If I want to know what camera to photograph with, I can do a Google search and find thousands of suggestions via blogs and forums. If I want to learn how photograph, the actual technical skills involved, I also have tons of resources at my fingertips and the library. I could even look for extremely experienced photographers to take a workshop with, workshops that focus on tangible, measurable skill improvements. Most importantly, I can keep shooting. If I want ideas for who/what to photograph, I can use my own ideas, review my past work, look at many portfolios, read books, watch films, listen to music, go for a walk, or my personal favorite, sit silently doing absolutely nothing somewhere away from home. But if I truly want to learn more--understand and improve the business of photography, where do I go--the 3-4 photography blog posts I see about it per week compared to the hundreds (even thousands sometimes) that argue over gear vs. vision, Nikon vs. Canon, PC vs. Mac, RAW vs. JPEG, Twitter vs. Facebook, blogs vs. newsletters?
Many photographers turn to older and/or more experienced photographers for help in understanding the business of photography. Many face insults, closed doors or guidance on everything except business. One thing that I have observed in forums from 2006 on Myspace (first social site I ever joined) till present day in a plethora of forums is often when photographers wants business guidance, they'll receive the response that perhaps their work is not good enough to have a business in the first place. Truthfully though, all photographers KNOW that the quality of work is not what keeps most photographers in business. That is a fact. It is stated and proven over and over. A great business person with average work will always do better than a poor business person with stellar work. And who makes the decision that the work is good enough to be a business? Other photographers? Are photographers going to truly wait until they are as good as Ansel to have a business? Probably not. Are the photographers advising other photographers that they aren't good enough to have a business as good as Ansel? Doubtful. The truth is there is a certain point where every photographer (who wants to be more than a hobbyist) feels they are of the level to move their passion towards passion and profession. A photographer has a lifetime for continual artistic improvement. A photographer does not have a lifetime to earn income, pay bills and make a living for themselves (and family, if applicable). That is needed now. And this is why photographers want to learn and develop business skills.
We can argue that some photographers aren't "good enough" to be making money or to be successful, but the truth is business is about business. And if this business was one where only the most talented with the best images were the most successful, the need for the personal brand might be a completely mute one. Many photographers focus on who they are over their work. That alone supports the idea that business truly is just business. No matter how passionate we are about the craft, and whether we are the most talented or the worst, if we want to learn the business, it should be a way to do so. Yes? (I've seen many people argue that it is better to get a business degree than a photography degree. At first it does make sense. But, I have many friends with advanced business degrees who are actually quite brilliant and still have no clue about photography business and find many of the issues that I describe to them to be perplexing and even annoying. So a business degree helps, but isn't the total answer. Even traditional education in other areas help, but isn't the total answer.)
I am still learning. Though I am not totally new to the art of photography, I am fairly new to the business but still learning in both areas. I have so much to learn. I love the learning process. So when photographers ask me business questions, I try to think of sources to refer them to for business advice because I am not at the level to give it to them yet. (I haven't been in business long enough or even alive long enough to be an expert in it.) But honestly, I don't have many sources for reference. And I am learning that other photographers probably cannot be my key resource for this. Truthfully, many photographers do not want to provide business information to other photographers.
So how do photographers learn the business, which for the most part involves the four components of: sales, marketing, communication and management? From what I have observed and experienced it involves various cycles of learning, trial, error, failure, reinvention, success, complacency, stagnation, failure, learning, trial, error, reinvention, success. I think most photographers want to learn how to be closer to a homeostatic (versus cyclical with sharp highs and lows) approach and experience in business--not absent of failure, as it teaches, but absent of prolonged stagnation and complacency. Absent of blanket confusion and complexity that is easily answered by true mentors who care and peers who share ideas. The pool of information is so small in this area that it's almost a vapor. A few sources have inspired me about business and not all of them are photography. New Media Photographer and Lighting Essentials (more than just lighting, Don gives great business info for commercial photographers but some is still applicable to personal consumer photographers) are, but Harvard Business Review, Seth Godin and my friends with advanced business degrees are not photography-related. I do absorb a lot of business information from many sources (much more than the aforementioned list), though most of the sources are not specific to photography as I don't find specific ones as abundant. I guess I hope that one day the resources for photography business information will be as vast as the blogs arguing over the fact that Canon keeps making cheaper dSLRs or articles that complain over free photography over and over and over. There really is more to the business of photography than the aforementioned and I hope to see those ideas become more available, widespread, and without judgment as the access key to receive this information.
Photographers need to receive fewer mixed messages. Photographers can fight to improve craft and then want to have a business and then be advised their work isn't good enough for a business, only to then hear what I mentioned earlier "a great business person with average work will always do better than a poor business person with stellar work." Because the truth is, happy clients, not other photographers, determine if they feel the photographer is good or even great. And that photographer may simply want to learn ways to reach and connect with even more clients. Most photographers that I know that seek to improve the business are still quite passionate about the art and simply want the resources, information, mentorship and opportunity to be passionate about and improve the business.
UPDATE 9/3/2010: This post inspired a good amount of conversation among enthusiastic photographers who actually want to share and educate photographers. How Do Photographers Learn The Business? Some Thoughts... by Don Giannatti had some good insights. He also hosted a LIVE event on Wednesday September 1, 2010 and answered excellent questions and gave focus to the matter.
Also, Craig Ferguson has a great business post in response to this post: The Business of Photography
Thanks for their input, guidance, time and kindness regarding the matter. So many photographers (including me) benefitted from their knowledge. I was educated on somethings, reminded of some things I already knew and inspired with some fresh approaches for the path of consistent improvement.