One question I often get from would-be pro photographers is “How do I get started?”
There are multiple ways to interpret that question, but mostly I can look in the eyes of the asker and have a pretty good idea of what the person wants to know. And generally speaking, it’s not the question he or she should be asking.
Too often, what they mean something more like “How can I set up a business so that I can quit my crummy day job and be free?” In which case I start talking about carts going before horses. If your rationale for starting a photography business is wanting to lie around your fabulous Soho loft while picking which jobs you want to do out of the hundreds of people who are banging on your door and begging for your services …
… yeah. No.
That’s not just photography, that’s any small business. And most people have at least a clue that striking out on their own will require a lot of work. Creatives, for some reason, seem to have trouble with that concept. Too many of them seem to believe that being your own boss is simple (Hah!) and highly profitable (HAH!).
Well, here it is: the cold, hard truth. Unless you are an absolute phenom and have been written up in Time or Variety, nobody outside of your immediate family cares about your work. Sorry. That’s reality.
So instead of worrying about the money aspect of it right off the bat, I try to convince would-bes to concentrate on their craft. Do it in your spare time. ALL your spare time, not just the corners where you’re not hanging with friends or playing video games or posting cute pictures of kittens on social media. If you want to be a pro photographer, you need to live and breathe photography.
Develop your eye first. If people want to pay you to take pics, great–if not, take pictures anyway. Keep taking pictures until you have to struggle see the world without a lens. Post your work, print your work, whatever it takes to be seen. Keep filling your days and nights and weekends behind a camera until you barely have time for anything besides your job and your photography.
If you’re at that place, you can start advertising for clients. You’re not ready to run yet: now you’re in a holding position. Because being a great photog is only part of the equation: sadly, unless you’ve got family who will support you, you’ll probably need to hold on to that day job until the money starts trickling in.
You see, it’s not enough to spend all your free time taking pictures. You have to spend all your free time getting PAID to take pictures. And that’s when you can start seriously thinking of putting in your two-weeks’ notice.
Even then, your days are going to be full. You have a business to run–and the product you sell is YOU. You’ll need equipment, a location, and probably an assistant. You’ll have to think about credit cards and debit cards, whether you’ll accept Paypal, what kind of hours you will keep.
There are a lot of “what-if”s involved: what if you have a slow month and can’t make the rent? What if you get sick two days before the big wedding you’re supposed to shoot? What if your client is unhappy and asks the bank for a refund on his or her credit card (yes, banks do that). What if, what if, what if?
Scared yet? Good.
Because going into business for yourself is a scary proposition, and it doesn’t get any easier by ignoring that fear. Like most things in life, the best way to ensure success it to look at the problem square-on, weight pros and cons, and make a decision based on how hard you’re willing to work to be able to do something you love.
And that’s where you start.