Becoming a Professional Photographer
Photographers are most commonly 'born' between Christmas and Tax return time. A sudden nice gift over the holidays or influx of cash- what better than getting a new camera! I thought this was the perfect time of the year to do this blog. Why did I become a photographer and should you? Why did I become a photographer?
The simple reason: to work and help support my family. I've always had a love for photography (thanks, mom!) but when my husband joined the Army, I had to quit my job to follow him. I needed a job that I could work from home with. I needed a job that allowed me to set my own hours because we had two kids and I was pregnant with our third. Since I was already taking 'okay' pictures of my kids, friends, and their kids - I just lead myself naturally to becoming a professional photographer. I was definitely a mom-grapher when I started, and there's nothing wrong with that!
After we moved to El Paso, TX (Fort Bliss) - I was a $40 photographer and giving all the images that I barely knew how to edit on a CD. I was okay - not bad, but NOT good. I had a large group of clientele doing about 20 sessions a month, which helped put food on the table for my family.
After the birth and tragic loss of our daughter Caralynn (short story in this blog) taking family pictures took on a whole new level. Staying affordable became my business mission. During her short 3 month life, we never reached out and got professional pictures. We thought we would take her home. I took cell phone pictures everyday, I didn't take my low-professional-level camera since we were rushed off to Arizona so quickly after she was born. I have nothing but what snap shots I got on my phone of our beautiful girl. Because of Caralynn I often take on the responsibility to capture families only moments with their lost Angels from still birth.
After Caralynn passed away, my husband was immediately deployed and we were surprised with baby 4 on the way. During his deployment I took to focusing on my photography (now charging $60 for a session). I upgraded to a semi-professional camera. I was still shooting in auto, I still didn't know much about editing. I went to Penn Foster online school for photography, but really didn't learn much! Back then, I spent about 20 hours a week on my business. Not bad for a stay at home momma with a deployed husband, 2 kids, and pregnant! The only expenses I had were cheap props, PayPal fees, and paying myself.
Deployment passed by, my husband returned home, I birthed our 4th baby, and we started the preparation of moving to a new duty station. On to Fort Belvoir, Virginia, on to the next stage in my photography journey. I increased my prices, I upgraded to a professional camera, I learned how to shoot in manual, I started taking classes, and I learned how to edit.
I learned REAL photography!
I took myself seriously. I became a legal business and a LLC. Paid taxes. Hired an assistant because I was starting to work 60 hours a week between my sessions, communicating with clients, and all those little time consuming things! That was a lot of work for me and took SO much time away from my family. I would literally be on the computer or my phone at all hours of the day - so hiring a virtual assistant was my favorite move (and now because I can breath again, I'm able to BLOG!) I also raised my prices and learned my CODB (cost of doing business). If you don't know your cost of doing business, you need to sit down and learn that first. I have a minimum of $1000 needed every single month just to run my business. Not even paying myself from that!
How do I keep my prices affordable + earn a paycheck + CODB? That will be coming up in another blog- but basic principle is I am able to be affordable since I have a high flow of clients.
It took me 4 years of being (and lets be honest about this) a mom-ographer that charged minimal for a CD full of images before becoming a 'real' photographer. January 2017 marked my 7th year as a photographer.
I thought it would be fun to do a collage progression of my work - I picked newborns as they are my specialty. I can see the clear difference in my work. I can see when I started to take pride in my work, learn, and do things right.
I took the time to learn. And time rewarded me with the ability.
Should you become a Professional photographer?
Thats a trick question- you should always follow your dreams and do what you want with your life!
Want to be a mom-grapher? Nothing wrong with that- capture those precious moments!
Want to take pictures of your family, friends, and surroundings? Take some classes and learn all you can and ENJOY your passion.
Want to become a professional photographer, making money selling your services? Great! I want to encourage you to follow your dreams! Develop your skills: shooting, editing, and business work. Learn from classes and mentors- never stop learning and growing. In fact, for myself, I've mad a big commitment to the learning department for 2017.
I also want to warn you. Do things the right way- become a legal business. Those who don't follow the legal way of becoming a business have the potential to get in big trouble with Uncle Sam. Pay your taxes, get alllllll of your everything audited, and be prepared to likely owe the government a lot of money, especially when you are first starting out.
What is it *really* like to be a photographer?
Being a photographer isn't just about taking people's pictures- that's the fun part! Many photographers who are starting out struggle because of what they don't consider about what goes into being a photographer...the not so fun things.
Running a legal business
Difficult Clients (another blog for another day!) Editing Back office Customer service
Equipment (Camera and lenses)
Space to work in
Permits and permissions
and all the smaller things.....
Here's what other photograhers had to say.....
I reached out to some photographer friends of mine and asked
"So - I'm doing a blog post.... what would you say to someone that is thinking about becoming a photographer? Why did YOU become a photographer?"
Alisha Bacon Photography: "Do your research on becoming a legal business, and learn absolutely everything you can about your camera ( and full manual) before you attempt it. I became a photographer because I took a class for it in college, and liked it, lol." ~Alisha
Kelsey Kuns Photography: "I wanted to take nice pictures of my 3 boys. I didn't get into it for money, but I started taking it more seriously and learned my camera when people started paying for sessions. The main thing I would want someone looking to start a photography business is to know how expensive and time consuming it really is. Your whole heart and soul goes into it...and you'll prly get fat by sitting around on the computer, lol. But I didn't find the business, the business found me." ~Kelsey
Ashley Ferguson Photography: "Honestly, I wanted better pictures of my daughter and it just took off from there. LOL" ~Ashley
(Ashley is brand new to having a photography business. We actually met this week so I could give her advice on starting out. Learn from mentors!)
Emily-Melissa Photography : "I would tell them to take their camera everywhere and to always shoot with intent. No matter the medium." ~Emily-Melissa
Kemis Irenee Photography: "I would say don't be afraid to fail. All the best creative do. To create and not so much mimic and if you are going to grab an idea of pinterest (no shame in that) find a way to make it your own. Don't be afraid to ask for help. But don't get to comfortable asking that it appears that you are entitled to the information you are requesting. Learn Learn Learn and mostly on your own. Its better to gain knowledge by seeking it rather than someone making it easy for you because a lot of photographers didn't get that help. Long nights studying are so worth it. Don't feel bad if others don't help, they probably never got it either (but look at them now) DON'T get discouraged! Thats easier said then done." ~Kemis
Anna-Lisa Photography: "For someone who is a new photographer, I would tell them not to ask for everything as a hand out. Help is always encouraged, but don't ask for free or low prices props or resources because you are starting out. We all started somewhere. Sometimes you have to work your way up to being a newborn photographer or a children's photographer and thats ok. The simplicity of a session can sometimes tell more of a story than a lavish set can. Also, do not be afraid of criticism! Sometimes it will be harsh, but its not there to tear you down, its to tell you that you CAN improve, there is more to give. Honestly, when my family used to tell me how great I was, my images look amazing, and so forth, I really wish someone would have stepped in and been brutally honest with me! My images were flat, poor lighting, and just nothing special. Oh, and don't get me started on white balance! Had someone said these do not look professional, I would have maybe gotten to the point where I am today, a lot sooner.
I became a photographer while still in school. I always loved the visual arts whether it was photography or videography. They were my true passion outside of sports. I really consider myself a people person, and these two fields put me right in the middle of everything! Today, I am primarily a newborn, cake smash, and family photographer, that was not my original plan. I wanted to do weddings or work for a newspaper, excitement, joy and something different all the time! Needless to say, life had a different plan for me! Now I HATE photographing weddings. While everything is different, its really the same. Take a photo of the bride and groom, take a photo of the cake and so forth. That is not for me. A needy bride is not the same thing as winning over a newborn or 1 year old! I'd rather take them on any day!" ~Anna-Lisa
helpful links for getting started
United States government's official resource with information on starting a business Find your state's business information. I'm in Virginia, so I'm linking their state information (here) on becoming a business. Virginia actually has a business one stop website with step by step instructions!
An amazing organization that you pay a monthly fee to. You basically have unlimited resources at your finger tips! Such as lawyers, insurance, and how-to videos. They also host IMAGING USA annually. I went to it this year (2017) and I can't even tell you how amazing it was- 3 days of non-stop knowledge!
How much you need to charge to make what you want to make
Super helpful website, comes from a former lawyer turned photographer and now is known as the -Lawtog. She's an awesome mother (that also has 5 children!) She's got a blog herself, contracts, 1:1 mentoring, and so much more!
This website is like a gold mine! You can watch the classes for FREE while they are live. If you want to watch anything in their amazing library of pre-recorded library, you just pay whatever that class fee is. When you get to the website, just click on the ON AIR button and it takes you to anything you can currently watch. From that page you can also click on the 'see upcoming classes' button and rsvp for reminders to upcoming classes.
Is an all in one client, contract, workflow, leads, contacts, calendar, to do list, AND book keeping website. Payments can also sync to square! My assisant Kate actually said to me "Thank you for getting this! It has made everything so easy and manageable!" Booking several sessions every single day, 17 hats gave us the organization and united work flow that we needed... All in one spot! Click here for a 10% off coupon to the unlimited plan (what I use!). Square
An amazing book keeping website/application. Allows you to take card payments online, in person, track cash, check, appointments, and host an online store! Personally, I avoid PayPal since people can dispute charges so easily. In the Online store, your clients can directly click and pay for sessions or deposits, and my favorite feature is setting up an 'Event' that I can sell my timed tickets to my seasonal mini sessions. You can also sell real plastic gift cards to your clients! For the end of the year, they even send you a 1099-K to make for super easy filing! Remember 17Hats and square link together!
Squares processing fee is 2.75%. Deposits are made daily! Except for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday sales will all be deposited Monday morning. But it you pay 1% extra, you can instantly deposit $50+!
Client Gallery delivery! So easy, I'm sure I'll do a blog on Pixieset. It's been an amazing addition to my workflow and brings in extra money every single month with easy and from NO work on my end! I shoot and share. My clients get X amount of digital images that they've already paid for, I upload their gallery, create a coupon code for that X amount of included digital downloads, and the client picks and checks out with them. They can at their will -pick extra images at whatever set cost you want to sell them for. Order prints directly from your gallery through printing companies like WHCC! The prints ship right to whatever address they put in. No fuss on your end! No extra packaging costs. It's a SMART addition! After the client selects and checks out with their images, and uses their coupon code, an email is immediately sent to them with a download link. Pixies has a few different payment their options according to how much storage you need. I'm on the unlimited plan, lol. Edit or cull in Lightroom? Well you can directly upload to Pixieset from it! Want to sell an 8x10 for $5 or $100? Thats up to you! You set the amount for everything!
You can upload a digital watermark thats ONLY on the web-viewing of the images to cut down on digital theft. When they order the pictures, they will not be watermarked.
I think that's it for all the websites I ALWAYS have open on my computer, LOL
Please feel free to reply with questions!
Photo by Kemis Irenee Photography