How to become a professional photographer
So why do you want to have your own photography business? Do you like the thought of having more spare time? How about just working the hours that you want? Having a holiday whenever you feel like it? Having freedom? Making a great income? Working the hours that you want?
When you become a professional photographer, you are no longer just a photographer! You are a marketer, salesperson, accountant, Photoshop and Lightroom expert, copywriter, customer relations person and business owner.
Your destiny is well and truly in your hands!
Photography is becoming increasingly competitive, so it’s essential to be savvy with your marketing to keep a constant flow of customers coming in the door.
Many people think they’re a professional photographer, but they cannot manage to maintain a steady flow of income.
Having creative talent is just not enough – there are too many struggling photographers, because photography can be a tough and competitive business.
Photography, like any business, requires a good marketing plan, expertise in handling customers and have good sales skills.
I have owned a photography studio specialising in weddings and portraits, for over 40 years, and now I am an International Photography Business Coach.
I feel that today’s photographers trying to break into the industry, do so without learning the basic business principles needed to succeed.
So many people pick up a camera and with little or no experience in the photography industry call themselves professional photographers, simply because someone commented on Facebook that they take amazing photos and could make money from it.
To experienced professionals, this is one of the leading causes of frustration as it creates a lack of respect for the industry.
There are many different ways that photographers operate their businesses. It may be from a commercial property or from home, but the principles for business success remains the same.
A solid business foundation is vital if you are starting a photography business if it’s to be successful in the long run.
So what constitutes a solid foundation? There are four key areas to focus on to give your photography business base it needs to facilitate growth.
You are trying to sell something intangible…something that doesn’t exist until you press the shutter and take the photographs, so you have to build trust.
What is positioning, and why is it so important?
It’s about Defining yourself and your business.
It’s about being professional in every aspect of your photography business.
We live in a world where we are exposed almost every minute with thousands of images, messages, ideas, and other peoples opinions.
You need to define yourself and your business so that you will feel more comfortable in your business and will have a clearer direction.
What is special about what you do, how you do it, what you believe in, and what you produce?
What makes you different from everyone else?
Do you offer a special service, or have a unique way of taking the photographs that give all of your images a DIFFERENT LOOK.
I know in the good old film days I used to use a square format Hasselblad camera but so did lots of other photographers, so I bought a Hasselblad X Pan camera, and I used to shoot panoramic images throughout a wedding.
In my advertising material and all of my displays, I used these photographs to give me a point of difference.
Do you have a specific genre that you photograph?
Maybe you have an unusual studio location like in a church, or maybe you are on a large acreage in the country.
The general public is more and more feeling that they don’t need a professional photographer.
Maybe it’s because of all the “selfies” and such being taken with phones – the style of photography people are looking for has changed.
Once you have your positioning in place, it is easier to choose the right products you want to sell.
With so many products available, like prints on fine art paper, framed collages of wall portraiture, boxes of matted prints, or silk canvas, you may find it overwhelming to try and pick the right products for your business.
Try to select Products that suit your Positioning and your Branding. In considering the types of products you should offer to your clients, it is also important to keep in mind the profit that you want to achieve. Could you maybe sacrifice a little bit of quality in buying a cheaper product, for more profit?
You just need to source a product that your particular target customer wants.
A lot of hard work needs to go into finding out what customers want, and this can be done by simply keeping a record of what each customer purchases, and then seeing what are the most popular products.
Are your customers price- sensitive?
So the big question is ….
How do you set your prices?
Well, now that we have Positioned our business in the marketplace, chosen the Products that suit that positioning, we can now go about Pricing the products that suit your positioning.
Your pricing should be an evolving thing – just like the rest of your business.
(Related: pricing photography prints)
At present, you probably aren’t charging enough.
OK there you go again saying BUT Bernie my customers are already whinging about my prices, how do you expect me to put them up.
Put your POSITIONING up, which will put your perceived VALUE up, which will start to get you a different client that values your photography.
If you simply don’t charge enough, it is unlikely that you will ever be able to make a profit.
Another reason photographers are hesitant to increase prices is their lack of confidence when setting their prices.
They don’t believe that they are worth it.
And let’s be honest.
Some photographers are NOT worth what they are charging.
It is all about BALANCE.
Be realistic in fulfilling the needs of prospective customers.
Don’t fall into the trap of charging a little less than your competitors.
It is not a very strong business strategy and can lead to disaster.
The key to charging what you are worth is to make sure you deliver on your offering.
If you charge a lot and under deliver, your business probably won’t be around for long.
Don’t compete on price but rather start separating yourself from the pack.
If you can create a Point of Difference, your odds of converting your leads and getting good sales are way higher.
Getting your prices right is a key component in making money in your photography business.
I am often asked if you should put your prices on your website.
I personally don’t think that you should.
My strategy would be for the prospective client who is looking at your website would have to enter their name and email address to be able to get access to more information…..rather than send out a price list.
Give MORE value (whether perceived or otherwise) than price, and the customer will pay the price.
REPEAT – Give MORE value ( whether perceived or otherwise) than price, and the customer will pay the price.
Your photography needs to be compelling and fresh and to stand out in the crowded marketplace.
The state of photographic art is under fire right now – and many photographers are wondering what to do about it.
The art of taking photographs is changing, and photographers are asking me what’s going on. It seems that clients are looking for VERY specific things, and it’s causing some concern in the photographic industry.
To run a successful business in today’s competitive environment, you have to acquire skills in all areas of your business. You have to be not only a photographer, but a psychologist, accountant, time management expert, Photoshop wizard, an advertising expert, and an advertising executive, to name just a few. That’s a lot of hats!
You may have set up your business as I did years ago, without any thought of structure or using any proven marketing strategies. You thought that if you took great photographs, people would not hesitate to purchase your photography.
It took me a few years to realise that my photography was only a small part of my business, and that to create a comfortable income, I had to get customers. Then I had to learn what sort of photographs to take, that my customers found irresistible and that they would buy.
I then had to develop a price list structure and a selling system that would consistently reward me with good sales.
Working from Home
Many photographers starting out, are choosing to work from home, and this trend is set to continue into the future, as more and more photographers take control of their passion for photography to create a profitable small business.
Photographers are willing to juggle their business and family life for a more simplified lifestyle that can bring rich rewards.
In making your decision to work from home, you have to realise that your personal or home life could intrude on your work, and vice versa.
The fact is that operating a photography business from home does need some know-how and discipline is needed to push you to focus on your work.
The good news is that working from home can provide you with a fulfilling career while being constantly around the family.
There are many other benefits, of course, and the best one is that if carefully planned and executed, your business can give you a high income.
So what are the materials that we have to gather to build that foundation for a successful business in photography?
You should have a simple structured price list that leads the customer to buy your core products, which in turn will help maximise your sales.
Forget what you would like the customer to buy. Let them decide on what they want based on the information that you have given them.
Do not prejudge what the customer can or cannot afford. Don’t think that the customer doesn’t have the money to invest a lot in photography. This is a big mistake. I have known a customer deprive themselves of a new car, choosing rather to spend thousands with me, on family photographs.
By not prejudging a customer, you can open your mind to the possibility that this customer will come back again and again over the years. Let your presentation be carried by this excitement, enthusiasm, and belief.
If you dress for success, the customer is more likely to take your higher prices seriously. I don’t mean over the top, but I do mean that you should dress professionally. Whether you are male or female dress appropriately at all times. It will have a positive effect on you, your business and your value.
You must practice your selling system. I used to role-play with friends or staff members, to perfect my presentation, right up to getting the money. You must build your confidence before you present yourself to your customers.
Always allow plenty of time between each appointment, so that you do not keep your clients waiting.
A holistic approach is necessary because a photographers success depends on a multitude of factors all being present at the same time.
Without these, we may as well forget about starting a photography business and stick to photography as a hobby. Despite all the doom and gloom that lies around the photography industry at present, I believe that there has never been a better time than now, to build a Successful Wedding/Portrait Business.
Sure it’s a competitive market.
Of course, we’re dealing with budget brides and price shoppers.
And yes it will require hard work and solid commitment.
I have learnt so much over my many years of running a photography studio, that I was motivated to write a book. the book is called “Success Secrets of a Professional Photographer.” In the book, I reveal my strategies and secrets on how I sustained my own successful photography business for such a long period of time.
Frequently Asked Questions
What qualifications do you need to be a professional photographer?
A professional photographer does not need any qualification, neither academic nor regulatory.
Anyone can register their business as a professional photographer.
How much does a professional photographer make a year?
The amount a professional photographer can generate is unlimited, but most photographers starting out set themselves a realistic goal of earning a five-figure income within their first year.
How long does it take to become a professional photographer?
The expected time to build a successful and sustainable photography business would generally take around three years, but growth could be achieved sooner with greater marketing, and the help of a photography business coach.
If you are a passionate photographer, simply having creative talent may not be enough for you to build the photography business of your dreams.
Photography can be a tough and competitive business, and like any business requires a good marketing plan, expertise in handling customers and having good sales skills.
Having owned a photography studio specialising in weddings and portraits, for over 40 years, and now as an International Photography Business Coach, I feel the challenge for today’s photographers in trying to earn a good income from their photography is to learn the business principles that are needed to succeed.
There are great financial and satisfying career rewards for those who persist, get the right advice, and follow their dreams.
Feel free to leave a comment below, or visit my website more information.
Over 40 years of owning three successful wedding/portrait photography studios, Photography Business Coach Bernie Griffiths educates, coaches and mentors photographers to help grow their businesses and create a better life.