The problem with photography is that it’s not a regulated industry. There are no formal qualifications or licences that you need to be a professional photographer. Therefore anybody who has a camera potentially can pass themselves off as one. As I wrote in the first part of this blog, that is where the problems start. GWCs (Guys/Girls with cameras) setting themselves up with a Facebook page, a Wix website (or similar) and claiming to be professional photographers on the basis that their mum tells them that they’re good and their best mates suggesting that “you should be a pro!”, i.e. without any proper training or experience. These people will deliver results of variable quality and usually don’t have a clue about contracts, charging and professional practice. This results in clients not always being happy with the standard of the photography and being confused as to exactly what they are paying for and what they are receiving. This is bad for everybody.
So as an aspiring pro what do you do? There are no complete solutions I can give in just one blog but here are a few guidelines.
1) Get Good! – The most obvious but possibly the most challenging thing to achieve. If you’re just starting out you need to spend at least a year learning and honing your craft. A professional photographer needs to be able to deliver consistently excellent results under pressure. Immerse yourself – get training, find a mentor, read photography books/magazines, watch Youtube tutorials.
2) Write a Business Plan – This is where most creatives fall short. At the end of the day the goal is to make money so you must know your numbers. This will help you figure out how much to charge so that you are competitive and still can make profit. If you can’t do this, get help.
3) Learn How to draw up a Proposal and Contract – another area where creatives get caught short. Misunderstandings and miscommunications can lead to “You said, She said, I said” disputes. Documentation is not always as complicated as it sounds and you do not have to have a legal mind to write them. Essentially a Proposal is a dialogue between a supplier and a client – The client wants photographs of A to be done at B and needs the images by C to be used in D and E. Having ascertained that information you should be able to come up with a cost. All this should be put on paper with the client signing off the contract when happy. The contract should protect and ensure fairness to both parties. Be clear, comprehensive and concise. Ensure you put in details eg. travel costs, at which point you need to be paid and any extras such as additional post-production costs. Templates can be found online, find one that suits you. And use it.
I hear of a lot of photographers who operate without paperwork because they feel it puts off potential clients. However contracts are sound professional practice, if potential clients are averse to signing contracts then perhaps they are the wrong kind of client for you. And don’t forget, contracts are universal – they apply equally whether you’re a wedding photographer or a corporate photographer.
4) Get Experience – The mistake most aspiring pros make is to set up a website and social media presence and hope for the best. Grabbing any jobs that come their way and basically winging it. This is also where you get clients who come up with the immortal line “We have no budget for photography as we’re new. Do this job for me free this time and we’ll pay you next time when business is taking off. And we’ll recommend you to other businesses…”. So you put your trust in a business that has obviously not put together a proper business plan in the hope that it will become successful so that they will pay you next time. Hmmm… And they’ll recommend you to their friends. Fab.
If you do it for free then they’ll figure that they can find someone else to do the next one for free. If they stay in business that long….
Now this sounds contradictory but I did some free work when I started out. The difference is that I always made the approach. I would target businesses and individuals who I could work with where the resultant images would benefit my portfolio. The ‘client’ would gain also but I would ensure that each of these pro bono shoots would make me more attractive to them and other paying clients. The dynamic of me approaching them was also important. If clients seek out and receive free photography it tends to devalue the work. If photographers reach out to businesses then they are in control and it can be used as marketing, networking and positive association. You select businesses on quality, potential (in terms of them paying for future photography) and compatibility i.e. what they do matches your business model and style.
Turning your hobby into a job is not always easy. Being a good photographer is only half the battle. The pressure and stresses it can create have to be taken into account and (as discussed in a previous blog) is it really worth taking a risk that could destroy the love you have for photography?
Having said all that, if you have the right approach, skills and drive, there are fewer things more satisfying than making a living out of something you really enjoy doing.
If you have any views, comments or questions about this blog please contact us by clicking here.