Photography as a way of life has nothing to do with business for some photographers venturing out on their own for the first time. For many, it is their thought to do the work and the money will come, but that is a kind of backward thinking, as one must first have a plan in order to have a photographic way of life.
In order to have a concrete plan, questions need to be answered. The first and most obvious question concerns what type of photographic venture a person likes to shoot above any others. That may be an ideal situation, although not a practical one. If a person loves shooting underwater but lives in Kansas, a move to a coastal environment is necessary. Another important consideration is the type of photography a person excels at performing.
Looking through the lens from the long end, one must decide what type of shooting a person does not want to partake in. If you love the outdoors and shooting nature, then wedding photography may not be a favorable work environment, despite the fact it may be more lucrative. However, it may also provide a source of revenue while off time is spent shooting nature and accumulating a large store of wildlife images.
The next step in this process may be to analyze what market needs are not being addressed. Perhaps there is a niche not being filled by photographers in a particular area where a person lives. There are several broad areas of picture taking in any market, but it could be that there are one or two smaller sectors not being addressed. A person who searches out an area where there is a void can fill it by occupying the void with their photography skills.
If a person is working for a large commercial firm, one may develop a client list for use when the break-away opportunity arises. Securing ad agency representatives’ information, knowing each client individually and obtaining contact information, and networking with client contacts are necessary steps to develop favorable relationships. These are building blocks that form a concrete base before one even steps out the door of a current company to become a sole proprietor of a photographic business. Photography as a way of life may be the strongest commitment a person ever embraces.
However, not every photographer has that as an option. For example, working as a medical photographer will not be favorable for obtaining client lists. It will however, offer the opportunity of how to direct others in a tactful manner. It is also a great place for acquiring organizational skills, producing and using work orders, and filing images in a way that enables easy retrieval. Working for a portrait/wedding studio is a great way to enhance a person’s people skills, learn how to pose individuals, couples, and groups in complimentary ways, and learn how to convince others which photos they really want to purchase.
The main thrust is an emphasis on being a well-rounded photographer before stepping into owning a business. The business of keeping track of the assets and liabilities should be the sole proprietor’s responsibility. Keeping track of finances may seem obvious, and a ledger of what money is coming in and what money needs to flow out for various purposes needs constant attention. By judiciously keeping track of the financial aspect of a business, one learns how to maximize photo opportunities and to discard that which is not profitable.
However, as a sole proprietor, sometimes the giddiness of being successful when a big job pays well or a steady flow of income enters the picture for a while, imbues one with a sense of security, but it is imperative to remember that this is a bubble which may pop at the most inopportune time. Being prudent with the business’ financial situation becomes a paramount concern that should not be downplayed.
This is a completely incomplete description of the business aspect of photography. It could be broken down into several more parts and could also be constructed as a book-length “How to” presentation, because there is so much more to the subject than meets the eye. The business aspect of producing images may be the most important part. It is also the part most people neglect to investigate before venturing out into the photographic world as a source of income. Part three of A Photographic Way of Life will focus on marketing.
Opinion by Andy Towle