Why do some professional photographers fail to make it in business?
If you can’t cut it technically or artistically as a photographer, then clearly your photography business will have a very limited lifespan. But there are other ways in which you can take your eyes off the ball when turning pro. Here are some classic examples of failure that are easy to avoid when you know how…
1. Photographers fail because… they take the same pictures as everyone else
When it comes to building up your own collection of stock photos, you’ll want to make sure that you’ve got all bases covered. if you’re a British wildlife photographer, for instance, it’s natural to assume that you need the British animal and bird ‘bankers’ – photos of badgers, foxes, barn owls and robins – in your files, as high-quality shots of these subjects will always be in demand for books, magazines, greetings cards and beyond.
Just don’t expect to make much money from them.
Every other British wildlife photographer will be chasing the same subjects, and the law of supply and demand means that prices for traditional ‘trophy shots’ will be driven down. Clients aren’t going to be willing to part with much cash when there’s a glut.
To make your work stand out, you need to look at what everyone else is doing, and then do something different. If you’re a travel photographer, don’t book yourself on the next flight to Havana. Cuba has pretty much been done now – or at least, the old-woman-smoking-a-cigar photo has. Try and find new subjects, locations and stories to tell, although that’s obviously harder than it sounds…
2. Photographers fail because… they don’t maximize photo opportunities
Photography takes up a surprisingly small part of a professional photographer’s life. Image processing, marketing, admin, accounts and other office-bound work eats into the working day.
So, when you do get some time with your camera you’ll understandably want to focus on getting the killer shots. However, that can limit potential sales.
If you’re thinking of putting together a blog, contributing to a photography magazine or even self-publishing a practical photography book, then it pays to shoot alternative ‘wrong’ versions of a shot to illustrate compositional, exposure or focusing errors. This can feel unnatural to begin with, and may mean working backwards from the ‘final’ shot you’ve already taken.
To improve your chances of being featured on a magazine cover you’ll need to shoot vertical images that have enough dead space at the top for the magazine designers to drop a logo into.
Again, this can feel unnatural when it comes to composition, as rather than shooting a tightly-framed image you’ll need to leave things a little baggier than you normally would.
The same goes for horizontal photos that naturally lend themselves to a centred compositions, with the subject in the middle of the frame. This can cause problems for book and magazine designers, as the main focus of the picture will be lost in the ‘gutter’ of a double-page spread. Shooting alternative versions, with the subject positioned to the left or right of the frame, will give you more options later.
In short, you need to squeeze each photo session for as much as you can to maximise your income and minimise your outgoings.
3. Photographers fail because… they don’t have a business plan
Before you jack in the day job to do photography full-time, you need to sit down and write a 5-year business plan. It’ll probably be one of the hardest things you do.
You need to be realistic and include details of your goals, details of the market (how much money is there and where are the gaps), an analysis of customers and competitors, your USPs, any costs (and loans required) for equipment, insurance, banking and accountancy fees and, of course, your pricing strategy (see point 4).
Photographers usually work in isolation, so writing a business strategy will help you remain focused on what’s really important to your photography business and enable you to measure success – and identify areas where you need to improve.
4. Photographers fail because… they don’t charge enough
Few photographers decide to become a full-time pro because it’s easy money or they can make a fortune. They do it because they’re passionate about photography and are attracted by the lifestyle.
This can make it tough to calculate how much your photography is worth. Undervaluing your work is a common problem. In light of tough market conditions, it can even be tempting to give away your images for free to start getting your name known as a photographer. But that can be a slippery slope.
Once you factor in the cost of your time, travel expenses, photography equipment, computer hardware and software, and you can see how easy it is to reach a point where you’re in fact paying to work for clients rather than the other way around!
There again, you don’t want to price yourself out of the market, particularly in the early days of trying to make a living as a professional photographer. However, clients and customers will always pay more for high-quality work they can get hold of on time. Plenty of paying jobs come through word-of-mouth, and recommendations are usually based on the quality of pictures and customer care, rather than bargain basement prices.
5. Photographers fail because… they don’t get social media marketing spot on
We can all appreciate the importance of starting a social media presence for a photography business, but photographers can fail if they don’t maintain their Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other feeds regularly.
You don’t have to do much: post low-res versions of your most recent shots each week, write a short behind-the-scenes or technique blog article or two that you can post links to (the right words go a long way to boosting visits to your website), comment on other photographers’ posts. It’s all free marketing for your photography business.
The thing is, it’s easy to get sucked in by social media to the point where it consumes more and more of your time and chasing internet Likes at the expense of real-world sales is misguided at best. There’s no denying that promoting your latest photos and building up a group of followers can eventually lead to print sales and commissions, but it’s all about getting the balance right.
Remember that what you say on the internet has the potential to be there forever, too. There are plenty of examples of social media PR disasters, so be wary of getting involved in heated public spats…
About the author: PhotoVenture is a photography blog for everything post-capture — improving photos, image management, sharing and more. You can keep up with their articles by following them on Facebook and Twitter. This article originally appeared here.