Making the leap to pro photographer
Is this you?
You’ve been at this photography thing for awhile now. Perhaps you’ve been doing shoots for friends and family, and made a little money on the side. People love your photos and everyone says you should be doing this for a living. You’re sick of your day job. You want a change in your life. Is photography the answer?
When is it time to turn pro?
How do you know when you’re ready to make the leap from amateur to professional? As many photographers can tell you it takes more than passion and talent to be a successful photographer today. Your competition is everyone. And, everyone can take pictures!
The barriers to entry have never been lower. The world is technologically savvy when it comes to digital imaging. Stock photographs cost pennies. Everyone has a camera, even if only the one in their iPhone. Everyone has the capability to take pictures and make them look pretty darn good with very little effort or cost. Because of this, we have an overabundance of imagery, and everyone thinks they can take a photo as good as a pro, or at least one that’s good enough.
How do you compete with good enough?
You need to be memorable, unique and you need to build your brand. Photographers often take a personal branding approach, so YOU are the brand for your business, somewhat like I am for ImageMaven. You need good business sense, money to live on while you build your clientele (don’t underestimate this), and a clear vision for your business and your photography. Being technologically proficient and having a good eye is only part of it.
You need to be able to network with clients both online and off. Your goal is to get clients to know, like and trust you. If they don’t, you’re sunk. After that you need them to try, buy from you, and then refer you to other people who will do the same. You need to create a marketing plan that builds relationships and gets you to your right people.
There are many online social media tools available to photographers and clients that help you with this: Flickr, Facebook and Twitter are the most popular right now. It’s a great place to start, but it doesn’t totally replace face-to-face connections.
Being in business can take the fun out of photography
Sad but true! This is what being a photographer is really like:
- Shooting is about 10-20% of what you do
- Doing assignments that aren’t creatively challenging, just to pay the bills
- Marketing – the constant pressure to find and maintain clients
- Maintaining an active web presence through social media and blogging
- Building a website
- Selling yourself and your work
- Working with clients who don’t have a proper photography budget
- Pricing and licensing your work so that you are profitable, and can send your kids to college
- Keeping on top of the latest trends, constantly upgrading cameras, computers and software
- Accounting, taxes and liability insurance
- Computer breakdowns
- Studio rental
- Constantly being undervalued by clients who think they or their staff can take the photos themselves
- Being critiqued. People not always liking your photos.
- Working long hours at the computer, usually 7 days a week
If any of these things make you squirm, then maybe you’re not quite ready to go pro
You can farm out some of these tasks, but you might not be able to afford that in the beginning. If photography relaxes you and is your creative outlet, then maybe it’s best to keep it that way by NOT turning pro. It might be better to start a Flickr account and keep it fun and friendly, rather than competitive.
It’s hard to maintain a successful photography business these days, especially in some fields like stock photography. You’ll have a better chance of success if you take photos for specific subjects that can’t be found in stock libraries, like your client’s people and projects, as opposed to general subjects like travel and landscapes for instance. But again, that all depends on your market and your clients. You need to think about all this a lot before making the leap. I don’t mean to sound discouraging, but this is not an easy profession to be in right now.
Because of your uniqueness your business might look a lot different than your competitor’s. There is more than one right way to start and run a creative business, but maybe only a couple of right ways for you and your unique talents and situation.
This is a list of current resources on the subject of turning pro. I have read all these books and they are all really good. They’re a good place to start if you’re thinking of turning pro. Don’t make this decision lightly as the road is long and hard for most photographers.
Booklist (Amazon affiliate links)
VisionMongers: Making a Life and a Living in Photography