The Road to Becoming a Professional Photographer
Making money with your camera seems obvious, so you may be thinking about becoming a professional photographer. People love your work, ask you to take their picture, and your only expense is your time. You also know that you can print an 8 x 10 for $2 at your local Mart, and the idea seems even better because you know that at the prices that inexpensive photographers charge, you can make a lot of money. There are a ton of blog posts and YouTube videos about how much money you can make selling your photographs online and at Art Fairs.
As you continue to think about your new business idea, you start to do research and find out that some of those professional photographers are selling 8 x 10’s for $100. With prints only cost a few dollars, it seems there may be a lot of money that is just waiting for you to pick it up. Your excitement rises and you start to spend the money that you are soon going to earn with what was your hobby yesterday. All you have to do is put up a website and start raking in the cash. Or is it really that easy?
The first thing you have to know about being a professional photographer is that it is a business. Photographers usually have a hard time separating their art from business, and in that emotional tangle they neglect the necessary elements to creating a successful business.
10 important questions to answer when creating a photography business:
- What your legal structure will be? Will you form a corporation, a limited liability corporation, a partnership or as a sole proprietor?
- What kinds of licenses and permits will you need?Your local city, county or Small Business Administration can assist you.
- Sales tax permit.
- Business license(s) in the areas you are considering doing business in.
- Fictitious name filing.
- Location? Will you do your business in store front (studio) or as a location only photographer?
- How much do you have to make, per day, to support your business? Use this handy calculator to find out how much you need to make per day to support your business. Divide the amount per day by the number of sessions per day you want to photograph and you now have how much money you need to make from every client, after expenses, to make your business successful.
- Who is your competition? How are you different from your competition? How are you the same? Why should your clients choose you?
- What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? What are the threats to your creating a successful business? What opportunities exist for your business?
- How are you going to let people know you are now doing business? This is your marketing plan and if there is a single thing that will separate you from your competition, it will be how you market yourself.
- What is your product? Are you going to sell portraits, art prints, or commercial photography? Start with a narrow focus. If you try to be all things to all people you will triple your learning curve and decrease your chances of being able to provide excellent customer service.
- How are you going to track your expenses, income, accounts payable and your vendors?
- Who are your support people? Who is your accountant, your lawyer, your photography mentor? How are you going to continue to learn to perfect your craft?
Microsoft has a great product to help you with your business and to write a business plan.
Creating Your Product
Though digital cameras seem to make being a professional photographer accessible to anyone, knowing and following the old fashion rules of art and photography will make you a better photographer. There is nothing wrong with breaking the rules, however, you need to understand the rules first before you break them. Photoshop has enabled people to create in the computer; however, to create the really great photographs that will impress your whole audience, you have to start with a great captured image. A good analogy to this is in wine making. Winemakers will tell you that you can always make great wine from great grapes, and you can never make great wine from bad grapes.
It is enormous fun to have a camera that you can point at your subject and capture things clearly and with depth. It is even more fun to look through the lens and actually control how you capture and know immediately that you have created your vision in your image. Learning to use your camera on manual mode to capture well lit and composed images is the adrenaline rush that we all seek, and I highly encourage you to chase that experience. Learning to use your equipment and the rules of photography will enable you to create a product that will always be in demand by your clients.