Josh Kaufman

Josh Kaufman

Josh Kaufman is the bestselling author of books on business, entrepreneurship, skill acquisition, productivity, creativity, applied psychology, and practical wisdom. About Josh »

Business Lessons from a Wedding Photography Gig

It’s been a whirlwind of a month. A mere two weeks after moving from the middle of Manhattan to beautiful Ft. Collins, Colorado, Kelsey and I traveled to St. John (US Virgin Islands), where we attended the wedding of two great friends, Lisa and Sean.

We had a wonderful time relaxing on the beach (a rare experience for us) and spending time with friends, particularly the lovely and talented editor / coach Fiona Russell , who lives on St. John.

One of the unexpected highlights of the trip was an impromptu gig as Lisa and Sean’s wedding photographer. Learning photography has been one of my side projects for quite a while, and I was happy to be able to help them out and test my skills at the same time.

Overall, I’m happy with how I did. You can see the results here and here.

Reflecting on the experience, there are some surprising parallels between taking great photos and creating a successful business…

Three Elements of a Great Photo

A great photo is the intersection of three separate elements:

  1. Event - what’s actually happening in the world that’s worthy of a photo.
  2. Focus - camera settings that will render the captured image in an attractive way.
  3. Shutter - the command that causes the camera to capture the event in question with the current focus.

A photo of an uninteresting or unattractive event won’t produce a great picture.

An unintentionally out-of-focus photo of an interesting event won’t produce a great picture.

Without triggering the shutter, there won’t be any photo at all.

During the wedding, I took over 2,500 photos. Of these, over half were complete duds - either the event was off (not interesting, weird expression, etc.) or my focus wasn’t set to capture the scene properly, resulting in a fuzzy photo. After throwing out the bad shots, I was left with ~1,200 decent pictures.

Of these 1,200, only 200-300 turned out to be really great. These photos were sharp, in-focus, and captured an emotionally compelling expression or moment. After a bit of post-processing to enhance them, these are the photos I’m sending to Lisa and Sean.

Every time you press the shutter, you have no idea whether or not all three elements will come together. You may have some intuition that a particular shot turned out well, but the real test only comes after you examine the photos later.

To get great shots, the best approach is to experiment by taking a LOT of photos. Using a digital camera and a large memory card, taking a photo is “cheap," so it makes sense to take as many as you can. After the event is over, you can separate the wheat from the chaff.

What Does This Have To Do With Business?

Event / Focus / Shutter have direct analogs in the business world:

  1. Need - what other people want or need in the real world.
  2. Value - what you can provide to meet that need.
  3. Offer - the act of presenting your value in a way that meets the need.

If there’s zero or very little need, you can’t add value, and any offer you make will flop - just like trying to take a photo without an interesting subject.

If there’s a need but your value is “out of focus," the offer will also fail.

If there’s a real need and you can provide value but never make the offer, you help no one, in the same way never pressing the shutter button won’t result in any photos.

Keep Your Eyes Open, Focus Quickly, and Fire Away

The best approach in both business and photography is constant experimentation. Move around, try a lot of things, pay attention to what works, learn as much as you can, edit ruthlessly, and keep the winners.

The more you practice, the more you’ll learn, and your results will inevitably improve. Experienced photographers take more good shots than bad shots because they know how to look for promising events, focus accurately, and hit the shutter when it counts - every exposure is another learning experience that improves their skills. Businesspeople learn the same way, which is why experienced professionals see opportunities that others miss, choose an approach that’s likely to work, and act quickly to make things happen.

Experiment constantly, and the “good shots" will come.

Read more essays by Josh Kaufman »

Books by Josh Kaufman

The Personal MBA

Master the Art of Business

A world-class business education in a single volume. Learn the universal principles behind every successful business, then use these ideas to make more money, get more done, and have more fun in your life and work.

The First 20 Hours

How to Learn Anything… Fast!

A practitioner’s guide to rapid skill acquisition. Accelerate your learning by deconstructing complex skills, practicing the most important elements first, and removing barriers to deliberate practice. What do you want to learn?

How to Fight a Hydra

Face Your Fears, Pursue Your Ambitions, and Become the Hero You Are Destined to Be

A story about summoning the courage to face the beast, fight the good fight, & persist long enough in your efforts to secure a lasting victory.