Becoming a professional photographer is pretty easy, right? Wrong. Despite what people might tell you, or despite what you might assume looking at the websites of professional photographers, it’s a hard life that requires a lot of hard work. In fact, I’d argue that most people are surprised at the level of commitment that’s required to be a successful photographer… That’s not to say that being a photographer is more difficult than any other type of self-employment.
I’m just saying that people that have never been self-employed before tend to be pretty surprised at the sheer volume of time and work involved. With that in mind, let’s look at four facts about professional photography that you should know before jumping in.
Those Pretty Photos don’t Take Themselves
It’s hard not to be overwhelmed with inspiration when you see the website or portfolio of a professional photographer. The gorgeous lighting, the perfect framing, the impeccable post-processing – it can rush over you like a wave, leaving you thinking “How fun would it be to do that all day?!”
And you’re right – photography is fun. It’s an incredibly rewarding job. But those photos don’t just magically happen, either. The fact of the matter is that for every gorgeous image on your website, you’ll spend countless hours working to create it. That might include marketing to attract clients to pose for the portraits you take. That might also include meeting with those clients, going over pricing packages and shot lists, researching shoot locations, and, of course, the time it actually takes to create the photo and process it after the fact.
In other words, being a professional photographer involves a lot of different moving parts, very few of which actually involve you having a camera in your hand. But all those other tasks are vitally important to the success of your business, so just be prepared to tackle a wide range of tasks in a given day, all in the name of getting those incredible photos you seek.
Speaking of Time
Once you become a professional photographer, by and large, your time now belongs to your clients. Granted, this applies to some photographers (i.e. wedding and portrait photographers) more than others (i.e. photojournalists and landscape photographers). But at the end of the day, we’re all working for someone who is paying us a fee to take the photos they want.
Yes, your clients will (hopefully) hire you because they like your style and aesthetic, but it’s your job to get to know them and develop an understanding of what they want out of their images. What they want and what you want won’t always jive. And guess whose wants are more important? Yep…the client’s.
Normal Days Don’t Exist
Being a professional photographer isn’t for people that want a defined daily schedule. It’s just not something that occurs for most of us! On Monday you might have back-to-back-to-back photo shoots that take up six hours of the workday. On Tuesday, you might spend six hours processing images, an hour updating your blog, and two hours returning phone calls and emails to potential clients. On Wednesday, you might have a meeting with your accountant, spend hours on the phone with customer care trying to fix a broken piece of office equipment, and find out you have jury duty the following week. You get the point…
A photographer’s job is actually a million smaller jobs, which, often, seem to have no continuity whatsoever from one to the next. It’s just the nature of the beast! If you’re going to be a successful photographer, it isn’t just a creative eye and having skills with a camera that will help you find that success. You also need to have business savvy, an ability to adapt to last-minute schedule changes, and impeccable organizational skills, too.
Get Ready to be Discouraged
Don’t get me wrong – being a photographer is an amazingly rewarding job. There’s no feeling quite like delivering a couple’s wedding photos and seeing their faces light up when they see them. But those moments come with less-than-awesome moments, too. You’ll work your tail off to get a client, only for them to choose another photographer. You’ll deliver proofs to a client, only to have them give you negative feedback about some of the images – or worse – most of the images.
Things will break. Money will be tight. You’ll wonder if you have it in you to actually be a professional photographer. In those moments of discouragement, try to see the forest through the trees.
Everyone will take their lumps – even the most successful, famous photographers do. It’s just a matter of how you take those lumps and move on from them. Successful photographers are able to take the ups and downs in stride. That’s partly due to the right mindset, but it’s also partly due to personality characteristics. You need the right kind of personality to be a photographer. You have to be able to take criticism from people that have no idea what they’re talking about. You have to be able to keep a positive attitude even when things aren’t going all that well, too.