I would find it fairly safe to say that there are 3 lies we all told ourselves when we started our photography business. These 3 big mistakes are something I see new photographers everywhere doing time and time again and I am so lucky that I had amazing mentors in my life to help me get over these 3 big things really quickly.
- Photography should be something that everyone can afford. I get this. I was one of those that thought the same thing before I actually figured out how expensive it is to run a photography business. This is the biggest misconception that comes along with opening a new business. Very seldom do people actually sit down and take the time to figure out their expenses and how much they will pay in taxes, and unfortunately there are so many photographers out there that are not licensed business and do not pay taxes. Photography is not a necessity in life, it is in fact a luxury item in our society. Along with eating out, getting a pedicure, and drinking sodas..we don’t actually really need any of those things but people do those things every day. Luxury items are all about priorities and what people find is important. I have seen it all in the past few years, from clients that tell me they can’t afford to pay me today, but they have a huge 60in tv in the box in their living room, to clients who skip out on purchasing a wedding album but proceed to have an ice sculpture at their reception (which melts away at the end of the night). Ok, now don’t throw stones at me now. Most photographers offer limited edition or mini sessions 1-2 times a year where they deeply discount their services and offer 5-10 short sessions in one day so that those people who may not be able to purchase a full session with wall art and albums can still get gorgeous pictures of their families from an amazing photographer…because lets face it, as a photographer you really do want everyone to have gorgeous pictures of their families. Now you are going to say, but I am just getting started so I should be cheap…hang on there, if you are running a legitimate business you have just as many expenses as those of us that have been in business for years. You may not be charging as much as someone who has been photographing weddings for 5-6 years, but you should certainly not be charging pennies for your services. The best piece of advice I received when I was starting out was to not be that person that ruins the industry, you will earn more respect by your peers by starting your business the right way and not devaluing photography. In a day and age of $50 craigslist photographers using point and shoots this is a huge struggle the photography industry faces.
- I will photograph everything. I know you have said this, at one point in time we have all tried it all from families to kids and newborns to weddings.Oh and I’m sure there is that one boudoir session you did for a friend because you thought it would be fun. When you are starting out find one thing you really LOVE to photograph and stick with it. It is absolutely impossible to be amazing at everything, but I promise you that if you choose one thing and stick with it you will truly become a master of your craft. Once you can focus your time and energy on one specific thing you will start to develop a style and really grow not only as a photographer but as a business person. This might be hard when you are just starting out because you don’t know what you truly love, but pick something and focus on that for a solid year and see what happens, after that year is over you can reevaluate and decide if you want to branch into something else or stick with it. I would say that families, kids, and seniors are some of the most common areas to start out in. Things like Wedding and Newborns involve a lot more risk and you should make sure you have appropriate training and education before you consider venturing into this realm. Weddings are a once in a life time event and can not be recreated if you mess something up or if your equipment fails. Last week on the blog I shared some things to consider before you photograph you first wedding. Newborns are the most precious gifts from God and they are extremely fragile, it is very important that you have proper training when it comes to posing and photographing newborns before you try to take those adorable sleepy newborn pictures.
- I will just give everyone their digital files. I have 3 words: DON’T DO IT. Digital files are the MOST expensive item that you can provide to clients. When you give away digital files you are essentially giving away the entire farm for free. Lets consider this. You photograph a family. You may spend 3 hours corresponding with clients prior to the session and setting everything up, 30 minutes driving to the location, 2 hours with your clients photographing the session, 30 minutes driving back home, 30 minutes uploading and backing up those pictures, 2 hours culling images, and 4 hours editing those images (and thats if you are fast, when I started out it would take me 4-5 hours to cull a session, and a whole day to edit one). Lets not forget delivering those images to your clients, you may meet with them which would take 2-3 hours, or you may upload them online and send emails back and forth which will probably end up taking you about the same amount of time. Oh, and you should probably consider blogging those images and updating them on your website, so you may spend another 2 hours doing that. Thats 16 hours alone. Now lets think about the cost of your equipment, you are probably carrying at a minimum 7-8k worth of equipment in that camera bag, plus your computer and editing software. Don’t forget about insurance and the 40% that you can count on paying the government at the end of the year…and the sales tax you are *most likely* required to charge (depending on your state laws).
I will do some very quick math here. Lets pretend you want to make 30,000 a year. You can count paying about 40% to taxes and about 30% of your gross income being invested back into your business, that leaves you being able to pay yourself around 30% of the money you bring in. So that means to pay yourself 30,000 you would need to bring in around 100,000 in that year. To bring in 100,000 in a year you would need to bring in around $8300 each month. Now lets consider if you can book 10 sessions a month (which is a lofty goal for most new photography businesses) you would need to bring in at least $830 for ever session you book. So those digital files you were just going to send to someone should cost them at least $830.
Now lets go back to that previous scenario we looked at where you photograph a family. Out of that $830 they pay you, you can kiss around $330 of it goodbye to taxes. That will leave you with $500. Lets take out your expenses which will probably be around $250 (considering your expenses are around 30%). That will leave you with $250. If you are really, really good with your time that equates to around $15 an hour for the time you spend on that session alone. Don’t forget the time you spend marketing, updating your website, playing book keeper, and all of the other jobs we must play as a business owner. Photographing sessions is only a very small part of our jobs.***
***Now don’t go using this quick math of mine to run your business, it is important that you sit down and talk to an accountant and figure out what the numbers will actually be for your own business.
Hopefully if you are just getting started in your photography journey these 3 lies we all told ourselves when we started photography can help you get started on the right foot.
I would love to help guide you along the way if you are starting your very own photography business. Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to hear about our mentoring.
And don’t forget. As a newbie in the photography industry your goal should be to gain the respect of your peers and do whatever you possibly can to build the industry up as a whole and not destroy what so many men and women have worked so hard to create for year and years.
I would love to hear your questions, just comment on this post and I will answer any questions you have. I would also love to hear some of the biggest lies you told yourself when you started your business.