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Deryck van Steenderen, author of Exposed – The Business of Photography, started out as a commercial photographer and today he’s a self-employed creative director and producer of still and moving images. In this blog he shares with us invaluable advice for starting or simply bettering your photography business.
Deryck van Steenderen in 30 seconds
I asked Deryck what he did for a living and he said that it had become considerably more difficult to explain exactly what he does for a living due to the multi-disciplined nature of digital media; however, these words seem to sum it up: Innovative – Creative – Photographer – Filmmaker – Author – EurAfriCan – Aweh… sounds like a pretty cool guy, right? Besides being a talented photographer, Deryck prides himself in his ability to whistle with his tongue rolled upwards into a tube… He dares us to try it – “you know you want to!”
“’n Ware Soutie”
Born to a British mother and first-generation father of Dutch descent, Deryck finds himself lucky to have spent countless hours in the South African bush where, to this day, he feels most at peace. Both his father and grandfather were keen amateur photographers so it’s something that he’s always been acquainted with.
Deryck’s advice to you
Whether you are just starting out with your studies or if you are fresh out of college, this is some first-class advice, so take note. Step-by-step Deryck explains what you should do if you want to start and succeed in your own photography business.
1. Assist, assist and assist some more
Don’t worry about the equipment you don’t have yet! Whatever kind of photographer you want to be, find a photographer whose work you admire and assist them – even if you have to work for free! Deryck says that he learnt more in his first six months of assisting than in four years of studying. Although studying gives you a good theoretical basis to work from, assisting is paramount to your success as a photographer.
(Bear in mind that most active, professional photographers already have preferred assistants and a long queue of people waiting to assistant them, so they don’t need you, you need them.)
2. Test, test, test
Deryck advises that while you’re assisting you should shoot whenever you can. As a new graduate you’re realistically looking at about four years of assisting before you’ll be ready to start taking on commercial work. It might sound like a long time, but it actually gives you four years to network, meet people, gather contacts and build a killer portfolio. “Never ever stop working on your portfolio!”
3. Knowledge is power
Make sure that you own the copyright (and control the license for use) to your work. If you don’t understand the value of owning and controlling your intellectual property then ask Bill Gates to explain it to you. He doesn’t sell software; he sells the license to use software. Educate yourself about IP; it will be a valuable investment.
4. Don’t be an “asshole”
Deryck suggests that you don’t be an “asshole”. People remember how they felt around you more that what they did with you. If you’re easy to work with, provide consistent quality at the right level, deliver on time and within budget people will use you again, and refer you.
Photography is a business
If your expenses exceed your income, you’re bankrupt. If your income exceeds your expenses, you’re making money. “Once all is said and done, photography is a business run on the same principles that all businesses are run on”, says Deryck.
You have to really want it
If you don’t want it with every fibre of your being then rather find a job with a stable income and shoot for fun. You’ll be able to focus on exactly what you want to shoot without the pressure of having to make money from it.
If you do want it with every fibre of your being then, never give up. Never surrender. Take no prisoners. Just when you think you can’t manage anymore, it will probably all come together.
Competition is important
Firstly, you can’t escape competition. Globally, the photography industry is heavily over-traded globally making it a buyers market. The benefit of competition is that it forces you to consistently refine your offering.
Like all businesses, there are those who undersell (and sometimes destroy) the market and there are those who are unaffordable to most. Decide where you want to be on that scale. If you market yourself as cheap you will always be perceived as being cheap. If you offer a carefully priced service and deliver good work that is consistently on time and within budget, there’s a good chance that you’ll make it.
Knowing what your work is worth and being firm but fair goes a long way.
I asked Deryck what the most valuable piece of advice was that he had received and he summed it up (as you guessed it!) follows: “Don’t be an asshole”.
What is success?
Deryck believes that although it is difficult to measure success, he describes his success as a combination of his stubborn, tenacious nature: A healthy dose of support from his family, a refusal to give up and lucky breaks he made the most of. Photography and filmmaking are his passions and therefore he will never give up.
Besides work, he has 15-month old identical twins that keep him pretty busy in his spare time. “Before they were born I had time to make films, free dived, surfed and made music, now, I’m not even sure what spare time is!?” As for the future, Deryck hopes to work on more amazing campaigns, in spectacular places with phenomenal teams for exciting clients who pay incredible bills, on time!
We are so happy to have secured this interview with this very cool and talented businessman and photographer. If followed meticulously, his advice is sure to inspire future South African photographers to not only start, but also succeed as successful commercial photographers.