Fantasy Fakers vs. Reality Makers


Fantasy Fakers vs. Reality Makers with Jonathan Tilley

Shutterfest 2018. My first one ever, and I was invited to speak. Yay! I did the research leading up to it, joined the Facebook group, interacted with people, and set up coffee dates with beginner photographers who were struggling to build their businesses. I paid for the coffees and worked with them on their business models for free. I noticed they were desperately in love with the idea of one day having a photography business. I also noticed that they didn’t have a plan of action to build their business—so scared, with so many excuses. They expected the red carpet 95 percent of the time but were only willing to put in 5 percent of the work. They attended classes. I did my talk called “Become a Local Legend,” giving away a stupidly simple marketing strategy onstage with downloadable slides. Then I spoke to more people after my talk, thanked Sal and Alissa, and went home.

Shutterfest 2019. My second one, and I was invited to speak again. I touched base with all the people I’d given free business advice to the year before. They hadn’t moved an inch in their businesses, instead only spending more money on more conferences and more gear. They said, “I’m still not ready yet. But one day …” They hadn’t changed their websites like I’d advised them to. They hadn’t used the stupidly simple marketing strategy I’d given away during my talk the year before. They’d wasted their time.

And they’d wasted mine.

I call these people the Fantasy Fakers. They’re in love with the daydream but aren’t taking action in reality. They romanticize the idea of having a photography business. Their go-to catch phrase is, “One day …”. They tell everyone and their mother that they’re a photographer, but all they do is go to conferences, buy lots of gear, take tons of pictures, and that’s it.


Shutterfest 2019. My second one, and I was invited to speak again. I did the research leading up to it. I reached out to other speakers. I followed them on Instagram and interacted with them, setting up coffee dates with successful photographers who were thriving in their businesses. I paid for their coffees and listened to their stories of how they’d built their businesses. I noticed they were desperately in love with their existent photography business, and also that they had multiple plans of action to keep everything moving forward—so focused, with so many well-executed plans. They enjoyed the red carpet of Shutterfest, which was 5 percent of their reality, but knew that their success was 95 percent about putting in the hard work. They taught their classes. I did my talk, called “It’s Not About You, It’s All About Them,” giving away a mentality-shift strategy that I’ve used to help thousands of creatives worldwide. Then I spoke to more people after my talk, thanked Sal and Alissa, and went home.

My time was not a waste.

I call these people the Reality Makers. They’re in love with their businesses and are constantly taking action. They understand that it’s hard work and very unromantic at times. Their go-to catch phrase is, “Let’s do this.” They don’t need to tell everyone and their mother that they’re a photographer, because they’re living proof of it.

Shutterfest 2020. My third one. I’m invited to teach three classes. One about how to make over your website to wow potential clients, one on how to write a killer cover letter that books work, and one on turning your Instagram into a networking powerhouse. All three are strategies that I’ve successfully implemented myself, strategies I’ve taught to others who’ve run with them and built six-figure creative businesses.

And as you see, I’ve done the research. I know the audience. And there are two types of people: the Fantasy Fakers and the Reality Makers. I want to see more Fantasy Fakers lean into the vulnerability, get out of their comfort zones, and build their businesses. I want to work with them. I want to help them. I want to see them win.


Us Reality Makers … we know that no one is coming to save us. No one will shower us with money and gear and clients. This life, the ups and downs, is 100 percent our responsibility.

We know that we can either make excuses or we can make money. But we can’t do both. So we wake up earlier, make connections with potential clients, go to networking events, and promote our businesses, all so we can in turn do the actual work that we love: photography.

We know that staying small doesn’t serve anyone, especially us. Upgrading our attitude and elevating our work ethic keeps us growing stronger.

We know that the rates that we charge are justified, researched, and grounded in the fact that we know our worth. When we say our prices to our clients face-to-face, we drop our voices at the end, smile politely, and wait for the client to say, “Here’s my credit card.”

We know that there are thousands of other photographers all over the world, but there’s only one you. And that you has a unique perspective that is as individual as your signature. That uniqueness is what clients are attracted to. That uniqueness is what books you.

We know that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. We may not be perfect all the time. We just keep on going, learning and growing. Speed bumps are inevitable. It’s all about learning from those speed bumps, picking ourselves up, and putting one foot in front of the other.

We know that there’s no time for complaining, excuses, and drama fits. There’s only time for work. And after a hard day’s work, then there’s time for fun. Not the other way around.

We know that there are a lot of Fantasy Fakers out there that are yearning to be Reality Makers. They hover at conferences. They stalk us online. But what we really want is for them to step up into their truth and become Reality Makers. We want them to approach us and say hi. We want them to engage with us online in a friendly banter from one photographer to the other. We want them to sit at the table, because we know there’s a place for everyone at the table.

We know deep in our hearts that there is not enough art in the world. And for us to make the world a better place, we need to work together to create as much good art as possible. We need to be the best versions of ourselves to drive our businesses toward excellence.

We know that there are people—just like us, when we were first starting out—who pick up a camera for the first time and know that they were born to be photographers. We understand that the journey from that first moment with a camera in their hands to having a thriving photography business will be long.

We hope that the new wave of photographers will step up, be seen, create good art, learn from their speed bumps, and keep producing upgraded and elevated imagery for high-paying clients.

We hope they listen when someone buys them a coffee and guides them through their business model for free.

We hope they take action when they’re told to change their website.

We hope they implement tips when they learn how to book gigs via Instagram DMs.

We hope they hit send on that email to the potential client, introducing themselves with a smile on their face and excitement in their heart.

We hope they realize that by growing into a Reality Maker, they are creating a life that is far more rich, abundant and fulfilling than any Fantasy Faker’s daydream could ever be.

Get the full story

To read the full article, launch the digital version of the November 2019 magazine.

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