The summer is often a slow season for photographers - editors go on vacation and those spaces between phone calls or emails can extend into long days. I've been fortunate to have less of those days and weeks as my career has progressed, but I've also come to recognize these little spaces of time as gifts that allow for a little reflection, personal growth, promotion and career development. Here are a few things I try to do this when I'm given this time.
Get better. As Steve Martin said, the key to success is being "undeniably good." There's no end to this journey of improvement and change. Being good takes time, self-honesty and focused attention. Practicing your craft shouldn't just occur on shoots you're being paid for, but on your own time as well. This might mean spending a day in your studio/garage working out some new lighting setups or pursuing a personal project that allows you to take some risks and fail spectacularly.
Share something. Whether it's a blog post, phone call or taking the time to write to an aspiring photographer who sent you an email, sharing is beneficial to both parties. The key here is to remember this is not a zero sum game. You don't lose your competitive advantage when you talk about how you run your business/light a subject/process an image. Instead, you become the person other people come to for inspiration. The "new economy" or whatever you want to call it, rewards those who share, the gift-givers.
Work on your Search Engine Optimization. Right now this means Google. PhotoShelter has been preaching this forever and has so much good information (and is a great example of a gift-giver), that it's really the only place worth going for this information (without getting into the nitty-gritty). And yes, doing this well (along with being a good photographer) translates into real, paying jobs and attracting new clients you would never reach otherwise.
Promote yo'self. Do you have a marketing plan scheduled out for the year? Do you know how much you plan to spend this year on reaching out to editors/art buyers/etc.? Do you regularly send out emailers/portfolios/scratch 'n' sniff postcards? When is your next trip to New York to meet with editors and show them a new portfolio? Promotion is a multipronged beast and doing just one thing (like having a web site), is not enough. At the same time, the old ways of promoting yourself may no longer be as effective.
Social media as a participatory medium. Checking your Facebook and Twitter feeds is a way to procrastinate and waste time, as is posting inane status updates (of which I'm as guilty of as the next person). Still, social media can be a useful tool - figure out what mixture of personal and professional you want to present to the world and begin participating.
Pitch a story. This isn't just something that photojournalists can do. Every time I meet with editors in New York I hear pleas to send them story ideas. As always, know your audience and make sure your pitch is relevant and targeted to whoever you're sending it to. I've also found pitches to be much more effective when you've already shot some photos on the subject.
Give thanks. Take the time to hand write a thank you note to an editor. These cut through the clutter and are a nice bookend to completing a job.
Think about the future. I just finished up Seth Godin's Linchpin (great interview here) which talks about how one can be successful in this changing, post-industrial world and highly recommend it to any photographer looking to make their mark. In a broader sense, I try to set specific short-term and long-term goals (more of a "to do" list actually) that can I turn to whenever I have free time rather than procrastinating.
Do something different. Plant a garden, read The Economist, ride your bike. Being well-rounded is an asset to your growth as a person and as a photographer.
Back up your photos! Nothing like holding my most obvious and pedestrian piece of advice for last. Doing this doesn't ever seem to pay off, until the moment it does. I'd also highly recommend cloning your bootable drive so that if it crashes, you can be up and running again in minutes, not hours.