Maybe I am wrong, but it seems that there are 3 distinct phases in the Evolution of a Professional Photographer.
First, there is the stage:
I am a pretty awesome photographer, I should charge people…
This is when you think that charging people $100 for a session is amazing and maybe even $800 for a wedding. $100 an hour! Who is going to complain about that? You need to buy some business cards, some cute props and maybe a new lens, but at $100/hour — easy peasy. You start becoming more aware of photography trends. This is time when you struggle to differentiate between the bad trends and the good trends. This is often when photographers experiment with really bad editing techniques like selective coloring and think that their images look arty and fabulous. You truly believe that if you just post enough of your stunningly beautiful images on social media, clients will flock to you. As you post your pictures and you start to look at others’ pictures, you start realizing that they have a lot to learn, leading to the second stage:
Holy Cow, I am Awful! I have so Much to Learn!
You have started to realize that you might not be as awesome as you thought. Manual mode? Exposure triangle? Off camera flash? Blown whites? Back up equipment? Whether is is on the shooting side of things or the business end, you realize that there is so much that you need to learn. You have seen all of these workshops and classes. You have made a little money. You need to start learning. There are so many choices in workshops that it is hard to know where to invest your money and there always seems to be another workshop, another class. This is the phase when it seems that you are spending more than you are making. You start to realize that an hour of taking pictures is more than an hour’s work. You start learning terms like COGS, LLC and CODB. It is so easy in this stage to get overwhelmed. The bar has been raised as far as quality of work. Your social media newsfeeds are full of photographers that you admire. You are not as happy with your work as you once were. You have spent thousands on workshops and you realize that there is still so much more to learn. Your head is spinning. You reach a point where you need to either get busy or get out. If you choose the former, you enter the third stage:
If I am Going to Make this Work, I am Going to Have to Get Busy!
Hmmm… This is when you realize that there will always be room for growth, both in your imagery and your business skills. This is when you realize that your success as a professional photographer doesn’t really have that much to do with how beautiful your pictures are. You might get frustrated as you see other photographers that you see as not as talented as you surpass you and start really succeeding. By this time you have raised your prices, but things are slow. This is when you complain about all of the photographers that are in that first stage and how they are ruining the industry. What you need to realize is that you need to get busy. Being in business for yourself is never without risks. You have to put yourself out there. You need to hustle. This is the phase that separates the winners from the losers. It isn’t for the weak of heart.
- Make an education budget. Whether it be a flat amount or a percentage of your earnings, set a concrete number. If you want to attend a workshop, think about what specifically you want out of that workshop before you sign up. Directly relate it to a facet of your business that you want to work on. If your budget is depleted, then stop. Also there is a brilliant new website where people review photography workshops… Check it out here.
- Read the book But are You Making Money. It makes you account for your time. You start to realize what all goes in to an hour of shooting. All of the emails to prepare, all of the time to prep for the session, to drive to the session, to edit the session, to post galleries, to order products, to package products, to deliver… That and Joy Vertz pricing strategies help to give you pricing that you can easily defend, believe in and be content with.
- Get out there and meet people. You are never going to meet anyone if you can’t even walk into a room and tell people that you are a photographer. It is hard to get an referrals if no one knows what you do. You also need to make friends with other photographers. It is intimidating, but well worth it.
- Accept that you ARE in sales now. Sales seems to be such a negative term, especially among people who consider themselves artists, but you will never survive if you can’t sell. No one is comparing you to a high pressure used car salesman or a door to door solicitor. A great sales person just takes the time to find out what a person is wanting and matches them up with the best possible solution.
Most of us are going to be taking pictures whether it is our job or not. For most photographers, hobbyist and professional, it is our passion. It is our way that we converse with the world. Somewhere along the line people started believing that if you love taking pictures then you must become a professional photographer, but that just isn’t true. If you don’t have the passion for the business side of things, if you don’t have the chutzpah to jump in, to go for it, then maybe you should keep photography as your treasured hobby.
Do you have a Senior in the Round Rock/Pflugerville/Cedar Park/ Austin area? I would love to tell their story.
Every work of art begins with a story.