Photography's Art-Business Intersection: A Fine Line Between Inspiration and Insolvency
If someone had told me when I was a young, idealistic photographer fumbling about with a used Kodak that one day I'd be writing about the convergence of art and commerce in photography, I'd have laughed harder than my pocketbook when I spent my last penny on a vintage Leica.
Nonetheless, here we are. The art and business of photography, it seems, do converge - often at a ludicrous roundabout where aesthetic delight meets commercial margins. How many times have we, as photographers, wished for our work to pay our bills? And how often has it really occurred? I can count the occurrences on one arm of a one-armed starfish!
Say Cheese to Business Success
"Do what you love, and you'll never work a day in your life," a famous bit of advice is tossed at young creatives with the regularity of pigeon excrement in a city plaza. certainly, certainly. They also fail to clarify that you may not eat every day of your life, particularly if your art is your business.
Welcome to the world of professional photography, where photographers must work hard to turn their passion into a living. We rapidly discover that our customers are not paying for our photographs; they are purchasing our soul in high-resolution JPEGs.
Aside from that, business photography has particular obstacles. Nothing says "Artistic compromise" more than a customer requesting that you airbrush their dog into the shape of a unicorn for their pet grooming company. But keep in mind that the customer is always right... right?
Art meets Business. Business meets Art.
So, how can you cross this perilous terrain without losing your creative spirit or becoming a starving artist - a cliché that, believe me, isn't as romantic (particularly on an empty stomach)?
The key, I've discovered, is to recognize that art and business are not diametrically opposed. They're more like a grouchy old couple that frequently argue yet remain oddly attached. They could even finish one other's sandwiches - well, sentences - at times.
The muse whispering lovely nothings into your ear at 3 a.m. is the heart of your work. It's the quiet symphony that plays in our heads when we finally catch that perfect sunset view that keeps us up for hours editing a single image.
Business, on the other hand, is the operation's brain. It serves as a reminder that, although photographing sunsets is lovely, it will not pay your expenses until you find out how to sell them. "Yes, sweetie, you're fabulous, but could you also be a little profitable?" it says to art.
Profitable Interest: Not an Oxymoron
Profitability does not imply selling your soul to the devil of commercialism (though he can offer some very tempting offers!). It entails combining your enthusiasm with a practical approach. A good place to start? Spend time learning about the market. What is popular? Portraits? Landscapes? Poodles that resemble unicorns? The more you know about your audience, the more you will be able to personalize your work while maintaining your style.
Let us remember that there is no shame in making popular art. Ansel Adams, one of the finest photographers of all time, did not picture huge vistas just because he loved hiking. He recognized the worth of his effort in the marketplace.
The border between art and business in photography is as delicate as the balance between shadows and light in a flawless shot. To produce a full picture, one need the other.
To all aspiring photographers out there:
Remember: your passion is invaluable, yet it is OK to charge for your labor. Treat your art like a business, and your business like an art. Most essential, remember to have fun while you're about it. After all, it is our duty to record life's moments, so why not enjoy our own?
So grab your camera, put on your business hat, and go transform those photographs into cash-shots! Just remember to retain a sense of fun about it. Isn't that simply the nature of the business?