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Great Photographers Know How to Keep it Simple

for skips guest post
Today’s guest post comes from SCU President and founder of Marketing Essentials International, Skip Cohen.

“Think simple” as my old master used to say – meaning reduce the whole of its parts into the simplest terms, getting back to first principles.” – Frank Lloyd Wright

There’s a serious challenge with so many photographers, but the issue is universal with small businesses. Everyone spends so much time trying to reinvent the wheel that in the process they forget a key word, “simplicity”. Instead of just keeping it simple, people create promotional offers that take a Harvard MBA to understand. Seriously, there’s something to be said about eye contact, a solid handshake and simply building relationships and those same qualities need to come out in the way you promote yourself and your business.

I follow a lot of photographers and I’m always looking at everybody’s promotional offers, not the stuff we read about on Twitter and their Facebook page directed towards other photographers, but what they’re putting out to the public. I’ve seen some offers that are incredibly complex. Well, it got me thinking about how complicated we tend to make things, when simplicity is the key.

Let’s just use SCU as an example for a second. This is about education…nothing particularly complex. What we’re building, with your help, is a resource center to help you grow. It’s all pretty basic and it’s all based on putting the human spirit back into everything we do. For now let’s talk about your business and importance of simplicity!

Here’s the point, in everything you do as a professional photographer, keep it simple.

  • Promotional Offers: Make them easy to understand. I watched a live demo of a “space age” storage product at Sam’s Club a while back. The salesman said, “I don’t have the authority to change prices at Sam’s, but I can give you more! Today only, I can double the number of containers you’ll receive!” I’ll be the first to admit it sounds as cheesy as a $19.95 special offer for the pocket fisherman on late night television, but it was simple to understand and everybody jumped at the offer.
  • Limit the Time on Special Offers: Keep the windows of opportunity on any offers relatively short. For me that means 30 days is the max. When you give consumers too long to take advantage of an offer, they procrastinate. The shorter the window, the greater the urgency to respond, but you still have to have an attractive promotion.
  • Free Goods or Services: They have to have value and be something your target audience understands. Always focus on added value rather than discounted prices.
  • Print Competition: Let’s step away from promotional offers and think about other things you do. If you’re entering print competition, simplicity in your use of filters/plug-ins will always trump an image that’s just over done. Here’s where less is more. If it’s a great image then enhance it in the computer. If it’s a bad image, move on to another shot – all the filters in the world won’t change a bad image and no judge is going to be impressed with the fact that you stuffed a half dozen different tools into one photograph. It’s one of my most favorite expressions for you to remember, “You can’t buff a turd!”
  • Your Website: Can your clients get to the most important page on your website in 2 clicks or less? If you’re forcing them to mine through your site struggling to find images, who you are or special limited time offers, then you’re losing them just when they walk through the door. You’ve sabotaged the simplicity of your site! Check out our Dean of Portraiture’s site, Matthew Jordan Smith for a real look at the definition of simplicity – you don’t need a map to figure out who Matthew is, how incredible his work is or how to contact him.
  • Photographic Technique: Just keep it simple! Michele Celentano at Skip’s Summer School last year, focused on just getting natural expressions with your clients. Kirk Voclain talks about how he gets his high school seniors just talking about their interests and in the process he clicks the shutter when he sees that ideal expression. It’s all about simplicity.
  • Education: Don’t be overwhelmed by what you don’t know, just keep it simple and take it one step at a time. Don’t over-think what you need to know, but instead take each new technique you learn and practice it, until you know it cold and then move on to the next one.

Photography is an art form and your success is based on not over-focusing on the challenges, but embracing the beauty of the craft and as always, it’s about simplicity!


Skip Cohen is President of SCU, founder of Marketing Essentials International and past president of Rangefinder Publishing and WPPI. He’s been an active participant in the photographic industry since joining Hasselblad USA in 1987 as president. He has co-authored six books on photography and actively supports dozens of projects each year involving photographic education.

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