Is photography really 90% business and 10% art?

by Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor on November 30, 2015

in This is Business

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“You all laugh at me because I’m different, I laugh at you because you’re all the same.” ― John Davis

All the business gurus will tell you: success comes with knowing and communicating your Unique Value Proposition (UVP).

But, as a visual artist, you look at your value from a solely visual perspective:

“My art looks just like that guy’s over there. And it sure as heck doesn’t look as good as this guy. I love his work. I look at my work and get so discouraged. How can I pretend to be a professional photographer? Why would anyone pay for my work?”

Why are you valuable?

That’s a powerful, priceless question.

I know you’ve heard the line that the photography business is 10 percent photography and 90 percent business.

There’s some truth to that. And some untruth.

It’s really more of a scale that tips to one side or another depending on your artistic and business acumen.

As a startup photographer, your art is at a startup level, so to be successful you invest heavily in the business side: low barriers to entry, minimized risk, affordable pricing, creative marketing. You seek clients. Your hustle defines your success.

As your art grows in quality, style, vision, uniqueness, polish, salability, desirability – the scale tips more toward art and away from business: higher pricing, screening leads, ideal clients, word of mouth referrals, a boutique experience. Your clients seek you. Your art hustles on your behalf.

It’s as true for the most valuable company in the world as it is for you.

Apple sells underpowered and overpriced computers, from the one on your desktop to the one in your hand. [Spoken by a huge fan of Apple and their products.]

They can do this because of their Unique Value Proposition – because of their story.

“We are creatives. We are artists. We are makers. Just like you.”

People who love Apple, those people who identify with the value and culture and story that Apple stands for, are totally at peace paying more for what is technically less.

It’s not just the product. It’s not just the technical specifications. It’s not just the sum value of the component parts.

Your art is not the only value that you create.

Your art is not your identity.

You are not your art.

You are the artist.

You are the business owner.

You are the crafter of your clients’ experience.

You are a wholly unique human being, with your own lifetime’s worth of experiences, stories, moments big and small and wonderful and tragic that altogether make you who and how and why you are.

Your experiences are value.

Your stories are value.

Your humor is value.

Your perspective is value.

Your values are value.

Your ethics are value.

Your honesty is value.

Your personality is value.

Your struggle is value.

Your bravery is value.

Your vulnerability is value.

Your truth is value.

You are value.

Your Unique Value Proposition is so, so much more than the subjective comparable quality of your art held side-by-side against that of tens of millions of other photographers on this planet.

If you want to discover and step comfortably and confidently into your Identity as a professional photographer, I would invite you to sign up for my free e-mail newsletter at the top-right of any page of this site, and join me and my dear friend and storyteller Steve Arensberg on December 12 when we will launch our Identity course for photographers.

“If you celebrate your differentness, the world will, too. It believes exactly what you tell it—through the words you use to describe yourself, the actions you take to care for yourself, and the choices you make to express yourself. Tell the world you are one-of-a-kind creation who came here to experience wonder and spread joy.” ― Victoria Moran

– James Michael

Next Steps

  • Claim Agency: Take your phone somewhere private, and say this out loud: “I am a professional photographer. The value I present to my clients grows with every day that I grow as an artist and business owner and human being. I stay conscious, purposeful, and mindful in order to make small daily changes that lead to awesome change over time. My people are out there, waiting to be blessed by my art and the experience I craft for them. I get better every day because I have agency over my choices and my actions, and thus, my future.” Feel it in your bones. And if you don’t yet, repeat it daily until you do. The truth, and the power, is within you.
  • Brainstorm Session: Ask a friend what your three greatest strengths are; you may be surprised by their answers. Take these three strengths and brainstorm all the ways these strengths inform and empower you as a professional photographer, and the unique value and experience you create for your clients.
  • Subscribe Today: It’s my calling to help you earn your first $5,000 to $50,000 as a part time professional photographer. Don’t miss out on my best stories and ideas: subscribe to my e-mail newsletter today at the top-right of any page of this site.
  • Do This Now: What’s the biggest challenge holding you back today? E-mail me your answer (yes, right now!), and let’s make a breakthrough.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Roseann November 30, 2015 at 2:37 pm

This is a great post, thank you for the reminder. I particularly like the part about staying “conscious, purposeful, and mindful in order to make small daily changes that lead to awesome change over time.” Thank you for all that you do to help budding business owners recognize their potential. Happy holidays!


Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor December 2, 2015 at 8:52 pm

Thanks so much Roseann!

Kaizen got me to where I am today, and I know it can help so many other photographers. I can’t tell you how long I spent getting nothing done, despite my To Do list growing every day. I’d add project after project, but never broke those projects down to reasonable, manageable Next Steps. Baby steps, right? Getting doable tasks on my daily To Do list was Step 1. Step 2 was beating back perfectionism with Imperfect Action, understanding that I can’t help anyone, I can’t make any progress, I can’t get my work into the world if I don’t take action. Imperfect Action challenges the world, and the world must react – with success, with failure, with feedback. And no matter what that reaction is, I learn, I grow, I get better, I grow in value, and I get closer to the top of my own mountain of success.

Keep me posted on your successes and adventures, Roseann!


Leila December 9, 2015 at 2:50 am

you are SO AMAZING and you have NO IDEA HOW MUCH you have helped me over the past 5 years…


this Thanksgiving past YOU have been among the ABSOLUTE TOP of the things i am grateful for!!!

with deepest gratitude and warmest wishes,

Leila x:)


Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor December 13, 2015 at 2:43 pm

Thanks so much Leila! I appreciate your kind words! Absolutely a blessing to hear you’re benefiting from the site.

Really enjoyed looking at your Instagram today! Your art is absolutely on point, and a real blessing to your clients.


Andy January 4, 2016 at 9:55 am

Happy New Year!
Good post, liked it a lot!
Progress continues… with the business part anyway! Website ( is under construction and is nearly ready to be released to the world! I’ve even got 99% of a business plan written – I actually suprised myself there… 15 pages of heartwarming, financial, photographic wizardry!
And, who would have thought it… Grognard is actually a real word!! I thought it was some sort of local derogatory term, but it’s actually world-wide (well, French …)!

Grognard m ‎(plural grognards)
1.a grumbler; one who grumbles old veteran soldier, specifically an old grenadier of the Imperial Guard (Grenadiers à pied de la Garde Impériale); an old complaining soldier

One lives and learns, doncha know…


Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor January 11, 2016 at 6:17 pm

Thank you Andy! And Happy New Year to you and yours as well!

Great job working out that business plan. I don’t recommend it to all my readers, because I’ve watched countless potentially great artists never bring their blessings to the world because they get stuck on the “you have to have a business plan” idea. It’s a great tool, so long as it serves you and moves you forward. If it holds you back, it belongs in the round file!

I’ve been a fan of ‘grognard’ for ages, even if I’m not a fan of the grognards themselves.

Thanks for keeping me posted on your adventures sir! Keep up the great work!


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