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The Art of Learning New Skills by guest blogger (c) John Robertson

I’d rather be a comma than a full stop, (as the words of the song go).
I’m not talking about grammar, but diversification and specifically how it applies to photographers.

I’m an editorial photographer in the recession-hit UK. Things are tough in the world of newspapers and magazines and likely to get tougher as advertising revenues continue to drop and circulation figures follow the same pattern. Whereas a few years ago I paid the bills from editorial photography alone, the new economic climate has forced a change in the way I work.

Diversify or die is a phrase often used for photographers and as in many other fields of employment, it’s advice worth taking. Unless you are lucky enough to find a niche section of photography where you can dominate the market and become the ‘go to’ photographer in that sector, diversification makes sense.

Two years ago I launched a separate weddings service. Like most press photographers, I thought I would rather pour molten lead into my ears than cover weddings. The prospect of doing them for a living was terrifying. So I edged in gradually after taking advice from a former press photographer who now only shoots weddings and is one of the top ten in the UK. His advice was invaluable and rather than being terrified of the responsibility and not too happy at having to wear a suit, I found I actually enjoyed shooting weddings and the new challenges and learning curve involved.

I’m currently getting into DSLR videography, both commercial and news and finding that an interesting area to diversify into. Sure it’s expensive to get the gear you need, but again and, just like the wedding photography, it’s interesting and rewarding to learn new things. Same as with the weddings, I’ve sought advice from those already in the business and that has saved me time, money and frustration.

Whereas I used to only shoot for newspapers and magazines, I found the skills I’ve acquired over the years are also sought after for PR and commercial photography. Whilst newspaper rates have pretty much stagnated here in the UK
over the last few years, commercial rates have kept pace better with inflation.
So diversifying into those markets also makes a lot of sense. Newspaper photographers are used to working to deadlines, dealing with poor lighting situations and problem solving. All those skill sets are very transferable into the commercial field of work as are creativity and reliability.

So diversification will result in several income streams. If I don’t have any assignment or commercial work on I’ll go out and shoot for stock. It’s a slow burn way to make income, but by paying attention to current news stories and trends, etc., I can narrow down the type of subjects I shoot so that they are more likely to result in sales.

I’ve touched on a few ways you can make extra income streams here- there are plenty of others which don’t rely on you also having to stack supermarket shelves in your downtime! Article writing, teaching photography, workshops, books, print sales….
We’ve all heard the phrase ‘Jack of all trades and master of none’. But if you strive to try your very best at whatever areas you diversify into, then hopefully you will be a master of several areas of photography and enjoy learning new skills along the way.

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