A solid portfolio
A lack of debt
Tolerance to failure
A solid business plan
A supportive spouse
Basic business skills
The will to learn
An appetite for surprises
A calibrated monitor
There are two types of photographers who decide they want to make a living out of their passion for photography. Photographers from the first category know from the moment they first pick up a camera and fire a few snapshots (actually some know before they can afford a camera). The second category figures it out along the way, after a few years of constantly developing a burning passion. This article is not about the difference between the two, because both types of photographers need the same things in order to successfully turn pro and, most importantly, build and maintain a successful career. Here they are.
Photography is a freelance career. With very few exceptions, you don’t get hired to be a photographer. You simply are one and you rely on clients to eat and keep a roof over your head. Or buy a new Lexus, whatever. That means you have to set your own working hours and if discipline will be missing from your schedule, your career will crash and burn faster than you can say “f-stop”. Be disciplined in all that you do. Nobody says you shouldn’t party, just make sure you work harder.
By this point, you are probably thinking I should have started with the portfolio. The reason I haven’t done that is because the first two elements on this list are more important than your portfolio. Sad but true. Communication skills will get you new clients and will help you keep them close to your side. Steady work means good business so do whatever you have to in order to improve your communication skills.
While it isn’t the most important element on this list (again, sadly), the quality of your work will dictate the quality of your clients. The better your photographs, the more money you can ask for, the more clients will want to work with you.
Don’t be the photographer who only gives as much as he/she is paid. Go the extra mile, especially in the first two years and do your best to leave a feeling of generosity around you. Believe me, it will pay off spiritually and financially.
You shouldn’t go into any business with debt, not massive debt anyway. I know you’re itching for a Nikon Df, but you don’t really need it right from the beginning Try and get into business as clean as possible. In case something goes wrong, you do not want to be aggravating anything already existent.
You should never pretend to be someone you are not. Not in your personal life and not in your professional one. Be who you are. Even if your self confidence levels aren’t as high as they were in your college years, chances are you still have a lot of great things going for you.
He who demands respect must deserve it first. Respect yourself and your peers, but don’t take bad behavior from anyone.
Everyone doing business likes to have an honest partner. Be the photographer who clients can trust. Be honest with them and honest with yourself.
Be there on time or don’t bother showing up. It’s that simple.
Moving around studio lights and other heavy gear is not very fun on a train or a bus. Invest in car. It doesn’t have to be a late model Cadillac. An old Chevy will do as long as it’s clean and it doesn’t look like it’s been parachuted from an airplane.
You are going to lose contracts every now and then. Don’t take it personally. There are entire armies of pro photographers out there. Each time you get a job, you are taking someone’s bread off their table. Occasionally it will happen to you. That’s the way it goes.
Don’t imagine this wonderful adventure as something you are going to walk into wearing your hippie pants and flip flops. You need a solid business plan.
If you have a family, things are going to be a bit more complicated. I hate to break it to you, but it’s the truth. It’s not just your plunge, it’s theirs as well. Your spouse should support you 100%. Otherwise, the free time you have together will be spent arguing about why you decided to quit your cozy office job and take on this crazy, stupid adventure called pro photography.
I hate this part too, but it cannot be ignored. Get out of your comfort zone and start learning some business basics. Otherwise you are going to be the starving artist cliché. By the way, it’s centuries old and boring.
I don’t care how good you think you are as a photographer or business person, you will always have something new to learn. Keep an open mind and learn as much as you can from your peers.
Not even the best planning in the world will save you from the unpredictable. There’s always something right or wrong that could happen without even remotely thinking about it in advance.
Be nice to your clients, assistants, cab drivers, etc.
You have no idea how wrong things can go because of an uncalibrated monitor. It’s a no brainer. Calibrate your monitor even before the phone rings for the first time.
It will not happen overnight. It may not happen the first year. It takes a lot of patience to get any successful business going and to keep in running in a healthy rhythm. Do not force things to happen sooner than they are supposed to. That has “fail” written all over it.
Yes, it’s true. You need a bit of it in any aspect of your life. It’s probably the one thing you have no control over.
I knew I had forgotten something. You need a camera for this business!
Article by Sergiu Aursulesei