Breaking into the market as a photographer and making a living in a tough economy takes more than photographic talent. Photographer Karen Dorame passes along some words of wisdom on how to make it as a pro in this selection of tips from her Amherst Media book.
This excerpt from The Photographer's Guide to Making Money is provided courtesy of Amherst Media. To purchase the book and learn more about the publisher, visit the Amherst Media website.
TIP #4: Consider unexpected specializations.
Be creative when thinking of genres that might interest you. “School photography is one of the biggest money-makers in the industry,” says Scott Kurkian, CFO of the Professional Photographers of America (PPA). Although this specialty may not be as creative and as easy to break into as portraiture, there is a constant need. (Note: One way to “break in” with a school is to offer unique and compassionate photographic services to their children in special education classes.)
TIP #14: Practice is the cheapest training.
No amount of classroom training is as beneficial as practice with your camera. Take your camera with you wherever you go, and use it at every opportunity! Acclaimed photographer and photo instructor Tony Corbell recommends, “Set up daily photo challenges for yourself (especially when on vacation). For instance, go out and find interesting objects that form the letter A. Photograph your way through the alphabet." Jon Haverstick, a professional photographer and classroom instructor from Santa Ana, CA, e-mails his latest "photo finds"—often interesting photos he visualizes in ordinary objects—to friends and relatives every week. (Thank goodness for digital photography. Otherwise, his film bills would be staggering!) By developing this habit, he constantly hones his craft through practice.
TIP #29: Join a professional photographic organization.
Professional Photographers of America (PPA) and Wedding and Portrait Photographers International (WPPI) are two examples of industry-focused organizations that support professional photographers. PPA has a members-only download section on their website where a number of documents can be accessed to help start and run a photography business. Check out “Starting a Business” as well as the “Studio Financial Benchmark Survey Analysis.” Scott Kurkian, CFO of PPA, says, “Not everyone has what it takes to be an entrepreneur. PPA has created financial tools and training for this industry that have never been available elsewhere. Every PPA member should take advantage of them to increase the likelihood of being successful financially.”
PPA, a nonprofit organization, offers professional photographers copyright support, insurance, and workshops in business basics and studio management. Their magazine, Professional Photographer, features monthly money-saving and profit-oriented tips in their “Profit Center” section, which you can read online or in the print version of the magazine.
TIP #30: Create a business plan.
“Whether you’re selling pencils, ball bearings, or photography, the elements of a business plan are essentially the same,” says Ann Monteith, master photographer and business advisor for the photography industry. Sample business plans can be found on the Internet or at the library. (Tip: Download “The Profit Center,” Ann Monteith’s monthly Professional Photographer article from her website.)
Basically, the purpose of a business plan is to provide structure for your business. Such a plan should address several issues, including your mission statement, goals, and objectives for the studio; the type of photography provided, target audience, and client share for your studio/community; marketing strategies, projected growth, keys to success, and more. Google “business plans” for more enlightenment from websites, including www.bplans.com. This site offers a sample phtography business plan and affordable software to help you create it.
“Having a business plan is crucial, even if your business is part time,” says Al Hopper, Director of PPA Membership, Copyright, and Government Affairs. If you don’t like the business end of running a photography studio, you need to have the financial resources to hire someone who does.
Tip: Use managerial accounting standards endorsed and outlined for you by PPA to track your business progress.
TIP #31: Develop your brand.
The buzz word in today’s marketing world is “branding.” Everything about your business should speak to your desired client demographic. For instance, if you want to spend your time creating cutting-edge images, you’ll want to ensure that you are sending that message to your clients. You’ll probably want to choose clean, bold advertising, a strong logo, and a punchy color scheme when designing your marketing materials. Your studio should be decorated in a way that reinforces this message too. Think about all of the marketing materials and other visual elements of your business that your existing and prospective clients take in. Is the style, mood, and message consistent? Does everything appear to originate from the same source (your studio)? Develop a color scheme and style that suits your business, and make certain that “branding” targets the population you are reaching out to.
Once you’ve established your “brand,” be sure to keep exposing your prospective clients to it. Try not to give in to the temptation to change any element of your “look” too quickly or too often. In a Professional Photographer Magazine article by Jeff Kent (Oct. 2007, p. 72), pro photographer Stephanie Clark sounds off on the topic: “It drives me crazy to see photographers who change their logo once a month,” she says. “Decide on something and stick with it!”
TIP #33: Raise prices instead of lowering them.
I sell wall art through a gallery in Scottsdale, AZ. I found it surprising (but heartening) to learn that when a piece of my art wasn’t moving off the wall, the owner of the gallery raised the price instead of lowering it! It worked—the piece sold shortly after a higher price tag was attached. Generate respect for your work through price.
TIP #44: Less expensive imaging software is available.
Imaging software can set you apart from all those folks who carry around just as many megapixels. The most commonly used professional program for image processing and workflow is Adobe Photoshop with Adobe Bridge or Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.
Another powerful photo manipulation program, Capture NX, is available at a fraction of the cost of Photoshop and even comes free with some Nikon products (note that it is not exclusively for Nikon shooters). Use Capture NX to correct selected portions of RAW image files that are too dark or too light.
TIP #45: Don’t waste time fixing poor captures.
Yes, mistakes happen, but it is essential that you learn to achieve correct lighting during original capture. Photographer Tim Walden was quoted in Professional Photographer magazine as saying, “A photographer will never reach his or her potential by simply illuminating the subject and expecting to create the image post-capture, not without creating direction and flow with the lighting. When you do, you’ll excite the viewer.”
Correcting issues in Photoshop that could have been prevented in capture is not only a waste of time; some also feel that the digital overhaul can hamper the image. Lighting guru Ed Pierce made this sentiment plain in a Professional Photographer article he authored (Oct. 2007, p. 54). He said, "With post-capture digital imaging techniques, everyone's images are looking the same, especially to the untrained eye. The way photographers will differentiate themselves from the competition in the future will be through pre-capture techniques more than post-capture manipulation."
TIP #81: Show only your best work.
Perfection may not be reached with every photograph you produce, but know what constitutes a quality photo, and show only your best work, even if you have to abandon images and re-shoot. If your work is not constantly excellent, don’t book one-chance-only events, like weddings.
TIP #101: Look for free display opportunities.
When starting out, look for public places to display your work. Some banks offer courtesy tables or displays for customers to display information about their business. Government buildings may have spaces where you can display documentary shots of the city where you live and work. Offer to take pictures of local businesses for their advertising in exchange for photo credits in the ad, then output a large printout of the ad for display on an easel in the store. Ana Brandt receives continual inquires from portraits displayed in doctors’ offices. Leave cards and brochures with additional information for the clients—usually potential family-portrait or children’s photography customers—who spend time in the office looking at the portraits instead of magazines.