4 Hard Truths About Professional Photography (And Solutions)

Dan Price 07-08-2015

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 Thinking of Starting a Business? 15 Udemy Courses for the New Entrepreneur Have you got a business idea eating away at you and not the slightest clue where to start with it? Well, why not take up an online course on entrepreneurship and make it happen? Read More 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 How to Deal With Inbox Overload and To-Do Lists in Emails Email is not just communication, it also largely dictates your to-do list. Let's talk about the best tips to link the inbox to our productivity with Andy Mitchell -- the founder of ActiveInbox. Read More . 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 Clear Out Your Inbox: Quickly Unsubscribe From Multiple Newsletters With These Tools Unsubscribing from newsletters is about more than just spam. Most of the newsletters that fill our inbox are not selling medicine or offering prize money – they’re genuine newsletters from trusted companies we ourselves subscribed... Read More , 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:

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 The 3 Best Online Coupon Sites to Save You Money Coupon sites are one of the best and easiest ways to save when shopping online. From quick deals to guides on how to control your budget, here are the best coupon resources on the Web. Read More . 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 Buying Used Camera Gear Online? Protect Yourself With These Tips Photography is a rewarding but expensive hobby. With the right mindset and the proper precautions, buying used photography gear online can be incredibly convenient, affordable, and safe. Read More .


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 3 Ways to Electronically Sign Documents Paperwork doesn't have to be a chore, if it can be handled swiftly and efficiently. In the case of signing documents, it usually isn’t. It’s a hopelessly convoluted process, all for getting a single squiggly... Read More 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 5 Legal Issues No Photographer Can Afford to Ignore As fun as it is to take photos, there are important laws to obey. Ignorance is not an excuse, so stay up-to-date before it's too late. Read More .

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 6 Simple Time Management and Productivity Apps for Windows Could your computer help you get more work done? It certainly can. Great organization software can make you more productive. It's a matter of working smarter rather than harder. Read More 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.

The truth is that while the nature of work is inherently seasonal, if you can manage your calendar Best 4 Ways To Manage Your Facebook Calendar In this article, I’m going to show you four ways that you can make use of your Facebook Calendar. This will include how to export Facebook Calendar events to Output, how to export them to... Read More sufficiently well, you shouldn’t be affected. Money management skills are critical Simply Frugal: How To Learn Personal Finance The Easy Way Do you fret over bills and debt on a regular basis? Do you feel lost when others speak using financial lingo? Here's the good news: it's never too late to learn about money. Read More , too.

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.

Related topics: Freelance, Photography.

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  1. Arpan Paul
    January 17, 2018 at 5:24 pm

    I am a student. My name is Arpan Paul. I want to sale my photography due to my costing of education. Please give me the step

  2. Bob
    January 5, 2018 at 12:37 am

    I agree quality and professionalism and perhaps the character of the photographer are to be of the highest level , I never have believed in going in half way if you want success . Just my 2 cents . And I pass on photography as abussiness as described above . My object for my work is it must be good enough to sell its self or I take the pass , that means it must be in the very highest levels of quality . I’m not there and I don’t worry about it , I have a day job ! Be never say never !

    March 24, 2017 at 12:32 am

    All the above is true. I learned it the hard way, over 20 years. The above is so accurate it's amazing.

  4. tom
    May 29, 2016 at 6:31 am

    Good ploy. Frighten off any new competition before they even start.

    • John
      November 18, 2016 at 5:36 am

      You must be a Trump supporter.

      • Tom
        November 18, 2016 at 9:19 am

        Stupid, pointless, irrelevant, and completely incorrect comment. Nothing to do with the subject under discussion, and I happenb to think that neither Trunp nor Clinton is fit to govern. I wouldn't trust either of them to run a sweet shop.

      • Tom
        November 19, 2016 at 1:06 pm

        Neither Trump nor Clinton is fit to govern. I support neither.

        This "advice" in this article is not useful to wannabe professional photographers. You do not need to spend over $4,000 to get equipped. Buy second hand and buy not-quite-state-of the-art gear. You'll get a fine professional standard camera body, a back a lens or two sufficient for the subjects you plan to photograph and the conditions you'll be working in for well under half that amount.