If making money with your photography is your goal, what's holding you back?
It's taken me a long time to realize that making money with your camera can be pretty simple, but one must be happy making a little in the beginning and realize that the dream of good money comes in time. Like all journeys the sooner that you start the sooner that you arrive where you want to be.
Beyond practicing to perfect your photography skills, the hard part is making the effort to find the jobs. If anyone has followed me close enough through the last 15 years they can attest that I've had some rough times. It has taken me longer than it should have to realize a few simple facts of life concerning business, motivation and purpose concerning my photography business. If I can save anyone any time, I’m glad to share what I’ve learned.
It doesn't matter if you have “real” job or not beyond your photography. You probably have some spare time that can be invested in creating or improving your photography business, be it your skill, your marketing plan or simply finding jobs. You must understand that you will be doing a lot of work for yourself that is an investment in the future of your business. A website, for example, will take a lot of time to keep current and relevant. Social Media and other forms of marketing take time as well.
First consider what you enjoy photographing the most or what you feel that you’re good at. I'm not talking about the remote and breathtaking landscape photography created as your art necessarily, although print sales can be added to the aggregate of income, practical photography jobs are more consistent work and pay. Jobs such as portraiture, events (weddings, engagements, etc) or real estate. These are jobs that fill a need of a client. This is work that you can get any day of the week. In my case I enjoy real estate photography jobs more than I enjoy weddings so I look for real estate agents that I can help. There were 255,284 homes sold in Oregon last year. There are 16,000 real estate agents in Oregon. There were 26,787 weddings in Oregon in 2016. All you need are a small handful of loyal clients. The work is out there.
Furthermore, there are a wide array of budgets for these jobs. There’s someone who has a budget that suits your rates no matter how low or high it might be. Start with lower paying jobs with less expectation and work your way up as you gain experience and reputation. You’re not a Richard Avedon or a Dorothea Lange, but they were beginners once too.
Let's say that you want to do real estate photography. Start by photographing your own home or, perhaps, a friend who has a home that would photograph well. If you want to do portraiture photograph your family and friends. Gain confidence by practicing. The same goes for approaching potential clients. Most people fear the word “no”. Put the thought in your mind that they aren’t rejecting you, they just don’t have a need for what you are offering. A no saves you a lot of time to go find that yes.
Don’t hesitate to turn down a job if you feel that it’s beyond your ability. It’s better to admit that than to get yourself in over your head and becoming discouraged, but overcoming challenges working as a photographer will be the best way to improve your understanding of photography. I have learned many lessons in my real estate work that I have been able to apply to the other forms of photography that I enjoy, for instance. In other words, these types of photography jobs will make you a better all around photographer. Play it safe, don't be afraid to fail. A lesson is learned and life goes on.
Next is that when you have your own business you have no boss to tell you what to do and when to do it. It's up to you to motivate yourself to do what needs to be done. A job must be done completely and done well first, and in a timely manner second. Your client would rather have beautiful photos in due time, than crummy photos quickly, but be prompt in returning your work to your client. It’s also up to you to motivate yourself to do what you know needs to be done including the parts of the job that don’t require taking photos, which are typically seen as chores by most photographers and artists trying to make a living with their skill. Bookkeeping, accounting, taxes, sales calls, follow ups, invoices. It all adds up, and many burgeoning photography entrepreneurs don’t consider all of that. It can be daunting, but it can be simple in today's computer age. Keeping good records will help you to take advantage of the tax laws made to encourage small businesses such as yours. Make your spare bedroom your office.
Create your brand and build a website with the best examples of your work. Make your brand identifiable to you. Make it your business identity. Print business cards and hand them out to everyone everywhere. I even hand mine out while hiking. The simple act of handing someone a card is empowering in itself. Represent yourself as a professional. Visit businesses that you feel may need what you offer. Make a contact there and get their card. Leave several cards before you leave and mention your website, then follow up with a call a few days later. You may feel bashful or even foolish at first, but don’t stop shaking hands. You will feel more comfortable in time. We’re all dealing with the same insecurities, including your potential client. We’re all human. You may be surprised how many people that you will find who will relate to you.
An important part of creating this new world of pro photography, which has nothing to do with photography, is to pare down your cash flow expectations and requirements. Relegate your photography income to your business if possible, or pay off the things that are keeping you from investing that money in yourself. If you are in a situation where your financial obligations are making your life top heavy, rethink your situation and remove obligation if at all possible. You can do one of two things to affect your money situation. You can either make more money or you can get rid of financial liability. Debt kills dreams faster than anything. I may not have the nicest car or the nicest house, but both are mine and those simple, basic things give me what I require for shelter and transportation plus the freedom to not have to have such a large amount of bills to pay each month. I'm not on this earth to impress anyone so new cars or a home with excess mean little to me. This also applies to your tools. I have never bought a new camera. I always buy gently used, but one day I'll have the best camera in the world.
Last you must believe in yourself and your abilities. Confidence comes with pride in your work and affirmation from happy clients and followers. It comes from seeing an improvement in your own work. It comes from actually being paid for a job well done. Being confident in your abilities give you confidence in approaching potential clients. All this comes from practicing and getting better at your photography. You must start somewhere, sometime and not stop. You must expect delayed gratification. You must have faith that it will happen. You must resolve yourself to never quit.
I’m at a point in my life where I’m realizing the benefits of the work that I have done over the past fifteen years. Sure there are others who have been more successful or have reached equivalent goals as mine quicker, but that’s their world. That’s what you have to tell yourself. This is your world and nobody else's. Relax, set your sights on your goals and live each day doing your best to reach them.
Now with all of this being said, this is my world, but I am a full time professional photographer. Am I hugely successful or even slightly qualified to give advice? Maybe not, but there’s always someone out there that needs to hear what you or I have to say. These are my thoughts. These are the things that I tell myself. I hope that this helps someone out there realize their dreams and goals.
If I can do this, you can too.