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Archive: ‘Business’

The Business of Photography

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

As many of my loyal reasons know already, this blog isn’t just a place to show off the snazzy clients I have, looking all awesome and what not, but it is also a place where I post editorials, reviews, opinions, and articles.  Today I’ve decided to write an article I have been thinking about for a year or more.  The business of photography.



Photography is a hobby for many people, and it was initially a hobby for me as well.  The turn to ‘pro’ all happened so quickly, and wasn’t exactly planned.

I started out taking photographs of landscapes, and  my initial interest was to sell a few prints and generally stay clear of ‘people photography’.  However, while I was entering the photography realm, my two nieces were toddlers, and as such became subjects when trying to learn how my camera works.

One thing led to another and I’m shooting family friends, and then their friends..and so on.  The hobby turned into a business just as I was leaving university, and it quickly became an important source of income for me.


What is a “Professional Photographer”?

What many people don’t realize about “professional photography” is that really, anyone can call themselves a professional.  I mean, who is to say what a professional is?  Is a professional someone who buys an SLR camera?  Someone who charges?  Someone who has a photography degree?  Who knows!  You see, a welder has to have a trade in welding, and is certified.  A diver has to be certified, as does a nurse, teacher, pipefitter, etc…  But a “photographer”?  Anyone can lay that claim.

There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer to “What is a Professional Photographer”, and to be honest, my own definition of a professional, is someone who has a large portion (at least 30%-50%) of their income come from their photography business.  I fell into that category  in around 2007, and that is when I had to not only learn how to take good photographs, but how to run an actual business!


Ok, now that you are moving from ‘hobbyist’ to ‘professional’, what equipment do you buy?

The first thing I decided to do when I began to pursue this field as my job, was to make sure I had dependable equipment that was of high quality.  I shoot Canon, and I went out and bought, very expensive, top end lenses.  The first time I went to price one of the lenses I wanted, I nearly had a heart attack!  The lens I had to buy cost close to $1700.  How many $50 photo shoots (Yes, I was a lowballer at the start) would I have to do to make that back?  34!  Well, that is doable, especially when just starting out.  I was told when I started that “The new broom sweeps clean”, and boy was that true!  Everyone around booked me up within a couple of months.  That was good..because I had to buy 2 lenses for tat we are now up to 68 sessions to break even on the lenses alone.  This doesn’t even take into consideration the lighting and backdrop!

So basically the first year was doing enough work to buy my equipment.  I bought a Canon 5D, kept my Rebel XT as a backup, a three light studio setup, two “L” series lenses, and a bunch of memory cards and spare batteries.


Operating as an actual business

So, once the emails start to build up, and the phone calls pour in, and the tax man comes calling, you are now a full fledged business!  With that comes a lot of things that many people don’t generally think about.  Most photographers don’t even think about it until they are thrown into it (I certainly didn’t!).  Below are a list of things that someone who operates a photography business will encounter.

  • Business Tax
  • Property Tax (studio)
  • Water & Sewer (studio)
  • Heat & Light (studio)
  • Insurance (Property, Liability, Equipment)
  • Commercial vehicle insurance
  • Camera equipment
  • Computer
  • Storage Space
  • Off-site backup
  • Cloud backup
  • Website design & maintenance
  • Advertising
  • and so on… You get the point!

So basically, like most services (especially those in the art field), there are so many things behind the scenes that determine how much a pro photog charges.  It isn’t just snapping a picture!  It is snapping the pictures, countless hours editing them, and then running a real business behind the scenes.


Dealing with competition

In an era where everyone can pick up a camera and proclaim themselves professional, the challenges put on those of us who need our photography to pay the bills is often magnified.

I often get asked about competitors, and it is something that I don’t usually like talking about.  I am relatively “new” on the scene myself, and am a competitor to those who came before me (and after me!).  Despite not liking to talk competition, it is an essential topic to dive into when talking about photography as an actual business.  Every business has competition, and it is a real world issue that has to be considered.

I personally operate my business by the idea that I’m just going to “Keep Calm & Carry On”.  Even though I’m a sole-proprietor who has to look out for my family and income, I am also an artist.  I can’t compromise my own artistic vision, and what I feel is my own personal style and interest, in order to score an extra few dollars.  I consider doing photography that I personally don’t fancy akin to selling my soul to the devil! (ok, not really that crazy, but you get the idea).

So really, I strongly believe that if I do my own thing, and do it well, the business will come.  In fact, I have made a lot of great friends through photography.  Basically, ‘competitors’ of mine from around the province, I consider friends.  We help each other out, and give each other referals whenever we can.  There is a great sense of community amongst most of the professional photographers, that there is no room for egos or trying to undercut each other.

But what do you do when someone comes on the scene and does under-cut you?  It is something I hear from all that operate in this field.  Things are going smoothly, and all of a sudden someone starts offering the same types of services for a lot less.  What do you do?  I personally feel that, once again, you should “Keep Calm & Carry On”.  When your depend on your photography to put food on the table, you can’t afford to lower your prices to compete with others.  What you can do however is try to prove to people that you are a professional, and that you offer specific services and a specific style.  If people see that for what it is, you’ll do just fine.  It is never a good idea (business wise) to try to enter a price war with a competitor, as both of you will suffer financially.  Especially if one or both of you depend on the income.  Sure it would be great for the consumer, but this blog is about photography from a business angle. :)


Conclusion & Other GREAT reads on this topic

Photography is much more than snapping a photo and emailing it to someone.  There is an actual business underneath the surface that needs careful attention and lots of work!  To succeed as a professional photographer, I think it is important to strike a good balance between artist & business person.  If you make too many decisions with your artist hat on, your business will suffer.  If you make too many decisions with your business hat on, you’ll work/soul will suffer.  Strike that balance and you’ll not only succeed in your dream job, but also have a great time doing it!

These two blog posts are MUST READS.  Can’t stress that enough!

Nikki Mayday Photography explains Why Wedding Photographers Prices are “Wack”

Zack Arias believes Cheap Photographers Only Kill Themselves, Not The Industry




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