It’s a bit daunting for most to take that jump from being an amateur photographer to being a professional one, be it part or full-time, but many have done it, with different degrees of success and failure, yes that’s right failure.
We initially start with a hobby or interest in photography, this then grows into a passion and finally into a business.
So here are some ideas and tips that I have put together to help you find your way in the maze of becoming a self-employed professional photographer, I hope that it helps you in some way to achieve your goals and to avoid some shortfalls in the future, just remember that this is not a specific business plan designed for any particular person but a merely a general guide.
Build up the Bag …
My suggestion is to build your equipment slowly, get to know your gear one bit at a time, and do a lot of research before buying each item, remember that for most of us buying is an emotion that is hard to control, and a salesman is normally skilled in selling it, although I have met many that aren’t.
If you do the research and have established that you are happy with the result, beware of last minute alternatives put in front of you, as it quite possible it won’t be what you want, what I can tell you is, that you only have to buy quality equipment once, it will work first time, every time, and it will last.
Some of the important reasons that I chose to go with Nikon DLSR cameras is their build quality & weather sealing and their commitment to maintain lens compatibility both forward & backward with a few very minor exceptions, this is important to me because whatever lens I have it will still be able to be used on future camera models, the second part of this is that good lenses are always good lenses, which means that even an old second-hand lens will still deliver a sharp quality image, and of course be cheaper.
Compatibility Tips …
Plan for the future, look at compatibility before you buy, an example when buying a new lens, look at it’s bigger & smaller brothers, what similarities do these share, i.e. filter sizes, with cameras, you can take into account things like batteries, memory cards, remotes & flashes, with tripods look at the plates, batteries for torches, flashes & remotes, all of these can help you save money.
Keep Records …
I am not talking about your tax records, I am talking about your photography triumphs, awards, where you were published etc, for it is this information that will help you build your resume and make great reading later on.
Camera Metadata …
Most of the DSLR cameras these days have the ability to add your personal & copyright information directly into the camera; these details will be added to every photo’s metadata automatically when you take them.
Get Experience …
Getting experience is hard work, how do you do it?, well it does not come to you, you have to go and get it, don’t be lazy, get out of bed, shoot that sunrise, early morning street scene, and just keep doing it over and over again.
I often shoot sports & events, and I am sure that you have often looked around at some of these events and said to yourself I wish that I could be that close to the action, well you can, you simply have to ask and then deliver. The big advantage of shooting different sports & events is that it makes you learn your equipment backwards, you do not have time to muck around looking at manuals etc, you need to know your gear, and you will, doing this type of shooting.
It does not matter if you are interested in the sport although it does help, it is about the photographic environment that you are placed in, bright sunny day at the football or rowing, cloudy day at the archery, rainy day at the show, wrestling or ice hockey inside a stadium, dusty rodeo, superfast air shows & car races each sport/event has it’s own unique set of camera requirements that you have to get right, this will teach you about the available light and how to handle it as well as being able to set your camera up correctly and quickly.
Often some great shots are missed because you weren’t ready, didn’t have the camera set-up right, spent too much time menu surfing looking for that option to change the camera back to suit the shot, I am sure that this has happened to most, so if this is you then doing the above will certainly help you be ready next time.
Establish your Direction …
You need to establish your photographic direction as early as you can, so as not to waste time & money, by this I mean you need to decide what area of photography you wish to specialise in, be it wildlife, landscapes, architectural, portraiture, travel, documentary, sports, etc, just remember that different types of photography require different types of equipment, training etc, and it is one of the most important decisions that you will make, it could take you months or even years to decide, it is not something you should rush, as you could easily make the wrong choice, but it is something that only you can choose, just remember “that you cannot be everything to everyone”.
This was a very hard choice for me, so I thought that the best way to tackle it was to work out what I didn’t want to be, so in effect I worked backwards, erasing one form of photography out at a time, I found it much easier to do this way, then when I got to the last choice, I spent time with some well known famous photographers to obtain their thoughts on my work and to seek their opinion as to what suited me best.
Create an Image Library …
If you are going to be selling images, framed or unframed, limited or open editions, then you need to build yourself a substantial image library, this of course takes a lot of time and effort, but get use to it, as this is the path you have chosen. I set myself goal to generate a library of around one thousand commercial images by the time I am ready to go fully professional. To do this you need to take a lot of photos, and I mean a lot, you will end up with several hundred thousand images to achieve this goal, this takes a lot of work, dedication and I might add storage.
Shoot RAW …
Early in your photography career you probably have or are shooting in whatever format the camera defaulted too, normally “jpeg”, and this is fine, the advantage of this file format is that the files aren’t too big, they are immediately viewable by almost everything and can be sent directly to a printer, the image data is processed by the camera based on the cameras internal settings, like white balance, saturation, contrast, sharpness etc and is then compressed into a jpeg file and saved to your memory card, the rest of the data is discarded.
A RAW File on the other hand is exactly that, it is the raw unprocessed data received by your cameras sensor and saved directly onto the memory card, it is substantially larger than a jpeg, simply because it holds all of the data for later processing.
- 8 bit JPEG file can record 256 intensity levels per pixel;
- 12 bit RAW file can record 4,096 intensity levels per pixel;
- 14bit RAW file can record 16,384 intensity levels per pixel;
Whilst there are a number of different opinions on which format to use, however it does go without saying that they are all based on what current technology can do with the file today and not in 1,5, 10, or 20 years from now, look at the progress that technology has made in the last ten years, so for my money I continue to save in RAW format, it is simple mathematics.
Backup your Work …
DLSR camera image size is getting bigger and bigger, 12, 16, 24 megapixels are common place, all this data needs to be stored, and you will need a lot of storage, gigabytes & terabytes of it, because the word back-up means that this is not your working file, it is a back-up copy of the original.
It is always advisable to also have an off-site backup of the same files, thus a third copy, so the storage requirements are enormous for large libraries, however on a brighter note the cost of the storage has come down considerably, allowing you to purchase a one terabyte drive for around one hundred dollar mark. The big tip here is ensure that you have them, as you cannot re-create those valuable images, once gone there gone.
Do Workshops …
Workshops are great, you will learn heaps of additional skills for yourself, so do as many workshops as you can, learn from other photographers, look at what they are doing, take notice of what other people are asking questions about, take an interest in how they do it, write down your experiences, think about how it could have been improved if it could, what was missing if anything, what were the good & bad things, did everyone enjoy it, if so why, you can then use all of this valuable information to assist yourself in designing your own workshops, remember to always create a connection with the tutor, as it is these relationships that will open doors later on down the track.
Create a Website …
Build a professional website that will showcase your work, ensure that it is the best that it can be, for this is your shop front that people you don’t know will judge you by, remember that you will not get a second chance to create a first impression, test every page and every link, put the effort in and you will get the rewards. Put information on it that others can use for free, be it something like you are reading now, or just your own reviews on things or equipment etc, give people a reason to stay a while on your sight.
Start Teaching Others …
Part of being a successful professional is to have confidence in yourself, by teaching others your skills generates self-confidence, and the designs for future workshops from which you will generate income.
Start with taking one or two friends out on a shoot, you know your local area, so design a simple workshop in your head with some objectives, get them to come along and start tutoring them, help them understand what it is they are doing right & wrong, help in the post processing, take an interest in their work.
Do it again and again, until you yourself get good at doing these “workshops”, then all you have to do is document it and you are ready to generate income from them.
Product Quality …
You might be able to sell a sub-quality product or service once, however you are unlikely to sell it again, bad news travels fast, whilst good news takes the slow lane, in today’s market place with the internet and social networking channels a bad experiences will travel literally at the speed of light.
So, learn from others in the industry, what are doing and why, where are they getting their work produced, is it top quality, do not settle for less, make sure that the entire sales, production & delivery process is going to add to your product and not detract from it, this should include things like the sale experience, processing, image production, framing, freight, delivery & refund processes.
Establish Costs …
There are many guides available to work out how you should costs things out, just remember that you won’t go broke making a profit, simple as that.
You should work out the cost of each component of your business, like labour, equipment & overheads, these should be costed out into saleable units, examples would be labour costs per hour, studio day hire rate, rent cost per month & insurance costs per year to name a few, once this is done, all you have to do is work out how much of each item you need for each of your products, don’t forget to add on applicable taxes and profit margins.
I know from my own experience that if you do not set up a price list for your products & services, you will never know what to charge, it will change all of the time, and it will just get worse, to a point where you start price cutting to get work, and this will only have one outcome.
Set Some Rules …
Establish the rules of engagement early and everyone will be happy.
Know what is included and what’s not when doing a job, and make sure that your client knows this up front when quoting, provide them with a list of additional options available to them as well as the associated costs, deliver on time, do not deviate from this or you will end up doing it for free.
Key-wording Images …
Key wording is important for people to find your images amongst the billions of images out there, when someone gets to your site and they enter some key words into your site search engine, they want result, if they don’t get it they will get frustrated or even worse they will move on to someone else’s site.
The big trouble with key wording is thinking up the appropriate keywords to enter against an image, to help simplify this develop a list of keywords that will suit all of the image that you take, by this I mean create groups of keywords, some example groups may be Colours, Water, Country, and so on, using these groups, I simply add all of the variables that would occur in them to create a reference sheet.
So for example in the colour group, I would add all of the basic common colours that I am likely to have in my images, red, green, black, orange, yellow, blue, white etc, then if at sometime I need to add another one to the list you can, it then becomes part of the reference list for future use, under the group Water, I would add all of the different types of water bodies there are, like lake, sea, ocean, channel, river, creek, pond etc, once you have created your basic list, you can then refer to it as you keyword your images, if the keyword that you want is not on the list, again add it to one of your groups, or even start a new group, this way your keywords will be useful & always the same when use, the list will also make it easier to select keywords rather than thinking them up every time you want to keyword an image.
This is a must, there are plenty of companies that will insure your gear, but only a few that specialise in it, I have had the sad experience of dropping a camera, landed face down in the mud & sea, total write-off, major problem let me tell you, the camera was about a week old and cost as much as a luxury car, however I did have all of my equipment insured, so I was fortunate that I had that in place!.
An important note however, make sure that you have insured your gear for the right value, I insured this particular camera for what was written on the invoice, as I had received a discount from the full retail price the invoice total did not reflect the true replacement cost which was several thousand of dollars more, which I had to pay for.
Check your house contents policy as it could already have some form of basic camera insurance in it, however if you become fully professional, then you will need proper speciality photography cover, public liability to start with, this is when you need to talk to a company that specialises in photographers insurance, I use & recomend Professional Photographers Insurance Brokers, I have had the unfortunate experience of destroying some equipment and PPIB were great, no fuss, seamless claim, end result happy.
Join Professional Organisations …
Join some industry organisations that represent your photography interests, become involved and meet other photographers, learn as much as you can from them, no one knows everything, so the more people you talk too the more informed you will become.
Additional advantages of some of these organisations is that they provide Photo ID lanyards & badges, this helps to show the general public that you are a bona-fide photographer.
Strive to be Better …
It is hard to soar like an eagle when you are surrounded by turkeys, associate & surround yourself with people that you hold in high regard, the ones you want to be as good as, this will make you do better simply by association, if you are the best photographer in your group then start associating with better skilled photographers, by this I do not mean that you need to dump all of your current peers, far from it, simply add more.
Now, Go Pro
I hope that the above information is of value to you, feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or simply give me a call if you would like to get more clarity on any of the above points, I am always happy to help, cheers and good luck.
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