Starting out as a professional photographer is exciting! Chances are, if you are considering the answer to this question, you enjoy taking pictures. However, there is a lot more to being a professional photographer than simply liking the work. This blog post will (hopefully) help you realistically answer that question before you start a business. Some of the information in here is from my own experiences, and some is from the experience of other photographers I have had the pleasure of meeting or working with. Either way, this post is full of solid points that you should consider.

Do you know how to make your business successful? I was lucky because I have a parent who is self-employed, so I knew basically how to run a business before I made one for myself. There is a lot of extra work that goes into a small business that people don’t even realize: paperwork, budgets, even more complicated taxes, lots of time and money spent on advertising, extra bank accounts, extra stress on your credit score, more chances to lose it all unless you set up everything correctly. (More information about all of these areas is discussed in the below paragraphs).

Being a pro photographer does not necessarily mean that you can make your own hours. Most of the time, photographers work whenever the client is NOT working. This means weekends, evenings, federal holidays, etc. You need to be prepared to accept this as a reality if you want to be a professional photographer. You cannot simply set your own hours and expect the client to get off work to get photographs taken by you. Moreover, whenever you are not shooting clients you will be spending “normal working hours” advertising, networking, budgeting, editing, blogging, managing the website, and whatever other chores need to get done. In all reality photographers do not get days off, nor do they usually get sick days. 

Spending money on additional camera gear and software for your computer is NOT optional. It is necessary. However, you don't need to buy EVERY upgrade. If you are going to be a professional photographer, you should be able to buy all the gear you need (or already have it, or have friends from whom you can borrow it). You should have at least two camera bodies, two memory cards with sufficient space, at least 5 batteries for each camera, two battery chargers, flash kits and filters, and necessary lenses to make your art come to life. I would also recommend having a separate computer for your photography separate from your daily use computer. If you intend to sell prints, you will need a professional-grade printer. I started out with a lot of camera gear because photography was a hobby of mine for a long time, and I still spent about $12,000 on expenses related to my business the first year. The other side of this is that you should KNOW all your gear inside and out. This means that you don't need to upgrade your camera until the camera you are using does not suit your needs anymore. The same goes for software. You don't necessarily need to buy every upgrade to Lightroom or Photoshop, but you should HAVE the necessary software if you are going to be a professional photographer.

You will need to formulate solid contracts, and that will mean you must get help doing so. Law suits are becoming more common in today’s society (at least here in the United States), and it would be unrealistic and irresponsible of you as a business owner to operate without taking all legal precautions to protect yourself. Draft a contract about your services - I have one for weddings and one for everything else. Then spend the money to have an attorney look at your contract and help you make sure it will hold up in court. I would also recommend taking an introductory class on business law. If your client has not signed a contract, DO NOT TAKE PICTURES. True story: I had a client a while back who wanted some photographs taken for his own business - he is a real estate agent. He and I got along well in the beginning, but he was very reluctant to sign my contract. I asked him why, and he said that he didn’t like bringing the law into his business transactions. Eventually I did get him to sign it. I took his photos in my studio, and sent him some proofs of which I was very proud. They looked like most real estate agents’ pictures. When he saw them he got really hostile, said they looked like [trash] and thought I was lying about my credentials. He told me he wanted a refund and the rest of his prints as a penalty for my bad work or else he would sue me for the amount I charged him plus legal fees. It gets better: he had asked me to use software to make his face skinnier, which took me hours. He agreed to pay the extra $200 I charged for that, but he wanted that money as well. After looking online I saw that he had cropped my proofs so that my name was not visible, severely altered the saturation to make his face look yellow, and then put it on his website.You might get a similar situation one day and must decide what to do about it. My solution worked out well for me, but I knew about the law enough to know where to find answers I was looking for. If you want to know more about this, I’d be happy to talk about it with you. 

The client will not like the same photographs that you like. If you can’t take someone saying “Oh I don’t like the way my smile is in that one” or “eew I look fat” etc. then you should reconsider whether or not to enter this industry. You as the photographer will like the artistic shot, but the client is only interested in the ones in which they look their best. Of course, the fashion of the shot matters as well. You need to let the client choose which photographs they are going to buy - and that means that they look awesome, and so does everything else in the photograph. If you’re ready to be a pro, you’ll get some comments like “eew I don’t like the way my nose looks huge in that one” but you’ll also get some like “oh wow. I like that one. I look beautiful there! Thank you!”

If you charge $100 per hour, you will unfortunately not be making $100 per hour. Why? What the heck? Let’s say you are lucky enough to only spend 30 minutes post-processing / editing for every 1 hour spent snapping photographs. You then are down to $75 per hour. You will also be driving to and from the location, which will take another 30 minutes. Now you’re up to two hours of work for that $100, which means you’re making $50 per hour. You also have to set up the shoot, which requires being there 15 minutes early, and you have to have a consult after the fact for them to pick photos, which could take 45 minutes. Now you’ve spent 3 hours on this. You made $30 per hour.Don’t forget about time you’ll spend networking, money for advertising, etc. I like to make sure I get a little money from each client to cover my equipment if something happens. This means I typically charge more if I have to transport my lights somewhere or use my camera on the sandy beach or shoot over rugged terrain where things can break.Bottom line: figure out how much it will cost you to do that photo shoot, and charge that rate. When you factor in all your time, you’ll be making minimum wage.

To be blunt (without knowing you, and without seeing any of your work) is your work good enough to go pro? If you get compliments on your work from your parents, your friends, and your step uncle twice removed, it means that your work is better than their snapshots. But is it good enough to compete with the pro photographers around you? If people offer to buy your work, you know you can compete. 

Your website. You can pay lots of money for a nice looking website, but unless you follow the rules of the great God Google, it will not get seen. Invest the money to have someone show you how to make your website so that it shows up on Google’s search results.

You really do need all the lights and gear to do studio photography.This is also expensive, but if you try to do photography without lights it will not look professional.

Of course none of these are all-exclusive, but I’m sure most professional photographers would agree on these in principle.


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