I love taking photos. I love editing photos. I love running a photography business. Yes, thats right... I actually love doing photography as a business.
I often hear professional photographers talk about how they wish they had more time to take photos and didn't have to worry about editing and the business side of things. I believe that to run a successful photography business you have to have a passion and desire to grow that business - or else there's a good chance it won't succeed.
One of the most common questions I get asked is how I make money from stock photos/prints/photography in general. It's no easy question to answer and everyone has their own formula - but here are five tips for those considering full-time photography. Obviously I come from a landscape photography angle but they pretty much apply across the board:
1. Be a professional
Aside from standard of work - one of the biggest differences between a pro and an amateur is the level of professionalism. Why would a potential customer choose a photographer with a dodgy website and erratic social media presence who doubts their prices and doesn't even believe in their own work? They won't. They will buy a print or hire a wedding photographer from someone who makes them feel at ease with a high level of professionalism. On that note also, in my experience customers are more willing to fork over their hard earned $ to someone who is a full-time pro. Make sure you advertise the fact well that this is your full-time job. These days one of the best ways you can come across as a true professional is in your website. Sure social media is great - but a slick, well functioning website with a good Google ranking will bring you more jobs than anything Facebook could do. Branding is so important in how you come across to potential customers - don't underestimate it!
2. Believe in yourself
As touched on in the previous point - it is very important to have the belief that your images deserve to be sold, or that you deserve to be hired for that corporate job. Without that level of confidence business will be a rocky road. Customers will pick up on your self doubt and go elsewhere. Many photographers struggle with self belief and think they are being arrogant if they promote their work. When you are running a business however, promotion is the name of the game and if you don't believe in yourself no one else will either.
3. Make connections
Contrary to what a lot of people say - not everything has to directly lead to $. You need to pick and choose your situations where building relationships and connections are more important than receiving full pay. Don't get me wrong - I am totally against the whole 'work for exposure' thing... but there are occasions when opportunities arise that just need to be taken. In my experience these have often led to much bigger paid jobs down the track. Keep an open mind and make as many connections with clients and peers as possible.. you never know when they will pay off.
4. Set reasonable prices
This is another point that probably flies in the face of what the 'experts' say. Its all very well to say 'My retail price is going to be triple my costs and I'm not budging on it' but you will quickly go out of business if people aren't willing to pay. One of the most important things during the first few years of full-time photography is building your profile. One of the best ways to do that is by selling your product! Pricing is always really tricky and it is something I have struggled with in the past - but you need to factor in a number of things:
- What are your outgoings? Do you have a home office or a standalone studio?
- What are people in your area willing to pay? Sydney is going to be different to Darwin in this regard.
- What is your market? High end or low end? The answer to this will go a long way to helping you choose prices.
- What is the quality or uniqueness of your work? Could people get a better print from their local framing store for half the price?
In my experience it is better to slightly undersell yourself while starting out - and get plenty of confidence, sales, jobs which will springboard you to bigger things. In an ideal world, everyone would get paid what they deserve, but photography is a funny game and if you can't get your foot in the door you might as well go home. Note - there is a difference between slightly underselling yourself and completely ripping yourself off!
5. Offer something different or better than your competitors
To attract customers and be successful you must carve out a unique style or you must be better than your competitors. Its as simple as that! If you try and be everything to everyone, the chances are you WILL fail. When I first started Earth Art I was offering prints from Greece, Canada, Falkland Islands and many more places around the world. The problem is no one cared. If someone wants a unique print of Hong Kong they will go to someone who is a Hong Kong specialist - they are not going to go with me who is trying to please everyone and sell to every corner of the earth. It wasn't till I changed my focus to local and really honed in on firstly the direct area I lived (which was Semaphore) and then to South Australia in general that I started going anywhere with my business. It allowed me to build relationships with locals and build a brand which is now well recognised throughout the state.
I hope this advice is helpful to those who might be considering making the leap. Its a big step, but if done right its so worth it!