Post-in-progress: this is still a draft, but I decided to publish it anyway in order to give you value from day one. I hope you appreciate, and sorry if the content seems poor: I’m working on it!
“Can photography be my full-time job nowadays?” I get often questions like this. Well, the answer is yes, it can. Is it a linear and easy path to follow? Absolutely no.
The following is basically what I have learnt so far on the journey of becoming a professional photographer. I will keep this post updated, so make sure you add it to your bookmarks!
LONG STORY SHORT
First of all, some key concepts. If you want to make photography your full-time job, you have to keep in mind the following:
- Business is about services
- Be patient
- Never stop
- Network is king
Now let’s talk more in detail about them!
BUSINESS IS ABOUT SERVICES
They told you that your pictures are a-ma-zing, you are an artist and you should doing that for a living. Most of us started to think about becoming pro after being complimented with words like those many times.
Playing the game you will eventually discover that the artistic component is mostly secondary, and sometimes is totally irrelevant. What is central 100% of the times, it is the service you provide to your customer. It is logic, if you think.
Any business runs following the basic supply-demand model: the customer has a need (demand), the business owner provide a product or a service to fulfill it (supply). The amount of demand and the availability of supply determine the price of the product/service.
Now back to our case: if there is no demand, there will be no service, no matter how much “artist” you are. You may argue, in the art-market people are looking to buy art, so it can be a product/service. It’s true, but in that case you’re in a scenario in which the demand (the collectors) is extremely low, compared to the supply (the wannabe artists). More than a business, that is a lottery: are you sure you want to try to win the first prize as a living? I am not.
How beautiful, stylish, unique your pictures are still helps, of course. Differentiating your product/service from the competitors is one the best way to boost your business. It is just not the very first thing to look for to start a living from photography!
If you start from scratch, it takes time. If you don’t have established connections, the beginning can be discouraging. I know it’s a bitter sensation to see
I started my business after moving abroad, and despite having a very good portfolio from my past as amateur, I waited some time before finding my first client. This was frustrating, and in more than an occasion I have thought that maybe I was not fit for the job. I feel ashamed about the situation.
After many months, I realize it is normal that things go like that. When you start, you may be the best photographer in the world, and even offering the best services out there, but you lack that credibility base that a business needs to really take off. Once the first customers step-in, things become easier and easier.
You just have to wait, trust me. But how to speed-up the process? Well, the next two bullets are crucial…
Your customers come basically from two kind of “pools”. The very first one, in chronological order, is the one made by people, who don’t know you personally (or even don’t know you about your existence at all), that for a reason or another get to see your work. It is the the crowd you get from the infamous “Visibility”, And it is important that you keep this people continuously exposed with your stuff. Now I will say something controversial.
Working for Visibility is most of the times perfectly fine. If you are at the very beginning, the chances that this will not be the case are very thin. And even if you are already experienced, are you sure you’re not giving up a good opportunity to open doors which normally you wouldn’t had access to?
Ask yourself: is it better sitting at your desk waiting for a customer willing to hire you, or using that very same time working on a real project, maybe a big one, which you can (at the very least) showcase? Sure, you have to evaluate carefully your moves. I have a few guidelines that I use for myself:
- If the job is not in a field of my interest, I decline.
- If I have a paid gig already in place, I decline (unless I can easily rearrange it, or it is something not in my field of interest that I do exclusively for the money).
- If the expenses are not fully and decently covered, I decline.
- I don’t work twice for the same person in exchange of visibility, unless the first one proved very effective in reaching new customers.
“But creative professionals out there are yelling at visibility gigs!” In my humblest opinion, there are two kinds of people: first one has a roster of clients and doesn’t need anymore those kind of opportunities (but usually loves to avoid new competitors: try to ask a business advice and wait for it…). The other kind are generally people with an employee-mindset: you can imagine yourself how a entrepreneur/freelance with such mentality ends up.
So, keep working, increase you exposure. And leverage this exposure not only to showcase, but also to meet people, and connect with them: that’s the other pools of costumers, next point!