What it Takes to be a Professional Photographer

Lesson 3/17 - Perception vs. Reality


What it Takes to be a Professional Photographer


Lesson Info

Perception vs. Reality

So what's it like to be a pro photographer? I touched on this a little bit and I created this pie chart in one of my books back in 2012. The myth, how people think photographers spend their time versus the reality. So I know, I always get this. I remember when I went to Tahiti to shoot at Teahupo'o and I never got so many requests to carry my bags on any assignment 'cause in America at least we think of Tahiti as this super exotic place in our minds and it's a gorgeous place, don't get me wrong, but they think I'm out there creating images like two thirds of the time. Just constantly shooting shooting shooting. And then when I'm not doing that I'm either partying like a rock star or traveling to the next exotic location. And I know maybe a couple of photographers that party like rock stars but I don't know too many that party like rock stars. I definitely don't. And occasionally as you'll see in reality here, I do travel to some exotic locations, that's part of being an adventure sport...

s photographer. But that's a small part of it and usually those trips are so grueling that I'm destroyed by the time I get there or definitely destroyed by the time I get back. Physically exhausted. Editing is about a quarter of my time. Every time I shoot one day that's probably two days of actually sitting in front of my computer and editing my images. Marketing is a huge part of that and a lot of these, networking is part of marketing, meeting and communicating with clients so that's like 40% of it is marketing, social media and blogging. Accounting, sadly not that much fun but critical. Shooting is only like 9 to 10%, 10 to 15%, it depends on the photographer. Some photographers that have a bigger staff around them or a production company working with them might shoot a little bit more. But the reality is the shooting is the easy part. And if it's not easy for you to come back with amazing images, you're going to have a major issue making that career work. So the technicality, all that stuff of shooting, that is the easiest part of the job. The hard part is getting the next job and convincing a client to give you whatever, 50 to 100,000 dollars to go out and make these images and not every job is 50 to 100,000 dollars but especially those bigger jobs, if they're going to invest in you they've got to know that you can come back with what they need 'cause they're not gonna just throw 100,000 dollars in the wind. It might be a couple thousand dollars for a magazine, it might be 500 bucks for that one day of shooting for the magazine. But even with all that life, I feel like I live a blessed life. Because I get paid to go out to these amazing places, especially as an adventure sports photographer I get paid to see these world class athletes doing incredible things all over the place. And it's fun to hang out, I'm a climber I'm an athlete myself so it's fun to be out there with my peers seeing what they can do and really documenting that and sharing that with the world and helping the athlete's career move forward as well. So I would say I think you have to be passionate if you're going to make this work. And this is maybe no news to anybody, maybe these are all the same things that all the other classes have been saying but photographers say all the time, but I mean the passion is a big deal. For me especially, if I didn't shoot these sports that I'm really excited about or passionate about, I wouldn't be a photographer, I wouldn't be that excited. If I had to shoot weddings I would be out of here fast. That's just not what I'm in love with. But for other people that is. It's definitely a business but for me I'm trying to communicate what's going on in this world of outdoor adventure sports and I'm just so passionate about that that I would be doing this even if I wasn't getting paid to do it. And I think that comes down to find that thing that you're so excited about in life that you're so passionate you'd be doing that or photographing that without a paycheck, it's a lot easier to turn that into a career than it would be cookie cutter Xerox machine shooting whatever you can make a living doing. And it depends on what you want to do, but that's just been my experience. So do you have the skills to be a pro photographer? Well we all start out, I'll say I learned a lot about photography in the beginning, I started 20 years ago so it definitely wasn't the digital age. It was harder back with film that I think it is now to some degree. But I wasn't taking unbelievable pictures, I got a few here and there early on but you know you continually grow as a photographer. I think one of the things to think about is you learn 80% or 70% of what you're gonna know as a photographer in the first two years and the next eight years, so up to 10 years you're gonna learn another 20%, so you're up to 90% of what you're gonna learn as a photographer. That last 10% of mastery is going to take the rest of your life. So if you're aware of that, you're aware it's a long term game and the thing is you can't think that this is gonna happen overnight. I think I was lucky early on I had this perspective having talked through some pro photographers that I knew through ASMP, the American Society of Media Photographers which is the largest pro photography organization in the United States at least. And I was clued into the fact that this could take five, 10, 15 years to actually get to the point where I'm making a decent living. So I have to be persistent enough to get to that point. And a lot of photographers try it out for a year or two and it doesn't work out and that's a major, a lot of people drop out. So that persistence part is a huge part of the equation. So on this slide it talks about passion, persistence, motivation, thick skin 'cause you're going to be told no thousands and thousands of times and you've just got to get over it. But the key part of this whole thing is hard work. And I mean, it comes back to how much do you want it and how hard are you willing to work? 'Cause there's gonna be somebody else out there that you're competing against that's willing to work harder than you maybe and they may not be as good of a photographer but if they work harder they can go farther than you can even though you might be the better photographer. So you notice I haven't said anything about talent here so far, hard work is the glue that makes it all work. The persistence and the passion are secondary to that hard work part of that equation. How long will it take to make a decent living, and I should put that decent in quotation marks, decent depends on what you need to make a living. For me I made negative money the first three years I was in business. It was the film days, I'd spend a thousand dollars a month just on film and processing alone, much less like traveling to go shoot something. And nobody was hiring me for assignments my first three years because I still had a part time job, I worked part time at an outdoor store even though I studied physics, I didn't do physics because that would take up too much time. I chose a job that I could get off two months or two weeks every month, that gave me a lot of free time and still make enough to make end's meet at the end of the month. I lived in super small apartment that was like a third of the size of the studio we are in. My car, my Subaru Outback was bigger than my first apartment when I started out. So that tells you I was willing to give up everything in life to make this happen. I was never at home really either. So I realize it would probably take me three to five years to kind of get my foothold, to get established, and I had an idea that five to 10 years to really get to a point where I wanted to be and then I think it's typical, 10 to 15 years to get to that sweet spot of your career at least in the genre I'm in in terms of shooting for big magazines and commercial clients for ad agencies. If you're shooting wedding photography it probably doesn't take that long. It probably takes three to five years minimum to get established, but if you want to be the best wedding photographer on planet earth it might take 10 to 15 years. And we're probably covering the basics here. I know lots of people probably know this stuff already. What do you need to be a pro? Well you know, health care, you still need all the stuff that you need for any other job, but it's different when you're a freelance anything because you don't have it given to your by your employer, you are your own employer. So I mean besides the obvious you need camera, photo equipment, you need some place to actually work up those images, an office of some sort, maybe a studio, a studio's probably not ideal if you're starting out unless you really need a studio and all your stuff is shot in the studio. Business insurance, 401K is a good idea, I didn't start on that until way later. That got thrown into the back of the bus. An accountant, the first thing I would suggest is get an accountant or find an accountant and sit down with an accountant and talk for a few hours. That was gold, that was a recommendation given to me very early in my career and saved me a lot of hassle. Gross receipts in a lot of states, here in the United States, which is sales tax, they will be on you like white on rice if you don't get that taken care of so that's one little thing that I figured out really fast. You need a website these days. You don't necessarily need a huge marketing budget but you need some way to market yourself. Internet is not that inexpensive, I pay like 100 dollars a month for internet because I need like the fastest internet I can because I'm constantly uploading gigabytes worth of either video footage or images so there's a lot of expenses. And I think if you're starting out, you've got to list out all those expenses and then add on top of that how much you want to make each year and that tells you very clearly what kind of money you need to start bringing in to make that happen or be viable. And early on I realize you wanna just cover everything, maybe you have a part time job so it depends on where you're at and what's going on. But the critical part of that is just knowing what your overall expenses are going to be so you can see if this is even a viable career move into photography.

Class Description

Working as a pro photographer takes commitment, passion and tons of hard work. Many think pro photographers are on an extended vacation and happen to take a few photos while traveling the globe non-stop. While many photographers do travel quite a bit, and some go to exotic locations, the reality is quite different than the perception. In this 90-minute class we will discuss what it takes to be a pro photographer including how to perfect your craft, dial in your marketing, build a following and how to find clients that will hire you. By the end of this class you should have a level-headed, realistic view of what a photography career might entail.