The Dead Pixels Society podcast

From Shutter to Startup: The Journey of Turning Photography into a Business with Dave Herring

January 04, 2024 Dave Herring Season 5 Episode 146
The Dead Pixels Society podcast
From Shutter to Startup: The Journey of Turning Photography into a Business with Dave Herring
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Prepare to unlock the mysteries of transforming a passion for photography into a thriving business with guest Dave Herring. In this interview with Gary Pageau of the Dead Pixels Society, Herring unfolds his narrative, detailing his pivot from nonprofit pursuits to the bustling freelance photography scene. He shares the mechanics of establishing a photography business, the art of diversifying one's creative portfolio, and the dance of forging partnerships with tourism boards for travel photography. Herring's tale isn't just about the perfect shot; it's a masterclass in the subtle blend of still and video, propelled by innovative tools that cater to the hybrid demands of today's visual storytelling.

Herring discusses the mind of a creator, where structure begets freedom, guided by the wisdom found in the classic book "The E-Myth Revisited." In this interview, he shares insights into evading the snares of creative burnout, drawing on the profound teachings of thought leaders like Patrick Lencioni and Dr. Henry Cloud. Moreso, witness the transformative power of local creative communities, particularly within the flourishing hubs of the Bay Area and Silicon Valley, as they serve as the incubators of innovation and communal inspiration for artists and entrepreneurs alike.

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Hosted and produced by Gary Pageau
Edited by Olivia Pageau
Announcer: Erin Manning

Erin Manning:

Welcome to the Dead Pixels Society podcast, the photo imaging industry's leading news source. Here's your host, Gary Pageau. The Dead Pixels Society podcast is brought to you by MediaClip, Advertek Printing and IP Labs.

Gary Pageau:

Hello again and welcome to the Dead Pixels Society podcast. I'm your host, gary Peugeot, and today we're joined by Dave Herring, who is a photographer, an editor and author and creative director from San Jose, California. Hi, Dave, how are you today?

Dave Herring:

Hey, Gary, thanks for having me.

Gary Pageau:

Now, as most listeners of this podcast, now, we don't really talk to a great many photographers here, but when we do talk to a photographer, there are a great one. How about that, Dave? No high expectations there, right? So, Dave, tell us a little bit about your career, how you got into business, before we get into the main topic of the things we're going to talk about.

Dave Herring:

Sure, yeah, I've basically had a whole career in the creative world, kind of dabbled in a lot of different things. Today it's photography and it has been for the last many years, but prior to that I was kind of in the music side of things. I've been in the design side of things audio engineering, editing so I've played kind of two parts like part is like vision, like vision related, coming up with ideas and pitching, and the other part is like the technical side and executing, whether it's designs or any type of like engineering that goes on on the creative end.

Erin Manning:

So I kind of had a wide spectrum.

Dave Herring:

Most of it was in the nonprofit world prior to becoming freelance and today I still do a lot of consulting in the nonprofit world, but today it's mostly freelance and mostly photography.

Gary Pageau:

Okay, so, and I'm sure there's some video in there too, right, because it's sort of like it becomes synonymous.

Dave Herring:

Yeah, I definitely do video as well, but my passion is more in the photography side. The video side is fun, but it's not like what I get out of bed for the morning.

Gary Pageau:

Yeah, exactly, I mean it's funny because I went to talk to photographers. You'll kind of done that sort of like almost a necessary evil to their career, in the sense that you know clients want it. You got to have the skills. Sometimes even the equipment is the same right the same camera you're using for the stills can also be used for some of the video.

Dave Herring:

Yeah, definitely.

Gary Pageau:

Which was not always the case.

Dave Herring:

No, it doesn't make it really convenient today.

Gary Pageau:

Let's gear to schlep and you're also a travel photographer. Where are some of the places you've been to, and how does someone make a living being a travel photographer these days, when it doesn't seem like there's a big magazine market for travel photos?

Dave Herring:

No, there's not. And I basically have shot like kind of all over the US for different tourism boards or you know, various different things in that world. I shoot for the National Park Trust in the past as well. So like I've been able to, you know, shoot a lot in the National Parks, I've done some international things. You know how you make a living at it is you diversify your income. There's one of the things I do want to talk to you about, but I was on the court, yeah, I mean, ultimately that's the secret sauce to making it as a creative is income diversity, and so the travel side has its ebbs and flow. I mean like there are seasons where it's really strong I'm getting booked a lot or a lot of requests for that, and then there's other seasons where you know it just it's kind of dried up and if you're, if you're dependent upon that, then you know you're going to get yourself in a mess.

Gary Pageau:

Yeah, because it seemed to me like that was sort of like not really a fallback, but back in the days of stock photography, when stock photography paid something and there were slides and things like that, you know, a photographer could bank up a lot of travel pictures, right, kind of have that recurring income coming in from that great shot of the Tetons or something like that. And that's gone these days.

Dave Herring:

Yeah, what it really comes down to today is more about tourism boards. It's like you mentioned the Tetons, right? So there's um Visit Jackson Hole, wyoming. That's a tourism board and you know they have an annual budget to bulk up their creative media so that they may attract people to come to their region and spend money in the hotels and the restaurants and the businesses there. And tourism boards exist in the smallest towns in the US and the biggest towns in the US. And so you really think about it like that, like I'm in the Bay Area but there are like 60 little like the Bay Area is like 60 communities. It's not just like you know San Francisco and San Jose and you've got Cupertino and Sunnyvale and Fremont and Milpitas, I mean it just goes on and on and on and like a you know a two hour radius of the Bay Area. Well, every one of those little towns has a tourism board. So, and every one of those little tourism boards, they have a budget in which they are going to spend this year on creative media, whether it's video, whether it's photos. And so I have been able to have a bit of a career in that, in that I've been able to connect by going and meeting these tourism boards or meeting people, making relationships and then being able to have them bring me in to shoot for their, their location.

Gary Pageau:

So talk a little bit about that, because you know I've had photographers on the past where they talk about the necessity of being able to network. Right, they the businesses are really behind the camera instead of cocktail party or a networking function. I mean, when you got into the business, did you know that?

Dave Herring:

You know, for me, I've always been really relational. I'm a very relational person in general and, like I mean, you know, when you think about photography, it is a creative thing, but it's also a systematic business, like you have to execute systems and you also, like in any industry, you know a lot of, a lot of people have these mindsets that, like certain industries are a good old boy. You know industry, like you have to just know the right people to get what. That that, honestly, is true of every industry, including especially true in photography. So so for me, I would say nine out of 10 of my clients are either people I have met at networking events or or people I have met specifically because I have sought out places to go meet these people. So, for instance, in 2022, I went to a travel bloggers conference. I do not blog Okay, I'm not a travel blogger but there's a travel bloggers conference. It was up in Washington state and they had about 40 tourism boards from around Washington, montana and Idaho and Oregon up in that region. About 40 tourism boards were there in the vendor, so bloggers can meet these tourism boards. Why went there? Not as a blogger, but I still went and went to the conference met a bunch of people and I got booked for several shoots from that just by going around being friendly at the table handing my business card, you know, at the at the mixers, making sure to stand by people and like, not talk about photography, just talk about life. I'm a, I'm a husband, I've got kids, like I have a lot of things I can talk about. And so you make these connections and then then, when it's time to show your services and what you do, you know you have a relationship. They're already established. It's not transactional, it's not like hey, I want something from you. So let me, let me tell you how cool I am, how great I am. No, it's like, let me get to know you and then, if you like what you get to know of me and when it comes time for you to you know, meet your budget on creative assets. Here's my card and that, typically and honestly, like that works, that works.

Gary Pageau:

Well, you know, it's funny, you said because in the past we've had the CEO of Dale Carnegie, which is that is literally Dale Carnegie 101. Showing interest in the other person is how people get interested in you, and it's it's sadly. I've been in a lot of situations where I see creatives pitching right and it's literally let me get on my iPad and show you my portfolio and that is not a way to win a friend.

Dave Herring:

No, not at all, because that feels really transactional. It feels like, okay, does this person really care about me or they just want? They want to use me to get what they want? And like nobody wants to be used. You know and at you know, not everybody I have met has always booked me, but you know what I still like follow them on social media and connect with them and like because, again, if you go into every opportunity transactional with people, then you're just going to, you're going to fail, like there's just no way that's sustainable because you can't you couldn't sustain that towards you. Therefore, you can't sustain it from you either. Right, so.

Gary Pageau:

So when we're talking about the business side of this sort of thing we were kind of chatting before this started about there's so many people who are creative and they have a creative bone in their body that needs to be exercised, and, sadly, so much of the business now is everything you're talking about like pounding the streets. It used to be making phone calls, now it's doing other things social and networking and all this other stuff. And it's a balance because it's taking away from doing the thing that got you into the business to begin with. Right, you know, do you have an idea of how much time you spend on getting creative work as opposed to being creative?

Dave Herring:

I think that there's been seasons where like yeah, like I would say, 90% of my time is trying to land the job. And then there's other seasons, like and I'm thankful I'm in this kind of season now where I get to kind of pick and choose what projects I'm taking on and which projects I'm passing on to other, you know as referrals. You know like the creative world feels very glamorous to people that aren't in it.

Gary Pageau:

Because it feels like oh wow, like, wow, you could do this for a living.

Dave Herring:

Wow, oh, that's so cool, you get to travel. It's like, well, yeah, I do get to travel, I do get to fly into places and spend the night in a room that's not mine and a bed that's not mine and then get up at sunrise to go shoot and do that until sunset and then go home, you know and like those are fun things, I guess to some degree, and sometimes they are fun, but other times, like man, I'm homesick and I want to be with my kids and my family and it just it's not all that glamorous.

Gary Pageau:

And you got you know Pelican cases to schlep around. Oh my gosh, yeah, I mean they're not seeing that piece of it.

Dave Herring:

And they're not seeing the insurance bill, the insurance on my gear. I guess where I was going with all that, though, is that, at the end of the day, like, the creative side is fun, especially when you're doing the things that you love to do, but the business side is a is a systematic process, so that, every day that you get up, you're not waiting for inspiration to hit so you can go monetize inspiration. Stephen King, I think, is the author of this quote. It could be wrong. I think it's a Stephen King quote that says that I write what I'm inspired to write, and, thankfully, I'm inspired every day at 9am, you know like if I don't have anything. I'm actively giving my time on, like right now. I kind of have my checklist of creative tasks I need to do today and I call them creative tasks because they are part of my business. But I've got to edit a video for a vet. That's not that doesn't get me out of bed in the morning, but that's like I have a systematic way in which I'm going to do that today and get this job complete and send it for a review. That's just part of like those daily checklists. There's emails, there's admin. It's all systems at the end of the day, just like McDonald's is running systems. You know I'm running systems as well.

Gary Pageau:

Now the. Is that something you've always been geared towards, that sort of process like a systematic approach or is that something you just learned that you had to do to be a successful? Because I certainly could see where, on the creative side, you have people who are like you know. I just want to, you know, wait for the muse to strike right.

Dave Herring:

I Think there's a difference between being an artist and then being an entrepreneur. Some really, like good artists, have Entrepreneurs on their behalf. You know that do this stuff for them. I don't think that's always practical in today's economy. You kind of have to wear a lot of hats whenever you are, you know, an artist if you want to. And not every, not everyone, needs to monetize. There aren't either. Like, just because somebody is good at something doesn't mean they need to make it their career. But your original question about you know, have I always been wired that way? I think to some degree I'm pretty balanced left and right brain. I've got a very like systematic and logistical, like strategic Side of me, and then I also have, like, the creative side of me. I have worked hard to find balance and unison between those two competing because they really are competing like ways of life. And there's a great book called "mith revisited. It's a. It's a book about, like you know, the need for systems. But I'll even like give you this example if I can deliver a really quality shoot for one client, I I ran systems to and, without even realizing it, I ran systems to deliver that shoot. You know, let's say that let's say I got booked to go shoot for Yosemite National Park. I shoot there often, but not not for the park, just for me. But let's say they booked me and I, so now I'm like figuring out what the best time and spots are. Well, that's a system, you know, I'm executing to go figure out where I should shoot and what time I should shoot. And then I I have to, you know, make my plans to go there. Am I staying overnight? Am I driving in the middle of the night to get there? So there's a system I get the shoot. And there's a technical system I'm executing from internal knowledge of how to work my camera and work my you know, work my Creativities. So there's systems in that. Then I come home and I'm gonna have a system on how I get that file into my computer, edit that, and then I have a system of delivery as well. And now they've got there, they've got their shoot that they booked me for, and it checks all the boxes they requested. So now I ran all these systems whether I realized it or not. Now another, let's say Kings Canyon National Park is like man, we love the work you did for Yosemite. Come do that for us. Well, the best way I can ensure that I will provide that same level of quality is to run the same systems right. That's why you can go to 500 Starbucks around America and get the same cup of coffee. You know, right, and that's all system, by by by 500 different. You know people working at Starbucks and that world of systems Actually ensures you're an artist, you know. I mean, it actually helps you Deliver what you say you're gonna deliver consistently every single time. It's all down to so I have found that the systems that I have built for my business enable they actually enable me to be a creative all time.

Gary Pageau:

You know it's interesting because I could. I can hear some folks I know on the more creative world. Right, you know that, but doesn't that inhibit your creativity?

Dave Herring:

But actually guardrails can enhance creativity 100 percent, because now I don't need to figure out how I'm going to edit these photos when I go Like I'm shooting with my edit already in my brain and my process. Honestly, I find freedom to create knowing that the systems have already been thought through. I don't have to figure out this stuff I work. It's a difference between working on something and working in something. You know like we're constantly reactive, as, as humans, we love to react to things like, oh, this needs to get done, so I need to do it Right. But then, like I have 20 hours a week where I can work on things and then, by working on it, I don't have to react to it and there's a lot of freedom in that as a creative, that gives me space to be creative.

Gary Pageau:

So was there a seminar or workshop or anything you attended that kind of taught you this? Or I'm saying this is sort of a not an unnatural thing, but certainly where did you get your inspiration from, I guess, other than Stephen King quotes?

Dave Herring:

Yeah Well, you know just about about the systems, like, about like, yeah, so for that, honestly, it came out of being burned out, like I found myself going through very fun seasons and then completely burned out. And when a creative burns out, we kind of lose the drive to get stuff done. Like what was fun now feels like work and work is not fun, and so then you shut down and, like, you know, there's so many, there's so many people that start photography businesses that never either a, take it serious enough to get to a point where they are full time or, b, do it for a season and then just get super burned out. I mean, I, that's one of the reasons I coach, like in the photography world now, because I, you know, trying to help these entrepreneurs, like you know, find, find a sustainable way to do it. But, like, if you are, if you are not doing this, you burn out. So for me, I burned out, and when I burned out, I was like looking for how to prevent burnout, and so I, honestly, there are, you know, two or three authors that I read a lot of their books. One of them, patrick Lentzione, has a lot of books about just good, like just business and leadership practices Like and Henry Cloud is another one. Oh yeah, you got you. There you go, you got it.

Gary Pageau:

Yeah, overcoming the five, the scum. Yep, everyone's got Yep.

Dave Herring:

Dr Henry Cloud. He has a book called "Necessary Endings, which was revolutionary for me because it taught me that it was OK to say no to some things or let some things die and end and need to die, and then you go through the grief and the loss. You know whatever it needs to be Right, like, but like, so I don't know. Like I don't want to say like, oh, go read a bunch of self-help books, you know. But I think learning, good leadership and business practices, those aren't natural. Like, much smarter people have figured things out that I'm not going to figure out on my own and so why not invest a little bit of time into learning from them?

Gary Pageau:

Now you're in an area that's sort of a creative hub. There's a lot of creatives there.

Dave Herring:

Were there any?

Gary Pageau:

local groups you interacted with or encountered that were helpful in this process.

Dave Herring:

Yeah, I think, like here in the Bay Area, it is a very creative area. I mean, we're in Silicon Valley. You know, we have all of tech, all the innovations, everything that we use every day kind of comes out of this area, and so you do have a lot of innovative thinking and you also have a lot of like artists in the area. I would say there's more artists, not so much. The San Jose area is not really known for its art scene. You know, once you get more up towards, like Oakland and Berkeley, and you get more of that. But you know, here I am part of a kind of like a creator network and it's across many disciplines. It's like. It's like if I just hang out with photographers, then I'm going to think like a photographer, I'm going to learn like a photographer. But like, what if I hung out with a painter? What if that painter gave?

Gary Pageau:

me a new perspective.

Dave Herring:

So we have this creator network here, in San Jose we get together once a quarter on this thing called Creator Night and you know you know 100 artists from different you know genres and different disciplines come together to share with each other, share resources, share knowledge, network and all those things, and so that that's a very life giving community here in the Bay that I'm part of.

Gary Pageau:

And is that a, you know, a nonprofit or a casual group?

Dave Herring:

It's a nonprofit yeah.

Gary Pageau:

Okay, that's pretty cool. So how often do you meet? How many people are involved? Typically, is it mostly in person, or is it online? I'm just really curious because I think this is the thing where people could, like you said, kind of escape burnout through this sort of connection.

Dave Herring:

Yeah, so here in the Bay Area our creator night is quarterly, so we do it, you know, every three months, which doesn't feel like a lot but really like when you look at the space between them, it feels like it feels pretty fast. So they're hosted at a creative space here in San Jose in a warehouse and the warehouse seats anywhere between 100 and 120 people and it's typically pretty packed out. It's about a three hour event. It has like food truck networking, performances from different artists featured and it's kind of like a live podcast in the room. There's a recording. Like a panel of artists will be interviewed and share and they're all local and they're all sharing. You know different topics. We just had one this past weekend for the winter 2023, winter one, and it was about, like, the character of an artist. So like, apart from your talent, like what gets you booked is your character. It's like talent only gets you so far. If you're not a reasonable and fun person to be around, then you're never gonna get any gigs.

Gary Pageau:

Or just being dependable, right, I mean just doing the job when you're asked to do it. I mean there's such a hub of right now in the wedding and portrait segment I know you don't do a lot of those, but I mean where you just have photographers who are ghosting on brides and grooms and it's really just. It impacts the entire industry.

Dave Herring:

Yeah, for sure. Just having a modicum of integrity, yeah, I mean integrity, good character, generosity, gratitude, like all these things that make our society function at its best. They have to be present in your business as well, Cause if they're not like, if your ultimate goal is just let me make as much money as fast as I can and have, you're gonna burn out, but you're also gonna burn bridges, and that's just not a way to live.

Gary Pageau:

Cause that's one of those things where I think, when people think business, they think spreadsheets, they think KPIs or whatever metrics you're gonna use or everything else. But I think in the 21st century, some of the things you talked about are much more important to business and I think a lot of business are reflecting that, as opposed to kind of the old school, like you said, a transactional business, right right, I don't think that's where things are going.

Dave Herring:

Yeah, I don't think it is either, and I think that it's for the best like to go the other way.

Gary Pageau:

So don't be a lousy person and a photographer for the same time.

Dave Herring:

Absolutely yeah.

Gary Pageau:

Awesome. So, Dave, where can people get more information about what you do and creator nights if you want to pitch that?

Dave Herring:

Oh yeah, if you have a listener local to the Bay.

Gary Pageau:

Oh, we'd love to plug in for sure, so where would people go for more information on that?

Dave Herring:

Yeah, so my personal website and I love telling people my website because I can't believe I secured this domain. But my website is Dave. That's my name, daveonline.

Gary Pageau:

Wow, that's easy to remember.

Dave Herring:

Like five years ago I got this website for like 30 bucks. I got the domain and I am never letting it go, so, daveonline.

Gary Pageau:

I wonder what that's worth now. I mean, I'm sure you can pitch it.

Dave Herring:

I have no idea but I don't even care. Some business name, dave, could pop up and I for me a million dollars. I'm keeping it Like Dave. online and so that's kind of a hub to all things that I do, whether it's my photography or my YouTube channel or social whatever. And then with Creator Night, a nonprofit called the Gathering in San Jose, which is a creative co-working space and like creator space I think, the website is gatheringsjorg and typically when Creator Night is being promoted, which typically is promoted about six weeks out, you'll see all the information on the website, and so they're great events and if, like I said, if you're local to the Bay, it is a very life giving event and we'd love to have any of your listeners come join us.

Gary Pageau:

Awesome. Well, thanks, dave, great to see you. Hopefully, when I'm out in the Bay area, we'll get together for those mass produced, systemized Starbucks.

Dave Herring:

That's it Exactly. Get that good espresso.

Erin Manning:

Thank you for listening to the Dead Pixel Society podcast. Read more great stories and sign up for the newsletter at wwwthedpixelssocietycom.

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