So you just bought your first camera or did so in the past year. Now you want to become a professional photographer but where do you start?
First, let me tell you it isn’t all peaches and cream being a professional photographer. You have clients to deal with, and some of them can be daunting and exhausting. You have deadlines to meet. You have to be your own boss, which is both bad and good because no one is going to give you your work assignments. You have to be a self-starter. Sure, you can work from home, which is also good and bad. I can do a lot of work in my pajamas, but it is also bad. You have all the distractions of home. If you have children, they will come in and want everything children could want or need. You have the television, you have all the comforts of home. Quitting time isn’t always locked in either. Back to the clients, it becomes all about business. Your family and friends will invite you to all their events and celebrations but ask you, “can you bring your camera.” You have taxes, licensing, equipment, insurance, telephones, business cards, do you take checks? What happens when the check bounces? The competition, oh the competition, there are hundreds of new professional photographers just in your area every year.
All that being said, being a professional photographer isn’t bad, but the photography part is the least amount of time you spend doing. Eighty (80%) percent, or more, of your time, is spent on other tasks. Oh and weekends, forget about it. You’ll be working.
When I started my venture into full-time photography I spent 7 days a week working. Often 10-12 hour days by the time you count the photographing, the records keeping, the photo editing, the location scouting.
Discouraged yet? Don’t be, it isn’t all bad and this article isn’t intended to discourage anyone but rather to give you my experiences and some aspects to consider.
What I have learned
One of the hardest lessons I learned is that it is now a business. As such it is all about getting paid and making a profit. It is vitally important to calculate your expenses. This includes stuff that you may already own, such as your camera. This stuff will need to be replaced. Would you work 50-60 hours a week for less than minimum wage? Probably not. I see it all the time. New photographers, in order, start out price themselves too low.
Here is a list of the lessons I have learned.
- Prices. You can’t just pull a number out of your head or thin air. You have to know your costs. You need to calculate how much time you spend getting ready for a session. You need to calculate how much time to get to the session, shoot the session and get back home. Now comes the time to sit down and cull and edit photos. Would you do all your paperwork and miscellaneous tasks at your previous 9-5 job for free? Probably not. Calculate your expenses such as insurance, yes you will need insurance even if this is a “home-based” weekend warrior job. You can get sued for “failure to perform or deliver”, someone can trip over a stick while on a photo session and break their arm. What if your client knocks over your camera since it is a business your renters or homeowners insurance won’t pay.
- Equipment. I know, you already have a camera. You need more than one. What if your camera stops working even though it is a wonderful piece of equipment a technological wonder they do malfunction and wear out. If you have scheduled sessions with only one now you have no gear. Remember the failure to perform or deliver? Now is where you can get sued. EVEN IF YOU DIDN’T GET PAID YET!
- Websites. Yeah, there are those free places but like everything you get what you pay for. Setting up a website can be time-consuming. Look for a good provider that will allow you to use your own domain name, xyzphotography.com as an example. This gives you a professional look. I can tell you from running this blog site if you have to maintain all the background stuff and the spam/hacker attempts for your website it can take a lot of time and energy.
- Get educated. When I first wanted to start a photography business I had no formal training outside of a couple of workshops. My photography was not great. It was okay, at best. I decided to get a photography education. It was expensive but in the end, I found it to be quite rewarding and my photography improved 10 fold.
- Lighting. This somewhat goes with getting educated, but this is a specialized area. Learning about lighting allowed me to not be a slave to what nature provided. It has allowed me more latitude in when and where I can shoot. I have learned to use light modifiers, diffusers, reflectors, flash/strobes. I even take these things when shooting on location outside. It has cut down my digital workflow because my images are much closer to what I envisioned.
These five areas will really help you gain a better foothold on starting a real business. It will also save you a lot of time, frustration, and money. It will build your confidence in your products.