People that know nothing about being self-employed assume that being a photographer is an awesome, laid-back life in which you get to photograph beautiful people and beautiful scenery all day. Photographers have assistants to get coffees and post on their behalf on social media, a bookkeeper to track expenses and earnings, and a maid to clean up the office. Heck, photographers even have someone to get all their gear lined up and hand them the camera when they arrive, right?
While there are certainly photographers out there that enjoy those kinds of perks, the vast majority of self-employed photographers have a daily life nothing of the sort.
Whether you’re thinking about starting a photography business or know someone who’s walking down that path, have a look at what a self-employed photographer really does in a given day.
Preparing for Shoots
Professional photographers don’t just show up to the shoot and start snapping away. To get the best possible images and deliver a product that the client is giddy about, photographers have days and weeks of preparations to make for each and every shoot. This ranges from initial discussions with clients regarding the type of event or subject matter to developing a shot list to working out the details of the contract and fees.
In the interim between the initial discussion and the day of the shoot, photographers are in constant contact with clients. There are phone calls to answer, emails to read and respond to. If shooting a wedding, photographers will visit the venue to get a feel for spaces where they can set up shop for portraits. If shooting a landscape for a client, it would entail a visit to the area to find the best vantage points. If taking photos of high school senior, it might involve putting together a list of potential sites to take his or her picture.
The point is that there is much more time and effort involved on the front end of a photo shoot than there is actually involved in the shoot itself. While actually taking the photos is what photographers are known for, the photos they take are significantly impacted by the preparations they make beforehand.
Obviously, a photographer will spend some of the day capturing images. Whether that’s in a portrait studio or out in the wild taking images of landscapes, a photographer will spend a good deal of time taking photos and completing all the related tasks of taking photos - giving instructions to subjects, changing out lenses and batteries, setting up sets or lighting, getting to the shoot location, and the like.
What is surprising is how little of a typical day might be devoted to picture-taking activities. In the span a workday, professional photographers might only spend a couple of hours (if that!) actually taking photos. The rest of the day is occupied with various photography and business related activities, like those listed below.
Editing Photos & Preparing Orders
Of course, once the photos have been taken, then it’s time to cull the herd and process the best images of the bunch. Many pros will tell you that time spent in editing takes up a good chunk of the day, even as much as 25-30% of the time you have to work. The time it takes to make adjustments, add layers, remove blemishes or mistakes, correct colors, and the like really adds up, especially when the job requires a large number of images.
Once images are edited and in their final form, then there is the process of preparing orders. Whether that’s prints, digital files, albums, or all of the above, a good deal of time will be required getting things organized and submitted to the appropriate vendors for getting the final products created and delivered to the client in a timely fashion.
Communicating With Clients
As noted above, photographers spend a good deal of time communicating with clients. But that communication isn’t limited to the pre-shoot discussions of what the client wants. There are the calls and emails about changes they would like made. There will be calls from clients that have questions about wardrobe. You will have to make calls to clients that are tardy on making their deposit. There are also the calls and emails from prospective clients that must be answered in a timely fashion. Look to spend at least an hour a day in some form of communication with a client, whether in person, on the phone, via email, and the like.
Most professional photographers are a one man band, so to speak, and as a result, spend a huge amount of time taking care of business matters. This includes bookkeeping activities, renewing insurance plans, sourcing and ordering new gear, advertising and marketing, networking with potential clients, keeping up with blogging and social media posts, cleaning the office, and maintaining camera gear and office equipment. That’s not to mention the time small business owners must spend in analyzing their business strategy and exploring what products and services are doing well, what ones aren’t doing well, and how to improve their bottom line.
In fact, it’s business activities, not photography activities, that take up the bulk of a photographer’s time, especially for photographers that are just starting out. A new photographer might spend 75-80 percent of his or her time on business activities at the outset, with just 20-25 percent devoted to actual photography activities. As time goes on, the time spent on photography and business items will equalize, ideally at roughly 50 percent each.
Being a photographer is sort of a romantic occupation. There is an air of freedom about it, that, while certainly true, that notion also misses the very real duties of running a successful business. At some point, a professional photographer might reach the upper echelon and have several assistants and have glamorous shoot after glamorous shoot, but by and large, the pros are just like any other small business owner. There are long days, weekends full of work, and a daily grind of activities that might not be all that fun. But in the end, the way that successful self-employed photographers spend their days, although not what most people envision, is the secret to their success.