So you think you want to be a Photographer?
This article was written after the overwhelming response to Why Are Professional Photographers So Expensive?.If you are a Photographer and would like to repost this article somewhere, we only ask that you give us proper credit and post a link to either our home page or to this page.
As Professional Photographers, we hear this quote from time to time:
"Wow, that is a great photo - you must have a really nice camera."
Nothing could be more insulting to a Professinal Photographer. It's like telling your Hair Stylist "Thank you so much, my hair looks great! You must have used a really great pair or scissors!"
It takes much, much more than a $700 DSLR from Costco to create beautiful photographs. The following is typically what is many, many people go through on the path to becoming a Photographer:
First, you get a cheap point & shoot camera. You get the occasional nice shot, but you want something more. So you jump into a low end DSLR and a lens. You already look like a Pro, but you might as well be sitting at the contols of the space shuttle, look at all of these buttons and knobs!
At first you're very frustrated because your photos aren't as nice as they were coming from your automatic p&s camera. Eventually you start to figure things out and getting some decent photos. Then you find out that there are such things as small, friendly online photography forums for beginners (such as Learning Digital Photography Together or Photozone), where you can more quickly learn how to use your camera.
You join a forum or two and quickly figure out that you are grossly under-equipped. You need lenses - LOTS of lenses, and flashes, studio lights, backdrops, light modifiers, gels, softboxes, MORE lenses (you can't have enough of them) and even though you just bought your camera - you need a BETTER one! And don't forget, Adobe has a new version of Photoshop coming out soon, and your PS Elements software just won't cut it anymore. We won't even bother mentioning PS Actions, brushes, borders, textures and templates.....oops, we just did!
So the addiction begins - you start buying and spending, soon your "hobby" has cost you several thousand dollars. And you're spending so much time on the internet that your Husband and Children don't recognize you.
Somewhere along the line you decide to snap some photos of the neighbor's kids just for fun. The neighbor goes ga ga over your snapshots (that you gave them for free) and it hits you - "I can become a Professional Photographer!"
So you take all of your new equipment and start shooting like crazy - your kid's soccer games, photos for your company's website, photos of your neighbors for their anniversary (giving them all away of course - you're happily gaining experience). Soon people are calling and emailing you asking for photo shoots (wow, the word is getting out!) People are practially lined up around the corner for a FREE photo shoot (what could be better?)
By the way, this is also the point where you realize exactly how difficult it is to:
- Pose people and make them feel comfortable in front of a camera.
- Even begin understanding proper lighting.
- Get children to look at your camera, much less smile.
- Dodge a peeing baby boy during a newborn session.
- Deal with Moms standing over your shoulder yelling at their kids to "smile naturally".
- Deal with customers who stand right next to you and shoot photos with their p&s camera.
- Spend less than six hours in Photoshop editing a one hour photo shoot.
All this time you are learning, improving, buying more equipment. You start to build a portfolio, and eventually put up a MySpace page, Facebook page, Fickr page and maybe even your own website (all of which takes a lot of time and possibly some more money). At some point you decide to get a "real website" so you hire someone to put the site together for you (you haven't a clue about HTML, FTP, or any other acronyms that have anything to do with website development).
So now you have a website and a reasonable portfoio. Guess what, it's time to get a business license and hit the big time! Except one thing, once you have the license, you have to start paying taxes and insurance. You certainly aren't going to pay taxes when you're not charging anything, so you try to tell your friends and family (good luck here) that you're now going to charge them money to take their picutres. Not a problem, right?
Dead wrong. Everyone wants free photos, but try telling them that not only are you going to charge them a session fee (because you've finally realized that a "one hour photo shoot" actually takes about 6-8 hours of your time, and that your time is actually worth something) but you also have the nerve to charge them for photographs as well. And you have the nerve to charge a lot more than the $0.39 that Walgreens charges for a 5x7!
Quickly your friends and family no longer want photos from you. Instead they brag to you about the photos that they got taken at the MALL (you know, the $10 photo session that they ended up spending $500 on?) Because you gave them everything for free, they are not willing to pay for them now, much less pay a fair price. And on top of that, they don't even take your "business" seriously. Some friends! Soon there are hard feelings between you and some friends because in your eyes they don't value your time and work.
Now you have come to the real part of running a photography business - the business part of things. Now you're working with complete strangers. Strangers who are willing to pay for your time more than friends & family will, but because they are paying for your time, they have higher expectations. They want you to give them all of the images on CD so they can print their own photos, they complain about problems with their photos, they try to negotiate with you to get cheaper prices. You didn't want all of these headaches, you just wanted to shoot photos and make a few bucks!
Worse yet, your biggest competition is now the neighbor who figured that since you of all people could make money with the $700 DSLR from Costco, why can't they? Then one day you see it - the neighbor even has a website, and it looks strikingly similar to yours! It even has some of the same exact verbage as your website! The nerve!!!
To add insult to injury, you do a paid session for a one year old baby, spend ten hours of time on the job and make a whole $200 (that's $10/hour not including YOUR expenses, for those playing the home game). As the Mommy gets the photos from you she says something like "Oh, guess what? I just got a camera just like yours from Costco! I'm going to be a Photographer just like you!"
Then you realize that you've invested over five grand on equipment, you have hurt feelings and emotions toward some of your friends and family and worst of all you have lost valuable time with your own family.
At this point you figure out that being a Professional Photographer isn't that glamourous after all. Not when every person who walks through the door at Costco has the opportunity to be one.
This article does not reflect things that have happened to us personally, but rather is taken from the countless complaints that we hear from people who are trying to get into the business.
Thank you for reading.
Shawn, Pamela & Gavin Richter
Caught on Film Photography
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