I recently posted up a questionnaire in my photography group on Facebook. In it I asked members to describe their current situations and levels of satisfaction with their earnings as photographers. The responses to the poll questions were eye-opening. Granted, very few of our 1,200+ members responded, and this poll was in no way a scientific study. But looking at the results, together with the frustrated posts appearing on many photography-related blogs over the last few years, it’s obvious that many us are not realizing our dreams of being well-paid pros. Maybe we’re digging for gold with the wrong tools.
The avalanche of new photographers (should I say never-ending waves) who want to ditch their jobs, or augment their income, by “going pro” probably doesn’t help matters. I don’t think there are any bad guys here–everyone’s entitled to a dream. But while I firmly believe that the photographers with the rare combination of undeniable talent, unique style, and marketing and business acumen will always find a way to make a decent living, I wonder about the ability of the average portrait photographer or event photographer to “make it” long-term.
Personally, I think I’ve found plenty of evidence to suggest that it’s not even so much about talent and style as it is about being able to sell yourself and being a creative business person. But what does that mean? I think it means that to make a reasonable living as a photographer, you’ve got to be an amazing business person, who can sell themselves like few competitors can. Again, you need to be good at photography, but AMAZING at both marketing and running a business.
There are plenty of pros out there claiming to have the answer. One very popular glamour photographer must really want to share that answer because although she says she learned to generate $80,000 per month as a portrait photographer, she still makes time to do workshops to show other women how her story is achievable. If I were making that kind of money doing portraiture, I don’t know if I’d have the time or energy to share the secrets to my wealth, you know what I’m saying? Other marketing geniuses are talking about how their easy-money “systems” can make you ultra-successful, too. With so many easy answers, why aren’t all of us out making a bundle right now? The people with the easy answers are certainly doing alright for themselves, because there are plenty of people paying big bucks to learn how to replicate their apparent success.
I don’t think there are easy answers to the business side of photography–at least not these days. And thankfully, I’m not out promoting myself as a photography business guru. But if you ask me, the answer to successfully “going pro” has very little to do with lighting, posing, and Photoshop actions. If you want to make it as a professional in this business, you’ve got to have business skills; not just techniques on “how to up-sale an album” or “how to network more effectively,” but a real understanding of running a small business. Get those tools under your belt and you’ll have a fighting chance.Get tips, inspiration, and discounts in your inbox! Signup for our free newsletter here!