Photography has become one of the most popular hobbies around the world thanks to the advent of (relatively) cheap, high-resolution digital cameras. Now, it’s possible for anyone to create top-notch images without first investing a fortune.
Given this development, it’s hardly surprising that many amateurs are now considering whether or not to turn their passion into a business. The idea of snapping the next world event, running shoots for glamour models, or travelling the world to photograph gorgeous landscapes is quite appealing, after all.
Unfortunately, very few inspiring professionals will actually make it to such rare levels of success. If you want to make a living from your photography, here’s one hard truth: it will most likely come from gig-based hires for conferences, weddings, and portraits.
Here are a few other uncomfortable truths you’re going to face if you want to start a photography business.
Unconventional Work Hours
Running your own business is a far cry from the traditional 9-to-5 role.
If you currently work in an office, you likely complain about your hours and lack of holidays — but the reality is that you can go home at the end of the day and switch off from work pressures, safe in the knowledge that your salary will hit your account when it’s supposed to.
Freelancers enjoy no such luxuries. If a prospect or client emails you at 10:30pm, you need to reply ASAP, lest the person chooses to take their business elsewhere. It doesn’t matter if you’re relaxing on a Caribbean beach or celebrating your sister’s wedding, you need to be on-call 24/7.
People who want to run a photography business also need to be prepared to work unusual hours. Some of the most common calls for an event photographer to cover are weddings, gala dinners, and conferences, all of which can start in the early morning and run way past midnight.
There’s not much you can do about the unusual work hours. It’s part of the nature of running a photography business, unless your business takes place in a storefront with regular hours (as in the case of studio portraiture).
You can, however, help yourself manage the fact that you need to be on-call around the clock by having a clean email inbox. It’ll help you determine the important stuff from the spam at a glance so you never miss a business opportunity.
You could try Mailstrom to help you unsubscribe from newsletters, see whose emails you ignore the most, visualize what time you get your most emails, and which social networks clutter your inbox most frequently. Use it in conjunction with Google Tasks to quickly turn emails into tasks and ensure you don’t overlook something vital (like a new client).
Unforeseen Business Costs
Make no mistake: photography is expensive. If you are serious about launching your own business, you need to have upper-tier equipment. It’s no good turning up to a shoot with a cheap or mid-grade digital camera because your clients will be expecting utmost quality.
You need to consider that, at a bare minimum, you’ll be buying:
- At least two camera bodies, one as backup (the Nikon D610 is roughly $1,500)
- A selection of lenses, for example:
- At least one flash speedlight (the Nikon SB-700 is $330)
We’re already at a total cost of $4,480, and that’s not including peripherals like lighting stands, mounts, umbrellas, softboxes, carrying bags, subscriptions for Photoshop and Lightroom, travel costs, etc.
Unfortunately, you need to have this equipment before you start working. If you try using inferior equipment, you’re likely to fail. Clients will demand their money back, you won’t receive any income, and your reputation in the market will quickly tank.
Finally, you need to consider the not-so-exciting costs. For example, you’ll need to incorporate your business ($125), insure your business ($600 per year), pay an accountant ($300 per year), have a website ($75 per year), and pay for legally watertight contract templates ($100).
All these figures together add up to a first year cost of $6,000+ minimum.
The only place you can really save money is in the equipment costs.
As ever, shop around and see what discounts you can find. If you can’t find the prices you want, you can consider used or refurbished equipment — at least for your first couple of years in the industry. The good news is that there are several good sites for buying used photography gear.
Be wary, though. Older gear is not always the great bargain you think it is. To maximize your chances of finding a deal, buy cameras or lens right after a newer model is introduced, then the market will be flooded with perfectly usable and cheap older models.
Unrealistic Client Expectations
Running a photography business is not as simple as turning up, taking a few snaps, and emailing them to the client. You need to offer a slick and professional service, especially if you hope to grow your business through word of mouth.
That means meeting a prospective client at least twice in advance of the event: once to show off your portfolio and discuss what you can offer, and once to sign contracts and receive a deposit.
The contract you use cannot look amateurish or be legally suspect, you need to cover your own back in case of cancellation, and the client will expect to have a way to hold you responsible if you violate one of the many legal issues that photographers must deal with.
Thereafter, you need to be prepared for plans to be changed at the whim of your client. This is particularly true for large events, where a client could call you the night before and ask you to arrive an hour earlier, perform a task that was not previously agreed upon, or even change the location entirely.
On the day of an event, you need to be largely unseen in the background. Be respectful of the client and any other guests at the event. They don’t want you to be the center of attention.
After the event you’ll need to edit however many photos were agreed upon, get them printed out and framed, and deliver them all to the client by the deadline. This is time-consuming, and it gets worse when your business grows and you start juggling multiple clients.
The workflow can’t be altered, but you can make it easier to manage multiple clients at the same time.
Try Wunderlist. It’s one of the most well-regarded task manager apps for power users thanks to its ability to sync across multiple platforms and collaborate with fellow professionals that you might be working with. You could also consider Trello, which takes a unique card-based approach instead.
Other tools to consider are EchoSign or DocuSign, both of which let you sign contracts digitally, and BidSketch, which will allow you to create professional-looking proposals that’ll stand out from potential competitors.
Unpredictable Amounts of Work
Photography can be extremely seasonal. Large events typically fall around certain times of year – weddings in spring and summer, conferences and retreats in autumn, family events at Easter, office parties at Christmas, and so on.
Poor planning will see you fall victim to these ebbs and flows. It’ll result in peaks where you’re rushed off your feet and cannot accept all the clients who are demanding your services, and troughs where you’re left counting your pennies and scraping to survive until the cycle starts anew.
Try raising your rates if you’re overwhelmed during the busy season, and offering seasonal promotions during the off season to bring in more work. Create different portfolios for all the typical holiday periods and stay in touch with clients throughout the year in case they decide that they want more photos from you.
Never let a contact slip from your sphere of influence. In freelancing, networking is king. Consider using Contactually to stay in touch with people and to make sure you’re their first port of call if they have a need arise at any time during the year.
It’ll let you manage your contacts and will track your progress with them, as well as providing person-specific information like social media updates and your previous interactions, all of which will help you personalize your next contact with them.
Ready to Start a Photography Business?
Have you ventured in to the world of photography? Was your business a success? What were your biggest challenges and obstacles?
We’d love to hear your advice for newcomers. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.