with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

It’s What You Do, Not Just Who You Are

Graphic of people holding hands around the earthSo you’re a famous photographer. Great. So what do you do?

What you do speaks more about you than who you are. Being recognized for your actions carries more weight than just being a damn fine photographer.

Being recognized as “someone” doesn’t happen by accident. You get “famous” for what you do with your life and business and how it impacts others. You get known not for your nature photography but for how your work is tied up with projects such as the preservation of a natural area, association with a magazine as a writer or columnist, or being a member of an association.

Involvement in a specific project brings together people with similar interests who are involved with other projects. This creates a link with you and these other groups. If you earn their respect and appreciation, they may bring you in on their other projects. This form of networking gets you through the inside doors to all kinds of contacts and work which might be closed to you otherwise.

Setting an example

At a NANPA nature photography conference, Wendy Shattil spoke of her dedication to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal in Denver. The abandoned military site had been contaminated. Over time, the wildlife adapted to the contaminants and slowly moved back into the abandoned site. Determined to protect this area from invasion again, her interest and photographs from the area stretched to involve local camera groups, creating one of the first “urban wildlife” specialty photo clubs. With increasing publicity and interest, other groups got involved. With a few years of widespread support, the government recognized the area as a national preserve, protecting the area for nature for the future. Wendy’s association with this project brought her a lot of attention and business came knocking.

George Lepp has worked with Canon and other photography businesses for years. Famous for his columns in Outdoor Photographer magazine, when George presents his workshops, odds are that Canon and OP are right there with him, basking in his popularity. He didn’t start out famous, but slowly built up his connections with corporations through technical and how-to article writing. He challenged them to build better a better mousetrap and they did. Eventually his name became synonymous with quality and the corporations put their name behind him. The concept of networking is not limited to non-profit organizations. Tap sponsors, not just from the nature photography industry, but further afield. Their visibility is benefited by your visibility, and they are often willing to underwrite the event. Connections to corporate sponsors beef up your “credibility” to the public.

Is there an organization you belong to that can use your services? Is there a project you are interested in? Do you have something a sponsor might take advantage of? Think about what you do and what you would like to do, and then who you could involve in the process. Through these networking connections, doors will open in all directions. Just be ready to step through when they do.

It’s Not What You Know, But Who

Graphic of a name tag spelling out a name.No matter what anyone says, it’s not what you know but who that counts. Sorry, that’s the way things are. How do you get “out there” and meet all the movers and shakers who will help you make your business work successfully?

There are many ways, but we’ll cover a few popular ones here: conventions, mentoring, volunteering and visibility. All of these put you in places where you can connect with the “right” people.


Imagine being in a football stadium filled with the “right people.” There is nothing better to help you make connections than at a convention. It does have its challenges, though. Everyone who is anyone is there but you have very little time to make a good and lasting impression. You are competing with everyone else who wants to meet them. It’s a good place to gather information and make initial contacts and put your “ten words or less” technique into action.

Almost all organizations and industries have conventions or “conferences”. The North American Nature Photography Association brings together nature photographers and the nature photography industry from all over North America and the world, as does the American Society of Media Photographers. At these conferences, there are educational sessions about the business of photography and exhibitions where you can meet the movers and shakers of the industry.

If you are interested in getting a book published, check out conventions and “shows” for book publishers. There are even conferences for editors, writers, environmentalists, you name it. Some are professional organizations and others for amateurs, but all offer a wide variety of educational opportunities and chances to meet the contacts which could mean business for you.


In the “old” days, an unskilled laborer worked as an apprentice to learn the tools of the trade, doing the grunge work so someday he could leave his “apprenticeship” and become just as skilled as the “teacher”. Getting ahead in business is no different. You still have to learn the hard way by yourself or from others. I recommend the latter.

Who are the top people in your industry? How are they working? Many have even published books on how they became a “success”. If you can, get to know them and ask them to help you. Study their methods to learn how it’s done. Working with a mentor can help direct your steps along the way, not only helping to smooth the rough edges but getting you there faster and wiser. It also helps to have a friend on your side when the going gets tough. They know because they’ve been there.

Through your fellowship with mentors, they can often introduce you to the “right” people. Learn from them, too. Make them worthy of your trust and support and they will hold your hand all the way.


Social interaction offers lots of networking possibilities. Brent meets with people to discuss his work.By working within an organization made up of people with like interests, it gives you a chance to get to know the “right” people. It can often put you in the “right” place at the right time. Many books, calendars and posters have been published which came from conservation or preservation efforts by an organization with work supplied by its members.

Working on a committee which handles “outreach” programs helps connect your organization with other similar or related groups or businesses. This gives you even more connections and opens your networking neighborhood.

Make a small investment of your time with a local camera club, a conservation group, or a national organization and you will automatically get an invitation to all the events and activities putting you in contact with a lot of networking opportunities.


The more “seen” you are, the more known you become. This is called building a reputation. It is also known as being “visible.” Advertising, getting listed in the Green Book or with a stock agency, or any of the other methods for promoting your “visual” work helps to sell your images. Visibility escalates those sales. People know you and know about you, therefore they know they can come to you to help them. Going to conferences, networking with your mentor, volunteering for all kinds of projects, all help you meet people and keep you in the spotlight.

Through involvement with an organization, you increase your visibility. While it is easy to sit there and say “I’m a member of X Photo Group,” it doesn’t help you or the organization any. Get active. As the first nature photographer with a regular column in an online “webzine” on the Internet and as a regular contributor to Compuserve’s Photography Forum, NANPA contacted me about helping the organization get visible on the Internet. I soon coordinated all the events with the online community, which eventually led to producing the first web pages for the organization. Working with Compuserve on this project, they invited me to develop a nature photography section on their popular Photography Forum. From there, the Photographic Society of America got me involved in putting together a special web page for their site. From all these connections, my husband and I have picked up a variety of jobs with magazines and photo buyers. Did our images inspire them to buy? No. The reward of being visible and “known” creates a reputation. These editors knew we could deliver quality work based on our reputation on these other projects.

Visibility isn’t about putting on a show and becoming the center of attention. When I first get involved with a group, you will find me doing the grunt work like washing dishes or picking up garbage or stacking chairs. Others see the “motion” and suspect there is energy to be tapped. The people who usually do this kind of work are the most dedicated to the group. By actively pitching in you quickly get on their good side. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Visibility comes from several things, all subjective:

Know who you are and be proud to share that with others
People don’t like wishy-washy any more than you do. They like proud, strong and solid personalities. Confidence in yourself and your abilities makes you visible to those who need to delegate.
Get known
Introduce yourself. You can’t be known if people don’t know you or what you do. Tell them and give them a reason to want to know you.
Start by following
So many people start by leading. Start by following and listening and observing carefully. By learning who the leaders are, you can learn what works for them and what doesn’t. Every group has its own dynamics. Take time to learn who are the important people to know.
Be a leader
Once you learn what makes a good leader in this group, become one. Don’t be a controlling leader, be a listener, a delegator. Become the kind of leader everyone likes.
Ask questions
People like being asked and being listened to. It makes them feel important and valuable. When you make people around you feel special, they tend to notice you more.
Join for a reason
It’s not all about making connections. Make sure you get involved with a group for the right reasons. People respect people who have a well thought out opinion and take a stance on an issue, especially when it reminds them of why they all came together in the first place. Keep the spirit of the group’s purpose alive and you will gain a lot of respect.

Jump in
Wallpaper sticks to the wall. Get off the wall and come out and join the party. Get involved. Do something. People like people who risk, who come forward and contribute. Do a little, or do a lot, as much as you can because sitting still never did anyone much good.

Being in the right place at the right time is more than being lucky. Make it a puzzle, like a maze, in which you map out the right course to get to the winning goal. It takes time and effort. Great achievers get there not by waiting around, but by planning and following their “maps” to success.

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