The 4-Hour Workweek for Photographers: An Interview with Tim Ferriss

Last Friday, The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss hit No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list. The author — who encourages readers to use his principles of “lifestyle design” to escape the cubicle culture — has clearly struck a nerve.

So, what specific advice does Tim have for professional photographers? We recently had the opportunity to ask him; here’s the interview.

Q: Are there principles and advice within The 4-Hour Workweek that you believe are of particular value to professional photographers? How can photographers, specifically, apply your ideas in their lives?

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A: I think the 80/20 principle and general “less is more” approach to aesthetics has fantastic applications. Cultivating the ability to subtract that which distracts and focus on one dominant visual element, for example. I think that each photographer will also have his or her strengths, whether lighting or composition or timing, and progress is fastest when we focus on multiplying the effects of those strengths vs. fixing every weakness. I used to be a graphic designer — mostly illustration with pen — and now I spend a lot of time on eye movement on graphic-heavy Web pages. The principles are very analogous.

Q: A lot of your advice concerns “outsourcing” elements of your work to others. How can this advice be applied to a creative job like photography? Many photographers really enjoy their work — but just want to do it more lucratively and in fewer hours per week.

A: Identify your core competencies, those things that give you your creative fingerprint, and focus on “outsourcing” (i.e. delegating) the administration and mechanics of production. This needn’t be someone in Bangalore. It could very well be an art student from the local community college or an unpaid intern who wants to learn the craft.

Q: Many photographers love taking pictures but dread the business side of their profession — dealing with corporations, accountants, and so forth. Any advice here?

A: Business is dealmaking, and there is an artistry to it. The verbal dance is fascinating once you treat it as such. Check out the negotiating scripts in The 4-Hour Workweek for a flavor of the gambits used. It can really become a fun — and highly profitable — game. “Business” is too vague and intimidating to be useful… you can’t learn all of business. Learn how to boldly ask for more than you expect and then dealmake. Leave the bean counting to a professional accountant. I’ve never done my own taxes and never plan on doing them.

Q: Travel is a big part of the “New Rich” lifestyle as you define it. Many photographers would love to travel the world and make photos, but aren’t able to because their current work commitments are close to home. What can they learn from your book?

A: They can learn how to recapture beginner’s mind, to borrow a Zen phrase. How to look with new eyes upon familiar surroundings. It’s all about testing assumptions and starting from a clean slate to find the exceptional options that are hidden in plain sight.

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