Positive vs. Negative Photographers – Which Are You?


Have you ever been in a room with a whole bunch of positive people, and as a result, you walked away feeling optimistic and positive too? That was the scene at WPPI in Las Vegas last week, a trade show for wedding and portrait photographers. People were so positive, upbeat, and happy, that I needed to find out why.

This year, Allen and I decided to attend WPPI – but not by setting up a booth on the trade show floor. We just wanted to talk to people in a more pleasant atmosphere than a crowded and noisy show floor. We wanted to talk to people about their photography, their businesses, their outlook on the industry, and strategies for success – and felt that if we stepped out of sales-mode (which you really cannot escape if you’re standing inside of a booth) we’d be able to learn a lot more simply because we’d have the time to listen.

This trade show was booming with an estimated 16,500 attendees. I’ve been to my share of shows, and I must say it was impressive to see so many photographers in attendance, talking about photography, camera gear, and sales and marketing strategies. But the most obvious thing that nobody was talking about was the overall positive vibe and optimistic buzz that I immediately picked up on.

To be honest, I am used to the doom-and-gloom variety of photo trade shows. You know the kind – where the most popular topics of discussion are: shrinking day rates; people stealing images; the invasion of amateurs into the marketplace; the damage that Microstock is doing to the stock photography market; photographers stealing each others ideas; and other such fun topics. It’s easy to go negative in the photo business today.

I heard none of that kind of talk at WPPI.

After we talked to 17 different photographers (all highly respected, successful, and making money), I saw a pattern, and thus the reason for their optimism.

The 5 Positive Traits of Successful Photographers

They truly love photography.

This is the one thing everyone had in common. They feel lucky to be able to make a good living by doing something they love. This feeling is infectious. They didn’t decide to get into the business to make money. Instead, they did what they loved to do and found a way to turn it into a successful business. There is no better boost to a photographer’s self esteem than doing what they love, and being paid well to do it.

They are selling their services to people who are willing (and excited) to pay for it.

These photographers aren’t working for free, or even for cheap. In fact, most of them charged a great deal more than “market rate” for their services. But I noticed that they did a better job of selecting the type of photography they would do, and the customers they would accept. In other words, they found ways to screen potential clients and only work with the ones who were truly excited to be working with them.

Imagine how your mood would be improved if you didn’t have to work with cheapskates, difficult personalities, or people who didn’t understand (or care about) your individual style. Having to deal with bad clients means you’re spending time away from working with great clients. These photographers were not afraid to say no – because it is more important to their career to be a happy, positive, motivated photographer who loves his/her job. Too many negative customers could end up pulling them into a negative space as well.

This is much easier for wedding and portrait photographers, who are working directly with the real people, than it is for editorial or advertising photographers, who are working for a big faceless corporation. But the same holds true in all aspects of business – you should strive to spend most of your time working with people who see your value and respect your individual talents.

They share their knowledge with others, happily.

I didn’t see any people protecting their proprietary photo secrets. Instead, it was quite the opposite – photographers helping photographers. There seemed to be this “we’re all in this together” attitude, and people were giving each other advice for the good of the industry as a whole. This created a really open and healthy learning environment that extended beyond the show floor, into the bars, restaurants and hotels surrounding WPPI. Nobody seemed to be afraid to ask a question, and nobody seemed to be afraid to give an honest answer.

They embrace the marketing/sales process.

These photographers understand and accept that shooting pictures is only part of the business of being a photographer. The other part is marketing and selling themselves. But what makes the marketing/sales process easy was the fact that they are selling something very unique and original that they truly believe in — themselves.

Thanks to Facebook, getting the word out and creating buzz has been made much easier. Photographers can now work this into their regular routine and kick off successful word-of-mouth campaigns to all of their client’s friends and family just by posting images and tagging the people in the photos. This tactic is a cost-effective way to get personal referrals — and more high quality clients.

Their websites aren’t just a portfolio of their images, but an extension of their personality, and is meant to showcase what makes them different. They understand that, to a potential client, it’s not just about the photos they produce – it’s about the entire experience of working with them. Their website, their blog, and their social media presence is crafted so that the client can see what their experience will be like, in addition to how great the images will be.

They realize that *they* are the most important part of the process, not their pictures.

The reason people were so freely offering advice was because they know that nobody can do what they do. They are unique, have their own style, appeal to a certain audience, and live in different regions of the country. Realizing you are unique, from your creative vision to your people skills, means you can concentrate on what you do best.

People should hire you for you – not just because you own a camera, or happen to be cheaper than the other guy. To avoid being lumped in as “just another photographer” you have to differentiate yourself, and make it known. When you make yourself a necessary part of the equation, you cannot be replaced and people will pay for the privilege of working with you.

If you’re willing to take any client that comes your way, and compromise who you are, then “the experience” will suffer, and you’ll likely have to take what they offer. The “going rate” only applies to people who don’t make their uniqueness known.

These traits don’t have to live with just wedding and portrait photographers. If you feel like you’re powerless, or a victim of a industry that’s in decline – realize and remember that as long as you love photography, you have the power to change that. You don’t have to go negative.

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There are 16 comments for this article
  1. HaynePhotographers at 11:17 am

    Wow, what a great article and very encouraging. To think that 17 different photographers could be interviewed separately and come up with like answers is pretty awesome. Thank you for sharing and for the inspiration.

  2. Jeff Jochum at 11:27 am

    Thank you guys SO much for both listening and “hearing” these valuable insights. Personally, thank you for reinforcing the notion that “They (successful photogs) realize that *they* are the most important part of the process, not their pictures” – something I have felt passionately about for a long time. Go get em. jeff

  3. Mueller Images at 1:27 pm

    In regards to sharing knowledge, I think sometimes photographers feel like sharing technique or creative ideas will put them at risk of having someone else steal what they are doing. But it’s my experience that discussing ways to use our tools, sharing ideas and being open to others leads to better, more developed work. Why be afraid?

  4. Katie at 5:09 pm

    This was my first WPPI experience and I so needed it!I have been WAY to caught up during the slow season in forums that all scream negativity. The first thing I did when I got home was leave all the negative forums, and start a positive forum with some friends of mine, some I already knew, and some from WPPI. I came home feeling like a completely new person! I feel great. I am inspired and so ready to change the things that need changing in my business and take my business to the next level. WPPI was absolutely amazing and it was SO refreshing to be surrounded by so many positive photographers/people. I am so glad that things fell into place for me to go!

  5. Carly Arnwine at 8:30 pm

    I loved this post and it’s completely true. The speakers at WPPI made me have hope for my career in this industry, as intimidating it is as a newcomer. They breathe life into the community and reassure everyone that its possible to chase your dreams and succeed.

  6. Pro in Sydney at 9:03 pm

    On your 2nd point – screening clients. Wouldn’t a negative photographer be more likely to screen clients out of the way? I know it’s a debate that’s been had before but if you are screening clients then you’re probably doing it for negative reasons – “they’re too miserly, too ugly, too much work…” etc. I would have thought that a good positive photographer could find a way to make a potentially difficult client a great client. That’s what we try to do. Positively. And we end up with happy clients who originally started out with bad vibes.

  7. Botticelli at 4:06 pm

    I’m happy to hear that our industry seems to be moving in the right direction. I have not regularly attended trade shows, but I am much more interested after reading your article. We certainly are all in this together, we’d be fools to think we can be successful on our own.

  8. Paul Dickinson at 8:45 pm

    I hope your fully equainted with the word claptrap
    you spoke to 17 successful photographers hardley a crossection
    of the industry and difined this statement from that data….

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