Thinking about turning your hobby into a jobby? What are the essential points you will need to consider when taking your hard-earned savings and convincing your better half that this will be the new, next chapter in your life? With over 15 years as a professional photographer and more than 25 years being self-employed, here’s what you need to know to make your dream a reality.
1. Accept You Will Have To Do a Certain Number of Jobs for Free.
Firstly, do this for local businesses to show your worth and possibly get them on monthly retainer, for people or businesses who have great social media, influencers to get them to share what you do, and for your local photographic community, guilds, groups, and organizations to get people to trust you and help you with problems you’re no doubt going to come up against. However, know your worth, and create boundaries, as there are people out there that will take advantage (whether they do it subconsciously is irrelevant).
2. Don’t Change Camera Brands Every 5 Minutes.
Find one you like and stick to it. Learn everything about that camera, brand, and its limitations. Brands don’t make great photographers; practice, learning, reading, and watching and helping other professionals is how you become great. If you really think a single camera is going to make a lasting, long-term difference, then you’re going about it the wrong way. The camera is only the last part of the picture (if you’ll excuse the pun).
3. Get a Great Piece of Business Software for Managing Your Shoots and Expenses.
There are loads out there. 17 Hats, Studio Ninja. I use Light Blue, as it’s fantastic. It manages my shoots, my expenses ,and invoices and saves me tons of time that I can spend on getting my business marketed. This must be considered when starting your business if you want to actually make decent money.
4. Know Your Onions.
If you don’t know that term, it just means make sure you know the skills needed to do your job. Learn Photoshop, Lightroom, Capture One, Affinity, or whatever application for editing you decide to use. Watch YouTube, follow your favorite photographers, and take advice from lots of professionals who have been in the industry for a while.
5. Join the Associations.
There are lots of them. The Guild of Photographers, the SWPP, the AOC, and the BIPP are the main ones, and there are lots of smaller, more niche ones too. This will help you rub shoulders with the people that you should be friends with. These are people that might ask you to second-shoot your first wedding with them or assist on a commercial shoot. The associations will also help you to achieve your qualifications, which is a good way of forcing yourself outside your comfort zone and further along the path you want to be down, plus it shows any potential clients that you have studied your craft and have achieved a level of knowledge of it.
6. Get Friendly With the People at Your Local Camera Store.
Mine is Carmarthen Cameras in Wales in the UK, and they are awesome. They let me know if there’s any new kit to try or if I’m looking for a second-hand piece of equipment either for myself or one of my students and they get it in. They offer training and experience days too, which I’ve attended, and I occasionally get to do talks for them. Having a big supplier online is great for the essential pieces of kit you don’t necessarily need to take advice on, but if you are looking for something that will do a job and you need to speak to someone about it, find somewhere you can drop in, have a coffee, and get some advice.
7. Learn From the Best.
Okay, so I get that there are lots of professional photographers out there making a second income from teaching. I made the mistake in the beginning when I first started up my photography business of paying a lot of people that were great photography teachers but didn’t earn a living from being a photographer. They knew a lot about the theory, but didn’t necessarily have the practical skills. I actually got so fed up with feeling like I came away from another training course without learning anything that I could remember, I literally googled: “Who is currently the best wedding photographer in the world?” I’d never heard of any of them at the time, but I looked at all their work and websites and found one that taught and was most like the style I liked and thought I could achieve. Then, I booked the flights, travelled from Wales to Frankfurt, and met Roberto Valenzuela, and later, in London, Peter Hurley. I can honestly say that the money I spent training with them (which wasn’t a small amount of money just starting out, I can tell you) was hands down, the best investments I’ve ever made. I’ve literally made the money back four times over from the skills I learned. Photographers that really know their craft aren’t afraid of sharing what got them there. It is a great feeling knowing someone you’ve taught is killing it with the skills learned from you.
8. Get the Right Computer Equipment.
Don’t buy the first thing off the shelf. Being a photographer means you will need specialist computers rather than basic off-the-shelf equipment that the public would most likely use for reading email and writing the odd letter or two. Photoshop and Lightroom both require lots of RAM and free hard drive space to work most efficiently. Backup solutions are needed. As soon as you turn pro, you're going to be required to save your images securely and safely for long periods of time. Don't take for granted that your five-year-old MacBook is going to cut it.
9. Accept That You Might Want To Try Lots of Different Genres of Photography.
When I first started, I thought I’d learn to become a great maternity photographer. I have three children, so why not, right? Then, I took a class by a well-known expert, Claire Elliot. Armed with the knowledge, I can tell you I did two baby shoots, and that was the end of that career. The first session, the client didn’t want to hand her baby over to me, as she was crying constantly, and after four hours of trying to get any useable shots, I gave up, with a headache the size of Alaska. The second session didn’t go too well either, as the lovely baby in question proceeded to hose down my beloved Canon 5D Mark II. Thank goodness it had weather-sealing. What I’m trying to say is don’t beat yourself up if you don’t succeed at the genre you think you’re going to be great at. Try something else. Learn to pivot, adapt, and overcome.
10. Enjoy the Ride.
There will be days you wish you’d stuck to working in a safe job. There will be days you have to get up early and just don’t feel like it. Trust me when I say it’s all worth it in the end for your passion. We are passion. Human beings perform to their best when we succeed, and the bad times just remind us that there are good times to come. I love the feeling I get when I absolutely nail the client's brief or capture a beautiful wedding shot. It's indescribable, and I truly feel like it’s what I was put on the planet to do. I know you feel the same, because passion for what we do drives us forwards. We strive to be better, and it doesn’t matter if every day is a tiny step forward, just that we keep moving.
Thanks for reading this. I’ve been adding and deleting tips, and there are so many more I could have added. Please feel free to message me with your thoughts and advice. I do read everything and have lots more I could help you with. It is great to see so many people following their passion, and I’m pleased that I can help them in some small way with this.
One thing I wish all photographers would stick to: protect your copyright and charge licensing fees. In an industry where you’re really not going to be able to build up a business and then sell it for a retirement nest egg, where nearly all of your physical assets depreciate at an incredible rate, and it’s difficult to hire out what you do and earn that type of passive income, our intellectual property is our most valuable asset. And so many photographers neglect to even acknowledge that, lowering the overall “tide” and making it a bit more difficult to make a really good living as a photographer. I am pretty firm on that stuff. I have all those talks on the front end, before I ever shoot one frame for a client. Sometimes I’m successful in educating them as to why that piece of my business is crucial to my long-term viability and sometimes that would-be client chooses another photographer because of it. And I’m okay with that now.
Be vigilant on the business/accounting side. Protect yourself (insurance) and know your (legal) rights! There are a lot of people/organizations/government officials that will try to take advantage of you otherwise!
Nice shot of Castell Harlech.
Thank you Chris
Absolutely fundamental i agree