Can you make a living doing photography full-time? Is it even possible anymore?
Let’s talk about this, because on one hand I hear some bloggers I follow saying, “You can do it if you just follow your dreams” and on the other hand I hear from a lot of photographers who are considering throwing in the towel and giving up on the idea of doing this professionally.
So what’s the final verdict?
It is possible. But it isn’t likely.
Let me explain.
Photography businesses are some of the worst businesses out there to start if your primary goal is to make money.
Practically every other type of job out there will make you more money.
In fact, I’d bet that you’ll make more money flipping burgers at McDonalds than most people make per hour in their first year of business (or possibly even more).
There’s practically no barrier to entry, you’re not building any equity (that is, if you closed your business you wouldn’t be able to sell it and your gear wouldn’t really be worth very much), and you’re limited by your time as you can only shoot so many weddings or portrait sessions per month unless you want to have associate photographers and such, and even then you’re still very limited.
Not only that, but the demand for professional photography is going down every day as people carry phone cameras with them everywhere they go, giving them the ability to capture images in moments. They aren’t professional quality, but most people are happy enough with them.
Plus, with more and more people becoming professional photographers, the market is just filled with people trying to start a photography business.
It’s really not a pretty marketplace to be joining.
That being said, it is entirely possible to make a living doing photography, but here’s what you need to know.
It’s a ridiculous amount of hard work and it takes a lot of time and effort
During busy season, it’s not unusual that full-timers are working 60-80 hours a week on their photography business.
And frankly, you’re never going to get to a point where you can just hit ‘cruise control’ if you’re a solo-preneur who wants to do it all yourself.
It’s only going to get more difficult out there, and you’re going to have to work to stand out from the crowd.
Your images will never be good enough on their own
I don’t care if you’re Chuck Norris, your photography alone is not going to book you enough clients.
I’ve seen absolutely BRILLIANT photographers who are still struggling to get work.
Yes, you need high quality work that sets you apart. If you can’t consistently create work that is unique and high-quality, you’re going to have a harder time of it than from someone who knows what they are doing and can consistently create gorgeous images.
However, you also need serious business skills.
In fact, it’s far more important to have strong business skills than to be a fabulous photographer.
I’m not saying quality isn’t important, because it’s very important, but I’m saying that it’s not enough on it’s own and that you HAVE to learn the business side.
And there’s a lot to the business side that you have to know. Just a few off the top of my head?
It’s daunting, but you can learn it. Or you can outsource it. But you can’t just ignore it, or you’re going to get frustrated and feel like you aren’t getting anywhere.
You need to have realistic expectations
It’s extremely unlikely that you’re ever going to become rich doing photography.
In fact, if this is your only income and you have a family, it’s a hard income to live off of and you’re going to have to make sacrifices.
That doesn’t mean you can’t do it or that it’s not worth it.
Because frankly, the freedom that comes from working for yourself is priceless. At least to me.
But you do need to know that you’re not going to pull in a ton of money doing this, so if you’re not willing to live on a middle to lower-end income, you need to think seriously hard about if you want to keep doing it professionally.
Because there’s nothing wrong with doing it as a hobby.
It’s also going to take you a long time to get to full-time status. It took me just shy of 3 years to get to the point where we completely replaced our household income with our photography income, and that was considered fast.
It can be done, but expect it to take 3-5 years, and you’ve GOT to be on top of your numbers and the business side of things.
The shift to Part-Time
Honestly, I believe that as more people take up professional photography as a part-time business, the harder it is going to be to do it full-time.
There’s some huge benefits to doing photography part-time that make it increasingly attractive.
First, you don’t have to rely upon the income, so you can charge less and not have to bring in as many clients.
Second, you can be more selective about your clients.
Third, that money is likely going to be treated as extra “fun” money that you can use for things like funding a vacation, investing in your retirement, or saving for a big down payment on a house.
But there’s also some drawbacks to doing it part-time.
You are taking on less jobs but need the same amount of gear as a full-timer, so you’re expense ratio is higher.
You’re working all the time, if not at one job then at photography.
You might not be taken as seriously, since you’re not a full-timer.
I think we’re going to see more and more part-timers in the industry simply because they either can’t make it as a full-timer or because they aren’t willing to get serious about pricing or business and aren’t ready to really do what it takes to charge what they need to charge to do this full-time.
And because there are more people doing it part time, where they don’t need to make much of a profit in order to pay their bills, it’s going to be harder and harder for people in the industry who do rely upon photography to pay their bills to do so.
The call to step up…
So why should I even bother writing this blog anymore if things are just getting harder?
Because there’s a lot of people out there who I believe have the will and tenacity to actually make it in this business.
I look at my friend Kim, who has been in the photography business for over 20 years (full-time) and is still rocking it despite all the changes, and I know that for those who are willing to do what it takes, you can do it.
It isn’t going to be easy, and you may have times when you want to throw in the towel.
But I want to be here to help guide you through the clutter and help you learn the business side of photography so you CAN do this full-time if you want to (or seriously rock your part-time business!)
I want to give you the tools you need to make it happen, so you can prove to yourself that you CAN do it.
Not everyone is going to make it. You have to be willing to fight for it.
But I do believe it is possible. In fact, I know many people living the dream right now. But they’ve worked hard to get here, and it’s a constant battle.
Do you have what it takes? Are you willing to do what it takes to get it, even if it means doing things that make you uncomfortable or making changes as time goes on to keep up with this crazy mobile world we live in?
Then you’re well on your way, and YOU are the type of person that is likely to succeed. And you’re the exact type of person I’m happy to call a member of The Modern Tog, because we’re the ones who are going to move forward and ROCK this industry.
It’s not just about desire. It’s about action.
Two things I highly recommend signing up for to keep you on the right path:
1. Marketog – This is a 6-week photography marketing course which will be opening to enrollment in late October. It’s going to teach you everything you need to know about how to get more clients and stand out from your competitors. Sign up now for more information once it’s live. Click here to check it out now!
2. My free marketing course via Email – Learn how to get more photography clients, better clients, and create a business that you love.