3 Things A Photographer Can Learn From A Cartoonist

November 18th, 2011
Man standing next to large fake camera on tripod

Aaron Johnson is the cartoonist behind the popular comic strips known as What the Duck. His photo-centric comic strips started on a whim in 2006 and they have been featured in magazines and newspapers internationally since then. Between his day job, his daily comic strip, and being a father, Aaron has found time to write a post for us – so read on to find out what you can learn from this cartoonist!

3 Things A Photographer Can Learn From A Cartoonist – by Aaron Johnson

So what can a photographer really learn from a cartoonist? Not much. But here are 3 pieces of advice that I’ve used with the comic strip that I think are equally important for photographers.

1. Think long-term

Five years ago I intended on making a comic strip that would last for five days. Almost 1300 strips later I realize I miscalculated its longevity. But even back then I was thinking long term. What IF this strip lasted more than a week? How would I be able to maintain the workload and fit it into my daily schedule? Just those simple questions led me to design a strip that was intentionally minimalistic, both in the writing style and artwork. Long-term thinking helps solve short-term problems. No one is asking you to become Nostradamus Photography, but contemplating the future on any decision helps bring focus. Whether it’s purchasing a new piece of equipment or taking on a new client, take a moment and consider where the decision will lead you in six months, a year, 5 years? Long-term thinking means setting long-term goals. Write them down. Post them on a wall. Make yourself accountable to them.

2. Brand yourself

Sometimes we think of “branding” as a dirty word. After all, we’re “artists” and we do what we love. We don’t want to be commercial whores. But let’s think of “branding” in a more polite term: consistency. Find your style, your niche, your “thang” and then stick to it. I’ve worked hard to build a brand for What the Duck. Before readers even peek at the first panel of a new strip, they already know what to expect. Great photographers have the same thing. Some have an undeniable style/look that doesn’t need a watermark or signature to identify its creator. Some photographers have a personality that keeps clients coming back for more. Building a brand for yourself means simply creating a set of rules and guidelines that you will adhere to. I’m going to write a three panel, photo-centric, comic strip. Chances are, you’re never going to find Ziggy making an appearance on the WTD site. If your forte is newborn photography, don’t advertise boudoir photography (even though they both contain semi-nudity). Building a brand means building a level of comfort with your customers and potential clients. No one likes going into a new situation not knowing what to expect.

3. Think outside the box

The industry is rapidly changing. Photographers that can go with the flow and adapt, will do well. Those who can anticipate change, will do great. There is no stopping the quality, accessibility, and falling prices of digital cameras. The days of just having a nice camera and making a living off it are gone. You need to have something more than that. What is it going to be?  Write it down. What’s been done before? What hasn’t been done? Keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to take a few risks. There are many games and tricks you can use to help hardwire your brain to regularly think differently. Thinking outside of the box can work for photographers two-fold. One, it can help you seek out new business strategies. Two, it helps strengthen your creativity. Are you tapped out of ideas, what to shoot, how to shoot it? Try a ‘picture-a-day’ challenge. Initially it sounds easy, but take it from a daily cartoonist – forcing yourself to do anything everyday will strengthen those assets, in this case, creativity.

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