I have to admit, when I saw the article on PetaPixel titled $57K in 57 Hrs: Why I’m Focusing on Public Portraits Over Commercial Work , I was curious…
I thought, what is a ‘public portrait’. Is this person setting up a pop-up portrait studio in a public space? I’ve seen that done before so it’s not unheard of…but how did someone make $57,000 doing that?
But then, as I read, it became very clear what was going on…
First off, disclaimer, the article in question is written by Jeremy Cowart. Mister Cowart is a fantastic photographer. His pictures are really engaging, at least to me. He’s on a short list of photographers I’d probably pay a lot of money to and know I’d get a really cool shot. He also does a lot of great charity work. He was also named “Most Influential Photographer on the Internet” by Huffington Post, Forbes and Yahoo in 2014…and that’s going to be important to where this story goes.
Mr. Cowart’s article gives reasons why he doesn’t like commercial photography, such as clients having creative input, choosing the final photos, buying out his copyright on images, and having to wait a long time to see the images published.
He wanted to see if he could make about the same amount of money to shoot portraits of regular folks and have complete creative control over the process and images. The reason?
“I love to experiment and explore. I’m an artist. With commercial work, you still are selling a product or person. You still have to make them look good. This ends up ultimately killing a lot of the weird ideas that an artist like me wants to explore and I end up giving them the super flattering (but also boring) light that I know they’re going to want anyways.”
So, he started charging people $250 for a 15 minute shooting session. And he gets to choose all the lighting and be as creative as he wants…and he made $57k in 57 hours of shooting. That’s 228 15 minute portrait sessions.
Smoke and Mirrors
Over my career as a photographer, I’ve spent a lot of time explaining to people that there’s a lot that goes into photography other that just clicking the shutter.
If you make $3000 for photographing an 8 hour wedding do you go around telling people that you make $375 an hour? No, because it doesn’t translate in the same way that a 9 to 5 job with a paycheck does.
228 15 minute portrait sessions over what period of time? How much time spent marketing these sessions? Communicating back and forth with clients?
And what about editing time? Cowart says he shoots tethered during sessions and has his editing ‘dialed in’ so it’s just a few tweaks here and there. Which probably means he has a preset that applies when the image is imported.
But the intention of saying that he made X amount in Y hours has a purpose, and I’ll get to that later.
Being famous helps…
As I mentioned earlier, Jeremy Cowart was named “The Most Influential Photographer on the Internet”. That’s pretty good press. He also has about half a million followers on social media. He’s widely respected in the photography industry…
Sooooooooo, yeah, a lot of people want him to take their photos and just let him ‘do his thing’ artistically. The average photographer has to gain the confidence of their potential client before they get hired.
Despite what Cowart says about everyone needing “new, cooler photos of themselves” to post on social media, I doubt there’s an enormous market around the world for every photographer to just do whatever they want artistically and have people hire them often enough for them to make a living at it.
But Cowart has a response to that as well. If you don’t have the following, “just start at a lower price point”. It’s as simple as that! Or is it? Wait until the end folks, wait until the end…
There’s a Disconnect
Cowart says he wondered, “What if I could get paid to just play and experiment?”
For most photographers, playing and experimenting is limited to unpaid shoots. This is the realm of styled shoots and TFP sessions.
Why? Because most people want to know what they’re getting when they pay you for a shoot. They don’t want to pay someone to ‘experiment’ on them, especially in a 15 minute session.
That is, unless you’re a photographer known worldwide with a great reputation.
But Cowart says that it CAN work for you, and here’s how…
I’m not selling anything!
In the article, Cowart says, “I’m not selling anything. I’m not thinking about my client’s marketing strategy anymore and how to help them sell a product or a person.”
But in order to get people to pay you, you have to sell YOURSELF and YOUR WORK to other people. They have to want to buy it! We are constantly selling, and if you don’t believe that, I highly recommend the book To Sell Is Human. In fact, I recommend you read that book regardless of whether you believe me or not. It will help you a lot!
But how do you get them to buy it? Well, Cowart will tell you for $99. That’s right! The article has several links to his amazing new business model. So much for not selling anything…
Why Do We Fall For It?
It’s such a click bait headline. We should know immediately that they’re going to try to sell something, right? So why do we click and read these stories???
Well, to be honest, a lot of people are looking for the quick solution.
They want to take the short cut.
Or find the magic bullet.
They don’t want to or feel they don’t have the time to put in the work to build a reputation where they can charge large sums of money.
They don’t want to learn about how to process their images, just give them the preset.
They don’t want clients telling them how they want their images to look.
They want to have, as Cowart puts it, “the freedom and fun of getting paid to essentially do personal work and learn as [you] go!”
And there are people so desperate for that sort of lifestyle or just to make a living at all as a photographer, that they’ll pay $99 for a business plan and hope that it’s the answer to all of their prayers.
But if it’s such a successful and sustainable photography business plan, why not just keep doing it? Why tell everyone else about it?
Perhaps the article should have been titled, “How I made $100k selling you my business plan!”