Springfield Illinois Photographer - Kari Bedford Photography

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So You Want to Be a Professional Photographer?

So you want to be a professional photographer?

GREAT! It is often an exciting, rewarding career for a creative person. It is also a tremendous responsibility to run your own business — one that not only involves recording important life moments for other people, but is filled with financial and legal concerns. When aspiring photographers ask me, “What kind of camera should I buy?” or “How much should I charge?” — there are so many other questions that they are not asking. Hopefully, this will give you something to think about.

First of all, what do independent photographers do with their time? You might be surprised by the answers. Here is what goes into any given week:

1. A LOT of time on the computer.

Shooting is actually the least time-consuming aspect of being a photographer. Most of my job involves handling the images after they have been created (downloading files, backing up files, culling, processing RAW files, retouching, color correcting, creating slideshows and sales presentations, cropping and ordering photos) and/or running the business itself (ie: bookkeeping, responding to emails and phone calls, social networking, blogging, updating the website, and marketing). Be prepared to sit at your desk for long periods of time, staring at a computer screen. On average, I spend about 6 hours a day on the computer.

2. Meetings

Think your life as a photographer will mean no more meetings? Well, maybe you won’t be meeting with your colleagues or a boss anymore — but your clients deserve your attention. Prepare to host consultations, sales presentations, framing appointments, and meetings with many potential clients — who may or may not book you for your services. I spend approximately 2 hours a day meeting with clients and/or potential clients.

3. Customer Service

You will spend a LOT of time trying to make people happy — and many times, you will succeed! But here is a painful fact: you won’t be able to make every single person happy beyond their wildest dreams. Some people will be unhappy because you charge more than they can afford (and that’s okay — you should never allow someone to guilt trip you into charging less). Some people will be unhappy because you aren’t able to get their photos turned around in 2 days. Or a week. Or a month. And that’s okay. What matters is that you keep trying to deliver the very best product that you can — and that you keep your clients informed of what is going on with their order. Occasionally, you will have a client who is unhappy with the way their photos turned out. Offer to reshoot them (assuming it’s not a wedding client, of course). In the end, you will probably have better photos — and a happier client. Try to think about what might have gone wrong in the session and correct it the next time. You don’t have to be a doormat, however. There will be times when you need to gently explain your policies to people. Most people will understand.

4. Saturdays off? Quiet evenings at home? Don’t count on it.

Did you want to go to that music festival this weekend? Or camping with your family? Maybe you just want to sleep in and clean the house. If you are going to photograph large families (with two working parents), weddings or other events that take place on Saturdays, you will probably come to cherish the weekends where you aren’t booked solid. Likewise, the best portrait light is first thing in the morning — and the last part of the day. So if you love “sweet light,” you will be at the mercy of the sun. I spend approximately 18 hours a week shooting, assuming I have a wedding on Saturday. Without weddings, I spend about 10 hours a week shooting.

5. Making bank and enjoying year-round cash flow? Hmmm. Not so much.

You need to plan your year around the fact that, in most parts of the country, portrait photography is a seasonal business. Weddings can be photographed any time of year, but the warmer months are still more popular. You might not see your family from May to October. However, your cash flow will be GREAT — for a few months. Spend and save wisely. When January shows up and you have spent everything you earned last year, you might find yourself unable to pay your rent…let alone pick up any fun new lenses or attend those wonderful workshops and conventions that are available in the off-season.

6. Where do the other hours go? Into all of those other little things that keep a business running!

I spend at least two hours a day on miscellaneous things: keeping up with new trends, running errands, ordering supplies, running to the bank, learning new software, educating myself on new camera techniques, renting equipment, purchasing equipment, maintaining equipment, packaging print orders, paying sales tax, filling out endless forms to list my business in online registries, and on and on and on. Don’t forget that you will be responsible for providing your own health insurance and retirement fund! If you hire employees, you are also taking on the responsibilities involved in their futures, (not to mention that you are now “the boss.”)

Think of all of the details that go into a full-time job…and then think about who will be handling those details: you!

7. A word about PhotoShop vs. Understanding Exposure

None of the things I have discussed address the actual process of making photos. These days, it is not uncommon for a person to take a few photos of some friends, create a website, and start charging for photography. On one hand, you have to start somewhere. Practicing on portrait sessions with average to better-than-average results is fine. Weddings, on the other hand, are no place to “practice.” If you want to shoot weddings, shadow another photographer. Offer to assist someone for free. If you are passionate about photography, you will find a way to get better at it. And you get better at it by shooting, shooting, shooting (and getting feedback from photographers you respect). Taking badly exposed, badly lit, and poorly posed photos with the idea that anything can be corrected in PhotoShop is an irresponsible move. Don’t do it. Your clients deserve better. The industry deserves better. Know your camera by heart. Know a little about exposure (f-stops, shutter speeds, ISO settings, metering), posing, lighting, color harmony, and composition. Keep learning. Attend workshops. PhotoShop is a tool — not a cure for bad photos. Besides, you want to spend LESS time on the computer, right??

8. Wait?? I have to work how many hours??

That adds up to a minimum of 60 hours a week in the busy season. Is it worth it? You bet!! Are there days when I would like to just check out and head to the mountains? Of course! Photography is a fiery passion — but it is not for the faint of heart!

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