5 Tips to Expand your Photography Business Skills

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You want to turn pro? Great! First ask yourself why. It is not as glamorous as it may seem. Can you sustain your passion for the art of photography while shooting somebody else’s vision? Are you ready to take whatever job comes your way to make ends meet? Are you able to work with the demands of a commercial client or a wedding shoot? It can take years to find your own niche market and specialize in one photography genre that you really enjoy. Not discouraged yet? Okay, keep reading!

Think turning pro is a measure of your skills? Think again! There are many amateur photographers out there who have far better skills than pros. One thing amateurs have, and pros often lose, is the passion. Turning your hobby into a job can kill the passion pretty fast if you let it happen. I wrote an entire article about this earlier which can be summed up in a few words: Nurture the personal projects to keep the passion alive.

Ready to run a business first and be a photographer second? Hope so! Marketing yourself will suck up most of your time, especially the early years, so be ready for that.

There is nothing wrong about having a 9 to 5 job and keeping photography as your passion on your days off. Actually if you are thinking of turning pro I would definitely keep the day job for a while until you know for sure you can deal with the business side of photography and you’re able to pay the bills with it.

I make a living as a photographer and I was very lucky to be able to keep the passion for the craft alive and even see it grow with my business. It can be done, and if that’s what you want to do, go for it! You won’t know until you try!

Good business skills are also a talent. Some great photographers also have great business skills but it’s not that common. It’s the old right brain vs. left brain thing. You may have noticed some awesome photographers who couldn’t make it as pros and some not so great ones who are very successful at selling their work or services. Do not underestimate the power of good business skills!

When hiring a photographer, most people hire the whole package: Your photography talent + your business expertise + your people skills. That said, if your dream is to turn your passion into a business you don’t have to give up simply because you don’t have the business skills.

1- Get some help from qualified people. Look for a mentor in your area or online. Services such as SCORE in the States offer free business advice, workshops, events as well as templates to get you started with your business plan.

2- Maybe your partner or spouse has good people and business skills and will help you with that side of the business. It’s okay to be the artist and let someone else handle the customer service side of the business. And if you’re really good at what you do, they won’t mind dealing with someone else for the nitty gritty stuff!

3- If you have a solid portfolio, but lack the nerve or skills to sell yourself, hire an agent. An agent works on commission, marketing your work, so you can happily concentrate on your craft. It’s not easy, especially for artists, to blows their own horn. Having someone else do it for you can really make a difference! There are also online services, such as Agency Access, that cater to creative people.

4- Remember that your most important clients are your past clients. Treat them right and they’ll be your best PR people. Get written referrals from customers, add a ‘testimonials’ page to your website. Word of mouth is the best advertising!

5- If all you hate doing is billing people and dealing with accounting, that’s an easy fix. You can hire an accountant for as little time as an hour every week, or use an online billing service. Starting out and can’t afford it? Consider trading services for a while. Accountants need photographers too!

It makes good sense to delegate some of the work to people who are good at it. You will have more time to do what you are good at – and love – which is being behind the camera.

Do you have a story to share about your experience in the business aspect of photography? The dPS readers would love read about it in the comment section below.

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Valerie Jardin

I live and breathe in pixels! Photography is more than a passion, it’s an obsession, almost an addiction. When I’m not shooting or writing, I spend my time teaching this beautiful craft during photo workshops all over the world! I am also thrilled to be an official X Photographer for Fujifilm USA. Visit my Website
Follow me on Facebook , Twitter , Instagram. And listen to my Podcast!

  • Pro Photographers “loose” their passion do they? How so? Do they actively throw it their clients? 😉

    Otherwise pretty good article 😀

  • Oops, typo corrected, thanks Ryan!

  • Hi

    I love this article! My Partner is the Business Manager, I am the Technician. She loves the Biz side of things and I love the Tech side, so it is perfect! Foe example. she set up and arranged all of the dudes for this Calendar Session, I just needed to shoot.

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2011/09/25/cowboy-up/

  • Tim Weaver

    Having done the “turn a hobby into a job” thing before, I am very leery about trying to take my photography pro. While I wouldn’t mind making side money from photos I take, or even the odd “Hey, Tim, can you take a photo of us/the dog/some landscape/our office” scenario, I don’t want to run the risk of ruining something I like by thinking it would make a great career.

  • Nice article, great tips.. Keep working toward your passion and the benefits will surely follow!
    Mnillo.blogspot.com

  • Brian Fuller

    I hope to follow this advice soon.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/8709292@N08/

  • As always, great article. I find that my full-time career as a management consultant allows me to feed my passion as a photographer. It has taken me to different and fascinating places in the world – to see different cultures, be exposed to different ideas, and interact with people I would not normally meet. Ironically, this has also improved my images at home because I try to remember the feeling of that fresh perspective and look at familiar places in a new way. I view the sale of my images (just as I view the revenue from my consulting fees) as the gauge of my success in creating something new, evocative and appealing to others – rather than as a goal. I really admire those who are successful, full-time photographer’s who still seem to have the passion and am envious of their ability to balance that left-brain, right-brain “thing”. 🙂

  • That was a very inspiring article. I am 17 years old and planning on perusing photography in university/college. I love these articles because they get me excited for what is ahead. I think that I could make it in photography because I love it as a passion and am great at business, (getting high 80’s in every business class I take). I have recently booked my first wedding am am very excited, I also think photography is right form me because I love working with people and trying to express what they want instead of what I see. So I would just like to thank you for the article and the motivation. 🙂

  • i see a lot of competitive ads by “pros” using terms like “why hire a beginner?” or feeling threatened by the “weekend warriors.” i somewhat sympathize with them since the field is full of cheap and/or weekend photographers, yet at the same time, a lot of us could not and would not quit our day jobs for it. just my observation.. PT or FT it really is important to have good business skills to market your work.

  • Interesting post!! I really like this site, and hope you will write more, thanks for your information.

  • Thanks for the tips, very helpful. I will study it.

  • I am happy with my day job and photography hobby. At least my day job helps me to buy those expensive gears 🙂

  • its realy a nice website

  • Like any business, a lot of very good talent and an absolute shed-load of cowboys ( UK meaning of the word, incompetent and useless ) !!

    Pro, in any field simply means you get paid for the service you provide, it’s certainly no indication of talent. As you say the one thing Am’s have is the passion, we’re driven purely by the desire to shoot nice pictures. If we want to shoot BW architecture on Saturday and some sunset colour shots on Sunday evening, we can. The other thing we have is a guaranteed income, hopefully with some expendable cash, we can buy photo toys we fancy and spend as long as we want learning how to use them, we don’t have the pressure to come up with the goods day-in and day-out. We can spent all the time in world learning PS/Lightroom niggles to get that one shot tuned just right.

    I have often thought it would be nice to be able to ditch the 9-5 suit and spend my time travelling to locations and sitting for days at a time waiting for the right light to shoot another shot that will help pay my mortgage. Then when I have a bad weekend’s shooting where every shot is utter crap and I cannot get motivated I wonder how hard it must be to have your family’s well being totally reliant on your creative ability and I am thankful I still have my boring 9-5 to go back to on Monday. I then have all week to wonder what went wrong and try again the next weekend!

    I just don’t think I would have the faith in my own creative ability to cut it as a pro-snapper, not when my family needs a roof over their heads.

  • Robert

    Hi. I am new to the site and am happy I found it. Photography is only a small hobby I love to do. I bought a new digital camera about two years ago and it sparked the interest once again. I keep making note of some of the tips presented but there are so many I will have great difficulty to apply many of them but I love the “feel” of the camera and the resulting photo. I will never make money out of it but that not why I do it. I entry a competition once a year and its great fun looking for the “RIGHT SHOT”.

  • Been taking pictures and trying to figure out how to make money from it for most of my life. I opened a booth at a state fair one year and sold a ton of prints, but it cost as much for the booth space as I made in profit. (back in the days of DIY darkrooms in converted closets)

    Man, is digital photography ever a blessing for people just starting out! My son just shakes his head when I tell him what we used to have to go through, just to develop film and print a picture!…..lol

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’ve been trying to get my business off the ground for a few years now. This information could be a huge help.

  • Hello Valerie, une très belle écriture as always, concise and clear, thanks for sharing your experience. What I like being amateur is that I am alone to know when I miss, being pro means sometimes a lot of stress to meet clients expectations. Before the digital age the stress was even worth, a whole day shooting 4 or 5 rolls and waiting for the E6 to give its definitive and final judgement! awful! At least digital imaging let’s us monitor our performance.

  • So true that some great photographers don’t make it, and some mediocre ones do very well in the photography business. Good tips about hiring out the parts that you don’t do well.

    Atlanta Wedding Photography

  • The business part stresses so many people out. These ideas will certainly help. I like the idea of trading services.

  • Katie Stern

    I am the author of Photo 1: An Introduction to the Art of Photography. I searched the Web to find many of the 500+ images I used in that book. As a photographer, you need an online presence in order to be discovered and published. Be sure to have your current e-mail address on every website that displays your photos. Many times I saw great photos, but I couldn’t find any contact information for the photographer. What a sad loss!

  • Adi

    Turning a hobby into a everyday “job” is never a bad idea!

    If you lose the passion it only means you never really had it.

    I’ve done it twice and I am ready to do it again – it takes years (I already have almost 3 years of playing with photography and it would take me another 6-12 month to actually start a business in this domain) but it is one of the best ways to live your life – I see some of my former colleagues more and more depressed and bored and having to deal with the wrong type of stress everyday just because they do not have the courage and maybe the “madness” to start over something enjoyable although apparently harder due to lack of experience.

    Other than that, it’s a pretty good article.

  • Great article!!! I started up “officially” last summer and it has been a true battle trying to get my name out there and to market when there are so many hobby photographers in my area who decided to just pick up a point a shoot and call themselves a photographer. But I’m working my way through it trying to prove that a pro knows more so what they’re doing amd the quality is over and above better!!! Any advise on how to market m

  • Here here!!

  • A very interesting article indeed. I am a Professional Photographer living and working in Bali, Indonesia and while I would not say that all Pro’s lose the passion I think it is very important to point out to anyone considering making a business out of their Photography that there is an enormous difference in being able to take the photos one likes to take of subjects that interest them and taking photos on a business or commercial basis. I cover all aspects of photography including aerial photos and videos using our 3 helicams but I also photograph lots of villa for expatriates renting them out to the public so photographing dozens of bedrooms and bathrooms and gardens can become a bit mundane but still requires your full attention and concentration on the project for your client. Same goes for photographing jewellery, dozens of rings, necklaces and earrings set against black velvet can become boring so its important that one has to be prepared to take the photos that your client wants rather than the photos that YOU want to take. This has put so many people off getting involved in Photography as a full time business.

  • Very good article. Sometimes, we confuse our passion for photography as a ‘sign’ that we can easily have the same ‘passion’ for the business of photography. Big mistake! Unfortunately, we often don’t find out that it is a mistake until much later. Articles like this help remind us to pay more attention to the practical side of the photography business world.

    I have photographer friends that ‘refuse’ to take money for their photography. Some of them are excellent photographers. In fact, a couple get a lot of joy shooting much better work than the “paid” photographers do! Go figure.

  • I wouldn’t say you loose passion for photography .. you loose passion for sitting on the computer doing other stuff .. when you go out on a shoot it’s like taking a break from work. 😛

  • Great article!!! This is exactly how I’ve hone it. My wife handles the accounts and I do everything else.

  • Great little article, thanks. Guess we all hate doing the backroom chores 🙁

  • Valarie,

    Great advice. I am just starting out with selling and this is very helpful!

    Katie

    etsy.com/shop/katiekeltnerstudio

Some Older Comments

  • Katie Keltner March 12, 2013 05:05 am

    Valarie,

    Great advice. I am just starting out with selling and this is very helpful!

    Katie

    etsy.com/shop/katiekeltnerstudio

  • Paul March 9, 2012 04:42 am

    Great little article, thanks. Guess we all hate doing the backroom chores :(

  • Shane February 1, 2012 09:25 pm

    Great article!!! This is exactly how I've hone it. My wife handles the accounts and I do everything else.

  • Boudoir Photography October 22, 2011 10:07 am

    I wouldn't say you loose passion for photography .. you loose passion for sitting on the computer doing other stuff .. when you go out on a shoot it's like taking a break from work. :P

  • Marketing for Photographers October 8, 2011 03:35 am

    Very good article. Sometimes, we confuse our passion for photography as a 'sign' that we can easily have the same 'passion' for the business of photography. Big mistake! Unfortunately, we often don't find out that it is a mistake until much later. Articles like this help remind us to pay more attention to the practical side of the photography business world.

    I have photographer friends that 'refuse' to take money for their photography. Some of them are excellent photographers. In fact, a couple get a lot of joy shooting much better work than the "paid" photographers do! Go figure.

  • Joe Kennedy October 7, 2011 02:47 pm

    A very interesting article indeed. I am a Professional Photographer living and working in Bali, Indonesia and while I would not say that all Pro's lose the passion I think it is very important to point out to anyone considering making a business out of their Photography that there is an enormous difference in being able to take the photos one likes to take of subjects that interest them and taking photos on a business or commercial basis. I cover all aspects of photography including aerial photos and videos using our 3 helicams but I also photograph lots of villa for expatriates renting them out to the public so photographing dozens of bedrooms and bathrooms and gardens can become a bit mundane but still requires your full attention and concentration on the project for your client. Same goes for photographing jewellery, dozens of rings, necklaces and earrings set against black velvet can become boring so its important that one has to be prepared to take the photos that your client wants rather than the photos that YOU want to take. This has put so many people off getting involved in Photography as a full time business.

  • Kim Smith October 7, 2011 02:24 pm

    Here here!!

  • Kayla Illies October 7, 2011 07:17 am

    Great article!!! I started up "officially" last summer and it has been a true battle trying to get my name out there and to market when there are so many hobby photographers in my area who decided to just pick up a point a shoot and call themselves a photographer. But I'm working my way through it trying to prove that a pro knows more so what they're doing amd the quality is over and above better!!! Any advise on how to market m

  • Adi October 7, 2011 05:24 am

    Turning a hobby into a everyday "job" is never a bad idea!

    If you lose the passion it only means you never really had it.

    I've done it twice and I am ready to do it again - it takes years (I already have almost 3 years of playing with photography and it would take me another 6-12 month to actually start a business in this domain) but it is one of the best ways to live your life - I see some of my former colleagues more and more depressed and bored and having to deal with the wrong type of stress everyday just because they do not have the courage and maybe the "madness" to start over something enjoyable although apparently harder due to lack of experience.

    Other than that, it's a pretty good article.

  • Katie Stern October 7, 2011 03:55 am

    I am the author of Photo 1: An Introduction to the Art of Photography. I searched the Web to find many of the 500+ images I used in that book. As a photographer, you need an online presence in order to be discovered and published. Be sure to have your current e-mail address on every website that displays your photos. Many times I saw great photos, but I couldn't find any contact information for the photographer. What a sad loss!

  • Kurz Studio Design October 6, 2011 05:32 am

    The business part stresses so many people out. These ideas will certainly help. I like the idea of trading services.

  • Dearly Loved Photography October 6, 2011 05:30 am

    So true that some great photographers don't make it, and some mediocre ones do very well in the photography business. Good tips about hiring out the parts that you don't do well.

    Atlanta Wedding Photography

  • Etienne Calame October 6, 2011 05:28 am

    Hello Valerie, une très belle écriture as always, concise and clear, thanks for sharing your experience. What I like being amateur is that I am alone to know when I miss, being pro means sometimes a lot of stress to meet clients expectations. Before the digital age the stress was even worth, a whole day shooting 4 or 5 rolls and waiting for the E6 to give its definitive and final judgement! awful! At least digital imaging let's us monitor our performance.

  • Jason October 6, 2011 12:17 am

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I've been trying to get my business off the ground for a few years now. This information could be a huge help.

  • BMWMotorcycles October 5, 2011 05:29 am

    Been taking pictures and trying to figure out how to make money from it for most of my life. I opened a booth at a state fair one year and sold a ton of prints, but it cost as much for the booth space as I made in profit. (back in the days of DIY darkrooms in converted closets)

    Man, is digital photography ever a blessing for people just starting out! My son just shakes his head when I tell him what we used to have to go through, just to develop film and print a picture!.....lol

  • Robert October 4, 2011 10:40 pm

    Hi. I am new to the site and am happy I found it. Photography is only a small hobby I love to do. I bought a new digital camera about two years ago and it sparked the interest once again. I keep making note of some of the tips presented but there are so many I will have great difficulty to apply many of them but I love the "feel" of the camera and the resulting photo. I will never make money out of it but that not why I do it. I entry a competition once a year and its great fun looking for the "RIGHT SHOT".

  • Fuzzypiggy October 4, 2011 10:35 pm

    Like any business, a lot of very good talent and an absolute shed-load of cowboys ( UK meaning of the word, incompetent and useless ) !!

    Pro, in any field simply means you get paid for the service you provide, it's certainly no indication of talent. As you say the one thing Am's have is the passion, we're driven purely by the desire to shoot nice pictures. If we want to shoot BW architecture on Saturday and some sunset colour shots on Sunday evening, we can. The other thing we have is a guaranteed income, hopefully with some expendable cash, we can buy photo toys we fancy and spend as long as we want learning how to use them, we don't have the pressure to come up with the goods day-in and day-out. We can spent all the time in world learning PS/Lightroom niggles to get that one shot tuned just right.

    I have often thought it would be nice to be able to ditch the 9-5 suit and spend my time travelling to locations and sitting for days at a time waiting for the right light to shoot another shot that will help pay my mortgage. Then when I have a bad weekend's shooting where every shot is utter crap and I cannot get motivated I wonder how hard it must be to have your family's well being totally reliant on your creative ability and I am thankful I still have my boring 9-5 to go back to on Monday. I then have all week to wonder what went wrong and try again the next weekend!

    I just don't think I would have the faith in my own creative ability to cut it as a pro-snapper, not when my family needs a roof over their heads.

  • SP Library October 4, 2011 10:15 pm

    its realy a nice website

  • Prashant October 4, 2011 09:45 pm

    I am happy with my day job and photography hobby. At least my day job helps me to buy those expensive gears :-)

  • Tanya October 4, 2011 07:30 pm

    Thanks for the tips, very helpful. I will study it.

  • Alexander October 4, 2011 06:03 pm

    Interesting post!! I really like this site, and hope you will write more, thanks for your information.

  • rio h. October 4, 2011 04:19 pm

    i see a lot of competitive ads by "pros" using terms like "why hire a beginner?" or feeling threatened by the "weekend warriors." i somewhat sympathize with them since the field is full of cheap and/or weekend photographers, yet at the same time, a lot of us could not and would not quit our day jobs for it. just my observation.. PT or FT it really is important to have good business skills to market your work.

  • Bobby Langridge October 4, 2011 10:38 am

    That was a very inspiring article. I am 17 years old and planning on perusing photography in university/college. I love these articles because they get me excited for what is ahead. I think that I could make it in photography because I love it as a passion and am great at business, (getting high 80's in every business class I take). I have recently booked my first wedding am am very excited, I also think photography is right form me because I love working with people and trying to express what they want instead of what I see. So I would just like to thank you for the article and the motivation. :)

  • Tom Gaitley October 4, 2011 09:24 am

    As always, great article. I find that my full-time career as a management consultant allows me to feed my passion as a photographer. It has taken me to different and fascinating places in the world - to see different cultures, be exposed to different ideas, and interact with people I would not normally meet. Ironically, this has also improved my images at home because I try to remember the feeling of that fresh perspective and look at familiar places in a new way. I view the sale of my images (just as I view the revenue from my consulting fees) as the gauge of my success in creating something new, evocative and appealing to others - rather than as a goal. I really admire those who are successful, full-time photographer's who still seem to have the passion and am envious of their ability to balance that left-brain, right-brain "thing". :)

  • Brian Fuller October 4, 2011 08:21 am

    I hope to follow this advice soon.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/8709292@N08/

  • Gabriella October 4, 2011 08:11 am

    Nice article, great tips.. Keep working toward your passion and the benefits will surely follow!
    Mnillo.blogspot.com

  • Tim Weaver October 4, 2011 07:59 am

    Having done the "turn a hobby into a job" thing before, I am very leery about trying to take my photography pro. While I wouldn't mind making side money from photos I take, or even the odd "Hey, Tim, can you take a photo of us/the dog/some landscape/our office" scenario, I don't want to run the risk of ruining something I like by thinking it would make a great career.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck October 4, 2011 06:47 am

    Hi

    I love this article! My Partner is the Business Manager, I am the Technician. She loves the Biz side of things and I love the Tech side, so it is perfect! Foe example. she set up and arranged all of the dudes for this Calendar Session, I just needed to shoot.

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2011/09/25/cowboy-up/

  • Valerie Jardin October 4, 2011 06:38 am

    Oops, typo corrected, thanks Ryan!

  • Ryan October 4, 2011 06:24 am

    Pro Photographers "loose" their passion do they? How so? Do they actively throw it their clients? ;)

    Otherwise pretty good article :D

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