A few years back, I set out on the path of being a part-time professional photographer. As I look back at what I’ve learned, here are a few things I’d like to share with anyone considering a similar adventure:
- Gear Doesn’t Matter – Your clients don’t give a rip about whether you shoot Canon or Nikon or whether your tripod is aluminum or carbon fiber. Nobody will hire or fire you based on the fact that you use a Mac or a PC. Clients care about the resulting images.
- Gear Matters – In order to create that resulting image, sometimes you’ll need specific gear. You can’t get a creamy shallow depth of field at f/5.6. You’re not going to handhold 30 second exposures.
- Gear Can (and often should) Be Rented – If you’re only going to need that $2,000 lens a few times each year, it’s smart business to rent it for $30-50 per use rather than spend the cash to buy it. If you live in a decent-sized city, there’s probably a local shop that rents gear. In Portland, I like Pro Photo Supply. I’ve also had great experiences with BorrowLenses.com which is a good solution for all, even if you don’t have a great local option.
- Network a Lot – Always be networking. And I don’t mean the old-school, join a networking club and pay membership dues to meet people type of networking. I mean be on the lookout for new connections in everyday life. Whether it’s at church, your kids’ sports activities, or other local events, spend time getting to know people. Let them know what you do. Be helpful.
- Use Social Networking Smartly – Online networking tools such as Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ can be great resources for a photographer. Pay attention to where you spend your time. Connecting with other photographers can be a good way to improve your skills or build your name within the industry, but other photographers aren’t going to be hiring you for photography services. Figure out where your clients are online, and go hang out in their circles.
- Learn Your Post-Processing Software – as a Portland event photographer a typical photography assignment results in hundreds of images that need to be rated, processed, and delivered to a client. Learning everything that’s possible in Adobe Lightroom (my software of choice) including keyboard shortcuts and automation has increased my ability to process quickly so that I have time for more shooting or business development. If you’re a Lightroom user, I highly recommend Scott Kelby’s book; if you use another package, find the best way to learn it.
- You’re Not a Web Developer – I see a lot of photographers who get into a time suck where they end up spending far too many hours building, tweaking, or maintaining their website. Yes, the internet is important. No, you can’t have an internet-ignorant business. Be smart about your website. Hire a designer as needed. Partner with companies such as PhotoShelter or SmugMug for photo gallery and image sales.
- Figure Out Your Market Positioning – Volumes have been written about the changing world of photography economics, but I’ll just offer a very quick take: there’s no money to be made if you’re competing with the bargain-basement photographers. There will always be a demand for higher-end services and products.
- Diversify Income Sources – I’ve gotten to know a bunch of photographers who make small amounts of income from a large number of sources. You don’t have to try to get rich from a single income source (for example, only being a senior portrait photographer). Derrick Story talks about this a lot – find a variety of income streams as a photographer.
Are you in a similar situation? What else should aspiring pros keep in mind as they ramp up their business?
Some of the links above are affiliate referral links – if you end up making a purchase I’ll get a small commission. I recommend based on what I love. If I’m going to recommend, why not also potentially get a bit of beer money? See the last bullet point above.