time: It is you enemy. It is your best friend. It is a cruel mistress that can rush a shot that needed more, or keep the shot from being made. Whether it is a fast setting sunset or mid-day in the desert... time functions as a catalyst for disaster. Learn to let time float and focus on the moment. When all others are aware of the time, you be aware of the moment.

Artistry: Learn every rule. Know them. Use them when appropriate. Creativity has basic tenets that need addressing, and only by knowing the true nature of your art can you then break out and create something that doesn't follow any rule or convention, but makes a viewer stop and take pause. Maybe someday they will name a rule after you.

Again, great post.
Bob Smith in Hamburg 8 years ago
I want to second Greg's point about education. Yousuf Karsh even said that he felt the most important thing for photographers to study was liberal arts and I think it's even more important today.

I also want to second everybody's point about business knowledge. Without it, you're just screwed. And poor.

mycamerahatesme 8 years ago
wizwow makes me want to move out

good read for sure!
planetoftheweb 8 years ago
Thanks for all the great feedback. The additional comments really complete the original post. I think every artist should learn something about the business, especially those in school. I'll check that book out, sounds like a great read.
Here is Wizwow's Assignment

Really nice way to test the ablity of students. :) I am still learning....

Anyone fancy doing it? if yes, please tag it to "Wizwow_Assignment" As there are few were done by other members.

Ivan Makarov PRO Posted 8 years ago. Edited by Ivan Makarov (member) 8 years ago
I'm not going to dislike my own art if newspapers and magazines don't publish it and clients don't line up by hundreds to buy my prints. As I said, I love what I do for living, it is not photography, and it earns income. But I also love photography, and I'd like to think that I don't have to make thousands of dollars to take good pictures.

Everybody here pretty much says that you need to have business sense and know how to market your images to sell them. Sure, crap will not sell regardless of your selling skills, but by the same token even the best of images will not sell well if you don't market them correctly. The same is true of building any business.

But why does your art/photographs have to sell to be considered good? OrI use photography as means to express myself, and my goal is not to reach millions with it, but just to enjoy what I am doing and continue to improve. It's very subjective of what is considered a quality photograph, but I certainly will not measure the quality of my own work by how much money it made me, since money is not the goal of my photography.

When I take a picture, I don't ask myself "will it sell?" but I rather ask "do I like what I am seeing and does this have a potential to look good on my screen and in print?

To many of us photography and business don't have to go together.
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