You’ve reached the peak of a small mountain. On your left is an eagle hovering in the wind with golden light illuminating its face, eyes and feathers. On your right is an amazing sunset with a scattering of clouds glowing red and orange yielding an amazing landscape photo opportunity. Do you photograph the eagle or the landscape?
Hit the rewind button…
You’re hiking on a trail you’ve never been on to reach the peak of a small mountain in the hope of taking a great landscape photo. Unfortunately you don’t know how much longer the trail is and the light is approaching the magic hour. To your left is a small trail leading off the main path to a lake you can see. You could make it to this location in 15 minutes giving you ample time to set up your tripod and camera to catch great light on the landscape. Which path do you take for the sake of ensuring you get a photo at sunset?
You get the idea by now. Photography from the time you wake up to the time you fall asleep is like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. To capture a solid photo or make a sound business decision you have to make a series of well informed decisions based on experience and knowledge. Luck is for the unlucky. Great photos and great business decisions come from planning, scouting, studying your subject material/competitors/industry and being prepared. In essence you always have to be prepared to weigh the pros and cons of every decision in route to capture a photo and this is also true for making photo business decisions as well. What is the opportunity cost?
First determine what your goal is before determining opportunity cost. What are you setting out to do? In regard to activity versus a numerical value, goal execution can be calculated as follows:
goal execution = (focus + time + task) – (distraction + procrastination)
One could make a good argument that planning should be included in this formula, but to me that is part of the “task”.
So what is the formula for opportunity cost? That is a trickier axiom to determine as different goals have different variables. The common denominator though is the old adage…
Time = Money
Back to the hypothetical question at the beginning of this post “do you photograph the eagle or the landscape?” If you’re thinking I don’t photograph one subject or another in this example forget that you’re not a wildlife or landscape photographer for a second. What questions are you pondering to make this decision?
- Will photographing one versus the other require a lens change depleting the amount of time I have to photograph it?
- Is there enough light that I get away with out using a tripod to save time?
- Do I have a customer or agency in mind that would find value in one more than the other?
- Is the bird endangered or showing unique behavior that is rare?
(i.e. Is there something rare to photograph increasing the value of the image?)
Beyond “Time = Money” in my example questions other determining factor of “opportunity cost” surfaced:
Rarity = Money
Buyers = Money
While creatively artists hate to think in this way its an important thing to keep in mind. These later equations could just as well replace “money” with “demand”. “Demand” can translate to several things including popularity, site traffic, photo forum comments, etc. The choices leading to your moment of image capture can yield different benefits or loss of benefits. Whether focused on creativity or monetization of your photography its important to be hyper aware of the impact of your choices.
This isn’t emphasized to heighten the stress of taking photos, but merely to highlight that building knowledge and experience can help refine not just the process of capturing the photo, but selecting photographic subjects that will optimally align to your goals.
Lastly these concepts also apply to decisions made farther downstream in the process from post-processing to marketing. For example:
- What impact will a color versus B&W have on the image you’re post-processing?
- How much time should you be devoting to converting your image to B&W versus moving on to your next photo?
- Should you be spending extensive time on a photo forum discussing the image?
- Should you be spending time marketing & discussing your work on Twitter, your blog or just submitting the photo to a stock photo agency?
- Should I be working to create a set of similar work?
- Should I put my work online versus straight to a book?
Again it goes back to your goals and what you’re aiming to achieve, but each of these forks in the road have an opportunity cost. What are you doing to minimize cost and maximize opportunity? If you’re not maximizing your creative or monetary opportunities its time to rethink your decisions. Every decision has an opportunity cost and opportunity cost is rarely zero. One can only make the best of any one decision and hopefully never regret it.
Goals, Audience & Distraction
Back to “goals” as noted in the earlier equation focusing on “goal execution”. Photographers often think of “goal execution” in relation to just capturing an image. This is but half the process at best, as you need to think in terms of another goal reaching your target audience and for many photographers this is a magical yet torturous journey. Photographers struggle with identifying means of reaching their target audience and formulating how to maximize use of new avenues of marketing like Social Media. In fact the later creates quite a bit of debate in relation to opportunity cost. Is it wiser to scan the tweets of your Twitter followers and converse with them or is it wiser to focus on other business essential tasks. There’s no right answer as every photographer is in a unique moment of their business/creative timeline.
What I can say with certainty is that the model of marketing to your target audience(s) has shifted and what you might have previously thought of as a distraction is in fact an effective way of reaching multiple audiences at once. In many regards you can think of this as the long tail (a must read – The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More) of marketing. By using Twitter for example fans, photo buyers, authors, editors, clients, agencies, PR professionals, etc. all have an opportunity to find out about your latest photographic work, philosophical thoughts, challenges, windows to your personality, etc. The flow of information shared becomes a long tail of data about you. Your focus may be on connecting with agencies for work as an example (the head of the tail), yet the smaller individual audiences add up to be the long tail bringing in other business or opening business opportunities with people you might have otherwise ignored.
This isn’t meant to be a plug for Twitter, but merely to exemplify that the equation for “goal execution” has another side to it in relation to sales opportunities:
goal execution (in relation to sales opportunities) = [(audience reach x (time + shared knowledge)]^word of mouth links
The notion of this sales opportunities formula is again in relation to concept rather than a straight numerical calculation and could benefit from some fine tuning. The core thought being that the number of times someone passes on a link referencing your content (blog post, images, general thoughts, etc.) to others is an opening to exponentially increase the reach you have to introduce your work, brand, etc.
Again on the creative and business front opportunity cost is always present and the complexity of it all can make your head hurt. The best a photographer can do is to make informed and strategic decisions both creatively and business wise to maximize income opportunities and minimize opportunity cost.
With all of his in mind what is your opportunity cost creatively and in relation to your business/sales aspirations? Is one complimenting the other or are they in constant contradiction?
Posts & Tweets that sparked this post include:
Opportunity Cost – Scott Bourne
Productivity & Opportunity Cost #1 – @photoshelter on Twitter
Productivity & Opportunity Cost #2 – @photoshelter on Twitter
[tags]photography, opportunity cost, decision making, photographer, social media, creativity, Twitter[/tags]