This is Part 1 of a series “The Complete Guide on Turning Pro” by Scott Robert Lim
International and master photographer Scott Robert Lim (Photog. Cr, AOPA) has taught thousands of photographers and has a passion to help others achieve phenomenal success with their photography. Throughout his two decades of being an entrepreneurial artist and a decade of being an elite photographer, he has gathered some profound insights on starting a career with photography.
This article discusses starting a part-time photography business. Many part time photographers can supplement their income by $10,000 to $30,000 a year with a relatively small investment in equipment and training. Are you looking to enhance your income with photography? READ ON
Alarming Trends Worry Photographers…
Money is tight, business is down and people are not spending like they use to. The photography business is turned upside down and with technology getting better and better this encourages even more photographers to get into the business. The pie is getting sliced into smaller and smaller pieces and it seems like it is harder for photographers to squeak out a living. More photography businesses are closing shop and it seems people are giving up on the notion of becoming full time professional photographers.
Currently, the popular career choice is becoming a “Weekend Warrior” i.e. a photographer keeping their $80K, 9-5 job (typical income needed to raise a family, own a house, etc. in California), with health care, vacation days off and retirement benefits while trying to establish a part time photo business on the side, mostly servicing their clients on the weekends. These thousands of “weekend warriors” chip away at the income full time photographers need to make a living and now it appears no one is making good money with photography as compared to the good ole days when competition was much less.
The economic slow down and less disposable income are causing many photography related businesses to also raise concern. Our entire industry that had seen an explosion in recent years is now scratching their heads wondering where’s all the business. Sponsors are tightening down the screws and there is less money to spread around for workshops, conventions, etc. More photographers entering the industry with NO QUALIFYING process and the camera companies creating low cost technological masterpieces allowing inexperienced photographers to create good images right out of the box has apparently, drastically hurt the industry– the pie just keeps getting smaller and not bigger! A greater proportion of photographers are producing average to sub-average work and our clients prefer lower and lower pricing on average work than paying more for amazing work. In fact, they can’t even find the great photographers because they are buried under a sea average.
Perhaps this is just a flushing process which we will see the cream rise to the top and survival will only be suited for the most talented and resourceful. The gap between professional and part time will probably widen dramatically because there is no need for the full time photographer producing average work when someone can hire a “weekend warrior” for half the price producing nearly identical work.
What does the future hold for the photography industry? Advancing technology makes everyone better, take a look at the newest technologies… focus free cameras and ISO at 204,800! Soon the photographer will not need to focus in their camera and now with high ISOs, almost no light is needed to take correctly exposed pictures. Photography is getting easier and easier to create serviceable images for clients who just don’t demand world class photography. So…. if you can’t beat them why not join them?
Why Not Be a Weekend Warrior?
It is becoming more evident that basic or “average” photography services can now be supplied by the weekend warrior- someone who has $1,000 to invest in equipment, $49 to spend on an all day workshop and can learn by watching You Tube photography videos in his cubical at work while still getting paid $40/hr from his employer. If people are willing to pay photographers good money to those who have invested very little into their photography career, why not join them? It seems perfectly logical!
Advantages of a Weekend Warrior
- Competitive price advantage- the weekend warrior has a fraction of the expenses as a full time studio, lower overhead = lower pricing = great value for clients
- Low investment- technology makes everyone better, digital made average quality EASY to achieve. A digital camera and some great training is all you need!
- The weekend warrior can stay in business forever- they also have a secure 9-5 job that feeds their family, pays their bills, provides health care, retirement, vacation time, etc.
- If a person has a great job, they can afford great equipment, the best training in the world and very easily can create serviceable, average to good quality images
- The weekend warrior can produce award winning imagery, especially if they are trained by a world class photographer.
Can I Be Completely Honest… starting a business is nearly impossible
I have mentored and have taught thousands of photographers on how to get started with a professional photography career and I highly recommend starting off being a weekend warrior before turning into a full time photographer or if you want photography to simply be a means to make an extra $10k – $30k a year and perhaps you are a “mom” this is a smart career path to choose. It is 100x easier to be a weekend warrior and make some extra income than it is to be a full time photographer making $50K-$80K+ a year. I bet you can count on one hand the number of full-time photographers earning a decent living.
A photographer has to be an elite photographer to make over $100,000 a year and even at that, most studios that do well are husband and wife teams that share expenses and have lower labor costs but get twice the work done at a very high level. Having no children is a huge factor too, many highly successful wedding photographers have no children, perhaps one reason is having a successful photography business takes working 50-80 hours a week for many years to establish credibility in the market, develop the right photo skills and establish a brand and it is hard to manage a family too! I’m not discouraging anyone from having children or saying it can’t be done but realistically, starting a full time business from scratch will require an enormous amount of time that most people who have never been an entrepreneur do not understand.
However, if you already have an established photo business, having children is possible but to give birth to a full time photography business as a sole proprietor, start a family, be the sole bread winner and do it within a year or two is nearly impossible- do not try this without expert guidance, a butt load of money or if you have very low living expenses! I’m not going to say this can not be done because I did exactly this and you can read my story BUT I had 12 years experience as an entrepreneur before I ventured into the photography business.
If you have a partner who is willing to pay the bills while you are developing your photography career, this is a great situation and success can be found this way BUT if the photographer does not produce results and progress within 2-3 years, the partner will start to get fatigued with the situation and start doubting which can put enormous strain on the relationship (I’ve been there too!). Money runs out fast- progress must be made quickly or doubt, discouragement or strained relationships may begin to destroy the dream.
I only recommend venturing into being a full-time photographer if they demonstrate certain skill levels that will increase their odds of “making it”- a rare combination of photography skills and marketing skills. Marketing is more than just a great website, Facebook page and online presence. Marketing has much to do with personality traits. That is why key life skills are necessary to be successful- confidence, leadership, negotiating skills, people skills, value adding, appearance, etc. This is where a life coach really helps. The odds of having a full time career in photography are so slim, I would hate for someone to jeopardize their families’ well being or completely spend their life’s savings on a dream without proper planning or without the constant help of a mentor. A mentor must give their clients sound advice on when a person can or should turn full time.
Disadvantages of a Weekend Warrior
- Stuck at a 9-5 job they simply don’t have a passion for and feel completely frustrated, and not happy with their career
- Create fair to good imagery with no impact because they don’t have the time to develop into a world class photographer
- Will never gain the respect of a true artist because it appears making money is more important than making art (usually these are single people or have no kids or the added responsibility other than themselves LOL!)
- Relegated to charging “average” or slightly above average prices because they don’t have enough time to transcend their work/brand to get top dollar world class photographers make
- Very hard to demand 3x – 4x+ market value on a consistent basis because it takes much effort to create a signature style and a luxury brand.
- Consistency may be a problem because the photographer can not devote 40-80hrs a week to their craft and expand their creativity and style
The Troubles Servicing “Average” Quality
Once McDonalds came out with their Dollar Menu their business increased dramatically and all the other fast food chains had to follow and offer low cost menu items. To be successful at servicing clients that only demand average or slightly above average goods and services means constantly competing according to market price.. The weekend warrior is like the Dollar Menu. Great value at a low price. The problem with competing with a product that is average, business is based on market pricing and when the average price of the product goes down, especially because of technology advances and increased competition, so will the price of the product. Average quality is strongly tied to market prices because average is easy to produce. That is why many full time photographers are now out of the business or only part time now, mostly because they produced very average work. Producing average work is like the employee with an easy job like stuffing boxes- someone who is dispensable and easily replaced by technology or a lower priced employee. The market doesn’t lie, if you are drastically losing business or not regularly booking jobs, your work is being viewed as average by the market- either get out now and save your life savings, or work your tail off to get better.
When good photography gets easier to create, this means we can expect the cost of average photography services to plummet lower and lower. . We see the trends and it worries the pro photographer, The average cost of wedding photography appears to be dropping $100 per year, maybe even more now with a slumping market and more competition. In five years it is not conceivable to witness the average wedding package come down to around $1,000. For some of us, it seems this ain’t no future in 5 years, it’s now!
The weekend warrior is great at servicing clients who want average or slightly above average photography. They provide high value for those looking for acceptable photography. There is a great advantage if a part time photographer receives world class training because they soon rise above the thousands of photographers that have NO advanced training. A competitive advantage is gained when the weekend warrior creates imagery quality that is way above average quality. I emphasize this again, the best way to do this is to receive world class training- why not learn what other pros are learning?
I must warn photographers, that learning great education from world class photographers may give you a competitive advantage over average photography services relatively quickly, but consistently producing world class quality imagery takes YEARS OF PRACTICE! Most photographers that commit to photography part time, will never create services that demand 3x-10x market value. Part time commitment means part time money. The challenges of wedding photography is that is changes every two years in style and taste, just like the wedding gowns brides buy and though you may start off hot because your style is new to the market, it is hard to maintain longterm business because it takes every fiber of your body, mind and soul to innovate and to be constantly creative in the field.
Photographers who want longevity in the industry MUST CONTINUE TO LEARN from master photographers and watch for those that innovate, push boundaries. DO NOT get lazy and settle in. You may be able to ride the wave for a year or two but if you don’t push and be creative, the studio WILL LOSE BUSINESS.
Look at your work, has it evolved every couple of years? If not, expect your business to drop off. The world’s best performers in the world keep adding to their game.
Currently, the market value of average wedding photography is relatively high but going down drastically. However for the next few years one can take home some great extra cash making $10k – $30k a year with relatively very little investment. However, profits will probably drop every year if the photographer is not improving because average photography is getting easier and easier to create. Learn what the pros or elite photographers know and stay ahead of your competition.
- Take an advanced courses from a world class photographer
- Be mentored by a world class photographer
- Take advanced courses and be mentored- greatly increases the odds of making $10-$30k extra a year!
- Part time effort = Part time work
If this option is simply not good enough and you want to produce world class imagery and create a full time career as a photographer please read
“The Complete Photographer’s Guide on Turning Pro” by Scott Robert Lim
- How to Be an Awesome Weekend Warrior – Part 1
- How to Be a Full Time Photographer- Part 2
- Finding the Right Training/Conclusion- Part 3