Making the move from an amateur to a professional photographer

Aug 26, 2023 | Business

“Show Notes”

This week Marcus and Sam talk about making that big jump to going pro. What
are the key things to think about?

“Show Transcription”

Sam: Hi, Marcus. How are you doing?

Marcus: I’m really well, thank you, Sam. How are you?

Sam : Very  good. And again, we are back in the same room, which is amazing. It’s great to actually be able to face each other and not just be on a screen, which is brilliant. So this week, we are looking at photographers making that move from amateur to professional. So you’ve got a camera, you’ve done some shots, you really like what you’re doing, and you’re thinking, actually, maybe I could make a business of this. Maybe this is something that’s interesting for me. so we’re going to talk about things to think about. If that’s you, you’re at that point, or maybe you’re a little bit past that point, but still, we might have some hints and tips. So what do you need to think about, what do you need to plan to make that move? And I guess for different people, it’s different things, isn’t it, Marcus? So, for some people, they’re thinking about full-time, while for other people, it might involve kids and childcare and it’s more of a part-time and a gradual move.

Marcus:  Yeah. Okay. I mean, there’s a lot to cover here. So I guess, first of all, it’s worth saying, though, there is nothing wrong with being an amateur. I mean, the word comes from the amour, the French for to love doing things. Yeah. And sometimes by turning it into a business, you can end up not loving it so much. So let me just get that out there straight away. But, yeah, for sure. Let’s just imagine, there you are, you’ve been working on your skills, you feel confident about taking photographs, you’ve got a market, you’ve got a plan, and you want to start thinking about making money from your photographs. Is that basically what we’re thinking about, Sam?

Sam: Yes. Let’s say I’m an amateur photographer, I’ve got a camera, I’ve got a few lenses. What do I need to think about? So what do I need to plan? What do I need to think about as I move from an amateur to a professional? So, obviously, I’m going to start to charge people. So what’s the first thing I need to think about?  Do you think?  Have you got any thoughts? I think planning is probably going to be key, isn’t it? Rather than diving in, got to do a bit of thinking, and a bit of planning about what would happen.

Marcus:  Yeah, definitely. I mean, the first thing that needs to be done is you’ve got to sell your services. So you’ve got to work on a portfolio, a collection of images.  Now, that doesn’t mean that you have to get paid straight away. That might mean you might have to put together and do what we used to call in fashion test, which was basically finding models to work with. And what the model gets out of it is they get the print or a file, and what you get out of it is your own ideas can be expressed. And so you start building up a portfolio off your own work.

Sam:  That makes sense. So it depends on what area you fancy going into, I guess. So for some people, if say they’re going to family portraits, you might actually have lots already of your own family. And so you could probably use those at your portfolio. While if you’re going into something completely different, say weddings, you might not have anything. In fact, weddings are probably quite hard to turn up. And I guess you could shoot at somebody’s where there is a professional there too.  You probably wouldn’t want to do that one for free when you haven’t got much experience, would you?

Marcus: Yeah, most definitely. Weddings, you can definitely get in as a second shooter, they call it. And if you go and find a local Facebook group or a national Facebook group in your own country, you’re going to find their photographers who are looking for a second shoot. And that is a very legitimate way of getting into that business. You mentioned portrait photography or family photography. Yeah, families and friends. Not difficult to do that. Food photography, for example. You can start off shooting your own food or look for a stylist who is looking to start off, who’s looking to work with a photographer. So you can get in it through that way.

Sam:  Okay, excellent. So portfolio we need to build up. But then also there’s the whole business side, isn’t it?  Now it’s going to depend on where you’re coming from. It might be that you’re already running a business, so actually, you know what you’re doing and you’re just going to pivot and you’re going to make a new business, but you know all about business, but it may be you’re employed and you’ve never run a business before. So actually my thought is the business side is probably the bigger change than the photography.

Marcus: Yeah, well, look, I’m going to say both equally you got to think about the marketing. But equally, I would say the aesthetics are really important, especially moving forward where there is going to be lots of competition out there. And for sure you might be great at marketing, but really I would really become a good photographer, and have a style that people really want to tap into. And then in some ways, you don’t need to market it so much because people want you.

Sam: Yes and not even if you’re the best photographer in the world, unless the marketing is there, no one’s going to find you. But there’s more than just the marketing, isn’t? So if we think about the business side, suddenly you’ve got to think about counts, as you said, you’ve got to think about marketing, you’ve got to think as well about processes and how long you spend on stuff. So before you were playing with your photos, editing your photos as long as you want, but suddenly people are paying and it’s your time. So you got to work out kind of how long you can spend, how long you need to spend, how much you charge that. So you got to think a lot actually, don’t you? About systems, about the money in and the money out, getting accounting systems in place, and doing your editing in a sort of systemized and robust way. There are all sorts, isn’t there, to think about when it’s not just a hobby and you can just do it when you like. But also there’s no deadline.

 Marcus: Certainly, a financial plan is needed. Now I’ve heard about this thing that’s doing around a lot these days for your pot business. And if you go online, you could find stuff about that and that is basically working out how much money you need, and then charging for whether that actually works in real life is open debate. But I’ve heard that is a very popular way of looking at how much charge. But I would say it is worth spending time to become good at your craft, certainly doing research and looking at the history of photography and to help you come up with ideas. Ideas are where the goal is, especially, as I say, moving forward, where we have threats against AI and other photographers, ideas is where the goal?

Sam: That’s it. So yes, so definitely two sides. You got to work on your photography, work on your business. Maybe, to be honest, a business plan is probably a good plan. You got to think about where you want to be, and what you want to do with this, do you want this to be a slight extension of your hobby so it’s something you do some weekends and it brings in some extra cash? Or do you want within two months this to be taking over as your main source of income and you want to move on very quickly from that. And so when you talk about a business plan, it doesn’t have to be complicated, it doesn’t have to build a lot of components, but I think it’s key that it’s written down. So even if the ideas are in your head, if you write them down and put some dates and deadlines, you’re much more likely to reach them and aim for them. And even if they’re big and you don’t reach them when you want, you’ve still got that goal and you got something you’re heading towards. And like you say, it might be that you’re not looking to take over the world. It might be that you’re just thinking, well, I’d like to on a Saturday to be able to go and do one portrait and next Saturday I’ll deliver them. And as simple as that. But if you’ve written it down, that’s your goal. You can work towards that.  And if your goal is much bigger, you can work towards that too. And it can work both ways. If you want to just do that a little bit and suddenly lots is coming in, you might want to say, actually, I don’t to do it, I’m just going to still do it once a month. So, yeah, I think having a business planner and business goals is really good. So you know what you want.

Marcus: Yeah, totally Sam. And just going back to what we were discussing earlier about yeah, it’s no good just being a brilliant photographer. You’ve got to get out there and people have got to know you. I obviously was in that situation when I left University Lecturing and wanted to go back to-do my own practice as a commercial photographer, I suddenly found that I did not know anybody in the place that I had moved to. I had a network of zero, so I had to spend a lot of time building up my network. Now, luckily, that has become with the internet, with zoom calls on, meeting face to face is not as difficult as it used to be. I don’t think so, yeah, building up a network is crucial. If people don’t know you, you’re not going to get any work.

Sam:  No, that’s right. And there is a whole podcast, isn’t there, on business networking, which for commercial dogs is great. Obviously, if you’re doing family portraits, the network you need is very different. And in some ways, if you’ve lived in a place for a long time, you will already have a network of those sorts of people you will be able to go to. I think actually going back to pricing is an interesting as that I think is going to be very hardtop start with talk to other photographers about what they ‘recharging, but I think for anybody who starts in business, basically they always charge too late. And most people who start out can easily double their prices, treble their prices. Nearly everybody starts with very, very low prices, well below what they’re actually worth.

Marcus:  Totally agree with that, Sam, but I would say do not be afraid of working for free. I know that is a controversial statement, but I’m saying again, do not be afraid of working for free. I will work for free if the project I think will be good for my portfolio or I will get other work from it and not from the client I’m working for free for, that will never happen. I find, yes, that’s a project that’s going to give me some amazing photographs, going to be great for a portfolio, and I can then go and sell it onto other businesses.

Sam: Yeah, no, that’s right. I think you’ve got to have the caveat, the right place and at the right time. So, yes. And when you’re starting out, like you said, Marcus, you need more portfolio shots in some way. You might need to do more free or cost work initially to get those portfolios in and to get some testimonials in. So if you do free work, I think you definitely think about what are the benefits for you and what do you need from the person you’re doing for free? So if you’re doing it for free, what do you want from them? And make that very clear.

Marcus: Totally. Sam I mean, when I first started, even just first started in the world of editorial photography, it was very normal to work for either very low prices or free. Even, like, traditionally doing a cover for Vogue magazine, the rate you get, you to get was like $100.It would cost you thousands to put a photograph together that’s going to be right for a vote cover. But once you’ve done a vote cover, you are minted. You’ve got it made for life. So that’s the idea behind that. That’s it.

Sam: Excellent. So what other things do people need to think about? I think accounting is important. We don’t all need to be accountant, but it is very easy to lose track of the money, and especially with you can easily spend a fortune on gadgets in photography, and you need to look at that carefully. How much are you charging? What do you actually need? If you’re buying equipment, what’s your payback time? And you need to think about all of these things and keep track of it. You don’t need to be an accountant, you don’t need lots of fancy accounting software, but you do need to have a plan and a thought, especially with equipment. How much are you spending? How long are you thinking you get the money back on that and keeping track? It’s very easy to lose track of the money and the account. You need to keep a very close eye on it.

Marcus: Certainly. Sam look, as photographer, we are gas, they call it, don’t they? Gear acquisition syndrome. You can’t stop buying photography equipment as a photographer, that’s for sure. But if you’re starting off, I would really recommend that you get a spare camera. So whichever when you’re working out your budget to buy a camera, allow to buy another one. Not necessarily the same model does it need to be, but certainly something that’s going to be as good if you’ve got a full frame camera as a second camera, you’re going to need another full frame camera because they go wrong. And if you’re on a job and it breaks, you’ve got to have a backup plan. I would then also really think about investing in flash equipment or constant lighting, because as a commercial photographer, especially here in the UK, I’m looking out the window, it’s grey and dreary, it’s the summer, you can’t rely on shooting natural light. And now you’re working as photographer, you can’t go to your client and say, oh, I can’t do it on a Tuesday. Tomorrow the shoot. It’s not looking very good weather. You’ve got to do it. And flash or constant lighting is the only way.

Sam: Excellent. So you got to actually think about the equipment. So you think as you move from an amateur to a professional, you probably need to straightaway get a different camera. You don’t think probably with the one you’ve using as an amateur, that’s done, you fine. Probably you need to move on to something better or just maybe you need a sort of spare. So you got that.

Marcus:  Yeah, I meant having a spare, for sure. Having a full frame camera is great, but it doesn’t necessarily if your client is just going to be doing Instagram reels or Facebook, you don’t need a full frame camera, that’s for sure. But certainly a spare, in case it all goes wrong, is 100% needed.

Sam: So maybe even get your current amateur camera. Could be your spare, couldn’t it? And then you sort of do a bit of an upgrade. So, yeah, lots to think about there. Anything else you think, Marcus? Obviously we’ve not really talked about marketing, but lots of our podcasts are about marketing, so I think people can go back and listen to those. Marcus has touched on lighting and there’s a podcast about that, so go and listen to that. So I think lots of it we’ve covered already. But I think you really think about bringing it all together and yeah. How much charging? How often are you doing it? How much do you want to do it? And having a plan, having that plan written down is so important. If you write it, you’re much more likely to do it. If you don’t write it and it’s in your head, the date slip, the idea slip, I think write it down. I’m not talking about ETH. A couple of ideas and a couple of date son a piece of a four paper is great. Nothing complicated.

Marcus:  Yes. And of course those things are really important. And aesthetically, I would really recommend looking for a project, your own personal project. Of course we want to shoot and make money, but having your own personal project, something that you’re really involved in in the long run will really pay dividends for your professional work.

Sam:  And Marcus, what are your thoughts on, like, a photography mentor or a business coach or somebody to give you some guidance along the way?

Marcus: Yeah, totally recommended Sam, I mean, I studied at university for three years, and then I went to become an assistant for four years before I started making money on my own work. So I spent seven, eight years in myself, investing in myself, learning the subject and learning how to take a great photograph.

Sam:  So if people don’t have that time, then they’re starting the business. Do you think local photographers would be sort of helpful in giving help and advice, or do you think maybe more like a business coach type thing would be better?

Marcus:  I would say, look, go for the best. Find somebody who’s a really good business or photography coach. Or even separately have a business coach and have a photography coach. Yeah, definitely invest in a good mentor, without a doubt.

Sam: Excellent. So lots of things to think about there lots of ideas. But, yes, it’s bringing all those together as we’ve talked as well. Go back to the podcast live. We listen to a few of those, get some ideas. And as we said, we’ve hardly touched on the marketing, but if you don’t do the marketing, nobody knows you’re going to there no matter how much you work on your portfolio and how much you work on other stuff, without the marketing, nobody knows you exist if you’re the best photographer in the world. So you need to really think and plan for that too. So, been really interesting to speak to you, Marcus. Thank you for all of those ideas. Any sort of last final roundup hints and tips.

Marcus: Yeah, okay. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, obviously, think about your business, but think about the photography. Get books on why to take not how to take a photograph, but why someone would take a photograph. I’m looking at my library now, and I’ve got a really nice collection of photography books by great photographers. Invest in that, go to galleries, all the kind of thing that we’ve talked about before on the show. Look, Sam, it’s been a brilliant episode, this one. I think there’s a lot more to cover and hopefully we can really get some other ideas that we can give to our listeners. But if you’ve enjoyed the show, please subscribe to our podcast and give us a good, nice five star review. We’d really appreciate that. You can find us at podcast and that, with a number four. You can also subscribe to our newsletters. And Sam, maybe you can tell us something about that.

Sam: Yeah, so if you subscribe to the newsletters, the podcast will appear in your inbox every week. There is also extra audio clips so you get extra information as well as the podcast hints and tips out, photography and marketing and websites from Sam and Marcus. All sorts of extra goodies in there. So, yeah, subscribe to the newsletter list and get all the extras that you can and I will speak to you next week.

Marcus: Mark next week, Sam. Looking forward to it.