I received an email today that is very similar to several emails I’ve received in the past.
I thought maybe it would be a good idea to blog about it so that other people could (hopefully) benefit from it.
It is NOT meant to be discouraging. In fact, if I can do it, so can anyone else. I mean that.
The email I received had a few basic, but important questions.
1. How did you get started?
2. What would you do differently?
3. How huge of an investment is it to start your own photography business, etc?
Here’s how I replied:
How I got started/how much of an investment was it?
I saved…and saved…and saved. Did I mention I saved?The only piece of equipment I have ever financed was 1 lens. I got a small business loan from my bank and paid it off within 1 year.
I had a low end dslr (Nikon d40, now obsolete) then I bought a top of the line consumer grade camera that was, 2 years later, obsolete (Nikon d90). It now serves as my back up camera.
I would never shoot a wedding without at least 2 quality cameras, 2 external flashes, tons of memory cards, and all of the necessary accessories like camera batteries, grips, flash batteries, etc.
Those cameras and the lenses that I bought separately, totaled (at the time I purchased them) between $3,000-$4,000 plus the cost of a good quality bag and all of the above listed accessories ended up being somewhere around $5,000.
Here is a list of what I had (minus the bag/accessories)
Nikon 50mm 1.8
Nikon 50mm 1.4G
Then there was the cost of my MacBook Pro, editing software, and color calibration kit. These items all come to $3,500.
After that, I built my portfolio by shooting for free for a while. I shot anything and everything except nature/landscape.
When I decided to start charging for my services, I used that money to buy all better equipment which can be found here: http://www.
All of the new equipment (when I bought it) totaled upwards of $8,000. Add $3,500 for the cost of flashes, more memory cards (you need lots!), more batteries for the camera, a lot of insurance on all of it including liability insurance, a used Apple 27″ iMac (you can’t edit someone’s wedding photos on a laptop if they’re paying you decent money), a website, education tools to learn more (a MUST), advertising/marketing materials, fees for memberships to organizations/forums, and all sorts of other little things that add up, which comes to about $11,500-$12,000.
I didn’t mention taxes, the cost of purchasing contracts/hiring an attorney, or traveling/fuel costs. The government happily takes about 33% of what I make.
That’s all in addition to the cost of the gear above (which was purchased when I wasn’t getting paid).
If it seems like a lot, it is. It has taken me a long time and a lot of hard work to get where I am today.
Then there’s the cost of my shop, remodeling it, furnishing, rent, electricity, and insurance on it. Plus clothes. Yes, clothes. I needed (in my opinion) proper attire to meet with clients and shoot weddings. Add the cost of dry cleaning too. I spend about $20-$25 a week on dry cleaning alone.
Then there’s the investment of time. I spent (and sometimes still do spend) more nights than you can imagine staying up late (sometimes until my eyes would water so much that I couldn’t read anymore) reading reading reading reading reading.
Professional photographers don’t shoot on auto. It takes time to learn the ins and outs of using a camera on manual, how to use lighting equipment (I still struggle with this), how to run a business, etc.
I read anything and everything I could that was not only photography related but BUSINESS related.
That brings me to my next and very important point, I love economics, marketing, and anything business related. If you don’t love all of those things or can’t afford to pay someone who does love them AND who knows exactly what they are doing, a successful photography business is impossible.
I’m just telling you the honest truth. I’m not trying to be negative, but I’m assuming since you emailed, you’d prefer to hear exactly what it took for me to get where I am today.
Then there’s the amount of time I work editing, shooting, driving, running errands, returning emails, networking, book keeping, etc. I work roughly 10 hours a day. Some days I spend less time working and some days I spend more.
When I shoot a wedding I work from about 9am-10pm and it’s very physical and tiring work. By the time I get home from a wedding, I’m physically exhausted.
This is just how I did it. Everyone is different. If you’re serious about starting photography, perhaps ask several actual professional photographers the same questions you asked me so you can compare and contrast answers.
Maybe the way I started is nothing like how others did. I think it’s good to get other perspectives.
Regarding what I would do different? That’s hard.
I can’t say I would change much. Even the mistakes were valuable lessons and I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in now had I not made those mistakes. Corny, but true.
If I could change the fact that my income is VERY inconsistent because who knows when I will be booked and when I won’t, I would, but that’s not up to me. The only thing that is consistent in this industry (in my opinion) is inconsistency.
Although pictures are VERY VERY important, they are still a luxury item and when push comes to shove, clients can easily book their “friend who has a camera and takes pictures” which is why it is imperative that I don’t just scrape by on skill. I have to market my business, but MORE than that, I’m selling an experience. I’m selling ME. I have to because that’s the one thing that will ALWAYS separate me from other professionals. The communication I have with clients, the help I give to beginners, the connection I have with everyone I come into contact with in my business (and sometimes personal life) is 50% (arguably more) of my business.
I have to give 110% all of the time or I will fail. That philosophy is THE foundation of my business/livelihood. Things happen. I make mistakes, but I learn from it, make amends and try my best to make it right with my clients. Sometimes I’m successful, sometimes I’m not.
An immense amount of hard work, extreme dedication, and being as honest and genuine as possible are what it has taken for me to get to this point.
I don’t know if this is what you wanted to hear or what you expected, but I hope it helps in your decision.
I hope you know that no matter what, I’ll always give you the most honest and forthright answers as I can.
In the meantime, here are 2 helpful links about starting a new photography business.
My Advice for Aspiring Photographers by Cheryl Jacobs Nicolai
How to Start a Professional Photography Business by Amanda Long
There was SOOO much more I could have said, but I don’t like to overwhelm people with information as it tends to turn people “off”.
I really do hope that my experience can give some insight to others. If not, that’s okay.
It was good for me to blog about it for myself. Sometimes, in order to reflect on how far we’ve come, we need others to prompt us to either think, talk, or write about it.
No matter what your business is, I wish you all the absolute best! XOXO
No blog post is complete without pictures.
So here are two.
One from 2010 and one from yesterday.