Deciding that you want to turn your photography hobby into a full-time profession is no different than starting another small business in this media age. While being a photographer on the side can be a great and somewhat easy way to make extra cash, there can be a lot more reward to taking a leap of faith and diving all the way in. That being said, there are obviously some important factors to be aware of when you are transitioning from a hobby to a profitable business including finding your specialty or niche, which was discussed in my last post, building a portfolio, creating marketing and branding materials, and of course, financing.
After you have solidified your niche to build your new company’s brand around (you may already have this narrowed down just doing photography as a leisure activity), the next step is to construct a portfolio that will highlight your abilities in that particular area. This probably goes without saying, but without a way for potential customers to view your work, no one will know what you do and what you enjoy photographing. Samuel Elkins suggests, that when it comes to choosing photos, less is more. According to him, you want to highlight quality over quantity. If you are a landscape photographer, showcase a collection of landscape photos that you feel proud of and that represent your overall brand. When choosing these photos, it could be helpful to get an outside opinion because a photographer isn’t always the best judge of their own work as they take into consideration the settings and efforts they put in to get the shot. If you don’t have enough photos to include, recruit friends and family to help you by either going out and shooting landscapes with you or if you are portrait photographer, getting in front of the camera.
Something else to consider when transitioning photography from a hobby to a profession is to establish a business name. Going along with that, additional branding material to represent your business including a logo, business card, and a website to showcase the collection of photos that you put together for your portfolio. There are a variety of do it yourself website platforms that allow you to quickly and easily establish an attractive website. Some of these platforms include Wix, Squarespace, and Weebly, all of which offer a variety of pre-set templates and marketing tools. Materials such as a website and business card will also enable customers to have a way a contacting you which is essential in starting any business.
Last but not least, you have to consider the finances that go into starting a photography business. For a professional photographer, equipment, and in some cases, studio space are most likely going to be the primary expenses. While photography equipment is rather costly, the good news is that you only have to buy it once. Investing in a good quality camera and lens will last you quite a while and will allow you to get your business off the ground. shutterstoppers.com suggests that starting with your initial equipment and studio costs is a good place to start and after that you can begin looking for investors. As you can imagine, most angel investors or investment capitalists won’t be interested in supporting this type of business because of the low projected return. Crowdfunding however might be a great option for starting a small creative business like photography. Using websites like Kickstarter or Indigogo gives artists the opportunity to reach out to people in their network or community who may want to contribute a small amount of their personal money to help you in your photography endeavors.
As discussed in one of my earlier posts, “How to Stand Out in a Saturated Market”, the most successful photographers are the ones that have developed a specific style that separates them from the competition and encourages clients to want to hire them. This may sound a bit obvious, but the first step in developing that signature style is narrowing down your specialty, or figuring out your niche market. A niche market is defined as “a small market segment comprising customers with specific needs and requirements.” This means that as an entrepreneur you are narrowing down your customer base to solely focus on one particular area of the market. This can be really important as a professional photographer because it will allow you to be more experienced in a particular area with a precise knowledge basis, which in turn will help you appear more desirable to a specific audience who appreciates the type of work you do.
Narrowing down your niche can start with asking yourself the simple question, “What am I passionate about?” While being successful in any entrepreneurial feat requires a lot of hard work and dedication, it all starts with a passion and a desire to add something to the world. Following your raw passion first will help to define your niche and ultimately, who you are targeting as your customer base.
Finding your niche helps you to better figure out where the gaps are in the market that could be filled by your work, but it can be tricky to get there. There are a variety of categories or “niches” within photography that one can specialize in, but it can be tricky to figure out where you best fit in. Broader categories of professional photography including fashion photography, travel photography, wedding photography, and sports photography. Some of the lesser known specialties of photography include photomicrography, medical photography, and astrophotography. Taking the time to educate yourself a little more on the large range of categories that already exist in the photography world will help you to make an informed decision for where you best fit in.
There are a long list of questions to ask yourself as you are determining your photography niche. As mentioned earlier, start with what you enjoy. Do you like taking photographs of people, places, or things? If you are most passionate about taking photos of people, do you want to capture precious moments like weddings and engagements, or would you prefer to shoot more abstract or fashion work? When considering your particular niche you also have to then consider how feasible it is with your skill set, experience, and network. Of course you want to look at how much that area of photography typically pays and if you would need to purchase any additional equipment to be competitive. Additionally, ask yourself if your location fits what is demanded of that particular specialty and if you can reach your targeted audience there. As an entrepreneur, you have to start with what you have and work from there.
Many aspiring photographers, myself included, get caught up in the belief that until they purchase a highly expensive camera, they are not going to be able to be successful in the photography industry. By reading blogs and talking with professionals about what camera they use and seeing that it’s typically between one or two different models can be frustrating and limiting. For this post, I looked into the types of cameras that travel photographers with National Geographic prefer to use and it is interesting to see that nearly everyone chose something different as they’re number one go-to camera. Steve Winter for example, shoots with a Canon Rebel T5i, a highly affordable SLR that is often marketed solely to amateurs. Winter says that he can get everything he needs out of this little camera and has been successful doing so. Rena Effendi on the other hand chooses to shoot with a Rolleiflex TLR film camera. She says that shooting with this type of camera forces her to be a slower photographer, which in turn affects the quality and thought behind all her work. Mike Yamashita, another NatGeo photographer, most often shoots with his Sony Alpha a99. Sony is beginning to make a much more prominent wave in the photography industry, but when Yamashita began, this was not the case. People were typically either Canon people or Nikon people, nothing in between, but he was one of the first converts.
As you can see, there is no number one camera that you need to purchase in order to be viewed as a professional. What is it then that determines a professional camera? How do you gauge when a camera is worthy of taking professional pictures? Is it the build quality? Auto focus? Aperture? Many professional photographers will argue that the best type of camera is the one that you have. If it takes photographs, it gets the job done. What makes images stand out is obviously the composition, the style, and the story that you are telling with the photo. From a business perspective, it also doesn’t always make sense to upgrade cameras every time a new model comes out, especially when the previous model is still perfectly capable.
Andrew Kearns, a travel and lifestyle photographer from Seattle, Washington, mentions that going out and shooting every day and gaining the experience and knowledge you need to take good photographs is far more valuable than spending thousands of dollars on camera bodies and lenses that will make you appear more professional. He appreciates the intention and artistry behind images over using the highest quality equipment. Don’t get me wrong, obviously the expensive cameras out there like the Canon EOS 1D X Mark ii and the Nikon D4S take wonderful photographs, however there are plenty of successful photographers out there that will argue that it’s not always necessary. As an entrepreneur himself, Kearns taps into one of the key components of practicing entrepreneurship which is to start with the means at hand. Instead of waiting and meticulously planning when to make your move into the professional photography world, Kearns supports a perspective that focuses on beginning with what you know, who you know, and what you have. He encourages that photographers simply just start instead of waiting for the right moment, because there may never be a right moment. Part of being an entrepreneur is also being open to improvisation and finding a variety of solutions to problems that may arise. The probability of problems arising in the beginning of a photographers career is high and as an entrepreneur, you have to learn to adapt to what comes your way.
Entering into any entrepreneurial task where you are attempting to take your ideas and create something new for the world is going to require a certain amount of risk. A great deal of this risk that entrepreneurs feel is often encompassed by a fear of failure. “Fear of failure makes the entrepreneur less likely to pursue and achieve the transformative power of learning from failure” according to Entrepreneurship: The Practice and the Mindset. If you can wrap your mind around the fact that growth happens as a result of each small failure you and your new photography business experience, it will be a much more fulfilling in the long run. Part of accepting failure is also adapting to the mindset that you have to put yourself out there. There is a great quote by Zig Ziglar that goes, “You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” Part of the mindset of an entrepreneur, especially in an art form such as photography, is simply taking the first step and going for it.
One of the ways that entrepreneurs have to put themselves out there is by marketing and proving to the public and to potential customers that they are worthy. Taking good photos unfortunately is not enough to succeed in the world of photography. Like other types of entrepreneurs, in order to become a successful photo entrepreneur, one has to be able to stand out in an already saturated market (as mentioned in my previous post) and make people believe that what you are bringing to the table is different than others. Part of doing this successfully is learning how to market your brand and your product.
One of the more obvious ways of marketing your photography is by taking advantage of the social media platforms that are available and making accounts specific to what you do. Instagram is obviously a great platform specifically for photographs and the app has also recently allowed for users to make their account a business which allows them to see insights about their posts. Insights provide the user with information such as who is viewing your photographs, where the viewers are from, and what times of day and days of the week are the best times to post in order to get the most eyes on your photography. Instagram also now gives you the option of paying a small fee for promoting your page or your business to users similar to you. Social media may be viewed as a somewhat cliché way for photographers to network, however you have to take advantage of what’s around you.
Another major contributor to marketing, perhaps the more frightening of the two, is networking with people face to face. Word of mouth is still one of the top ways that people learn about a business or product, even in today’s technologically advanced world. For a photographer, networking will typically start with your immediate surroundings such as family and friends. By doing free or low charge work for family members of close friends, you are not only gaining experience and new photos to add to your portfolio, but you are also giving the opportunity to share your work around the community. If you do consistently solid work, word will spread about your new business and your client base will slowly graduate from family, to friends, and from there to friends of friends, and so forth. Keeping in touch with people you do work for and reminding even your first few clients to help spread the word is also a simple way of getting a little extra help. This is sometimes the more frightening route to take in terms of marketing because speaking to people face to face is generally a lot harder to do than promoting your work via a social media app, however accepting this and viewing each small failure or mishap as a step in the process will be highly conducive for your success in the long run.
Like many creative fields, a career in photography requires a great deal of perseverance in order to make your name known in a saturated market. With such a rapidly changing world that makes access to new technology easy for users, and a social media web that allows artists of all kinds to display their work anywhere, how do you get yours noticed? I’ve compiled a few tips from well known photographers around the globe to see what we can learn about standing out in the crowd.
Tip #1: Develop a Signature Style
While we all have someone we look up to in any particular craft, it is important to develop your own voice as a photographer. There is nothing wrong with gathering inspiration from your favorite wedding or landscape photographers and learning via others, but your work will stand out more when you put yourself into it. Developing a signature style, both in terms of composition as well as editing, is going to be key to getting your photography noticed and respected over time. Sam Landreth is a lifestyle and portrait photographer based out of Portland, Oregon who firmly believes in developing an editing style that viewers and clients will recognize. She says that being consistent in your work will allow customers to want to come back because, especially for photographing precious moments, customers find reassurance in a certain amount of predictability and knowing what they’re going to get.
Tip #2: Keep Evolving
After you’ve developed a particular style (which takes some photographers years to develop and solidify), you also don’t want to be afraid of evolving your craft and pushing yourself to improve. Artists of all kinds are constantly trying to up their game in some way or another, putting themselves in new, challenging situations. Adding new techniques and skills to your tool belt is never a bad idea, especially when you’re trying to stand out among many professional photographers. Samuel Elkins, a 20 year old photographer from Salt Lake City, Utah started his career doing strictly landscape work. Over time he pushed himself to experiment with new techniques and is now a highly successful portrait and product photographer. He also has recently been hired to do film work as a result of keeping an open mind, while simultaneously staying true to himself.
Tip #3: Think of Your Photos as a Product
Being an artist is about being honest and true to yourself and your vision, while also viewing yourself as an entrepreneur, creating innovative work and running a business off of it. Therefore you have to think about your photography as a product that you are trying to sell to customers. Part of that thinking process involves utilizing empathy. Empathy is the importance of being able to relate to how others are feeling in order to truly understand and connect with them. Part of being a photo entrepreneur is asking yourself the question, “What needs to my potential customers have and how can I find solutions to those unmet needs?” Chris and Ruth are a husband and wife team based out of Germany who specialize in “Elopements, Adventurous Weddings, and Destination Weddings”. They saw a hole in the wedding photography market for untraditional wedding photographers and ran with their idea. By empathizing and seeing that people are altering their perceptions of what a wedding should be, Chris and Ruth thought that this would be a new way of featuring their work. They have found much success doing what they’re doing and have started a trend in the wedding photography industry.
Hello, and thank you for visiting my blog! To introduce myself, my name is Rebecca and I am currently a college student studying Dance and International Studies in Allentown, PA. I have an incredible passion for nature and traveling, and I love documenting my experiences through the lens of a camera. This site is going to be centered around my enthusiasm for the world of photography and my desire to one day enter the market of photo entrepreneurship. I will be learning about and exploring a variety of topics such as the trends in the photography market, the fields of photography that one can enter into, the various types of cameras and equipment that are popular right now, and the innovative ways to market your work.
What does it mean to be a photography entrepreneur? The definition of an entrepreneur is simply, “an individual or group who creates something new”. You may be thinking that essentially every photographer is an active entrepreneur with the understanding that each person has a unique creative eye, not only for subject matter, but post-process editing as well. Photography, particularly portrait and wedding work, is also all about capturing organic moments in life as they come, therefore each individual person is going to be creating something new. The challenge in this field is constantly pushing yourself to be different and to experiment with new ideas and concepts. Thinking in an entrepreneurial manner could be incredibly beneficial in pursuing this type of a creative field.
There are a variety of categories of photography that one can specialize in. Some of those categories include wedding photography, travel, family and portrait, commercial, and fashion . Although the photography field was impacted by the economic downturn, industry trends in photography show that over the past five years, portrait and wedding photographers have benefited from an increased demand for their services. This is partially due to a growing per capita disposable income. From now until the year 2022, the industry is expected to grow further as a result of the improving economic conditions. Consumers are predicted to invest more in professional photography services. Photographers additionally face competition from the rising accessibility to digital photography. Companies such as Apple provide the general public with every day devices that take high-quality photos. Part of the job of an entrepreneurial photographer is then to provide a reason why the public should pay for their professional services.
Like many creative career pathways, a career in photography is no different in that it takes a great deal of determination and perseverance to one day be able to turn it into a full-time job. Even the most successful entrepreneurs will tell you that starting something new is incredibly taxing and challenging. Thomas J. Watson, the founder of IBM, once said, “If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.” The key is understanding that even the most successful entrepreneurs were not successful at first. The same applies to many successful and well-known photographers.
Thank you for reading, and I hope you follow along on this journey!