[I] really don't like the term “Professional Photographer”. I much prefer the term “Freelancer”, sounds much cooler don't you think? Here's 10 things I found out that most do not know about profes….I mean Freelance photographers. Please note that these are things I observed for myself, I don't claim nothing more.
1) Those who teach you how to be pro usually don't make that much as pros
Certain books are written by rich folks who will teach you how to be rich. There's nothing wrong with that. Certain books are written by normal people who get rich by selling a book on how to get rich. See the issue? It's the same in photography, lots of pros make more money teaching you how to be a pro, while they themselves don't make much money from it. Some folks like Dennis Reggie (Known for popularizing photojournalism in weddings) purposefully limit their income from teaching in order not to fall into that trap.
2) It's more a Profession than Photography
The image of Professional Photographers is one of freedom. It's actually the opposite. You have clients to please, calls to make, marketing to do. Actual shooting time is tiny compared to all of the stuff that leads to said shooting time. In Pro Photography, there's very little actual photography. Most of the time is spent marketing your services. So lots of Social Media, Calls, etc. And if you don't do it….nothing happens. Sure I get a few calls here and there from clients, but when I stopped working on my promotion (to work on Inspired Eye) I don't really get calls that much.
3) It takes guts & you get little support
The money equation is easy for most. Go to work=Get paid. It's not that easy as a pro. You are never guaranteed work even if you spend your time networking and marketing your services. There is no safety net under you, if you don't work hard, you won't get paid, you are not even guaranteed pay! Add to that most people don't like those who challenge the status quo. If you have a Vision for your life and it entails a business with Photography, most people will bring you down instead of supporting you. Since things will be really heard when you start a business, you better have guts to take in the criticisms and still walk.
If you tend to get discouraged, professional photography is probably not for you. If I had a quarter for how many times my wife felt bad for me, I'd be rich! To be a pro, you need to have that punching bag mentality, when you get knocked out, you get back up again. My wife for example, bless her, she wouldn't be able to do it. She's a good shooter, but in the pro realm, talent is not enough, it's though skin and hard work that count.
4) It's more marketing than photography
Ever wonder how average photographers can charge higher than better skilled one without batting an eyelid? Simple, it's because it's more marketing than photography. Pro Photography is a business, not an art, those who make it are businessmen and women first, photographers second. If you think your images will sell themselves, you'll be sorry very quickly. As a pro, you are more a marketer than a Photographer. Only the savy marketters make it, photographers drown. Sucks, I know, but that's the way it is. Your images don't sell themselves if you don't push it.
Some photographers can get away by charging 20.000+ not quite because they are that good, but because they are more popular than the rest.
5) Sometimes you have to take low jobs
One piece of advice I hear a lot, it's to price yourself high. Perception is heavily dependent on price. A 10.000$ photographer will appear better than say a 2000$ photographer. I say do whatever you need to do to put the food on the table. Bills need paying. If you keep on being stubborn on not doing little jobs or whatever, you will starve. Just because you put a high price tag, doesn't mean that everyone will line up for your services. Play hard to get for sure, it attracts a certain clientèle. But my friend, if you have your rent to pay in the week to come, secretly cold call a few past clients for a quick job with low pay.
You do what you need to do to take care of your family. The guys that say to price high and never look back are all very well off and are already established. They preach this to new photographers who are not established nor famous. Once you've made it big, you have the luxury to do whatever you want, for the rest, beggars cannot be choosers.
6) The Rockstars are the 1%
Rockstar photographers are the famous photographers…..a lot of them make it seem like you can be one to. Just like acting in movies, only very few make it big (and it's always the same people), for the rest they stay out of the big spotlight. Most photographers I know are hard working people and not rockstars at all, they make a living out of it and they are not rolling cigars with 100$ bills. Most Rockstar make their money by telling you what you want to hear, and not by telling you the truth: making a living out of photography is H_A_R_D. There's always some good folks like Zack Arias that are always there to sober you up if you think it's easy.
Just think about it….tell me some famous names from the last 50 years, let's see…Bresson, Kertesz, Smith, and a handful of others. For each of these names, there's 100's of unknowns.
7) Emotional Strain
Building a business is hard. It's not free, it takes an emotional toll on you. Sometimes I just get depressed on how much work I have to do. After a day of hard work, I have my kids to take care of. It's easy to brush them off and go lay down. I don't do that but the temptation to sacrifice the little family stuff for the sake of business is always tempting. Having a business is highly stressful, no safety nets, no guarantees: You wake up for work, you know you will get a check, that is not so for the pro, there might be no pay if no one calls.
Plus at some point you start associating with the business a bit too much, and you take the fact that things are not going well as something personal. It's not a pretty picture when that happens. Sure when business is booming it's a thrill ride, but when it's down. You feel so depressed you don't want to do anything. Just throw in the towel, forget everything. That's why you need the fighter mentality, to get pass these episodes. Sure, some guys are so well off clients call them 24-7, but for most people I know, the reality is much more sobering.
Also…there's the pressure to deliver. As an amateur you only have to please yourself, as a freelancer, you have someone else to please, and there's always these doubts that creep in your mind if you are actually doing a good job….Specially when doing something important for the client…like a wedding.
8) Abundance of competition
So you set up your services in an affordable position. There's always someone else that's much cheaper than you are. Technically that shouldn't matter but in the time we are living in folks are more budget conscious, and since they are not educated in how photography is important…..they will book the lower priced person. The trick is to make competition irrelevant, to be so different from others that no one feels threatened. But for most, they go full into an industry with a “me too” attitude and get some serious competition. If the photography is not the differentiating point…the price has to be, and then it's a number's game.
The one who can live with the cheapest price wins. All I can say is be different, think different, if not you will be competing with way to many photographers.
9) Your personal work gets thrown aside
I get lots of requests for Inspired Eye, I love doing what I do! But do you know what gets thrown aside? My own work. When I was heavier into commissioned work and all, it was the same thing too. The client's project is timed so it's always first, so sometimes you don't get to shoot what you want to shoot, nor do you have time to go through your own stuff. If you really want to be free as a photographer, going pro isn't the way. I love what I do, but sometimes I yearn for the simplicity of having a regular job and having definite time to shoot.
10) But it's worth it
After all this, you would think there's no reason why you should turn pro right? Well there is one: It's worth it. That only goes for someone who is passionate about the image though. It's only after being a full time freelancer that I discovered that the ultimate goal of photography isn't turning pro, it's doing what you love and loving what you do, but it was too late. But it's ok. Being pro challenges me and I love it, my love and passion for photography out-weights the cons.
It's not easy, but it's worth it. It's not for everybody but those who are cut for it cannot imagine doing anything else. It's weird, I know, but it's worth it. Be yourself, stay focused and keep on shooting.