I, Darbi G. Hebrank, am officially 100 percent employed by…myself!!!
If you know me personally, you know this is huge, much needed, and gosh darnit…well-deserved! I have been working both an 8 to 5 job and running my own business since 2007 until....today at noon. So many others have worn and are currently wearing similiar shoes to the ones I've worn these past 3 years...to them and to anyone who cares, I would love to share a few things I've learned over the course of this journey.
1. Plan Bs get a bad rap.
I’m not a Plan A kind of girl. I never have been, the more I think about it. Examples?
Plan A: Go to college in California. Plan B: Went to Univ. of Missouri-Columbia.
Plan A: Get Matthew McConaughey to fall madly in love with me. Plan B: Neil. :)
Plan A: Move to Austin, TX once Neil is done with school. Plan B: Moved to Kansas City.
Plan A: Get a degree, and then a career, in journalism. Plan B: Started with PR/Marketing jobs and ended up being a photographer/entrepreneur.
And yay for my Plan B!!! I am now where I want to be. :) I am so glad that as much of a planner as I am, I was able to veer off course when needed. Try it sometime…see where you end up!
2. Just because I love photography, it doesn’t mean making a living at it is easy.
Many people, some friends and family members, even, don’t truly “get” what it takes to be a professional photographer nowadays. "You just shoot, right? Ok...you edit too." WRONG.
For myself...and any other photographer juggling an 8 to 5 job, it's usually all work, very little play. Clocking out with the day job at 5 isn't the end of the workday...all other waking moments entail shooting and/or sitting in front of the computer sorting, editing, blogging & doing other social media (the new marketing!!), emailing clients, uploading, burning discs, marketing, bookkeeping, banking, networking, educating self, designing albums, meeting with clients, organizing, cleaning equipment, backing up images, fulfilling print orders, updating Web site and more!!!
And then the weekends come and instead of taking it easy, doing chores around the house, spending quality time with loved ones or getting personal projects done…we photographers are shooting again (weddings or sessions!) and putting in another 6-12 hours on the aforementioned tasks. And sometimes, we try to fit in a social life, too! Did you do the math??? That’s another 30-50 hours ON TOP of the 40-hour work week.
I am not sharing this with you to whine. I just want to educate others about the reality of being a serious, professional photographer in this day and age.
I know firsthand that it is crazy-scary to make the leap and say farewell to the trusty bi-monthly paycheck. Especially because it is really hard to make a profit when you not only start your business, but to keep it up and running in the beginning years. I know, a lot of you are like…but you charge nearly $3,000 for a wedding!!! At this point in the conversation, I would like to kindly remind you that photographers have to pay taxes just like all other working folk. And we have to run a business. So a rough formula is: of that $3k, I only “pay myself” $1,000. (1/3 goes back into the business and the other 1/3 goes to taxes…). But I know that the inevitable financial hardship for these next couple of years will be worth it, by golly!!
3. Never be complacent.
Good photographers never stop improving. Personally I love looking back at the photos I shot in the beginning and seeing how much I’ve grown. (Actually, some of my faves to date were taken with subpar equipment and talent... haha) It’s something you can’t really see from shoot to shoot, as the change—the growing!!!—is gradual…but gosh, it’s sooo obvious when you compare one year’s photos to the next. If you want to see some of my beginning work, browse the archives by using the drop down box in the lower right corner of the blog.
I see the industry saturated with incredible talent as well as deafening mediocrity (or worse!!). Seeing both ends of the spectrum inspires me to keep pushing myself, personally and professionally. I know on which side of the spectrum I want to be.
4. It takes more than photography technique to succeed at being a photographer.
A lot of people can take a decent photo. But the ones who really work their way up to the top also have winning personalities and business acumen…and I’m not just talking with numbers. I’m talking about being savvy with customer service and marketing…with the know-how to deliver services and goods to clients that far exceed their expectations. I am thankful I realized that this early in the game, because I can say one thing that I know for a fact sets me apart from many others with the same career… I give each and every client my all. I am reliable. I want my clients to be happy. Owning a dSLR is only the first step.
5. Not everyone can afford me. And that’s a good thing.
No longer am I offended when someone doesn’t book me because USUALLY, it’s money-related. I am very aware of where my rates fall in comparison to other photographers. I am also very comfortable charging what I do because I know there are photographers who charge more and I know there are photographers who charge less. I charge what I think I am worth.
And if someone doesn’t agree, or if someone can’t afford that price even if they think my work IS worth it, then that is fine...it just makes my target audience easier to reach.
My lifestyle clients understand the importance of having photos that don’t look like snapshots. They want images that show their kids being themselves and their family being the crazy family that they are. They want quality processing, quality customer service, and more than 15-30 usable images in the end (I typically give 90-150 images, fully edited). They want to be wowed by just how cute their own family is. They see what I do as art featuring THEM…not just as a milestone photo to get taken and never hang up or share with anyone.
My wedding clients know that their photographer isn’t just a vendor who shows up that day and then is never heard from again. They want to see themselves in images that make them do a double-take. They want to look through the photos and relive their magical day from the eyes of someone who was not a wallflower, but an active participant. They want to know me, and they want me to know them. I’m not a photographer for everyone. No good photographer is. And no photographer should want to be, either.
6. Shoot for who matters.
I could very easily spend every hour of my day getting lost in photography forums. The industry is rife with so many photographers with varying degrees of talent and expertise. I’ve learned so much from those who are very seasoned, and I’ve taught newbies a few things as well. But I used to hang out too much around the industry watercoolers, and I started down a road that I think all too many photographers travel. I stopped shooting for who matters…I was finding myself shooting to impress my peers.
Why? So I could get more comments on my images on Flickr? So I could get more photographers to “ooh” and “ahh” on my Facebook uploads? As much as it is important to be respected in the industry, by my peers, I realized that my peers weren’t paying my bills. Praise from my peers wasn’t making me feel as warm and fuzzy as I would feel after reading an e-mail from an elated bride or getting off the phone with a mom who is nearly crying because the photos I took of her newborn are in her words, "precious and priceless."
I vowed to myself before this busy season began that I would stop worrying so much about my work being “cool” to photographer friends. My clients matter. I matter. If my clients are happy with my work, then I am happy with my work. If my peers dig it, then that is just a plus.
7. Support, in all its forms, is invaluable.
With #6 said, I have to add…support from peers IS important. Even from industry newbies. It still makes my day when I get “fan mail”… I will never be a Jasmine Star or Jesh De Rox (they would be considered “famous” in the photography world, for all you non-industry readers), but hearing from another photographer that I’m inspiring them does wonders as I’m constantly in search for my own sources of inspiration. On that same note…comments on blogs or photos uploaded to Facebook are lil’ pieces of chocolate on otherwise vanilla days. It feels so good to know that not only are people looking at my work, but to know that for whatever reason, they felt inclined to tell me “I was here!” so....keep it coming!!!! And do it for others, too!!!
I’m not trying to turn this into an acceptance speech for an award that isn’t there to win, but I do want to give a shout out to people who have made a difference TO ME.
- I've made quite a few good friends through networking. I am excited as the new KC-kid in town to develop fulfilling relationships with local photographers...I'm off to a great start as so many have been very welcoming. But to two kindred spirits whom I've met ONLY because of our mutual passion... Lara Hanlon (my shutter & sisterly soulmate ) & Clary Pfeiffer (my earliest-source-of-inspiration-turned-good-friend).... in particular... thank you. I love you both! We have one another's back...we freely give advice, listen to probs, help come up with new ideas, and laugh at things only photographers would find funny. That's invaluable.
- My boss(es) at Columbia College... (especially Lana & Jennifer!!) thank you for somehow making things fall into place as I made a transition into being self-employed. You made the Plan B of Kansas City over Austin that much more bearable. ;)I will miss you.
- The friends and family members who DO boast about my work…who DO send people my way…who DO stalk my blog and leave comments…I can’t thank you enough. Not all my friends stay up-to-date on the world of Darbi G. And even fewer let me know they are right there behind me, cheering me on. But those who do, it is you I would like to hug right now. I would never have been able to get started if it weren’t for you cheerleaders…however biased you were in the beginning…(haha)
- My immediate family—Mom, Dad, Temple & Troy… (and your sig others…Nick & Wendy)… you’ve never stopped believing in me. (Mom--all your adorable comments on virtually EVERY blog post never cease to make me smile.) Do not think for a moment that I don’t realize I’m blessed to have such a great family behind me.[side note as I've been asked this before: my brother and sister do not get my services for free....discounts, yes... free, not so much!!)
- And lastly…Kramer, my cat. Just kidding…the last shout out goes to my dearest husband, Neil. I know...you never leave me those much-coveted blog comments but I know that you’re proud of how hard I’ve worked. You’ve always said I could let go of the 8 to 5 whenever I want, even if financially we’ll be roughing it for a while. Knowing you're encouraging me to spread my wings makes the flight a lot less fearful. When I stopped picking up the house because I chose satisfying a client rather than our own needs for a clean living space, when I’ve had my breakdowns because I’m so worn out ... you have been there to pick up the slack....to tell me it’s going to be okay…to remind me of the beacon of light that today’s date has been…And most importantly…to drill into my head that I am “a human being, not a human doing.” Thank you, babers. I can finally find some time to just sit on the couch with you and watch TV.
I’m not sure how many people actually will read this entire post, but if you made it this far, a heartfelt thanks to YOU. I am so excited to see where Darbi G. Photography is headed in the next several years. I’ve managed to score some amazing clients in the past, and have many more I’m eager to shoot this year! I am so thankful that I have been given this gift, but also the drive to see it through. Here’s to a wonderful 2nd half of 2010!!! Xoxoxoxo
And here's a photo of someone else who has been by my side the past several months as I make a transition. :)