Last night I got a message asking for tips on how to make photography a career (apparently Pete @tvoom pointed her towards me ;P). While working on a reply to that message, I quickly noticed that it will become a bit of a longer text… so why not make a public post out of it. Who knows, maybe others are interested in that topic as well.
First off: there is neither an easy nor a quick answer to that question and there certainly is no recipe that always works. I’ll leave out all tips on “how to become a better photographer” here. The internet provides tons of those already and a simple Google search will provide you with lots and lots of helpful tips on that matter (admittedly, it will also provide you with tons of bullshit and distinguishing those two isn’t easy as a beginner). However, if you’re looking for a place to start, I’ll point back towards Pete (no bullshit to be found there ;) ): http://tvoom.tumblr.com/private/66187452180/tumblr_mvukbw6mxb1sqrcls
So I’ll only focus on the “how to turn it into a business”/“how to make a living from it”. This list were the first things that came to my mind when thinking about the subject - in no particular order and maybe even a bit chaotic. It will by far not be complete and it will also not be “the truth”. There are also completely different approaches that work well. This is just how I do it and probably even more important, how I succeeded in doing it.
1) Be the best photographer you can possibly be at a certain time. Follow the above mentioned tips on “how to become a better photographer”, improve, challenge yourself, attend additional courses and workshops, read, practice, never stop learning. There is no end to that. Ever.
2) Being a good photographer isn’t enough. You also need to be a good business man or woman, sales person, marketing specialist, you need to know your way around copyright laws, tax laws, customer protection laws, business laws and so on. Being self-employed as a photographer, you only spend a small amount of your time actually taking photographs. So don’t take that step if “all you want to do is take pictures”. That won’t work. Ever since I started to make a living from photography, I have WAY less time for… well… photography.
3) Always provide quality. Always. Period.
4) Know your competition. There are tons of professional photographers out there. What makes you better than them? What makes you different from them? Why should a customer book you instead of one of the others?
5) Don’t only view other photographers as competition but also as partners (but exclude the ones that don’t live up to your quality standards). Grow a network. Having other photographers around doesn’t only give you the possibility of highly valuable exchange of experience, but also the possibility of collaborations. Not every job can be done alone and already having someone at hand that you know and trust when that situation arises saves you a lot of time and hassle. And in reverse, those other photographers will also turn to you when they need backup. Last but not least: jobs can collide when they need to be executed on a certain date. I’d much rather point a customer to another friendly photographer that I KNOW than simply turning him down because “I don’t have time”.
6) Focus on certain areas of photography. Rather be “the best” on certain subjects than “just ok” on all of them. NEW customers are more likely to book a specialist than a generalist. That being said…
7) Don’t focus too much. Don’t limit yourself. Offer all areas that you like and that you’re good at. EXISTING customers are more likely to book you again instead of a different photographer when they were happy with the first result. Even when the next time it’s a completely different subject and another photographer might be the real specialist in that area.
8) Find the right balance between the former two points ;)
9) Be prepared to do jobs you’re not interested in. Especially at the beginning you won’t have the privilege to chose your jobs. You’ll have to take what comes along.
10) Don’t take every job that comes along. Again a contradiction to the former point, but still both are true. You don’t want to spend too much time on jobs that don’t fit into your chosen portfolio unless they pay extremely well and you’re doing it solely “for the money and to survive a bit longer”. But they also come with the “danger” of getting follow-ups in exactly that area that you’re not interested in.
11) Never apologise for your pricing. Your pictures and your time are worth something and you didn’t chose your prices at random. If customers get the feeling that you’re not convinced of that yourself, they won’t book you. Rather turn down a customer that doesn’t want to pay the full price than to give too much discount just to get that customer. Just covering your costs with a job (and the time you have to invest is also something that counts as costs) isn’t worth it. Even if you think that this certain customer could generate lots of follow-up jobs… they will always expect the same discount again.
12) Don’t start off with cheap pricing to attract more customers. You’ll never be able to get out of that again.
13) Never take a job that offers “exposure” instead of payment. Exposure sounds sweet, but trust me, you won’t get any follow-up jobs from that.
14) You don’t only sell your pictures, you also sell expertise, service and yourself as a person. It’s the whole package that counts and flaws in just one of those areas destroys that package. Which leads to the next point…
15) Be nice and friendly to your customers, help them by giving advice on what it really is that they need, don’t give them the feeling that you want to sell the biggest package possible if it’s not necessary for their needs. And I repeat: be nice and friendly. Let your customers have a good time before, during and after the job. Always be in a good mood, never look stressed, never be impatient. Sometimes that costs a lot of time (and nerves) but it will pay off in the long run. Customers that didn’t only get the perfect pictures they wanted but also feel that they had a lot of fun and a good time are way more likely to recommend you to others and come back for more or other photos.
16) Word of mouth is your most valuable marketing channel.
I think I might stop here for now… I’m sure more stuff will come to my mind the moment I hit the publish button. But then I can still make a sequel at some point ;)
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