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In a recent post on the topic of Amateur or Professional Photography I asked an open ended question that would solicit responses. While I was not surprised by the polarization, I was disappointed by how personal the comments became.
I will state categorically that any professional who is not willing to share information must be quite insecure in their own abilities. Like any business certain facets have to remain confidential in order to remain competitive in a free market enterprise. Beyond that, I believe we do owe it to our industry to be honest with each other – no one, regardless of standing, is bigger than the industry itself – and that includes amateurs being honest with professionals.
Many readers missed my point entirely in the opening post, that being if you are going to delve into the medium as a means of income then one should play by the rules. The one rule that professional photographers cannot compete against is the various taxes that they must pay as a result of their vocation and business. Each country and city has their own tax laws, and in Canada essentially all income has to be declared as taxable income. Should the professional photographer’s neighbour who photographs weddings on Saturday’s only for $300, not declare their income several things happen by default: 1. They are automatically at a 30% (the average income tax in Canada) price advantage due to tax evasion, 2. They have potentially broken tax statutes and that affects the economy of the community; and 3. They have devalued the industry as a whole. These are examples of ethics to which I was referring in the original post.
Believe me, your time, your equipment and your experience has value and as each increases so too should the value of your service. That is a basic business premise and has nothing to do with photographers feeling threatened. Should you really be interested in learning the profession, and haven’t had the opportunity to attend school, source a local photographer whose work you respect and ask if you can assist or apprentice with them for free for six months (I don’t agree with this approach personally, but if you are going to shoot jobs for free you would be doing the industry and your eventual clients a far greater service by learning from a well respected and established business person).
Beyond that, it is very much a wild west as far as photography as an industry is concerned. There are no trade union protections to benefit the photographer, and likewise there are no minimum standards of delivery to protect the client. Whether there should be is a whole other debate and one best not discussed on the DPS forum. It is very much a climate of client and providers beware.
Moving forward, let’s take the wedding photographer completely out of the picture and think in the bigger realm.
Let’s also set the record straight: NO, it is not necessary to go to university or college to become a photographer. NO, it is not necessary to apprentice with an established firm to become a photographer. NO, it is not necessary to become a student of business administration to become a photographer. However, should you be fortunate enough to have been able to pursue photography as a profession by travelling these paths you will inherently have a huge advantage over the amateur who aspires to turn a love of craft into a successful business venture.
In short, you can be the best photographer in the world but if you do not know how to manage and market your business the chances of success are greatly diminished. The aspiring pro should have no illusions – photography is a tough business and the more you can learn about the industry and appropriate business practises, the better the opportunity of success. The client will decide whether your skill with a camera is commensurate with your fee structure.
Regardless of how you have entered the profession it is possible to earn a successful living with a camera while satisfying an internal desire to be a photographer by following a few well laid out principles. The first golden rule that must be cemented in your business plan is to, well, have a business plan. The second golden rule is to learn to pay yourself first; you are, after all, starting a business to earn an income.
If you can’t accept the fact that you need a business plan, you will unquestionably be wandering around aimlessly and without direction. The business plan today must reflect the current market, and, as we all know the photo industry is rapidly adjusting itself without checks and balances. Therefore your business plan will have to be fluid; no longer can we work on a five year plan. Some would suggest a three year plan is risky and the proprietor should be giving serious consideration to a two year plan.
You are entering a service based industry and for the most part your skill level, locale and client base will dictate what you can charge as a fee. There are several web-based outlets that offer great advice, and are well worth reviewing. As a poster earlier shared, Mark Wallace (Adorama TV) has a great video on You Tube:
In this video Mark offer a huge bucket full of sage advice; however I would caution that you not plug his “days of work” numbers in your daily costs calculations as it is quite unlikely you will work 250 days on start up. To clarify, you will probably work more than 250 days, but what are your billable days? Another resource that makes life easier for calculating the daily cost of business is a calculator from NPPA found here: https://www.nppa.org/calculator .
From both of these resources there were several topics not itemized in the calculations. You may decide to work from your home, and there may be tax advantages to doing that. However, there are also going to be increased costs on the home budget that require consideration. Are you even legally permitted to operate a home-based business in your community? The calculators and Mark’s video –I could stand to be corrected—have not identified capital reserve requirements. You have expensive equipment that will most likely have to be replaced every three years due to technology advances. Should you be channeling funds into a capital reserve to lessen the blow when that day arrives? Are there tax advantages to renting your equipment?
Spend some money on a lawyer and accountant. Regardless if you are working as a professional or semi-professional, or even an amateur, you will be exposing yourself and equipment to liability risks that probably will not be covered by any type of home insurance policy you currently have. Your lawyer will also advise whether you are best served by incorporating or working as a sole proprietor. Don’t forget about learning Intellectual Property laws, and learn who owns the results of your toil and under what circumstances. It is imperative you have iron-clad contracts so both you and your client completely understands the others position before you even accept the commission.
Good accountants are worth their weight in gold; the better ones will give you sage advice and don’t particularly care about hurting your feelings. If you really want a good gauge on how good your business plan has been prepared, go visit a local bank and ask for a business start-up loan. These folks will not lend money if they see any risk in your plan and their judgement should, and can, speak volumes.
If you want to turn that avocation to a vocation, start working on a business plan first. Make no mistake, it will be tough to succeed with long hard hours of non-paying administrative and business training that will siphon your cash flow quicker than a drop of water evaporating on hot asphalt in the desert sun.
If you are skilled and savvy enough there is always room for good photographers, and there probably always will be. At least I hope so – we all deserve to pursue our dreams providing we respect our neighbours in an honest and ethical way.
Postscript: By now I hope the readers following my posts will have recognized I am targeting two audiences. The first being the amateur who is just starting their journey, and the second being the advanced amateur who believes they are ready to advance into the profession. I would ask that you fire your criticisms toward me and not each other. Thank you in advance for following the posts. –Dale Wilson