No Whining, Please


Leslie writes a regular column in Picture magazine and is very active in many creative/creative-business groups and forums, both online and in the real world, including AIGA, Adlist/Adland, APAnet, APA, ASMP, and Editorial Photographers (EP).

Leslie Burns-Dell’Acqua lives in San Diego, California with her architect husband and two very spoiled cats. For more information please visit her website here and her blog here.

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Life is pain Princess, and anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell something.
is a quote from the Dread Pirate Roberts in The Princess Bride. The Dalai Lama would point out that life is suffering and that suffering is universal. A photographer, however, might say, “I just got a $20k project. It should have been $25K but the client beat me down” or “It’s not fair that I have to pay Workers’ Comp on my assistant!”

The difference between the first two quotes and the last are important. Everyone has crap they have to deal with. Everyone. That’s what the first two show–we’re all in this thing called life and there is a lot of crap in it–we all have pain and suffering. Unfortunately, far too often photographers somehow manage to make it about them–like their suffering is special somehow–and forget about the piles of crap their clients have to deal with. And this is not good for the photographers’ businesses.

Pittsburgh-based photographer (and ASMP VP) Richard Kelly recently offered up this:
I have one client who often says, “if you want to hear a photographer complain just give them an assignment.”

Ouch! Clients notice the whining, and they don’t like it. You need to remember that while you are rendering a valuable service to your clients, they usually (rightly or wrongly) see it as “I’m paying you for that service so I should get what I want and what I don’t want is a bunch of bitching about the assignment I’ve given you.”

Now, I’m not saying you should keep it all inside, but rather that you should never let it out in front of clients…any clients. That’s important–it’s not just the client who is driving you crazy that you shouldn’t complain to, you shouldn’t complain about that difficult client to any OTHER client. These days especially, you just never know who knows who, even internationally, so when you talk to Betty from Agency Z about that jerk Bob from Magazine X, they just might know each other somehow. Even if they don’t, it just makes you look bad.

It’s unprofessional to talk smack about clients to other clients. I remember going to a hair stylist once who complained the whole time about his other clients–some of whom he had clearly been working with for years. I couldn’t trust what he was saying to me because I knew he had to have lied to those clients. I never went back.

Richard also wrote in the same email:
Another client, with whom I sometimes speak to photo schools, is fond of saying, “I hire photographers to solve problems, not to hear about them.”

Exactly! Photographers are creative problem solvers. Clients come to you to make their image problems go away. The idea is to reduce their total “work crap” burden by making great work for them that’ll get their boss of their back, etc. When you, instead, spend your time on the shoot talking about how you can’t find a decent assistant or how it’s a pain to pay self-employment tax, all they are thinking is “I spend 10 hours a day, on a good day, in a cubicle farm and you get to work for yourself doing what you love–why the HELL are you complaining?!” By the time clients leave a shoot where the photographer complains, they are so full of resentment it’s no wonder they take out their frustrations by passive-aggressively “losing” your invoice.

Now, I’m not saying that clients are all perfect humans or even that their actions are justified. Nope, I’m just saying that this is the reality in our business. And if you are going to work with these people and get them to hire you more than once, you need to keep these things in mind as you interact with them.

Besides, when you choose to be pleasant, your business will improve. I speak from personal experience. I used to be one of the darkest people you’d ever know–I could find the downside of the best situation. Then one day I decided to stop being that way, and my business improved. And even if it hadn’t, it’s enough that I have been happier in my work every day anyway.


Self promotion is an invaluable tool for photographers.  It’s not something you can blow off, it’s a must.  It has to be a major part of your marketing campaign.  In addition to self promoting consistently you need to make sure that all of your touch points coincide with your look your feel your brand.  You must use dynamic eye catching images.  Creatives are busy, they don’t have time to spend analyzing photographers so you have to force them to stop and take a second to look at your work.

I’m going to point you over to Heather Morton’s blog for a deeper look into promoting your work to AB’s.

By the way, if your not reading Heather’s blog you need to be.  She’s a cool AB who’s interested in helping photographers learn about the relationship between them and their buyers.

Pursuing your own unique vision and style is hard. It’s really hard. It’s hard for these reasons:

You have to look deep within yourself
You have to figure out who you are, what you believe
You have to humble yourself
You have to figure out what you love about life
You have to work really really hard

It is so much easier to sit back and do what others are doing. To follow instead of lead.
It is essential to study photographers of the past and present. It’s integral that you know what’s been done and what is currently being done. But that should be the extent of it.

Todd Henry over at accidental creative says:
“Cover bands don’t change the world, you have to find your own unique voice.”

You should develop your own unique vision and style if you plan on surviving over the next 20 years. You should always be learning and your work will and should evolve over time. Developing a unique style is not an option any more, if you want to thrive it’s a must. I don’t care if you shoot weddings, editorial, fashion, advertising, documentary or fine art; it’s a must.

Lots of questions coming in from people about vision and style.

Very few photographers know where to start. Here’s the million dollar secret, are you ready? —-And it’s free—-

It all starts with your vision; your own unique way of seeing things. It takes a while to develop; it takes work, lots of it.

Where does your vision come from? It comes from your passion in life.
What do you love?
What do you like to do?
What type of people do you hang out with?

It all begins here.

After you figure out your passion you need to apply it to your personal vision. Your personal vision is your way of seeing things; type of subjects, camera position, lighting, post process and colors used. They all need to work together and flow from image to image.

Here are some photographers whose work I feel has a definitive vision and style:

Aaron Ruell
David Bowman
Julian Wolkenstein
Dana Neibert
William Huber
Henry Blackham
Edlo Kawa

A must read on this topic is Selina Maitreya’s book Portfolios That Sell. In the book she gives you tips and steps toward finding your own unique vision and style.

Better yet- Hire her. She’s a phenomenal talent and a wonderful person to work with. She’ll help get you to the level you want to be at.

A great quote I found over at AVS that kind of sums it up nicely:

“Here’s the dilemma and the strength of photography. It’s the easiest medium in which to be competent. But, it’s the hardest medium in which to have personal vision that is readily identifiable.” – Chuck Close

on being proactive


Be proactive. Take the initiative. Make things happen; recognize your responsibility to make them happen. Why? Because your survival depends on it. Not only that but the world can benefit from what you have to offer.

Proactive people win.


  • Are respected
  • Are the solution and not the problem
  • Are successful
  • Are happy
  • Help others
  • Are rewarded

Some ways to be proactive:

  • Study your industry
  • Help solve their problems
  • Help others solve their problems
  • Push the envelope in your industry
  • Try new things
  • Always be learning

Stephen Covey in his 7 habits book says it better than I ever could:

“Many people wait for something to happen or someone to take care of them. But people who end up with the good jobs are the proactive ones who are solutions to problems, not problems themselves, who seize the initiative to do whatever is necessary, consistent with correct principles, to get the job done.”

So tell me this:
What are you going to do to be proactive today?

find a mentor


The quickest way to find success in your industry is to find a successful person and figure out how they did it.

Everyone needs a mentor.  Someone you can talk to who can provide not only friendship but also be a valuable source for information within your industry.  The problem is not everyone is qualified to be your mentor.  It seems that almost everyone knows almost anything so we need to be careful on whom we befriend.

The first thing I look for in a mentor is their success.  How successful are they?  I had a big problem with this in school.  My photography professors claimed to know the industry yet they were making a measly 30-50k a year.  Some of them failed in business so they fell back on teaching, some of them didn’t even try to succeed in business; they wanted to teach from the beginning of their careers.  Sure they offered valuable information here and there but in the end should I be taking stock in everything they said?  For me the answer was a big no!

Would one who was seeking financial advice go to a financial investment firm and work with a salesman making 30k a year plus commission?  It happens everyday.  A friend of mine Cameron Taylor said in his book,

“I am called on all the time by people who want to sell me insurance, investments or  help with my financial plan. In response, I simply ask to see their tax returns and the performance of their investments for the past three years, as well as a statement of their net worth.”

Seek out someone qualified who has been successful within his or her own industry.  You’ll be glad you did!

So tell me this:
Who’s your mentor?

my story


I often get asked, “how did you get started in photography and how did it lead to where you are now?” My story is an interesting one; well I think so anyway.

My point in sharing this is in hopes that you will be motivated, encouraged, inspired or perhaps it will just be the kick in the butt that you may need.

I was sixteen years old and a junior in high school. In my English class I sat next to a kid who was a rock climber. He never paid attention in class because he was always reading rock climbing magazines and playing with his film canisters, camera and shuffling through black and white prints of his buddies climbing.

Obviously I couldn’t help but notice and so I started asking questions. I was immediately hooked and signed up for a photo class my senior year. I loved the class and learned tons. The year after that I signed up for the beginning photo class at my local community college (big mistake). I hated it, everything about it. It was not fun in the least. Long hours in the darkroom, a class size of over 100 students not to mention a hard-core fine art agenda.

Let me interject here: I love fine art, love it. But when it’s pushed on students as if “there’s no other way” or “what? you plan on making money?” or my all time favorite after seeing a print “is that film?”, I hate it. Good crap! DOES IT MATTER!!!!

Anyway, I ended up barely finishing the semester, I sold my camera and lenses. Shortly after I married six years later, my wife went through my old high school boxes and what do you know, she found all of my black and white prints from high school. She started asking questions and before I knew it I owned a camera again. But this time would be different… well sort of.

I started talking with other professionals (the wrong ones) and they had a bad attitude towards the industry, copyright, fees etc, the list goes on and on. They were cranky old farts stuck in the dark ages. (talking about the mentality here, their ages ranged from 20’s to 50’s) I even went to one lecture of a photographer in her early 30’s and she flat out said, “if you want to make money you’re in the wrong industry, plan on being poor.” So I got the crap scared out of me and decided to pursue art direction instead.

I moved to South Beach to attend the Miami Ad School’s AD program. By the end of my first quarter I had made friends with the head of the photo program and he asked me “what the hell are you doing in art direction? Well I gave him my sad story about how I didn’t want to be poor and how it would be a regular income and how I’d be able to pay my bills etc etc etc. He laughed hysterically dropped the F-word a few times and gave me a huge kick in my butt that helped jumpstart me.

Needless to say I immediately quit school and started working full time on my vision and style, some weeks in excess of 65 hours per week. Within a year I started marketing my work on a national level, shot my first national campaign within two months of the portfolio release and signed on with one of the best reps in the country.

For a little bit anyway you’ll be hearing about the things I learned and my experiences over that first year.

So what’s your story… I‘d love to hear it.

btw you should check out this post on sharing your stories and if you really want to get into it read Seth Godin’s book All Marketers are liars.