Surviving and Thriving in the Photography Business
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Thursday, March 12, 2015
By Shawn Lee


The image above is of a High Schooler I photographed a few years back. He had a great passion for basketball and I thought this would be the perfect image to use in my slides for #WPPI2015 to convey attitude needed for business. I had the honor of speaking this year at WPPI 2015 in Las Vegas. The conference boasts 15K attendees, 125 instructors and 8 days of intense learning annually. For those that don't know, that's (Wedding and Portrait Photographers International). I thought I could lend a unique perspective on not only surviving but thriving in the photography business in Detroit while we were as a city going through bankruptcy. I have been in the full time photography business now for about 8-9 years and it has been rough at times...actually it has been rough alot of times.

The one foundational trait that has carried me through it all has been my "ATTITUDE". I came up at a time when everyone was looking for a discount or break on everything, when it's tight people want the max while spending the least. When I came out of school I set my pricing at a certain level and people would always say, "Shawn, I can go to Olan Mills for that price!" or "What makes you better than K-Mart?" or "Sears?". I quickly grew angry of being compared to standard big box stores photography offerings. The thing that kept me going is my refusal to be thrown in a box with everybody else. I despised being regular, normal or any other word that for me translated to mediocre. For me failure was not an option, mediocrity would not be my flag and I would not stop because their wasn't an answer to success readily available to be picked like a dandelion in summertime.

Needless to say, I worked extremely hard to build my brand, reputation and skillset as a world class qualified photographer. I studied my butt off, built relationships, became trustworthy in business, aligned myself with talented reputable people and entites and presented my very best self and work at all times, all while having been laid off of two manufacturing jobs. Let me say, my choice was to either get another job or make this photography thing work and I had invested way too much in photography to just throw it away.

Along the way I acquired a lot of skillsets, but the ONE THING that made everything else I've accomplished possible... IS MY REFUSAL TO FAIL, MY REFUSAL TO FAIL, MY REFUSAL TO FAIL. You must hate it, you must detest it, you must fight it with all you have. There will always be a reason to stop or quit, when that reason arises you must have 8 or 9 reasons ready for why you shouldn't. My advice for anyone trying to accomplish anything...Your attitude should always be "FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION!" #ROCKTHAT!!!

Leave a comment:
Constance - AMEN! You are so right, I've wanted to quit often and yet I'm still going. Each time I read "IS MY REFUSAL TO FAIL" I get a surge of will to take on that same attitude. I will not fail because, I will not quit because, I am NOT MEDIOCRE. Thank you Mr. Lee when I make it to next years Imaging USA in Atlanta I hope to meet you and shake your hand.
Shawn Lee - Thanks Stephen! Means a lot, really appreciate it! Good luck to you in your photography business endeavors. ROCK THAT!
Stephen Caldwell photography - Shawn just saw your You tube video. it was great. A lot of info to use to build your brand. I live in Atlantic City, Nj which is going through the same things that Detroit has gone through. You have given some great ideas that I can use. Just starting out here. I have always said that people have money to spend in tight times. I just have to make this work. Thanks for everything "ROCK THAT"