The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates that the job outlook for photographers is expected to increase by just 4% from 2012 to 2022. The main reason for this slower than average growth is because companies are turning to freelance photographers as opposed to still hiring an in-house photography. That stat, however, shouldn’t deter you if you have a great eye and passion for capturing a story or event. A career as a professional photography can be fulfilling both creatively and financially - even as a freelancer.
Even though you’ve decided to become a photographer, you should decide on what type of photographer you want to be. This decision will guide you into the schooling and gear required to become a professional.
There are typically five different types of photographers:
One of the best ways to learn photography is to earn a degree in photography. Some of the leading colleges and universities that offer photography programs include:
Almost every art school features a class or course in photography. If you want to stay local, checking out art schools in your area is a great place to start.
What if you don’t have the time or finances to obtain a photography degree? There are alternatives that include:
You can either visit your local library or purchase books on Amazon to learn photography - from books like The Art of Photography by Bruce Barnbaum, Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson, and Scott Kelby’s The Digital Photography Book (vol 1-4).
You can also spend as little as $10 on informational eBooks on sites like Craft & Vision.
Follow blogs like: Photofocus, Black Star Rising, Click It Up a Notch, Everything Everywhere, Common Cents, Chase Jarvis’ Blog, and David duChemin can teach you techniques, the ins and outs of the photography industry, and keep you up-to-date on the latest photography news and trends.
There are many online courses where you can learn photography. Here are just a few suggestions that are either low cost or free.
As the old adage goes, practice makes perfect. But usually, practice merely makes more practice. If you don’t want to practice on your own, you can join a local photography club or meetup. You can find photography meetups in your region by using Meetup.
One of the surefire ways that you’ll gain the knowledge and the skills needed to become a photographer is by working alongside a professional, like being an assistant. Not only will you learn the basics of photography, you’ll also have a glimpse into the business side of the profession, as well as obtain experience. Being an assistant also gives you time to build a portfolio and start your own business.
You’ve just gained the knowledge, skills, and hopefully experience needed to become a professional photographer. Now it’s time to launch your very own photography business. Beginning any business starts by planning out your business.
No matter what type of business you want to start, you need to have a business plan. A business plan is simply a document that will be your roadmap to success. Business plans describe what your business is and how it will be profitable. Make and write down the mission statement for your business first. Then follow the core elements of a business plan. They include:
Not only will this help your business be successful, business plans will also be needed if you want to secure a loan from a bank or investor.
Creating a business plan is crucial, along with being a daunting, task, you can use this free downloadable business plan template, Bplans. This has been tailored for a photography business.
To become a photographer, you’ll need to purchase the right camera equipment, which can cost around $10,000. You also need to invest in photoshop software, a website, insurance, business licenses, and that’s not taking into account a studio to development your images. Don't let this business side of becoming a photographer be discouraging. Remember, you can start out small. However, all of these finances need to be considered when creating a business plan so that you can determine how much money you’ll need to start. Figure out and take into account how much your budget needs to be each month so that you can handle your monthly costs.
Bplans has a useful starting costs calculator that can help you figure out how much money you’ll need to get started.
After you've figured out how much money you’ll need to start your business, you may realize that you may have to ask friends and family for financial help or apply for a bank loan because you may not have enough money to finance the business yourself. Remember, a business plan will be needed if you have to borrow money - even if it’s from your parents or best friend!
When you have secured enough money to purchase your gear and equipment to get started, it is common business knowledge that it may take over a year before you start turning a profit. During this time you have to make sure that you’re bringing in enough money to pay your bills each month. Entrepreneur offers a break even calculator that will analyze your revenue and monthly overhead so that you can determine if you’re breaking even.
Finally, during the planning stage you’ll also need two other extremely important components; besides having the right gear, you will need a quality website to showcase your work. As these two components are both crucial for all photographers, the next two sections of this guide will be devoted to them.
Professional photographers suggest that when it comes to camera gear and equipment you should purchase two cameras, two high quality lenses, and two flashes. You’ll also need to purchase Photoshop and Lightroom, from Adobe to edit your images. Since you’re on a budget when starting, you may think that purchasing two cameras and extra equipment is excessive. But, what happens if you’re on a job and your camera breaks? Having backup gear will keep you working in case of an emergency.
When selecting a camera, you should obviously consider the price so that you still have money to purchase other equipment. When selecting a camera you also need to think about:
Since there are a lot of professional cameras on the market, here are some suggestions to help narrow down the list.
If you feel you don't have enough money to purchase a camera right up front, no worries. You can always rent that expensive gear and equipment for a while until you can afford your own.
If you visit a site like BorrowLenses.com, you can actually rent a Canon 5D or a Nikon D3 for a couple of weeks for just a couple of hundred dollars. Besides cameras, BorrowLenses has everything else a professional photographer needs to run a successful business, such as lenses, tripods, and backdrops. Another benefit of renting equipment is that you can try out the camera before spending thousands of dollars on a piece of equipment that you’re not satisfied with or don't like using.
This same advice can also apply to studio space. Believe it or not, you can rent studio space by contacting your fellow photographers in your area and see if they own their own studio. Fellow photographers are often willing to rent their space out to beginners when it’s not in use. This is a better idea than letting a space cost them money when it’s not being used. You can also do a quick Google search for “photography studio rental” to discover local results. Once you’re settled and secure in your business, you may want to look into purchasing your own studio, but when until then, rent a space out.
On top of your camera, lenses, batteries, photoshop/lightroom/other software, and studio/lab, you’ll also want to acquire:
Having a website is essential for a professional photographer. Having an effective and well designed website, however, can make you stand out from the competition and attract clients. When building your website you want to follow these tips:
Since you’re using a website to book clients, you should showcase your best work. However, you should also keep the site organized so that it’s easy for clients to navigate. For example, you could create categories that contain relevant galleries. And, you should also provide a price list so that clients are aware of what you’re charging.
If you’re looking strictly for portfolio-building website, here are ten options:
One final note about portfolios. In the photography world, portfolios also mean physical books that illustrate your work. Just like your website or online portfolio, when creating a physical portfolio you need to keep your audience in mind. It’s also recommended that you have a large case, around 20x30 cm or about A4, where your collection can be presented in a way that reflects the shoot. Finally, the contents of your portfolio should contain:
Unfortunately, being a professional photographer doesn’t give you the right to just start taking pictures wherever you are. There a number of legal issues that need to be addressed before snapping pictures in the real word. According to Carolyn Wright, a photographer, attorney, and author of the website Photo Attorney, photographers should be answer the following ten legal questions:
Besides answering the questions raised above, you should turn to resources like the Photo Attorney, Tad Crawford's book Business and Legal Forms for Photographers, and advice from your attorney before accepting a job.
As any freelancer will inform you, there are also contracts that must be signed to protect you and the client. Most photography contracts should resolve:
When negotiating a contract, always keep in mind that it should be beneficial for both you and the client so that everyone involved is satisfied with the work and protected from unforeseen circumstances.
You have your photography business all set up and ready to go. Now it’s time to obtain customers.
Branding yourself is one of the most effective ways to attract clients. Why? Because it will help you stand out you from the other photographers that are in your area. You should already have an idea on how to create your brand’s identity after creating your website since that was used to attract a specific audience. Remember, you’re different than the other photographers in your region. Use that to your advantage so that you’ll have your own unique style.
Are your photographs more suited for journalism? Are they kid-centric? Have you mastered the art of wedding photography? Knowing your personality and skill level will help determine what sets your brand apart from the competition.
One of the best ways to attract new customers is through networking. Not only is a low-cost form of marketing, it connects you directly with the people you may be interested in your services. Furthermore, networking can create personal relationships with potential customers and vendors. But, where are the best places for photographers to network?
When you plan to network, always make sure that you’re well prepared. This means have business cards or brochures or a portfolio that have a samples of your work. And, as with any networking event, make sure that you’re dressed to impress.
When you attend the event, make sure that you mingle. Standing around kind of defeats the purpose of networking. Don’t be shy, but also don’t be overly aggressive. Finally, don’t forget to follow-up with the individuals that you have met. Send them an email the day after the event and offer to meet for lunch or drinks in the near future.
You can also use the numerous amount of freelance websites and job boards for creative individuals to connect with people looking for photographers. Some of the leading freelance sites are:
If you don’t find any openings on the suggested site above, you can simply search social media and Google with terms like:
You can also sell your photography to sites like SmugHug, reach out to your network of friends or family, or freelance your services to local publications.
After landing a client, you need to be able to work with them properly so that you can help establish your business and help it grow. If a client is satisfied with your work, they’ll be more likely to recommend you to their friends or family.
Here are a couple of pointers to keep in mind when working with clients.
You should also let your clients know how much time you spend on a project. You can accomplish this by providing your clients a list that consists of:
One of the most important things to remember when working with clients is that you need to communicate frequently with them. Whether it’s discussing the scope of the work, negotiating the contract, or keeping them updated with the editing process, contact will keep them happy and ensure that you’re both on the same page.
Now that you have everything else in order it’s time to come to one of the most important parts of being a freelance designers; getting paid and managing your money efficiently. After all, if you don’t get paid for your services and budget your income, how can you expect to maintain a positive cash flow?
As any fellow freelancer will tell you, setting your rates is essential for the success of your business. If you set rates too low you won’t be able to pay your bills. If your rates are too high, you can be certain that clients will look elsewhere.
There are normally two ways to set your rates.
Because the market rate is pretty straightforward, here’s some suggestions on how to set your own rates.
Regardless if you use the market rate or determine your own rate, there are a couple of other factors that will help you decide on how much to charge, such as geography and the type of shoot. For example, a photographer in New York City will probably charge more than a photographer in Milwaukee. A family portrait will take a short amount of time to shoot than a wedding.
One last thing that freelancers must decide on. Should you charge by the hour or a flat rate? According to Freelancers Union, ask these questions to answer that important question.
Photographers, like any other freelancer, must also bill their clients for the services rendered. This isn’t always in the job descriptions, but it’s an absolute necessity as a freelancer. Before sending out a bill, you and the client should have already agreed on how much you’ll be paid and when you expected to be compensated for your work. You also have to settle on a billing method when you bill your client. JP Danko, via DIY Photography, states that there are three common billing methods for photographers.
After deciding on the billing terms that work best for you, you can send your client an invoice. Regardless of the method, there are basic components that every invoice should contain to avoid any conflicts and speed up the payment process.
To make invoicing as painless as possible, you should use invoicing software. Not only does this speed up the payment process since you’re emailing the invoice and not using snail mail, it’s also gives your brand a more professional image.
Due.com, for example, is a powerful invoicing tool that gives you the ability to add your logo to invoice, set up recurring payments for frequent clients, integration with third party gateways like PayPal, and even a time tracking tool so that you can track the time it takes to edit or develop your photographs.
On top of including the basic invoicing components and using software like Due.com, you can also increase your chances of getting paid on time by:
Your photography business is now all ready to go. But, you should always be looking for ways to continue growing your business and making it better. Here some of the best ways to keep your business thriving.