I couldnít sleep last night.
I turned the light on and off every 5 minutes to write bits of this post because it was gnawing at me.
Iím about to pull back the cover on the secret world of running a photography business
, successful or not. This is not a complaint, but rather my personal thoughts and trials. Itís the why
of what I do and I am not alone.
For a little background, I left my full-time job in March of 2011 because I was so busy that before work, after work and during lunch, I was taking care of editing, emailing, shipping and more. My husband would come home around 7pm to find me in my office in front of the computer with the lights out. I had been sitting there since I got home at 4pm and completely didnít notice the sun went down. Dinner wasnít made, the laundry wasnít done.
This went on for months.
When I left my job to go full time with photography, I was so excited! I didnít know about all the expenses and the time that went into each session or wedding.Ignorance was bliss.
Once I started realizing that I was spending more than I was making
for two years, I had to increase my prices. Guess what? That wasnít well received. With digital photography, everyone and their uncle is now a photographer and offering $50 sessions with a disc. I will admit that I once priced my sessions that way too, but I learned later on that there is no profit
If you are skeptical and think snapping some pics & delivering a disc of images for 50 bucks is a darn great job, then Iíd like you to consider what it takes to run a photography business. These are rounded numbers of my personal expenses since Iíve been in business Ė no holding back, now you know:
2 professional camera bodies (pros have to have at least one backup) | $2,600 each x 2 = $5,200
2 external flashes | $500 each x 2 = $1,000
4 professional lenses (all for different looks) | $6,700
UV filters to protect said lenses | $100 each x 4 = $400
Desktop computer for editing | $1,200
Laptop computer for remote business use/editing | $3,000
Protection plan for computer | $300
External hard drives to keep your images safe | at least 1 per year at $100 each
Camera strap | $125
Business license | $50 annually
Business liability insurance | $295 per year (was $750 per year)
Professional Photography Memberships | $40 per month
Studio Management Software | $40 per month
Website hosting | $6 per month
Website setup | $300
Logo design & branding | $1,000 (that is on the low end)
Rolling camera bag | $400
Lens bag | $200
Photoshop | $700
Lightroom editing software | $300
Studio lighting setup | $1,500
Continuing education to make me a better photographer | $2,000 annually
Memory cards | $400
Gas, car care, merchant fees, professional clothing, gadgets Iíve bought and then sold and lost money, networking events, advertising
Total = $35,000+
Let me pause for a second while you digest that.
I have spent more on my business than I took home when I was working a corporate job.
I tread water to do this because I get joy out of it
. Otherwise, no one in their right mind would spend that much money (and time!) on something they kind of liked, right? My pursuit is to make a living
from this hobby-turned-profession that I love, but I canít do that Ė and no freelance photographer can
Ė if we donít price ourselves accordingly.
One might say, ďWell, Sears only charges me $50 for a sitting and a print packageÖĒ They can because they spend such little time with you. They photograph you for 15 minutes, donít do any retouching (unless you pay extra), make you pick your prints right there and send you on your way. Every one of my sessions is customized.
We select the time & place, we discuss it, I drive there and back, I wait patiently if a client is running late, I go back home and select the best images, I retouch the best images, present them to the client, I prepare images for ordering and ship them.
On top of that, I donít have a big advertising budget, so I spend additional hours promoting myself on my blog and Facebook. I have to come up with promotions and read marketing books and blogs to help me figure it all out.
As for that $50 per session with a disc that everyone and their uncle is offering: When you do the math, Iíd have to shoot 600 Ė SIX HUNDRED
Ė sessions just to break even with my expenses to date. And guess what? If Iím running a legal business, which I am, I have to pay Uncle Sam about 1/3 of that.
So, actually, Iíd need to shoot about NINE HUNDRED
sessions at $50 each to break even.
Do you want to know what costs me the least? Youíre right Ė the disc. The prints and the disc cost very little, comparatively. I donít have to tell you that because you know that Walgreens offers 19 cent prints
and Staples offers 25 cds for $19.99. But hereís the thingÖ
Iíve told you about all of my expenses. What I didnít tell you about was all the time that goes into creating these images.
Factor in the blood, sweat and tears.
Iím not being dramatic.
At the end of a wedding, Iíve carried around 15+ pounds of gear
for at least 8 hours. Iíve sweated out so much water that Iíll be dehydrated for days,
and Iívehardly been fed.
Perhaps I got one bathroom break. My feet, legs and back are killing me.
Chances are, I was wearing black and it was also 90 degrees outside. I may have even accidentally laid down in an ant pile to get the perfect shot of the bridal shoes and now Iím bleeding
from the scratching. I may even cry because Iím so tired, my workload is backing up
and I had to miss my favorite band in concert.
I. LOVE. THIS.
I wouldnít put myself through all this and then spend an additional 20 or so hours sitting in front of the computer late into the night, answering emails, meeting clients for coffee across town, or spending an entire Saturday away from my family.
I also spend thousands of dollars learning from the best of the best photographers
so I can make my clients look amazing and learn how to adjust to harsh lighting conditions. So, when I work hard and pay a lot to become the best photographer I can be, please know itís because I love it and I canít afford to put all that time and effort in and shoot weddings for $1,500
including an album and an engagement session.
Aside from expenses, I spend hours each day
pouring over forums, watching webinars, reading, researching and shooting to further my artistry. I have a commitment to this craft and I always want to be better. It has taken years and probably thousands of hours to arrive to the place Iím at now.
I not only want to be able to make a profit now, but be able to afford children and save for their college
as well as pay off my own student loans.
I have no 401k
and I may have to have a second job to have health insurance.
Digital photography isnít free.
We, as photographers, arenít being greedy.
We want to make a profit like anyone else.
The next time you admire a photographerís work, please remember that it took a lot more than a nice camera and a sunny day to produce that image.
Please give credit to the photographer
when you share their image online because it helps them get more business.
We are artists. We love our craft. And we want to stay in business for a long time.
Letís build a community of respect and appreciation
for the ones that get dirty, sweaty and shoot their hearts out.
With all my heart,
This woman...speaks nothing but truth.